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Hiking Pioneers: George “Billy Goat” Woodard and His Journey on the PCT

Published on 01/30/2023 · 7 min readCurated expert Hannah K. explores the life and legacy of George “Billy Goat” Woodard, a PCT legend who has hiked over 32,000 miles.
By Camping Expert Hannah K

Photo by KaLisa Veer

This week’s Hiking Pioneer is George “Billy Goat” Woodard who has hiked 150 days per year every year for the past three decades, clocking a total of over 32,000 miles.

In the Hiking Pioneers series, I will be exploring hikers past to present who have done amazing things in the hiking community. From pioneers who achieved key milestones and helped establish change, to present hikers breaking down barriers and setting goals, I’ll be deep-diving into the life, achievements, and legacy of these truly inspiring outdoorsmen and women.


Billy Goat is a retired railroad conductor from Maine who has hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,653 miles—from where Mexico meets California, to the border of Canada. It climbs through the Sierras and switchbacks of the Cascade Mountain range, across several miles of Yosemite National Park, and through deep valley rain forests of Oregon, with an elevation change of 420,880 feet!

Billy Goat has done this long trail a whopping eight times, and he’s done most of the route an additional two times. In all, he has hiked over 32,000 miles, which is equal to the distance around the world, plus another third of the way. In his other journeys, he has traversed the South and Southwest, to the Northeast and the West. He has even crossed the Rocky Mountains four times—twice in each direction. Furthermore, Billy Goat has hiked the triple crown (The Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide) thru-hikes on multiple occasions.

Photo by Ken Theimer

Early Life

When he was 17 years old, George Woodard left his home in northern Maine and started working a railroad job after high school. He eventually became a yard foreman and then worked as a conductor for 30 years. By the time he turned 50, Woodard had retired and moved from his 'normal' daily life to live in the woods, desiring an escape from our culture and societal expectations.


Although 69-year-old Woodard and his wife have made a home in Nevada, for 10 months of the year, his home is primarily outdoors. On the trail he has forgone his first name and just goes by "Billy Goat". He sleeps under the shelter of a tent, or just the stars, drinks unfiltered water, and carries everything he needs in his pack. He also forgoes commercially packaged vacuum-sealed meals, instead eating cheese or food that he dehydrates himself. His gray beard is untamed and wild, earning him his nickname, and his hawkish nose bears a resemblance to the National Park System founder John Muir.

After retiring at the age of 49, he has followed his passion and hiked 150 days a year. His accomplishments are celebrated by outdoor enthusiasts nationwide on the last Saturday of January each year at Lake Mills Park in Chuluota, Florida. 'Billy Goat Day' is open to all and features a potluck meal and fellowship where hikers gain inspiration from this American icon.

His PCT Experience

Each year about 300 people attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in a single season, but only around 60% of those make it. Billy Goat has hiked this trail more than anyone in the world and if he’s not hiking the entire trail, he makes sure to do a section of it every year.

On the trail, Woodard keeps a steady pace of 2mph and only stops to eat. He always ends his day past dusk and in the dark—making sure to cover as much ground as possible. Like many long-distance hikers, Billy Goat is passionate about shedding pack weight, making sure that everything he needs is always under 10 lbs. If you’re looking to shed some gear weight of your own, you can find inspiration here.

His Philosophy

Billy Goat isn't merely seeking a vacation from everyday life and he doesn’t just enjoy nature—he is nature. While not a self-described scholar of the outdoors, Woodard is described as the 'whole package', and the 'heart and soul of the PCT', according to Monte Dodge, a photographer who has captured the famous hiker in his element through the years. First-timers hope to bump into him while on trail to hear stories of his life in the wild. Again he’s likened to a modern-day John Muir—from his attitude and demeanor, to his philosophical values (i.e. very transcendentalist).

On the trail, he doesn’t concern himself with the “what ifs” or trappings of life. He left his career as a railroad worker and the complexities of over-civilized people long ago and practices a single-minded devotion. This is a philosophy he deeply cares about and keeps him moving steadily ahead, no matter the length of the trail.

Photo by KaLisa Veer

Doing my research on Billy Goat, I’ve come across several internet journals and that made me realize there is something about him that you can’t learn from just reading about him. Interviewers, friends, and trail visitors who have met him all say that there is an aura, a longevity, and a sense wisdom he gives off that can only be understood through first-hand experience.

Billy Goat's chance encounters are frequent and memorable. And although he is a man who seeks out places in nature where the only sound is the wind and wildlife, he will happily stop to pose for a photo and share some of his trail knowledge with weary hikers. If hikers don't meet the man himself, they are still likely to see his 'marks' along their hiking journeys. These marks come in the form of his signature entry into trail-head logs across the country: a red-ink stamp of a goat.

This most extraordinary man has a long-term goal of hiking 50,000 miles by age 80, and it is a goal that I’m sure he will accomplish as he lives for the trail.

The Billy Goat Trailhead

Some people assume that the Billy Goat Trailhead in Maryland is named after the famous Billy Goat Hiker. It is not; in fact it was planned by the YMCA Triangle Club in 1919. It is still a trail worthy of exploring though! The Billy Goat Trail lies between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. There are three sections totaling 4.7 miles, and while this may seem short, it is not an easy hike.

  • Section A on Bear Island features a climb up an extremely steep slope starting shortly after the trailhead, and hikers can expect some scrambling around boulders and rocky terrain on much of the path. Don't worry, there are blue blazes that mark your path, and you'll be rewarded with stunning views of cliffs and the Great Falls overlook. No pets are allowed on this section.
  • Section B is a little easier, with moderate rock scrambling, but it is currently closed due to trail damage.
  • Section C is an easy 1.7 mile loop with just a few rocks to climb and even a small waterfall. One trail head is about half a mile from the parking lots, so not much effort is required to get there. And if you're willing to pay a $5 entrance fee, you can start off with a canal walk!

A visit to the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center will provide you with all the information you'll need to explore one of the most popular and busiest trails in the area.

Following Billy Goat's Path

As for the PCT, the 2,650-mile uber-trail of the west, it's a trek considered to be a must-do by an increasing fraternity of ultra-long-distance backpackers because of their shared philosophy of the restorative power of nature. The so-called triple crown of American hiking can provide a transformative effect on the human spirit, and a sense of accomplishment that will last a lifetime.

Adventurists spend plenty of time planning their PCT journey to ensure safety and optimal conditions. Northbound thru-hikers generally start the trail from Southern California in mid-April through early May, while southbound hikers begin their journey later in June or early July since a lot of the trail going through Washington will be covered in snow until then. Section hikers can tackle a smaller portion of the Southern Californian trail in September-October, and January brings snowfall to higher elevations, where fewer people dare to go, but backcountry skiers and winter enthusiasts delight.

Long distance treks like the PCT, Appalachian Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail may sound adventurous, but few people can ditch their lives and hike 20- to 25-mile days for months on end as Woodward has. What we can do to follow in his footsteps is commit ourselves to things we love, be genuine and honest to our values, and create a life we will feel proud we lived.

Hannah K, Camping Expert
Hannah K
Camping Expert
If road trips are a favorite way to explore, let’s connect! Whether you’re car camping and hiking with kids, in a large group, or solo, I’m happy to help recommend gear that will help you thrive!.I want to help you enjoy the beautiful places that go unseen by far too many!
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Written by:
Hannah K, Camping Expert
Hannah K
Camping Expert
If road trips are a favorite way to explore, let’s connect! Whether you’re car camping and hiking with kids, in a large group, or solo, I’m happy to help recommend gear that will help you thrive!.I want to help you enjoy the beautiful places that go unseen by far too many!

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