A Walk In The Woods Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: A Walk In The Woods tells the interesting story of the adventures Bill Bryson and Stephen Katz had while walking the beautiful, rugged, and historic Appalachian Trail.

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My great-grandfather homesteaded in a beautiful, mountainous area near where I live. I grew up visiting the place where my grandpa was born in a log cabin. I’ve stood on top of some of the highest mountain peaks in the area and seen as far as I ever thought possible. The beauty there is life-changing. 

In my ten or so years as a Boy Scout, I often got to go hiking. I remember the difficulty of strapping a heavy pack to my back and walking miles. As if this was hard enough, when we arrived, I had to make my own dinner and sleep in a tent! I remember these times fondly though and still hike in the mountains near my home. 

If all of this sounds like fun to you, then you’re going to love A Walk in The Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Official Guides to the Appalachian Trail) just as much as I did. It’s got all of the makings of a great adventure, including excitement, danger, and lessons along the way. 

Here are the 3 greatest lessons from the adventures in this book:

  1. The gorgeous and difficult 2,100-mile-long Appalachian Trail is the result of some ambition and hard work in the early 1900s.
  2. Dramatic temperature changes and the rugged terrain made for a difficult journey for Bryson and Katz.
  3. Part of the beauty of the trail is in its incredible trees and other scenery.

Are you ready to go on an adventure? Let’s get going!

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Lesson 1: We have volunteers in the early 1900s to thank for the beautiful, difficult, 2,100-mile-long Appalachian Trail.

After a move to New Hampshire, author Bill Bryson decided he wanted to hike the nearby Appalachian Trail. But he had to do his research first. Including learning a few things about the history and terrain of the path. 

Possibly the most famous hiking route in the United States, the Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia clear up to Maine. Its creation wasn’t the result of colonist or Native American activities. The behemoth path began as the vision of a man by the name of Benton MacKaye.

The inspiration to create it began in 1921 with a plan to make a trail just 1,200 miles long. After years of refining, the work began when Myron Avery began helping by mapping out the route. The entire thing was born with the help of volunteers to walk the planned path on the ground. In the end, the finished trail was 2,100 miles long.

Volunteers still run the trail today, but finishing the entire thing is no easy feat. Even hikers with the most experience who are in the greatest shape must prepare well. The landscape varies between gentle and peaks that are almost 7,000 feet high. Bears are also a problem, but Bryson’s research had him ready for anything.

Lesson 2: The journey that Bryson and Katz went on was demanding due to the varying terrain and climate conditions.

If you’ve ever gone backpacking, you know how life-altering the silence of the woods can be. Although it’s usually not entirely quiet with the chirping birds and other wildlife. But when Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz who came along began their journey, it was still too early in the year even for birds and bugs. As Katz struggled with the pace, Bryson walked quite a ways ahead of him. They would go hours without seeing a soul.

After getting to North Carolina, the weather turned terrible. Upon arrival at Big Butt Mountain, they began seeing snowflakes fall from the sky. Hiking is hard enough, but doing so in the cold, wet, slippery snow is even tougher. To make matters worse, the wind picked up, more snow followed, and the trail grew narrower. 

Although the trail wasn’t up the mountain into colder, more snowy summits, it did go around along a tiny path. One side was the mountain and the other was an 80-foot drop. I’ve hiked a trail like this before and it’s terrifying and difficult to do without poor weather. 

It took them two hours to cover just over a half-mile, but Bryson and Katz persevered. It was a relief to reach their campsite for the night, which was the appropriately named Big Spring Shelter.

Lesson 3: Trees, wide-open views, and multiple mountain ranges fill the walk along the Appalachian Trail with breathtaking sights.

Do yourself a favor right now and do a Google image search for the Appalachian Trail. I wish I could describe how beautiful it is, but words just don’t do it justice. That and I haven’t been there myself, yet. For some additional entertainment try putting “before and after” behind “Appalachian Trail” and see what you discover!

One thing that Bryson found particularly interesting and he began to appreciate were the trees. We might take these plants for granted, but they’re pretty incredible. Trees can absorb gallons of water just through their branches and leaves. Their defense mechanisms are also interesting, and some trees even seep latex into the ground to fend off predators!

The part of the path in Virginia, however, isn’t quite as forested as other areas. This section is home to the 400-mile-long ridge that gives the famous Blue Ridge Mountains their name. Check those out on a Google image search to catch a glimpse of their majesty. They look similar to the area around which I live in the Western US and make me want to go attempt the Appalachian Trail myself.

Needless to say, this pathway is truly awe-inspiring. I’ve hiked in the grand canyon and throughout the countless mountains near my home, and I can’t wait to try this trail! 

A Walk In The Woods Review

A Walk In The Woods is my kind of book! I really enjoyed hearing about the hiking and the beauty of the wilderness along the Appalachian Trail. History isn’t usually my favorite subject, but the accounts of the area in this book are pretty interesting.

Who would I recommend the A Walk In The Woods summary to?

The 65-year-old nature lover, the 28-year-old that enjoys hiking, and anyone with a good sense of adventure.

Last Updated on August 25, 2022

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Luke Rowley

With over 450 summaries that he contributed to Four Minute Books, first as a part-time writer, then as our full-time Managing Editor until late 2021, Luke is our second-most prolific writer. He's also a professional, licensed engineer, working in the solar industry. Next to his day job, he also runs Goal Engineering, a website dedicated to achieving your goals with a unique, 4-4-4 system. Luke is also a husband, father, 75 Hard finisher, and lover of the outdoors. He lives in Utah with his wife and 3 kids.