Long before the Puritans of the Plymouth Colony laid a lasting religious claim to the Appalachian peaks, Eastern Woodland Indians claimed those heights as the first residences of the supernatural beings of their religious traditions.

Then the Puritans arrived.

Colonists seeking religious independence from established churches and the religious mainstream moved into mountain valleys at the margins of the frontier. Certain sites along the trail route became associated with the story of Exodus from the Bible. And in this version, America was the new “Promised Land.”

The American Romantics, including the Transcendentalist writers and the Hudson River Valley painters, visited the Appalachian peaks seeking both a deeper spiritual experience and subjects for their work. Benton MacKaye, a Harvard-trained planner, proposed the trail as a respite from the physical and mental impacts of industrialization and urbanization in 1921.

Walking the entire length of the trail, between Springer Mountain, Georgia and Mount Katahdin, Maine, has become a distinctly American pilgrimage, weaving through the religious roots of the nation, and providing stunning views of Eastern terrains ranging from isolated valleys to lines of blue-tinted mountains.

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