appalachian trail ask an expert adventure adviser best hikes
The Best Appalachian Trail Hikes (Photo: Compass Points Media)

What Are the Best Appalachian Trail Hikes?

I want to hike part of the Appalachian Trail with my 16-year-old son this summer. We plan to go for a week. What are the best stretches for a trip like this?

appalachian trail ask an expert adventure adviser best hikes
Greg Melville

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With the possible exception of the Pennsylvania section, which is mined with foot-stabbing stones, you can pick pretty much any part of the Appalachian Trail and have a good time. But if you're asking me to choose my favorite parts of the AT, I'd have to go with one of these three, which come in first because of the uniqueness of their scenery.

Presidential Range, New Hampshire

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Presidential Range, New Hampshire (Greg Melville)

Topped by 6,288-foot Mount Washington, the towering Presidentials are among the highest mountains on the Appalachian Trail, making much of this 88-mile section through the White Mountain National Forest feel like a walk through the Arctic tundra.  You’ll find some of the toughest climbs on the AT here, as well as consistently dramatic vistas of lakes in the valleys below.

The section, all maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club, begins in Kinsman Notch and ends north of the Presidentials in Gorham. Along the way, you’ll pass six huts run by the AMC.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia (Alyson Hurt via Flickr)

If you're looking for something a little less strenuous than the Presidentials, the 101-mile section of the AT that traverses Shenandoah National Park offers all the glory of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley for the price of a relatively easy hike. The trail mostly stays atop the ridgeline, running parallel to Skyline Drive, so the ups  and downs are fairly easy. The added bonus is that the trail passes by Big Meadows Lodge, where you can get a burger and a beer and even spend the night sleeping on clean sheets.

Springer Mountain, Georgia, to North Carolina

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Springer Mountain, Georgia (Nicholas Lambert via Flickr)

While the sections of the Appalachian Trail in states like North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Maine get all of the glory, this 75-mile stretch of trail in northern Georgia to Dick's Creek Gap is just as spectacular. You’ll cross through forests of mountain laurel and rhododendron, climb grassy peaks straight out of The Sound of Music, and drop into remote, oak-shaded hollows. The Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains this length of trail, can point you in the right direction.

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