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The 14 State Challenge


Completed on August 14, 1937, the Appalachian Trail winds its way over 2,000 miles through 14 states and has become an icon of long-distance hiking. Each year, thousands of people begin the arduous 5-7 month journey to complete a thru-hike. However, on average, only 25 percent of all attempts are completed. The majority of A.T. visitors, estimated around 2-3 million each year, complete shorter day hikes or section hikes.

And so the 14 State Challenge was born…

14 State Challenge PatchNot everyone has the ability, or inclination, to spend 6 months hiking the Trail. However, everyone does have the ability to experience the best of the A.T. If this sounds right up your trail, the ATC has designed the 14 State Challenge with you in mind. The 14 State Challenge allows you to visit some of the A.T.’s most iconic places in bite-sized pieces. You don’t need to spend a chunk of change on the latest lightweight gear or quit your job. You can knock it out in a single road trip or spread it out over a lifetime. It can even be done on family vacations or during business trips! Simply experience a portion of the A.T. in each of the 14 states the Trail traverses, whether by destination visit, day hike, or overnight hike.

MacKaye Quote

In pursuit of the Challenge…

After retiring, Max Schmiege began considering an attempt of the Appalachian Trail and decided on the 14 State Challenge.

Rhododendron GapI have been intrigued by doing something on the AT for several years, but that old work thing always got in the way.  I have backpacking experience, and so when I retired a couple years ago, started considering whether I wanted to tackle doing the entire AT in some fashion.  About a year ago I was on the ATC web site just poking around and saw an article on the 14 State Challenge.  It intrigued me, so I started noodling around ways to do all 14 states and came up with the idea of doing a series of day hikes in each of them.  I purchased “The Best of the Appalachian Trail Day Hikes” by Victoria Logue, Frank Logue and Leonard Adkins through ATC Trail Store and pretty much read it cover to cover and determined that this could be a really great way to experience the AT.  I put together an itinerary that divided the AT into two halves with the intent of doing the south half in 2017 and the north half in 2018.   I asked a number of friends if they might be interested and a very good friend who I have known for 40 years jumped on the opportunity.  Ken is 74 and I am 66.  Ken flew here in mid-June; he and I got in the car and drove to Georgia and started our adventure.
Laurel Fork FallsWe had a ball, getting 6 of the states “in the books” (GA, NC, TN, VA, WV, MD) over 11 days of hiking and ended up hiking 80+ miles.  I also have a copy of the AT Thru-Hikers’ Companion and based on that we determined that we averaged at least 1,000 vertical feet each day, so we feel like we have accomplished something while having a lot of fun in the process. We have hiked 40+ miles in both directions, allowing us to see things from different perspectives. The hikes were tremendous.   Ken and I each have our favorites.  Mine were Mary’s Rock and Rhododendron Gap.  His was Laurel Fork Gorge and Falls. I was certainly glad to have read about the 14 State Challenge on your website, as it was the source of my inspiration.  I suspect that, even after we finish all 14 states next year, I will be back in future years to do more hikes.

*Mr. Schmiege’s account has been edited for clarity.

Getting Started…

A.T. PassportIs the 14 State Challenge on your bucket list and need help getting started? Visit the  ATC web site for more information and see our list of valuable resources below. Don’t forget to get your A.T. Passport filled out along the way and show you are working on the journey of a lifetime with the new ATC 14 State Challenge Patch.

Day Hikes:

Overnight Hikes:

Additional Resources:

Have you started, or completed, this challenge? We would love to hear your story! 

Email us at atctrailstore@applachiantrail.org

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