The Appalachian Trail traverses 14 states in the U.S. through its nearly 2,190-mile (about 3520 km) length from Georgia to Maine. From the Springer Mountains in Georgia, this scenic trail advances northward through well preserved wilderness areas until it finally terminates at Mount Katahdin in Maine. Here are some of the highlights from each of the 14 states that are included on the Appalachian Scenic Trail.
Georgia is the official southern end of the A.T. and it contains about 79 miles located in the forests of North Georgia. The mountains here range from easy to climb to tough and challenging, with the highest peak at about 4,458 feet (1,359 metres) on the Blood Mountains. In Georgia, you will enjoy southern hospitality when you arrive to begin your hike. As much as possible, avoid starting your hike during winter in March or early spring in April because of the cold weather and the overcrowding caused by spring breakers and thru-hikers.
2. North Carolina
North Carolina has 95.7 miles of the A.T. within the state plus 224.7 miles along the Tennessee, North Carolina border. As you hike further north, you will walk at altitudes ranging from 1,725 to 5,498 feet and come up to peaks like the Standing Indian Mountain and Wayah Bald. Other major highlights are the Wesser Falls and the Fontana Dam Shelter that gives you a beautiful view of the Fontana Lake. Water is abundant here, so you can enjoy using toilets with water systems, hot showers and sleep in relatively spacious shelters.
Tennessee has over 94 miles of the A.T., and an additional 160 miles along the TN/NC border. In Tennessee, hikers trek on the highest mountains on the A.T. with the highest point located on the Smoky Mountains at a height of 6,625 feet. Advance permits are required for hikers who want to pass through the National Park and you must lodge at designated sites. Some of the summits you will encounter here include the Thunderhead Mountain, Mount Chapman, Mount Guyot, Mount Cammerer and Snowbird Mountain.
Virginia has about 554 miles which is about a quarter of the entire A.T. Most northbound thru-hikers get here when there is heavy spring rain and find the wet terrain quite challenging. A large section of the trail in Virginia runs parallel to the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park. A.T. in Virginia is a great place for first-time hikers to start because more than 100 miles of the trail is well maintained by the volunteers in Virginia trail clubs in this state and it does not go beyond an altitude of 1000 feet. A major highlight in this state is the “Trail Days” festival – the largest annual gathering of A.T. hikers that takes place in Damascus.
5. West Virginia
West Virginia has just 4 miles of the A.T. although hikers could still walk on for 20 miles on the Virginia border. Many hikers consider Harpers Ferry in West Virginia to be the psychological centre of the trail, partly because it is home to the ATC headquarters located in Harpers Ferry. This historic town is the site of several battles in the American Civil War, which can be found in the National Historical Park, but it has no camping sites.
Maryland contains close to 41 miles of the A.T. and requires you to walk on an elevation that ranges from 230 to 1,880 feet along the South Mountain. You are not permitted to camp off the trail so you will have to share space with other hikers at designated shelters. One of the highlights of hiking here is the Maryland Challenge that requires you hike the entire length of the trail in Maryland from dawn to dusk. For more experienced hikers, they can take the four state challenge that will requires them to walk from Virginia through West Virginia and Maryland to Pennsylvania in 24 hours. Other highlights in Maryland include the Dahlgren Campground and the Pen Mar Park.
You can walk for about 230 miles in Pennsylvania from the border with Maryland to Delaware Water Gap on the border with New Jersey. The journey in Pennsylvania is divided into two by the Susquehanna river. You can cross this river with the Clarks Ferry Bridge. While hiking in the southern part before crossing the river, you will pass through the Caledonia State Park and the Pine Grove Furnace park, which is the mid point of the A.T. After you cross over to the northern part of the Pennsylvanian hike, you will pass through coal mining towns like Yellow Springs and other trail towns like Delaware Water Gap and Boiling Springs as well as the Blue Mountains.
8. New Jersey
Over 72 miles of the A.T. pass through New Jersey. The trail comes into New Jersey through the Delaware water Gap bridge over the river and exits into New York at the Greenwood Lake. You have a chance to see major landmarks like the Worthington State Forest, Sunfish Pond, Stokes Forest and the High Point Park, which is the highest peak in the state at 1,685 feet. Over 50 percent of the trail passes on top of the Kittatinny Ridge. Hiking in New Jersey is quite easy for beginners due to the flat and gentle path. Note that black bears have increased in number in New Jersey so you need to take precautions when camping here.
9. New York
The 88-mile stretch of the A.T. in New York begins at the south near Greenwood Lake and moves into Connecticut at Pawling Nature Reserve. With the lowest point at Bear Mountain (at 124 feet) and the highest point at the Prospect Rock (1433 feet), the trail in New York is quite easy to hike for beginners. It has a few areas with rugged terrain and small cliffs but you will also see some spectacular scenes like the Lemon Squeezer, a very narrow crack that stands in between two big boulders. The oldest section of the A.T. completed in 1923 lies between Harriman State Park and the Bear Mountain. Just like New Jersey, Wildlife activity has increased along the trail in New York.
Connecticut’s 52-mile A.T. trail is located along ridges that are strung on top of the valley of the Housatonic River. Hikers usually pass what is known as the Taconic Range, which consists of the Lions Head, Bear Mountain and Riga Ridge. The trail in Connecticut is close to Salisbury and Kent, where thru-hikers usually go to replenish their supplies. The highest point of the trail is 2,326 feet at the peak of the Bear Mountain.
Massachusetts has just 91 miles of the A.T. and it is located in the western part of the state. Hiking here involves traversing mountains including Mount Everett at 2,602 feet and the highest point Mount Greylock at 3,491 feet. On Mt. Greylock, you can see the entire Berkshire landscape for a distance of up to 90 miles.
The A.T. runs for 150 miles in Vermont. At the southern entry point, the trail runs parallel to the Long Trail. A large section of the trail can be found in the Green Mountains, which has dense green forests. For about 45 miles, you can enjoy autumn foliage at a relatively low elevation. The woods offer an excellent place to enjoy solitude. Notable peaks on the Green Mountains include Killington Peak, and Glastenbury Mountain.
13. New Hampshire
New Hampshire has 161 miles of the A.T. and most of the trail runs through the White Mountain Forest. In the south, the trail is easier to hike until it ascends Mount Moosilauke and runs on the high peaks of the White Mountain range. New Hampshire has the toughest part of the trail with rough steep grounds and alpine conditions. When you hike on this challenging section, you will walk above tree level traversing at least 48 summits that have an altitude of over 4,000 feet on what is known as the White Mountain Presidential Range.
Maine is home to 282 miles of the A.T. and the end of the trail at Mount Katahdin. The terrain here is particularly difficult to navigate with the long stretches of rocky ground and boulders that will wear out the feet and shoes of any hiker. The last portion of the trail is part of the Baxter State Park and it includes the most isolated stretch known as the 100-mile wilderness.
These highlights are listed in the order in which a north bound hiker will encounter them. Fortunately, the A.T. can be hiked and enjoyed in a south bound or north bound direction. However, it is important to pay attention to the weather conditions in each state and plan to arrive at each state when the weather is most conducive for hiking.