The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, cuts through Giles County and offers the visitor an opportunity to hike portions of the trail and see the natural beauty of Giles.
The footpath covers more ground in Virginia that it does in any other state, following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in West Virginia all the way south to the Tennessee and North Carolina borders.
The entirety of the trail is 2,174 miles long and runs along the ridges and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains from the summit of Mount Katahdin in north central Maine to the summit of Spring Mountain in northern Georgia. It passes through fourteen states – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. Along with these fourteen states it passes through eight national forests, six national parks, and many state and local parks. It reaches its highest elevation of 6,634 feet on Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The idea for the trail came from Benton MacKaye, an off-and-on federal employee, educated as a forester and self-trained as a planner. He proposed the trail as the connecting thread of “a project in regional planning.” He also envisioned a trail along the ridge crests of the Appalachian Mountains from New England to the Deep South, connecting farms, work camps, and study camps that would help ease tension from industrial stress.
Volunteers developed the trail and completed it in 1937 with the exception of minor alterations. In 1968, the National Trails System Act designated the Appalachian Trail as a national scenic trail. Federal or state ownership of land or rights-of-way also protects the trail. No fee is charged nor is special permission needed to hike anywhere on the trail itself, although in some high-use areas, registration is required for overnight stay and fees may be charged for use of shelters and other constructed facilities.
The entire footpath is marked with white blazes, two-inch by six-inch rectangles, painted on trees and rocks. A series of three-sided lean-tos or shelters are spaced about a day’s journey apart, even closer in numerous areas, and are available by a rule of first-come, first-served. Hikers can access water through many springs and streams along the trail. The trail also passes through or near many towns where long-distance hikers can stop, as they do in Pearisburg.
More than four million people use some part of the Appalachian Trail yearly. Most hike only short distances lasting from an afternoon to a weekend. Thousands of hikers hike the entire trail in sections over a period of years. There are, however, the hardy individuals, numbering around 2,500, who attempt to backpack the entire trail in one continuous journey each year.