The Appalachian Trail is one of the wonders of the eastern United States. Spanning more than 2,100 miles, the trail goes through two national parks, eight national forests, and 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Each year, about 3,500 people attempt to hike the entire trail, but of those, only about 900 make it all the way. And now, in an absolute treat for outdoors-oriented students, Emory & Henry College in Virginia offers students from around the world the opportunity to hike the Appalachian Trail while earning college credit.

Emory & Henry’s Semester A-Trail Program is a unique learning opportunity for students who are looking for educational experiences that go beyond the classroom. Students in the program earn college credit while attempting to either hike the whole Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine or hike a long section of the trail.

“The experience offers students a synthesis of academic learning and outdoor adventure in an intensive, goal-oriented journey, immersing students in real-world competencies and challenges that build skills that last a lifetime,” the Semester A-Trail Program website reads.

Beyond the academic aspects of hiking the Appalachian Trail, which can encompass just about any field of study you can imagine, students in the Semester A-Trail Program engage in immersive skill-building workshops and training on skills such as kayaking and hiking, and a chance to use Emory & Henry’s outdoor program facilities and activities to get in shape for their hike.

Semester A-Trail Program participants have done some really cool projects. Sophomore Sadie Burton, for example, walked the Appalachian Trail for 400 miles, focusing her journey on creative writing and photography with the goal of producing a documentary. Junior Tilghman Moyer, a transfer student, completed the thru-hike from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park while working on a project in phenology, studying animal and plant life cycle events along the trail.

“This is the definition of exceptional hands-on learning in a gorgeous outdoor lab,” said Jim Harrison, director of outdoor programs at Emory & Henry. “Both students trained and learned how to hike the trail to be prepared. Prior to the trip, they learned wilderness first aid techniques and received instruction on packing, eating, safety, and mental wellness. Being on the trail for long periods of time can be physically and mentally challenging, yet so rewarding.”

Emory & Henry College provides a complete thru-hiking kit that includes top-of-the-line backpacking gear and footwear, and an on-trail hiking budget for those things you just can’t forage in the wild. Program staff also provide on-trail support for the hikers.

Students can transfer in from any college just for the Semester A-Trail Program, which allows students to keep their enrollment privileges at their current college or university. Faculty from both colleges work together to set the student’s curriculum and outcomes. Credits earned during the program are transferable to a student’s original institution.

Check out this video to learn more about Burton’s and Moyer’s experiences on the Appalachian Trail and about the Semester A-Trail Program.

Photo: An Appalachian Trail thru-hiker looks back at New Hampshire just before she crosses into Maine, the last state of 14 on the trail. Credit: Andrew Repp /