It takes around five months to hike the entire 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail, from Georgia up to Maine, but you don’t have to quit your job, buy a ton of equipment, and become a thru-hiker in order to enjoy this honored footpath. Here are three accessible options for AT day hikes:
Tennessee & North Carolina
The AT follows the border between Tennessee and North Carolina for a while, meandering through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The highest point on the entire trail occurs here, at Clingmans Dome, which offers great panoramas unless the fog obscures the view. This part of the trail is very popular, so you might avoid holiday weekends, but otherwise, just enjoy some of the south’s most verdant forest and this park’s trademark biological diversity. The Smokies are among the oldest mountains in the world, having acquired a rich array of plant life because of the mountains’ northeast-southwest orientation, high rainfall, and summer humidity (many northern species that were threatened by the previous ice age found a refuge in the Smokies). Park admission is completely free.
The Pennsylvania stretch of the AT isn’t famous for its dramatic landscape, but that means it should be far less crowded than the Smokies. Try hiking around Hawk Mountain, which enjoys a vibrant population of raptors (i.e. birds of prey: eagles, falcons, ospreys, etc.). This wildlife sanctuary is not managed by a state or national park, but rather a nonprofit. Park admission is $6, $8 on autumn weekends (when fall foliage is bright) and national holidays.
Hike to the top of Bear Mountain in the eponymous state park, and then have lunch overlooking miles of undulating green forest. You’ll also have a view of the grand, ever-wide Hudson River. One thing to keep in mind, you can drive up Bear Mountain, so you won’t be alone when you reach the top, but that doesn’t make the scenery any less impressive. Vehicle admission to the park is $8.
What’s your favorite hike along the Appalachian Trail?