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Don’t Miss These 8 Unique Towns and Pit Stops Along the Appalachian Trail

Many hikers embark on the Appalachian Trail (AT) to escape the throes of society. When one does heed that call of the wild, though, another type of yearning begins to set in—a yearning for diners, mattresses, and modern plumbing. 

When it’s time to take a break from the trail—or plan your next adventure—here are eight of the AT’s most memorable pit stops, from a tiny Bavarian village to a drive-in movie theater that doubles as a campground.

Hot Springs, North Carolina 

Image by Wendy Olsen Photography

Warm mineral springs in a rustic, laid-back setting? Count us in, always. There are more than 10 private, rentable tubs at the campus of Hot Springs Spa & Resort, which means you and your pals can book your own personal hot-tub time-machine party. With a population of fewer than 600 people, you’d expect the “downtown” of this trail town to be all crickets, but Hot Springs really knows how to cater to hikers and other visitors, with a pub, the always-superb Smoky Mountain Diner, and an outdoors shop with plenty of restock options. There’s also a hostel named Elmer’s that’s legendary among thru-hikers for its vintage wares and home-cooked vegetarian meals. 

Long Neck Lair Alpaca Farm, Virginia

Image by Long Neck Lair

Picture rolling mountain hilltops, Southern-brewed sweet tea, and, best of all, a herd of alpacas. That’s what you’ll get at this wholesome pitstop that’s right along the AT in Rural Route, Virginia. This hiker hostel also hosts goats, chickens, and a ton of stunning hillside views. As a bonus, the showers are also pretty incredible at this stop. 

Warwick, New York

Image by Brian Logan

Tucked in the foothills of New York, Warwick is just 50 miles from New York City. This quaint village is dappled with Victorian-era storefronts and is known for its stellar Sunday farmer’s market, but the thing thru-hikers love the most about this town is its drive-in movie theater, which also doubles as campground. The theater is so hiker-friendly that it’s known to hand out radios to hikers so they can enjoy the show from their campsites. Bellvale Farms Creamery is also a crowd-pleaser here, with funky ice-cream flavors that taste as good as they sound. 

Helen, Georgia

Image by Helen, Georgia

Is it slightly jarring to suddenly find yourself in a Bavarian-themed village in northern Georgia? Yes, but is it awesome? Also yes. Just over 50 miles north of the southern terminus of the AT, this miniscule village feels like a fantasy world, with its cobblestoned streets and colorful facades. And it’s not just the architecture that’s spellbinding—there’s also an impressive selection of German eats and drinks. Stop by the Heidelberg pub and music hall for plate-sized pretzels, goulash soup, and schnitzels of all persuasions. If you’re looking for an even quirkier time, stop by the Babyland General Hospital, the “birthplace” of Cabbage Patch Dolls. 

Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia  

Image by Ali Majdfar

Known as the “psychological midpoint” of the nearly 2,200-mile AT footpath, this historic town meets at the intersection of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Those who paid attention in history class will recognize the town as the spot where John Brown famously led an abolitionist raid in 1859, and the fort remains there to this day. Harper’s Ferry is also home to the Appalachian Trail Visitor Center, which is the perfect place for hikers to geek out on all things trail-related. Stick around for an extra day and you can take the Amtrak train line into Washington D.C. for about $16. 

Boots Off Hostel & Campground, Tennessee

Image by Boots Off Hostel & Campground

Give your feet a break and aqua blaze 10 miles of the trail with this unique and artsy Hampton-based hostel as your launch point. There are kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddleboards available for rent. This forested campground is also a righteous place to hang out in its own right. It’s walking distance from the trail and has plenty of primitive camping, as well as tiny cabins and “glamping” options for rent. 

Monson, Maine 

Image by Monson, Maine

This remote town is the final pit stop before the famed 100-mile wilderness in Maine. It has a reputation as an artist’s town with peaceful pastel buildings and a handful of local galleries. There are three restaurants in town, including the James Beard award-winning Filipino restaurant The Quarry. What really makes this place a hiker’s haven, though, is Shaw’s Hiker Hostel. Known for its bottomless blueberry pancakes and impressive selection of musical instruments (think piano, mandolin, guitar, and steel drum), this hostel is one of the most memorable places to sleep on the whole trail. 

Damascus, Virginia 

Image by Daniel Mark Robertson

The AT cuts right through the heart of this zero-stoplight Virginia mountain town. And for most visitors, it’s immediately clear that Damascus adores hikers. From the AT-themed murals to outdoors shops, Damascus earns its nickname of “Trail Town USA.” Stop through in mid-May for the annual Trail Days celebration, which is basically like Burning Man for hikers and has been running since 1987. The festival beckons about 20,000 visitors each year and is the largest AT-specific party in the world. 

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