To Approach or Not to Approach

Should I hike the Approach Trail?

That was the one question I asked myself months, days, and even hours before I left for my hike on the AT. For those of you that don’t know the Approach Trail is an 8.8 mile lead up or approach to the start of the Appalachian Trail. It’s ranked moderate/difficult and it’s not even part of the trail. I started researching the question a little further and read through several hiker forums trying to find an answer to the burning question that would affect the start of my 5 1/2 month hike. Many posts said that the Approach was the worst hike and that if you could make the Approach you could make the entire AT. At this point my want of doing the Approach was going down hill fast (had to add a little pun in here somewhere). I asked a friend who had done the trail in the past and he told me that hell yeah it was worth it and that if I didn’t I would have to back track from Springer if I skipped the Approach.


Under the arch that marks the start of the Approach Trail

Under the arch that marks the start of the Approach Trail

So there I was bright and early March 1st at Amicalola Falls State Park, pack weighed, registered, nervous, and under the famously photographed arch. I wasn’t so sure of this whole Approach trail thing and the dreaded stairs that I heard came hand in hand with it. I started my trek up the approach and before even going a quarter mile I hit the stairs. Let me just say the stairs suck. The view is beautiful but they really have a way of making your legs feel like jelly before you’ve really gotten anywhere. But then something cool happened, as I made my way up I bumped into two or three others that were heading out on the AT. We shared breathless smiles and quick hellos and continued up. As my day progressed and I edged closer to Springer I met more and more thru hikers. There was a sense of unity before we even set foot on the actual trail. After the stairs I’ll admit the terrain didn’t seem bad and I genuinely enjoyed my hike up to Springer Mountain- I don’t know if this was due to the trail or just my adrenaline from starting the adventure of a lifetime. I finished the Approach Trail and I loved it. It was hard and challenging but it opened my eyes to what the next 4-6 months of my life would be like.

The first white blaze of the AT

The first white blaze of the AT


So should you hike the Approach Trail?

You’ll hate my answer but you’ve got to hike your own hike and do what’s best for you. I definitely recommend doing it but I’ve met many others that found the same things I did hiking the Approach as they did on their first day just doing the trek up Springer. Hiking the Approach built my confidence in my physical abilities, allowed me to meet other thru hikers and have something in common right off the bat with them, and I get to be a badass that gets to say I did the Approach Trail. But it is 8.8 miles that doesn’t even count for the trail and no one (and I really mean no one) will judge you if you don’t do it. So it’s really up to you whether you want to do it or not. I loved and wouldn’t change a thing about by experience, not even the stairs.

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Comments 2

  • Glenn Collins : Mar 30th

    Very nice article. You echo many of my sentiments. I also did the approach trail and thoroughly enjoyed it!
    Thank you and best wishes to you on your journey,
    Lazerlegs GAME 2011-2012

  • Leslie barth : Mar 30th

    Cara! I am a friend of your moms from high school. I am really enjoying reading all your post about your big adventure out there. What an exciting time in your life stay age and looking forward to reading more


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