Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Richard W. Judd

Second Committee Member

Howard P. Segal

Third Committee Member

Martha McNamara


Distinct natural landscapes and unique regional histories intermingle with one another to influence perceptions of and interactions with nature. Increasingly, outdoor recreation has become a prominent mode of American land use in the twenty-first century. This study explores the origins of recreational trail use in the late nineteenthcentury, aiming to ameliorate the absence of trail literature in the historiography of environmental history. Using a methodology guided by literature, this thesis seeks to uncover the diverging nature of the earliest hiking enthusiasts' perceptions of their pastime, attributing those differences to time and space. Specifically, this study historicizes and contextualizes the attitudes and perceptions of the mountaineering pastime by examining the narratives of members of the earliest outing clubs, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) of the East, and the Sierra Club of the West, using the clubs' respective journals, Appalachia and Sierra Club Bulletin. The time parameters for this study are from 1876, the year the AMC was formed, through the year 1916, the year the National Parks Act was passed, reflecting federal recognition of the value of outdoor recreation to the American people. The members of both clubs were dedicated to the task of constructing a hiking trail complex, encouraging access to some of America's premier mountain landscapes. They encouraged recreation, preservation, scientific and artistic endeavors, and nature appreciation more generally. In examining the perceptions of these earliest American mountaineers through their literary expressions, the emergence of two distinct trail cultures, reflecting the differing attitudes and ideas of hiking, east to west, becomes apparent. Much of this study illuminates the nature of these differing trail cultures through analysis and comparison. More tangible evidence of these differing trail cultures is found in the physical imprint left on these two trail landscapes. While the approach to trail design in the northeastern Appalachians takes on a primarily vertical orientation, the approach found along the Sierra Nevada takes a horizontal orientation. These differing orientations reflect a difference in history, regional culture, and topography. This study takes pains to examine the agency of the terrain in shaping both the varying trail infrastructures that were constructed along these mountain ranges, and the distinct trail cultures that emerged amongst members of the earliest outing clubs, contributing to their sense of self-conscious community and identification with the hiking pastime. It is the contention of this study that the perceptions, motivations, attitudes, and activities of the early AMC and Sierra Club members illuminate aspects of the evolving relationship between Americans and their landscapes at the turn of the twentieth-century. These early outing clubs laid the groundwork for what would become America's National Trails System, a trail network that extends throughout the nation, and ultimately contributed to what is now a booming outdoor tourist economy.