The Appalachian Trail (AT) cuts an iconic, white-blazed path along the eastern United States, but did you know those 2,190 miles are the spine of a far more complex trail system? Thousands of miles of blue-blazed side trails add to a network offering some of the region’s best hiking in any season. Strap on your snowshoes: Here are eight blue-blazed hikes to enjoy this winter.
1. THIRD MOUNTAIN TRAIL
Piscataquis County, Maine
Third Mountain is a little-known gem in the 100-Mile Wilderness. A 2.1-mile hike from AMC’s Gorman Chairback Lodge brings you up the ridge to the AT. Go left for a strenuous 0.7-mile climb to Third Mountain’s summit or continue straight, over the ridge, another 2.6 miles to reach Indian Pond. AMC maintains a remote campsite at Indian Pond, so you can hike this route out and back in one day or spend a winter overnight in the wild.
DISTANCE: 5.6 or 8 miles round trip
INFO: Maine Mountain Guide, 10th ed. (AMC Books); outdoors.org/maine
2. CARTER-MORIAH TRAIL
This hike begins on the northern edge of the White Mountain National Forest, off Bangor Road in Gorham. You’ll want to spot a car on Route 16 to avoid a road walk at the end of the trip. Begin on Carter-Moriah Trail, which climbs gradually for the first mile then gets steeper as it rises over a series of ledges, with views to the west. Near the summit of Mount Moriah, follow the trail (now the AT) right to the next junction, stopping to take in the views along this elevated section. At the junction, turn right again, this time onto Stony Brook Trail, which descends to Route 16.
DISTANCE: 9.5 miles One way
INFO: White Mountain Guide, 29th ed. (AMC Books)
3. KINSMAN RIDGE
Franconia Notch, N.H.
This excursion offers a little bit of everything, starting as a stroll through the forest and working up to an above-treeline ridge walk. From Lafayette Place Campground, just off Interstate 93, follow the blue-blazed Lonesome Lake Trail. At 1.2 miles, the trail crosses the Cascade Brook Trail–Dodge Cutoff (a 0.4-mile detour to the left will lead you to AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut, which is staffed by a caretaker during the winter), and at 2.3 miles it reaches Kinsman Ridge. Weather permitting, turn right and follow the ridge toward the summit of Cannon Mountain, 1.8 miles ahead.
DISTANCE: 8.2 miles round trip
INFO: White Mountain Guide, 29th ed. (AMC Books)
4. UPPER GOOSE POND
This simple hike begins at the small AT trailhead on Route 20. Cross the Massachusetts Turnpike via a pedestrian bridge then keep left at the fork in the trail. Here the route steepens, eventually reaching the Upper Goose Pond Natural Area. After a short descent, you’ll see a side trail for Upper Goose Pond Cabin (0.5 mile). Overnight space in the cabin is reserved for AT thru- and section hikers, but it’s a nice spot for day-hikers to take a break. Continue straight on the AT to reach the beautiful, 45-acre Upper Goose Pond.
DISTANCE: 4.7 miles round trip, with detour to the cabin
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)
5. PINE KNOB LOOP TRAIL
Access this trail, part of Housatonic Meadows State Park, at the trailhead on Route 7 in Cornwall. This moderate hike has a big payoff: a view of the snow-covered hills of the Housatonic Valley. Often overshadowed by the nearby AT, which connects with Pine Knob Loop Trail toward the summit of Pine Knob, this trail is steep in some sections, with an elevation gain of 700 feet, but short enough for beginners to enjoy.
DISTANCE: 2.6-mile loop
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); Housatonic Meadows State Park
6. BEARFORT MOUNTAIN
West Milford, N.J.
To reach stunning views of the New Jersey–New York border and Abram S. Hewitt State Forest’s unique geology up close, park in the lot on Lakeside Road and start on the blue-blazed State Line Trail. At 0.8 mile, follow the yellow-blazed Ernest Walter Trail to the left. When you reach the junction with Bearfort Ridge Trail, you’ll have a decision to make: Continue straight on Walter Trail to loop back to State Line Trail via the AT (4.5 miles total) or turn left for an out-and-back route. Bearfort Ridge extends 2 miles to another parking area, traversing unique geologic formations and offering dramatic views of nearby Greenwood Lake. Either route offers a challenging, strenuous hike.
DISTANCE: 4.5 miles or 8 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near New York City (AMC Books); New York–New Jersey Trail Conference; New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry
7. STOKES STATE FOREST
Lusscroft Farm, nestled between Stokes State Forest and High Point State Park, is home to a 5-mile trail network. Park at the farm on Neilson Road and pick up the blue-blazed trail 0.1 mile down the road to the north. Turn left and follow the trail into the forest. At about 0.4 mile you’ll pass an old log cabin. Continue climbing to the AT—it’s about 2 miles to the junction—then follow the white blazes to the left, all the way to Sunrise Mountain Overlook, where the view stretches over rural northern New Jersey.
DISTANCE: 9 miles round trip
INFO: Lusscroft Farm; New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry
8. THE PINNACLE
The Pinnacle is perhaps Pennsylvania’s most iconic stop on the AT. Although often hiked as a loop that passes the Pulpit, another stunning viewpoint, the easiest winter route is out-and-back along a pair of wide trails. Follow Blue Trail north from the parking area on Reservoir Road. At the AT junction, bear right onto the AT/Pinnacle Trail. The final half-mile is the rockiest stretch of the hike. For the view, continue about 250 feet down a spur trail. Take in the vista across to Kittatinny Ridge and the Great Valley.
DISTANCE: 8.5 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia (AMC Books)
Dave Boone, Jared Coyne, Brendan Taylor, Mark Zakutansky
For more, check out “Where to Snowshoe on the Appalachian Trail.”