Best Places to Hike On the Appalachian Trail
By Matt Heid
AMC Outdoors, April 2006
The Appalachian Trail travels through the Northeast for 1,166 miles, from Harpers Ferry to the summit of Katahdin in Maine. Along the way, it journeys through profound natural diversity, pauses at mind-bending views, and spans the breadth of Northeast hiking experiences. You may never hike the entire AT, but you can still revel in some of its greatest highlights on these exceptional sections.
Anthony's Nose and Vicinity: Above the Hudson River
After crossing the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge-the lowest point on the entire trail at 124 feet-the AT climbs 500 feet in half a mile along the flanks of rugged Anthony’s Nose. The summit of this rocky knob offers panoramic views of the Hudson River valley, from the distant New York skyline to imposing Storm King Mountain on the opposite shore. Closed to the public until 1993, the peak is now accessible from the AT via the Camp Smith Trail, a 3.7-mile route that winds along the clifftops high above the river.
Distance: 2.2 miles round-trip to the summit
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes, Hudson Valley (AMC Books); 50 Hikes in the Lower Hudson Valley (Backcountry), Appalachian Trail Guide, New York, Map section 2 (Appalachian Trail Conservancy)
Blue Mountain: Port Clinton to Lehigh Gap
Every fall, more than 20,000 migrating raptors fly over 1,521-foot Hawk Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania. Located near the midpoint of this long ridgeline stretch along Blue Mountain, the open summit provides sweeping vistas of pastoral Pennsylvania landscape. It’s just one of many outstanding viewpoints along this section, including the Cliffs, Bake Oven Knob, and the Pinnacle, considered by many to be the AT’s best view in the state. Break this section into a series of day-hikes between road crossings, or use the five designated shelters and campsites for a multi-day adventure.
Distance: 40 miles one-way
Info: Appalachian Trail Guide, Pennsylvania, Map sections 3-6 (Keystone Trails Association); Exploring the Appalachian Trail, Mid-Atlantic States (Stackpole)
Deep in the Delaware
Traveling along a ridgeline more than a thousand feet above the mighty Delaware River, this section treads the view-rich spine of Kittatinny Ridge and visits Sunfish Pond, the southernmost glacial lake on the AT. A side trip leads atop 1,527-foot Mount Tammany, where you can peer into the cliff-hemmed spectacle of the Water Gap itself. The hike runs from the state line to Millbrook-Blairstown Road and can be split midway at Camp Road, .04 mile from AMC's Mohican Outdoor Center.
Distance: 15.9 miles one-way
The Taconic Highlands: Salisbury to Jug End
A high-elevation plateau ringed by cliffs and cascading waterways, the Taconic Highlands are home to old-growth forest, waterfalls, and a 17-mile stretch of the AT that doesn’t cross a single road. En route, it passes over the open summits of Mount Race and 2,624-foot Mount Everett, the second highest peak in Massachusetts. Eight designated shelters and camping areas, plus ready dayhiking access from Route 41 in the Housatonic Valley below, make for endless day-hiking options. Try the six-mile trip up the Race Brook Falls Trail, north over Mount Everett, and down the Elbow Trail.
Distance: 16.9 miles one-way
The Carter Range: Pinkham Notch to the Androscoggin River
The AT winds through the White Mountains for more than 100 miles, including nearly 20 miles above treeline, and crams in more views and mountains than any other section of trail. Hiking hordes congregate where the scenery is grandest (Franconia Ridge and the Presidential Range) so opt instead for the surprising stretches of solitude along the Carter Range and adjacent peaks of Wildcat Mountain. Expansive views of the Presidential Range and truly remote Wild River Valley await along the route, which traveses six peaks over 4,000 feet. AMC’s Carter Notch Hut and two backcountry shelters provide overnight options.
Distance: 21.1 miles one-way
Info: White Mountain Guide (AMC), AMC White Mountain Map 5, Carter Range-Evans notch
The Rangeley Lakes Region: Route 4 to Route 27
It’s rugged, beautiful, and captures the essence of the AT experience in Maine. Beginning near the tiny town of Madrid, this remote section clambers over the massifs of Saddleback, Sugarloaf, and Crocker Mountains, and visits the shores of several serene mountain ponds along the way. A remarkable lack of development enhances the sense of isolation, though the AT travels through only a narrow corridor of protected land in this area. A controversial wind power project is proposed for nearby Reddington Mountain, which could affect the view from the trail. Hike it now and form your own opinion as you spend a few nights at this section’s four designated shelters.
Distance: 32.2 miles one-way
Info: Appalachian Trail Guide, Maine, Map 6 (ATC), Maine Mountain Guide and Maps (AMC)
30-Mile Wilderness: The 100-Mile Wilderness
From Monson, Maine, the AT begins its journey through the fabled 100-Mile Wilderness, the longest stretch of the AT that doesn’t cross a paved road. Many of its best highlights are packed into the first 30 miles, including 60-foot Lower Wilson Falls, lush low-elevation sugar maple forest, rock-strewn rivers, and 360-degree views from the Barren-Chairback Range. Excellent campsites are abundant and four shelters provide even more variety. The journey ends at the KI Road a short distance from Gulf Hagas, a slate gorge filled with waterfalls. A one-way trip to the head of the Gulf adds four miles; continue another two miles to end at AMC’s Little Lyford Pond Camps.
Distance: 29.9 miles one-way
Info: Appalachian Trail Guide, Maine, Map 3