The Appalachian Trail is a continuous marked footpath extending 2,140 miles through fourteen states from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Katahdin, Maine. The route crosses eight national forests, eight units of the national park system, and sixty state parks and wildlife areas. The trail's 284 miles along Tennessee's eastern border are mostly within the Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail reaches its highest point in Tennessee at 6,643 feet on Clingman's Dome in the Great Smokies.
Benton MacKaye of Massachusetts first proposed the trail in a 1921 issue of Journal of the American Institute of Architects. The Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) was formed in 1925 and coordinated planning and building the trail, which was completed in 1937. The Civilian Conservation Corps in Tennessee was particularly active. Much of the early trail ran along rural roads and across private property; over the years public lands have been acquired for rerouting. The trail received big boosts in 1968, when Congress designated it a national scenic trail, and again in 1978, when Congress authorized funds for acquisition of a corridor for the entire trail.
The ATC coordinates trail maintenance by more than two dozen volunteer organizations and publishes detailed hiker guides. Each year, several hundred “thru hikers” hike the trail from Georgia to Maine, but many thousand more use the trail for day hikes or shorter backpacking trips. Primitive shelters are spaced at intervals along the trail.