Take a Hike!
Anyone who’s strolled past the Hanover Inn has walked at least a few feet of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT). Stretching 2,194 miles from Georgia to Maine, the AT touches only one college campus—in Hanover. The Outing Club played a role in creating the trail and still maintains 53 miles of the footpath by clearing debris, furnishing signage, and supporting hikers throughout the section that runs from Ledyard Bridge to Route 112 in Woodstock, New Hampshire. As more hikers hit the trail—their numbers have risen by 60 percent since 2012—here are a few more items of interest about the College’s ties to one of the nation’s top hiking trails.
In the Beginning
New England regional planner Benton MacKaye proposed the AT in 1921, envisioning it as much more than a hiking footpath. He wanted a linked network of camps and communities. His family’s papers—including MacKaye’s AT-related charts, reports, and maps—are housed in the Rauner Special Collections Library.
ATC Meets DOC
The DOC’s commitment to cabin and trail building in the White Mountains made it a natural target for requests for assistance from the Appalachian Trail Conference, a group of architects MacKaye convened in 1925 to carry out his vision for the AT. In 1929 the group convinced the DOC to help build the AT along its existing cabin-and-trail system. Ultimately, the DOC’s separate but overlapping chain of open lean-to shelters formed the spine of its AT section. Construction of the trail began in 1930, and the last swath in Maine was cleared in 1937.
Dartmouth students and Hanover residents go out of their way to create “trail magic” for AT thru-hikers each summer: In town they provide food and shelter, and along the trail they offer cold drinks and snacks at pop-up aid stations. “Hanover has definitely been the best trail town so far,” gushed one thru-hiker in 2013 after fueling up at Lou’s Restaurant—which offers complimentary pastries to thru-hikers—and receiving free beer and pizza at two other town restaurants.
Thirty volunteer groups—including the DOC and the Virginia Tech Outdoor Club—share responsibility for clearing and maintaining the footpath in the 14 states it crosses.
In 1978, when the federal government passed a bill to permanently protect the AT, the DOC sprang into action to reroute various parts of its section miles away from swampy or hazardous areas for easier long-term maintenance. “The students see the relocation project as a challenge, and they’re anxious and ready to go,” outdoor programs director Earl Jette told DAM at the time. “They have a real sense of pride in the Dartmouth section of the Appalachian Trail, and they want to make it a showplace.”
Feet of Strength
A few lucky students get support from the DOC each spring and fall to hike “the Fifty” (which is actually the 53 miles of the AT between Hanover and the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge) in a single push. The challenge takes most groups between 24 and 32 hours, and the DOC furnishes food and first aid stations along the way.
Former Hanover resident Bill Bryson authored what is arguably the most famous book about the AT, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. He wrote that his first foray into purchasing gear for his own AT adventure took place at the Dartmouth Co-op—followed by a visit to the Dartmouth Bookstore to buy trail maps and guidebooks.
Outside magazine memorialized the legendary AT hiker “Baltimore Jack,” Hanover resident Adam Tarlin, in 2019. The story highlighted Tarlin’s friendship with former DAM intern Jen Whitcomb ’00, who let him stay in her dorm room and thru-hiked the trail with him in 1997. Tarlin ventured on and off the trail for more than 20 years before he died in 2016.