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The Best Hiking on the Appalachian Trail: 6 Great Hikes
The Appalachian Trail is one of the longest national scenic trails in the US. Extending nearly 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, it crosses through some of the most beautiful country that the eastern United States has to offer!
In terms of hiking, it is also perhaps the most coveted “thru” hike on any avid trailblazer’s belt.
While thousands hike the “AT” each year with the intentions to go the entire distance, that remains a big dream for month.
And for good reason.
On average, the Appalachian Trail takes six to twelve months to thru hike. For hikers with secure jobs, children, pets, or any level of debt, taking half a year off to go hiking.
The inability to navigate the entire trail shouldn’t deter you, though. Even if you can’t thru-hike the AT, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy what the trail has to offer!
Whether you are hiking for the day or for a couple of nights, you’ll surely enjoy each of these sections when you hike along the Appalachian Trail.
Springer Mountain to North Carolina Border
Location: Georgia to North Carolina
Best Feature: Relatively easy hiking through densely covered forests
For those who want to hike the AT but don’t have enough time, try taking on the first 75 miles of the trail. Located in northern Georgia, Springer Mountain is the southern most point along the AT.
Every year, hundreds (if not thousands of thru hikers) begin their north-bound journey along the AT. Start with many other people to gain a good sense of the trail community at Springer Mountain!
Make it a goal to go (safely) as far as you can. The “milestone” for many involves hiking until you hit the North Carolina border.
Pack along plenty of water, especially during the summer months! For extended hikes like this, it’s also important to know your limitations. Plan to break this trail into several days.
Thru-hike The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Best Feature: Phenomenal views of the park that sprawl out below the trail
If you’ve already hiked the Georgia to North Carolina stretch of the AT, consider heading to Tennessee to hike the AT as it makes its way through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
There are tons of hikes in the park, but the AT give you access to some of the best and most remote areas.
Enjoy the solitude as you climb the mountains inside the parks. Soak your feet in the icy pools of water that border the trail.
For those who want to attempt to thru hike the AT through the Smokys, budget for about 4 days.
Here’s an important piece to remember, though: Make sure you stop by the ranger station to get a permit before you venture off into the woods.
Location: North Carolina
Best Feature: Several old fire towers are placed along the trail to give you the ability to climb up and see how far the mountains stretch in this section
If you’re in the Nantahala Mountains of western North Carolina, you’ll need to be sure to put some time aside to hike this section of the AT.
There are tons of opportunities to get high up on the ridges of the mountains to see how far the valleys stretch below.
Take your time and explore some of the old fire towers that used to guard the forest from wildfires long ago. For those who have a bit more time on their hands, plan on spending at least 3 days hiking this section!
Best Feature: Amazing views, waterfalls, and plenty of areas to go swimming
If you’re interested in only doing an overnight on the AT, the Mau-Har Loop might be the best fit for you.
This easy 14-mile loop will take you along some of the most scenic areas of the AT, giving you access to some spectacular views and plenty of freshwater.
You don’t have to walk very far to refill your water, so be sure to drink plenty (especially if you’re going to take this section on as a day hike)!
Cross Mountain to Iron Mountain Gap
Best Feature: Roan High Knob Shelter, the highest shelter on the AT
This great section is another easy overnight trip if you’d like to keep your backpacking to a minimum. The Cross Mountain to Iron Mountain Gap hike stretches 17 miles across the Cherokee National Forest, which is absolutely beautiful.
Those who choose to hike this trail will have to ascend to the ridge top above the trailhead, which can be a bit difficult.
Stay the course, however, and you’ll be rewarded by being able to stay on the ridge line above the forest. This will give you plenty of views of Cherokee National Forest below as well as a relatively mellow hike.
Best Feature: Amazing views of the Pennsylvania countryside
If you have 4 full days to hike, make sure to add the Blue Mountains section of the AT to your itinerary.
You’ll be able to see some pretty iconic areas on this section such as Bake Oven Knob and the Pinnacle. Take some time to soak in the beauty of the land far below (and snap a few pictures too).
There are several campsites along this section, making it very easy to set up your tent and enjoy the trail for as long as you like. This section can be hiked as an out and back or as a point to point.
If you’re planning an out-and-back, you’ll need to hike about 20 miles per day to make the trip 4 days. This is a lot, so make sure you have packed accordingly and are in hiking shape before taking on this type of adventure.
If you park a car at the end of the section, you can cut your hiking in half to only 10 miles a day. Or, you can simply day-hike as far as you would like to enjoy this fantastic section!
Final Thoughts on Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is full of amazing sights to see. There are also plenty of places to rest and camp overnight if you are planning on an extended hike.
Whether you’re hiking in Georgia, the Carolinas, or Pennsylvania, you’re sure to find something that you will love about the AT.
Take your time and soak in the history. The AT is one of the first national scenic trails in America! It takes you through some of the oldest mountains that are in the country, which enchant thru hikers, section hikers, and day hikers alike.
And please be sure to keep an eye out for bears and poison oak along your journey so you can stay safe and comfortable all the way through.