Earl Shaffer and the Appalachian Trail

July 10, 2009 – November 1, 2009

Earl Shaffer during his World War II Army service in the Pacific Islands. Photographer unknown.

National Museum of American History
1300 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC

2nd Floor, East Wing, Albert Small Documents Gallery

See on Map Floor Plan

This exhibition focuses on the American environmentalist, naturalist, and activist Earl Shaffer (1918-2002), who in 1948 became the first person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail more than 2,000 miles—in one continuous hike. He started his walk in April at Georgia's Mount Oglethorpe and completed it four months later at Maine's Mount Katahdin. This trail along the ridgetop was planned in 1921 by conservationist and forester Benton MacKaye (1879-1975) and completed 15 years later with the help of thousands of volunteers. Until Shaffer's trip, experts on the Appalachian Trail believed a hike of the entire trail was impossible. However, Shaffer repeated the feat twice more—the last time in 1998 at the age of 79; his achievement has inspired hundreds of hikers to complete the trail annually.

On view are the boots he wore during his 1948 hike, maps he used, photographs taken of various parts of the trail, and diaries he kept to prove his accomplishment. The exhibition also addresses the conception and development of the Appalachian Trail and its cultural and environmental impact.