The year is 1993. With the back of his car loaded full of hopes, dreams, and American Backcountry’s first tee shirt designs, Frank Hintz set out on his journey to the Appalachian Trail Conference’s Headquarters. He was in search of someone who would give American Backcountry the shot it deserved and he found Brian King. Brian not only agreed to try some of the designs, but also suggested setting up a booth at the annual Appalachian Trail Days festival in Damascus, VA. Frank may not have known it at the time, but that day was just the first step in a long journey to come.
Fast forward 30 years and you’ll find the American Backcountry you love today, a successful business that creates localized content for iconic destinations and landmarks. What started as a few designs in the back of a car, has turned into an empire of creativity with thousands of designs inspiring wanderlust while continuing to develop sustainable practices such as our Made in USA REPREVE® Tees. Your continued support of our unique designs like this Appalachian Trail favorite pushes us toward meeting our long term vision of helping the earth we so love to roam.
Photo by Lorenzo Castellino
If you’ve never hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) before, you might not know that the vast majority of hikers begin in Georgia at Springer Mountain and head North toward Mount Katahdin in Maine passing through 6 national parks and 14 states along the way. When you hear the rush of water from the Amicalola Falls, you’ll know that your 2000 mile long journey is about to begin. It may be a couple of weeks before you stagger the border of North Carolina and Tennessee at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but the abundance of freshly bloomed wildflowers and the view of Mt. LeConte from Clingman's Dome will let you know you’re on the right path.
When you cross over from Tennessee into Virginia, you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of our origin story in Damascus and depending on when you started hiking, you could be just in time for the annual Appalachian Trail Days festival. Take a day to enjoy the friendliest town on the AT or just make a quick stop at Adventure Damascus-Bike Rental & Shuttle Co. to find some familiar Appalachian Trail American Backcountry designs. At this point, you’re just over 160 miles from Peaks of Otter. Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway that connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park, Peaks of Otter offers an unparalleled view of Sharp Top Mountain.
Over 25% of the Appalachian Trail runs through Virginia, so it’s no surprise that the next stop is Hawksbill Mountain, the tallest point in Shenandoah National Park. If you decide to climb to the summit, you’ll add a few steep miles to your adventure but be graced with a panoramic view of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains.
As you head out of Virginia, you’ll find Harpers Ferry National Historical Park located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland meet. Here you’ll find the very place our story began, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Headquarters. If you’re seeking a dose of inspiration to finish out the last half of your hike, stop by and check out the photo wall of 2000+ Milers knowing that you’re halfway through and will soon be joining the ranks.
Further down the Potomac, you’ll approach the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park where the Appalachian Trail travels for a short three mile section, the most gentle and flat terrain of the entire trail. After that, it’s time to push through the great state of Pennsylvania until you get to the 28 mile stretch that is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Although this is the last of the national parks that the AT runs through, the journey is far from over. As Pennsylvania runs into New Jersey, the rocky terrain continues along Kittatinny ridge but subsides as you approach New York.
At this point if you haven’t spotted a bear in your journey, you can visit the Trailside Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park, highlighted as the lowest part of the Appalachian Trail at only 120 feet above sea level. Overlooking the beautiful Hudson River, this zoo is home to rescued and injured animals and if it’s closed, you’ll have to take a side trail around the zoo. As you proceed through the 50 miles of Connecticut terrain, you’ll reach the 1500 mile point, then it’s up and over Bear Mountain, the highest peak in the state, and onto Massachusetts. You’ll navigate the trail through Mt. Everett and Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in the state at 3,491 feet above sea level. When you reach the top, if you make your way up the veterans memorial, you’ll have a view of Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and your next destination, Vermont.
Though the climb up Stratton Mountain may be strenuous at times, you’re sure to feel lingering wanderlust of the hikers who came before you such as Benton Mackaye, the founder of the Appalachian Trail. Mackaye made this very climb in the summer of 1900 and was so inspired by the views, that he began to dream up a path that continued through the Appalachian Mountains and though the path has changed over the years, no doubt every person who climbs to the top of Stratton Mountain has felt the way Mackaye felt so many years ago, “as if atop the world.”
Venturing on with your soul full of hope, you’ll find a sign you didn’t know you were desperately longing to see. The sign reads, “Katahdin: 500 miles”. You have now completed 75% of the Appalachian Trail. Breathe in the magic and press on to New Hampshire, you’re almost there.
Although the majority of your miles are behind you, that’s not to say the rest of the journey will be an easy one. New Hampshire boasts some of the most difficult terrain of the hike as you enter into the land of jagged rocks and steep climbs otherwise known as the White Mountains.
This terrain doesn’t let up as you enter Maine. However, if you’re a north bound hiker, you’ll almost certainly feel some relief knowing you are in the last state of your journey, less than 300 miles from Mt. Katahdin. When you make it past the car-size boulders of Mahoosuc Notch, you’ve still got a few slippery miles of the Mahoosuc Arm but then on to Baldpate Easy Peak with rewarding 360° views. Although you’ve taken this entire journey on foot up until this point, you’d do well to take the ferry ride across Kennebec River as the current can rise unexpectedly and faster than you can cross the river. You’re getting close to the 100 Mile Wilderness and even closer to the end of your journey but now is not the time to relax. While The Wilderness may not pose as many physical challenges as some other parts of the journey, it is remote and it’s extremely important that you have all the supplies you need to make the trek. When you emerge from The Wilderness, you’ll trek over Whitecap Mountain and onto the Rainbow Ledges where in the summer you’ll be pleased to find wild blueberries, adding a delicious snack to the last leg of your journey. The last hike is up Mt. Katahdin. It stretches nearly a mile high and is a tough ending to the trail, but what’s 1 tough mile to the finish line after 2,000 miles and months of your life? Much like our journey here at American Backcountry, it began with hopes, dreams, and a single step.