Backpackers in Grayson Highlands
(Photo: Joel Carillet/Getty)

This College Lets Students Get Credit for Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Students in the Semester-A-Trail program at Emory and Henry College will spend their spring and summer semesters hiking part or all of the Appalachian Trail—with gear, support, and an on-trail budget included in tuition

Backpackers in Grayson Highlands
Joel Carillet/Getty
Adam Roy

from Backpacker

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Maybe your college had a great hiking club, like mine did. Maybe it had an outdoor center where you could borrow tents, snowshoes, and other equipment free or on the cheap. Maybe it had a robust outdoor education department where you could take classes on everything from winter camping to skiing. But we’re willing to bet it didn’t go as far to get students to go outside as Virginia’s Emory and Henry College, which will let students hike the Appalachian Trail for credit in 2024.

Students who join the Semester-A-Trail program have the option of hiking either the southernmost 470 miles of the AT from Springer Mountain to Damascus, or shooting for a full thru-hike of the trail by enrolling through the summer. The program is fairly selective, accepting just 10 students, and is open to sophomores through seniors both at Emory and Henry and from other colleges. As Virginia public radio station WVTF reports, the program is actually a few years old; Emory and Henry paused it in 2023 to reevaluate it and hire a new professor.

“It’s really an incredible physical tax on the body,” Jim Harrison, director of outdoor programs for the college, told WVTF. “We’re preparing students physically.”

While students in the program can expect a break from their college routine, they won’t get to put their schoolwork on pause entirely. According to an FAQ on the college’s site, Semester-A-Trail students take 12 to 15 credit hours, either finishing them on an intensive 7-week schedule before their departure or completing their final projects after they return from the trail. All participants take courses on nature writing, long-distance backpacking, and “Stories of Memory, Place, and Justice.” In addition, tuition covers a set of brand-new backpacking equipment, first-aid and skills training, and on-trail support from the college’s staff. Student hikers also receive a budget for on-trail expenses.

Want to be part of the Semester-A-Trail program? The deadline to apply is August 1. Early applicants get priority, so the sooner you apply, the better.