Apr 27, 2022 - News

On "Grandma Gatewood Day," Ohio celebrates its most famous hiker

Emma Gatewood, a 71-year-old hiker, is pictured on the side of the road in a historical photograph.

"Grandma" Gatewood is pictured during her hike across the Oregon Trail. Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Today we pay homage to Ohio's most famous long-distance hiker, Emma "Grandma" Gatewood.

The intrigue: Only a handful of men had ever walked the entire 2,055-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine when Gatewood did in 1955, at age 67, making her the first woman to complete the solo thru-hike — alone, in one direction, without stopping.

Driving the news: In 2012, the Ohio General Assembly declared April 27 to be “Grandma Gatewood Day.”

Flashback: Emma Caldwell, born near Mercerville in 1887, raised 11 children on a farm through the Great Depression and survived decades of domestic abuse.

  • When the kids were grown and she’d divorced her abuser, she developed a love for distance hiking and discovered the Appalachian Trail in a 1949 National Geographic magazine.
  • Without telling a soul, she left Ohio in the spring of 1955 and started hiking north from Georgia’s Mt. Oglethorpe.

What she carried: She’s now known as a pioneer of the ultra-light hiking movement, but Gatewood carried only what she thought she’d need: a gingham dress, an Army blanket, snacks, bobby pins, Vick’s salve and a shower curtain to keep the rain off.

  • She’d need the shower curtain. She hiked through two hurricanes that ripped up the East Coast that summer.

Legacy: The hike made Gatewood famous, and several years later she joined a Columbus boy scout troop on the first-ever Buckeye Trail hike.

  • Gatewood has long been well known by Appalachian Trail enthusiasts, and she’s celebrated in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and the AT Museum and Hall of Fame in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania.

The wider world has noticed her lately, too. The New York Times celebrated her life as part of its Overlooked No More series. Plus:

  • She’s honored by a historical marker near Cheshire and on Madtree Brewing’s Legendary Lager.
  • Hocking Hills State Park still hosts an annual "Grandma Gatewood Hike" along the six-mile Grandma Gatewood Trail. The next is scheduled for October.

Go deeper: Check out our Axios colleague Ben Montgomery's best-selling book, "Grandma Gatewood's Walk."


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