Emma “Grandma” Gatewood

October 25, 1887 – 1973

Emma Rowena Gatewood, better known as Grandma Gatewood, was quite a resilient woman – and an honorary Pennsylvania hero. Born on October 25, 1887, she spent most of her life living and working on a farm in Gallia County, Ohio. She raised 11 children and had 23 grandchildren, still finding the time to work in the fields and plant her vegetable and flower gardens.

Her first exposure to the 2,180 mile long Appalachian Trail was in an issue of National Geographic in the early 1950s. Intrigued by the beauty and images of easy trails depicted in the pages of the article, in 1955 at the age of 67, Gatewood set out on her first hike on the AT, beginning in Georgia and ending in Maine. She packed little provisions, wore Keds sneakers and carried an army blanket, raincoat and plastic shower curtain to use for shelter. She found out the hard way that the AT is a long and challenging terrain to hike, yet she received plenty of assistance from fellow hikers, earning the nickname “Grandma Gatewood.” Upon her completion of the trail she became the first woman and 6th person ever to complete the thru-hike. She went on to hike the AT two more times, in 1960 and in 1963, completing her final hike in sections.

Between her first and second AT hikes, she decided to follow a wagon train that was traveling along the Oregon Trail. So in 1959, Grandma Gatewood began following the train from Independence, Missouri, ending in Portland, Oregon. She hit a small snag at the beginning of her west-bound trek; the train had left a week earlier! She decided to try and catch up to the train. Instead, she PASSED the train, walking approximately 2,000 miles and arriving in Portland a week before the train arrived.

Her favorite hike was a six-mile stretch of trail in Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio, which connects Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls and Ash Cave. This stretch is now designated as the Grandma Gatewood Trail. She was the first to lead the Winter Hike, an annual event that became Hocking Hills State Park’s largest program. She led these hikes for 12 years, only missing one before her death 1973, at the age of 85. Her legacy continues, being featured in a documentary titled, “Trail Magic,” and in June 2012 she was officially inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame.