28 Damn Good Reasons to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

There is a one-word test you can offer someone to gauge their likelihood of following through.  Whether it’s the Appalachian Trail, their education, their job, the last piece of pizza…this simple question uncovers a profound truth.


Why are you doing what you’re doing? There is no right or wrong answer, but when taking on a challenge with a high degree of difficulty, the answer need be a conviction.

The Appalachian Trail is a challenge with a high degree of difficulty.  Just ask the 70% of hikers who don’t finish. 

When someone asks for my top piece regarding a thru-hiking the AT, I don’t talk about gear, I don’t talk about the physical preparation, I don’t talk about logistics- I talk about purpose.  Answering this all important question of why you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, is a window into a hiker’s purpose.  Knowing your purpose will keep your mind strong when confronted with a lightning storm, your feet are covered in blisters, or you’re missing family and friends.

Appalachian Trials takes this process into more depth, utilizing the full extent of your emotions, ambitions, and fears to build the most convincing answer to this all-important question.  I also encourage (see: threaten) readers to write these reasons down and keep them close to the chest during their hike.  I outline what my reasons were in the book; Ladybug gives us an excellent example of what this looks like.

Curious, I asked the good people of the Appalachian Trials Facebook Page to share the reasons why they were hiking (or, had hiked) the AT.  Below are many of their responses.  Some are heart-wrenchingly sad.  Some are uplifting.  Some are funny.  Some are obvious.  But- as long as they’re convictions, these reasons will serve as a hiker’s most dependable fuel source.

28 Damn Good Reasons to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail

  1. There’s no better adventure or test of personal will and strength… – Terry Serial-Klott
  2. It’s a calling. – Tom Kennedy
  3. To experience an unadulterated sense of freedom. – Kenny Howell
  4. To prove to myself I can do it! – Martha Moy
  5. My reason is because it’s been a dream of mine for over 20 years. I’m doing it in memory of my grandfather and my father. My Fathers ashes were scattered over Shenendoah National Park. – Paul Jones
  6. Personally, I have to prove something to myself–that I have what it takes. So far I’ve lost 15 pounds. I plan to lose another 20 before setting out. I likely won’t start until age 64, when i retire, and plan to walk it with my son who will also be retiring from the Air Force at the same time. I refuse to give up the battle against aging. I expect to lose ultimately, but I won’t go down without a fight! – Dennis Phillips
  7. Complete and utter freedom, simplicity and beauty. – Kaitlin Jetpack Allen
  8. I did it simply because I wanted to and I could. So many people spend their lives talking about the things they would like to do one day and never actually get around to doing them. – Alan Ercolani
  9. To experience the wonder and the rugged beauty of the Appalachian mountains – Joel Johnstone
  10. Because the paycheck you earn at each vista, lasts longer than the one you earn at the office.- Joe Mejia
  11. To learn what truly matters and what is really necessary to live fulfilled. Also, to learn to let go of ones expectations. – Kori Rocket Feener
  12. Because to truly know ones self, you must first get lost. What better way then the AT! – Louie Anchor Ferdinand
  13. I have worked since 5th grade (almost 40 yrs) usually 2 or more jobs. I recently sold a business and am taking a mid life break. My wife suggested we hike the AT and try to figure out what we want to be when we grow up! I said whoo hoo!Charles Collins
  14. The best reason to hike the Appalachian trail is to reconnect with nature and to learn what you are capable of. – Joshua Zen Applewood
  15. My husband, Woody, and I started talking about hiking the AT when we first met 37 years ago. This year we realized our dream as The Troverts, X & N, walking from Springer to Katahdin in 168 days. It was epic and did not disappoint! – Cynthia Harrell
  16. When you’re disgusted with “civilization” theres nothing like a good rolling of the feet to ease your mind. – Al White
  17. Student Loans! The Machine can’t find you in the green tunnel. – Richard Tijerina (not linked to for obvious reasons, keep fighting the good fight)
  18. Because life is short. Enjoy as much of it as you can. – Robert Carver
  19. The new people and relationships. Made some lifelong friends and met the live o my life and talked her into moving to Iowa with me this summer. – Houdini and Legs aka Sawyer Avery
  20. Because you have to. – Katie Robinson Brown
  21. I got to spend 3 months on the trail with my son! That time was a real gift! Then, I had 6 weeks more to go on my own – a real challenge!! Any time on the trail is time well spent. – Scott Garland Jenkins
  22. To get lost and then find yourself over and over again. To know what its like to exist the way we were meant to. Sort of. – Jocelyn Diles
  23. Because its there… And it’s the only way I know to live off junk food and beer while loosing weight and getting in shape. – James Bhathena
  24. Because its a challenge and sounds like a blast. And anyone who can do it is def a baller! – Katie Woodard
  25. So I can get away from my wife! – Be Tween (if that is your real name…)
  26. The mental challenge. – Alex Dent
  27. I have wanted to thru-hike since I was in 7th grade and hiked the Horseshoe Trail (PA) in 1968. I just retired and this is my one chance! I want to show myself and everyone else that I can do it, and I want for them and me to be impressed! – Ed Riggs
  28. To clear my head due to the recent loss of my son who passed away a month ago during the birthing process. (stillborn) I’m walking not only for my son but also to search for my soul and to think about my life so far. This journey that I will be taking will be a dream come true.  HULKSMASH aka David C. Quinones

Thanks to everyone who shared their reasons.  For those considering a thru-hike, I hope the above help you to discover yours.

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Comments 5

  • Juice : Jul 12th

    In my opinion, the AT is a proving ground. Every successful thru-hiker is separate and apart from everyone else in society because they’ve proven that they can handle the logistical, mental, and physical challenge of the entire AT. That will go right on my resume, along with any other notable accomplishments I have out here.

  • bailey : Mar 19th

    I think the reason why I’m hiking it is because there’s such an expectation in life to go to college, get married, have a job, etc. which is great and all but at the end of the day what did you do? When people ask you something cool about yourself what do you say, ” I went to college, I got a job, I got married” Is all you would have to say, that’s the mold of society. But I want more, I want adventure, I want that sense of freedom. I feel like when you hike the trail that’s like saying you can do anything, “I hiked the longest trail in America, sure I can skydive.”


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