Hiking Trails

Trails Across America
hiking | trails | information Home
Hiking Trails
Travel and Vacation
Preparation and
Safety Tips

hiking | trails | information

Appalachian Trail

Extensions, Animals, Plants


The International Appalachian Trail is a 1,900-mile (3,100 km) extension running north from Maine into New Brunswick and Quebec. It is a separate trail, not an official extension of the Appalachian Trail. A further extension to Newfoundland has recently been completed. In 2010, a group of geologists representing the International Appalachian Trail began a push to extend the trail across the Atlantic Ocean, across Greenland and Iceland in the North Atlantic and into Northern Europe, then down to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

In 2008, the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama was connected to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail via the Benton MacKaye Trail.

The American black bear, one of the largest animals on the Appalachian Trail.

The American black bear, one of the largest animals on the Appalachian Trail.

Flora and fauna

The Appalachian Trail is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, including 2,000 distinct rare, threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species.


The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the largest omnivore that may be encountered on the trail, and it inhabits all regions of the Appalachians. Bear sightings on the trail are uncommon, and confrontations rarer still. Other hazards include venomous snakes, including the Eastern timber rattlesnake and copperhead, which are common along the trail. Both snakes are generally found in drier, rockier sections of the trail; the copperhead's range extends north to around the New Jersey-New York state line, while rattlesnakes are commonly found along the trail in Connecticut and have been reported, although rarely, as far north as New Hampshire. Other large fauna include deer; elk, reintroduced in the Smoky Mountains; and moose, which live as far south as Massachusetts but are more commonly seen in northern New England.

For most hikers, the most persistent pests along the trail are mice—which inhabit shelters—and bugs—which includes ticks, mosquitos, and black flies.


Plant life along the trail is varied. The trail passes through several different biomes from south to north, and the climate changes significantly, particularly dependent upon elevation. In the south, lowland forests consist mainly of second-growth; nearly the entire trail has been logged at one time or another. There are, however, a few old growth locations along the trail, such as Sages Ravine in Massachusetts and "The Hermitage", near Gulf Hagas in Maine. In the south, the forest is dominated by hardwoods, including oak and tulip trees, also known as yellow poplar. Further north, tulip trees are gradually replaced by maples and birches. Oaks begin to disappear in Massachusetts. By Vermont, the lowland forest is made up of maples, birch and beech, which provide spectacular foliage displays for hikers in September and October. While the vast majority of lowland forest south of the White Mountains is hardwood, many areas have some coniferous trees as well, and in Maine, these often grow at low elevations.

A timber rattlesnake among the leaves

A timber rattlesnake among the leaves

There is a drastic change between the lowland and subalpine, evergreen forest, as well as another, higher break, at tree line, above which only hardy alpine plants grow. The sub-alpine region is far more prevalent along the trail than true alpine conditions. While it mainly exists in the north, a few mountains in the south have subalpine environments, which are typically coated in an ecosystem known as the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest. Southern ranges and mountains where sub-alpine environments occur include the Great Smoky Mountains, where sub-alpine environments only begin around 6,000 feet (1,800 m) in elevation, Roan Highlands on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, where sub-alpine growth descends below 6,000 feet (1,800 m), and Mount Rogers and the Grayson Highlands in Virginia, where there is some alpine growth above 5,000 feet (1,500 m). Appalachian balds are also found in the Southern highlands, and are believed to occur due to fires or grazing in recent centuries, or in some cases due to thin, sandy soils. Several balds are sprouting trees, and on some, the National Forest service actually mows the grasses periodically in order to keep the balds free of trees.

Introduction, History | Extensions, Animals, Plants
Topography, Hiking the trail, Navigation, Lodging and camping, Trail towns
Hazards, Trail Completion | The Route and the States

hiking | trails | information