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A Walk in the Woods summary

Bill Bryson

Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

4.2 (62 ratings)
28 mins

Brief summary

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is a hilarious memoir of his hiking adventure along the Appalachian Trail. Follow the author and his unlikely companion as they navigate the trail's challenges and take in its breathtaking beauty.

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    A Walk in the Woods
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    The beautiful and challenging Appalachian Trail was carved out by volunteers in the twentieth century.

    You don’t just step out the door not knowing what you might face. The author Bill Bryson had his mind set on walking the Appalachian Trail, but he had to be prepared. 

    The Appalachian Trail is perhaps the most famous hiking route in the United States. It begins in Georgia and stretches all the way to Maine, cutting through forests, mountains and plains. What’s surprising is that the trail was entirely artificially created. This isn’t a route used by generations of Native Americans or colonists as they moved across the country. Instead, it was the vision of one man – an American forester and conservationist named Benton MacKaye.

    MacKaye formulated his plan back in 1921. He wanted to establish a behemoth of a trail some 1,200 miles in length. Over the years, MacKaye kept refining this vision, but it wasn’t until a passionate hiker named Myron Avery got involved that things got started.

    Avery mapped out the trail and used crews of volunteers from hiking clubs to track it out on the ground. By August 1937, it was finished. Along the way, a further 1,000 miles had been added to MacKaye’s original plan. The completed trail is around 2,100 miles in total – although estimations of its length vary – with seasonal factors and road building work also affecting its length through rerouting.

    Volunteers established the path, and even to this day, it’s volunteers who run it.

    The Appalachian Trail is no walk in the park, however.

    Even for seasoned hikers and explorers in top physical condition, the lengthy trail presents a serious physical challenge. Its landscape is varied – there are gentler stretches, but a fair few mountains too, the highest of which peaks at around 6,700 feet.

    You can easily encounter unexpected challenges when walking the route. Bryson researched the dangers lurking in North American woods as he prepared himself for tackling the trail. Bears, for instance, are a present danger. There are roughly 500,000 black bears in North America, and many have been spotted along the Appalachian Trail. Thankfully, there are no grizzly bears in its vicinity. These more famous terrors are mostly found in and around the Yellowstone National Park, much further west.

    Now that he knew just what sorts of adventure he could be facing, Bryson felt ready to lace up his boots.

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    What is A Walk in the Woods about?

    A Walk in the Woods (1997) is author Bill Bryson’s personal account of walking the Appalachian Trail – one of the longest hiking trails in the US – which stretches from Georgia in the South to Maine in the North. Partially a memoir recalling his attempt to follow its route, the book is also a tribute to the ecology, wildlife, geological history and natural environment of North America. What’s more, Bryson’s old school friend, Stephen Katz, also comes along for the ride.

    A Walk in the Woods Review

    A Walk in the Woods (1998) by Bill Bryson takes readers on an entertaining journey through the Appalachian Trail. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With a mix of humor and adventure, the book offers an enjoyable exploration of nature and the challenges of long-distance hiking.
    • Bryson's interesting facts about the trail, its history, and the environment make the book both educational and intriguing.
    • Readers are kept engaged by Bryson's captivating stories and encounters with fellow hikers, ensuring the book is far from boring.

    Who should read A Walk in the Woods?

    • Hikers and travelers
    • Lovers of nature and the great outdoors
    • Anyone who likes a good adventure story

    About the Author

    Bill Bryson is an Anglo-American writer, especially famed for his witty approach to personal memoir and travel writing. His bestsellers include Notes from a Small Island (2015) and In a Sunburned Country (2000). He was born in Iowa, and, after living in the UK for many years, moved back to the US. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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    A Walk in the Woods FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Walk in the Woods?

    A Walk in the Woods takes a humorous approach to the challenges of hiking the Appalachian Trail, highlighting the importance of embracing adventure and finding humor in adversity.

    How long does it take to read A Walk in the Woods?

    The estimated reading time for A Walk in the Woods varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Walk in the Woods a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Walk in the Woods is a delightful read, offering a blend of humor, adventure, and insightful observations. It's definitely worth experiencing!

    Who is the author of A Walk in the Woods?

    The author of A Walk in the Woods is Bill Bryson.

    What to read after A Walk in the Woods?

    If you're wondering what to read next after A Walk in the Woods, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
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    • Forest Bathing by Qing Li
    • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
    • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
    • Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
    • How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson