The Appalachian Trail is perhaps the United States’ best-known long-distance hiking trail. It is also one of the country’s most accessible: It is never more than an easy day’s drive from the Atlantic Ocean and passes within a few dozen miles of the country’s largest cities, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. And though thousands of brave souls attempt annual through-hikes that can take as long as six months, much of the trail is conducive to point-to-point day hikes by typical enthusiasts.
Whether you live in one of those big cities or are coming from afar to wonder at the “A.T”’s stunning beauty, try these five easy day hikes along the Appalachian Trail.
- Roan Highlands, Tennessee/North Carolina
The Roan Highlands is an extended region of high ground along North Carolina-Tennessee border. All told, it includes about 20 trail-miles along a ridgeline that ranges from about 5,000 to 6,500 feet in elevation. Along the way, the trail passes through a range of unusual biomes made possible by a confluence of climatic factors, including consistently high winds, poor drainage, rocky soil and raw altitude. Pay particular attention to increasingly rare Fraser fir and spruce forests, rhododendron and laurel groves, burnt-out grassy balds along mountaintops, and wetlands replete with rare flowers.
- Mount Washington and the Presidentials, New Hampshire
Mount Washington and the rest of the Presidential Range occupy a harsh, high-altitude environment in northern New Hampshire. The weather here is notoriously unpredictable, so use caution at any time of year. The 14-mile stretch of high country here includes lichen-encrusted boulders, stunted krummholz and crystal-clear mountain lakes and ponds. If you need a break during your trip, the full-service summit lodge at Mount Washington is a great resting point.
- Bear Mountain, New York
The Appalachian Trail comes close to sea level at its Hudson River crossing, near New York’s Bear Mountain. From the high ground here (and, if the weather is clear enough, along the Hudson itself), you can just glimpse the spires of Manhattan. But for a real Appalachian Trail experience, stick to the lowland forests of this beautiful and often overlooked section of the trail.
- Delaware River Valley, Pennsylvania/New Jersey
The Delaware River Valley is another easily accessible area of the trail that lies within relative spitting distance of New York City. The Delaware Water Gap, found near the valley’s “trail midpoint,” is a stunning piece of scenery that looks like — and quite literally is — a long, lateral mountain sawed in half by the powerful erosive force of the Delaware River. During the fall, the view from the top of the Gap features seemingly endless waves of bright reds, oranges and yellows.
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Famous songs aside, the Shenandoah Valley is a place apart. Like the Delaware River Valley, it hits its stride during the peak foliage months, but any time is a good time to visit and hike. For an added bonus, drive a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway or visit one of the area’s many caverns after your hike.