The Appalachian Trail (the AT), which traverses fourteen states from Georgia to Maine through idyllic forests, wildflower fields, and lofty peaks, presents many opportunities to experience small towns, American history, and local culture. However, you don’t have to hike the 2,193-milelong footpath in its entirety to benefit from its many offerings. You could explore just a short section of the AT during a day trip and then travel off the trail to enjoy fine cuisine, wine-tasting tours, museums, and more. Think of the AT as your personal tour guide to some of the most beautiful areas of the United States.
EXPERIENCE THE THRILL OF NASCAR
Dawsonville, Georgia, which is just fifty-eight miles north of Atlanta, is located close to Springer Mountain, the AT’s southern endpoint. From Dawsonville, you can take an 8.5- mile trail from Amicalola Falls State Park, home to a 729-foot waterfall, to Springer Mountain and view mountaintop vistas. After your hike, visit the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame to take in vintage NASCAR race cars and memorabilia, or stop by the Atlanta Motorsports Park and race karts on a hilly, twisting track at exhilarating speeds. Savor buffalo wings, pulled pork, or traditional hickory-smoked ribs at Big D’s Barbecue, or follow the Dahlonega wine trail of eight wineries for wine tastings, dining, and live music.
HIKE THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
Experience the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, and hike or drive a half-mile paved road to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee at 6,643 feet. Take the pedestrian ramp to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for lofty mountain vistas. Or take the AT to Charlies Bunion, a stone outcrop at 5,565 feet with amazing panoramic views. In nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you can stroll the Gatlinburg SkyBridge, an almost 700-foot-long pedestrian suspension bridge that’s 1,800 feet above sea level and looks down on the city below. Later, head downtown to taste local cuisines, visit museums, take in the sights atop the Gatlinburg Space Needle observation tower and ride up a mountainside incline rail to play a round of miniature golf at Hillbilly Golf. Or drive to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and spend the day at Dollywood.
SCALE MOUNT MITCHELL
In North Carolina, drive about an hour north of Asheville to hike to Mount Mitchell, the highest summit east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet. Climb to the peak’s observation deck to see as far as eighty-five miles. Enjoy the 360-degree sights atop Max Patch Mountain and explore downtown Asheville, or visit the luxurious 8,000- acre Biltmore Estate in town. Head to the town of Beech Mountain to drive the Avery Barn Quilt Trail and see the fifty-plus colorfully painted Appalachian quilt blocks that adorn barns, homes, and other structures throughout Avery County.
MOTOR ALONG SKYLINE DRIVE
Another picturesque road trip is Virginia’s 105-mile-long Skyline Drive. This two-lane highway crosses the AT multiple times in Shenandoah National Park’s Blue Ridge Mountains. This National Scenic Byway, which runs from Rockfish Gap to Front Royal, is dotted with many observation points ideal for taking in mountaintop views for fall foliage. After your tour, you can drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, another gorgeous mountain roadway, toward Roanoke, Virginia, one of the largest cities on the AT. There, stop for a meal, visit art galleries and museums, go shopping, or hike to the top of Mill Mountain to see the Roanoke Star, a man-made, freestanding structure that is illuminated at night and is one of Virginia’s most recognizable landmarks.
RELIVE HISTORY AT HARPERS FERRY
History buffs will want to visit West Virginia’s Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, which is the spot raided by abolitionist John Brown in 1859. The AT goes through the park, which is in the state’s Eastern Panhandle. The historic site is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters and Visitor Center, John Brown’s Fort, Civil War battlefields, and natural rock formation Jefferson Rock, which boasts views of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and is where President Thomas Jefferson stood in 1783. There are plenty of bakeries, cafés, and shops to enjoy in Harpers Ferry and neighboring Bolivar in Jefferson County, West Virginia.
OVERLOOK THREE STATES
In New Jersey’s Sussex County, just south of the New York-New Jersey border, hike the Appalachian Trail or drive the paved road up to the state’s highest elevation in High Point State Park, where you can climb to the top of the peak’s giant granite-obelisk monument to see expansive views of the Pocono and Catskill Mountains, farmlands, and forests in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
GLIMPSE MANHATTAN SKYSCRAPERS
If you would like to see where the AT got its start, visit the portion of the trail in New York’s Hudson Highlands between Bear Mountain and Harriman State Park, which became the first section of the trail to officially open in 1923. At Bear Mountain, you can visit the Trailside Museums and Zoo, rent paddleboats, take a spin on the merry-go-round, and cross the Hudson River by foot over the Bear Mountain Bridge. New York City and all it has to offer is located on the other side of the river. For views of Manhattan, head to Harriman State Park, which boasts lake and mountain vistas.
SOAK IN ART
The AT runs down Main Street in Hanover, New Hampshire, in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. Downtown, stroll the campus of Dartmouth College. While on campus, visit the Baker-Berry library to view the Epic of American Civilization, a 3,200-square-foot mural and national historic landmark by painter José Clementé. Art aficionados will also enjoy Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art, which houses paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from around the world. Nearby you can hike to the moss-covered Velvet Rocks, a moderate section of the AT perfect for a short day hike.
REACH THE NORTHERN PEAK
In Maine, just outside the town of Monson, you can take the Appalachian Trail up a very strenuous section to scale Mount Katahdin, the northern end of the AT. Or you can stay downtown to enjoy the atmosphere of this rural trail community, where you can shop for pottery and real maple syrup, sample craft beer, pile your plate with barbecued ribs, and chat with hikers who are about to start or complete a monthslong trek on the trail.
You can use the Appalachian Trail as your inspiration to travel north or south along the East Coast or visit trail-proximate locations one state at a time—it’s up to you! No matter how you tour the AT, you are bound to discover many amazing destinations.
For more information, visit appalachiantrail.org
*An earlier version of this article listed the Gatlinburg Sky Bridge as 700 miles long. It is actually 700 feet long.