This Appalachian Trail guide will let you know if you’re ready for the hike of a lifetime
2180 miles. That’s how far the Appalachian Trail stretches. It runs from Georgia all the way up to Maine. Needless to say, walking the trail from end to end is certainly not for the faint of heart. A full hike of the Appalachian Trail would take months of dedicated effort and incredible endurance.
However, there’s no rule saying you can’t just hike a certain section of the trail. With over 2000 miles of trails, it’s easy for a hiker of any skill level to plan a trip on the Appalachian Trail that’s just right for them. There’s way too much information on hiking the Appalachian Trail to entirely cover, so I want to focus on choosing your destination where you’ll want to explore all that the Trail has to offer.
The Appalachian Trail is broken up into five main sections. Let’s take a quick look at each one:
Northern New England
This section of the trail is found in Maine and New Hampshire. It’s also the most difficult section of the trail due to the rugged terrain and unpredictable weather. Some parts of this section are even above the tree line, which only amplifies any severe weather. This may be the best part to start at if you’re planning a full hike through of the trail. It’s also a great section to challenge yourself on a hike of a shorter duration. Breathtaking highlights in the area include Baxter State Park and the White Mountain National Forest.
Southern New England
Found in eastern Vermont and traveling up to the New York-Connecticut border, this section of the trail is much less difficult than the northernmost segment. Hikers walking this section will pass many signs of early human activity. Expect to see many stone walls from previously existing structures such as farm buildings. This section also contains some hiking through gorgeous farmland and lovely pastoral views. Consider resting your legs at the waterfalls in Gifford Woods State Forest Park or Kent Falls State Park.
The intensity picks back up a little in the Mid-Atlantic section of the Appalachian Trail. Much of the trail is not overly strenuous, but there are some gnarly parts here and there. This section of the trail is also very close to some heavily populated urban areas, but the trail retains a feeling of remoteness as it passes to the west of major cities like Philadelphia or New York City. For hikers traveling through this section, the Mid-Atlantic makes it easy to resupply considering its proximity to so many cities. Dig the beautiful scenery at Bear Mountain State Park and Pennyslvania’s stunning Pinnacle Overlook.
This section of the trail offers some of the most scenic views and least traveled sections of hiking trails. Shenandoah National Park is located in this section of the Appalachian Trail and is famed for its wildlife and vistas. This segment in the Virginias is also a great place for hikers planning shorter trips. An area known as Skyline Drive offers amenities and accommodations closer to the trail than anywhere else along the entire length.
Running from northern Tennessee to the trail’s end point at Springer Mountain in Georgia, this section of the Appalachian Trail takes hikers over the tallest peak on the entire trail at the famous Clingmans Dome. This section is mostly full of well-maintained trails, but some parts offer long and strenuous climbs. And there’s no better site to see for somebody who started their hike up in Maine than Vogel State Park, one of the oldest and most popular state parks in Georgia and one of the last stops on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail.
Once you’ve chosen one section (or sections) to hike, then the real planning begins. The first thing you need to do is get some guidebooks for the area you chose. These guides will become your best friends during the planning process — be sure and study them and become familiar with the section you’ll be hiking.
I also recommend choosing a mileage amount that you’ll be comfortable with. During the excitement of planning your hike, you may be prone to overestimate your abilities. Take all the different variables into account and make a good decision for yourself. After all, the trail isn’t going anywhere — it’s been around since the 1930s and is a permanent part of the hiking heritage in the United States.
Put in the time and effort to plan your hike, and you will have an experience that you will never forget!