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8 of the Most Epic Stops along the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail, which many simply call the AT, is one of the longest hiking paths in the world. Over the course of nearly 2,200 miles, the path carves and conquers many of the eastern United States’ most stunning sections of wilderness—from the frosty tips of Maine to the sticky, clay-red mountains of northern Georgia. 

Not just anyone can hike the whole shebang—the success rate sits around 25%, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Not to mention, it usually takes a minimum of five months and $5,000 to furnish a full thru-hike adventure. 

Most hikers can, however, spend a few days soaking up the wonders 86-year-old trail has to offer. Make the most of your time in the Appalachian wilderness and check out one (or all) of these sublime sections of trail. 

McAfee Knob

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Image by Amanda Edwards

One of the most frequently photographed landmarks of the whole trail, McAfee Knob shares sweeping views of Virginia’s Catawba Valley. Climb to the very tip of this dramatic, slender rock, and you’ll feel like you’re hanging from the edge of the world. Sitting on the formation is terrifying in the most exhilarating sense possible, making it a crucial part of the AT experience. 

It’s also relatively easy to access from the road, with a 7.8-mile out-and-back hike that’s based near the small town of Catawba. While you’re in the area, consider earning a “Virginia Triple Crown” and also hiking to Dragon’s Tooth and Tinker Cliffs for an approximately 32-mile adventure. 

Grayson Highlands

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Image by David Smith

We’ve got two words for you: wild ponies. This grassy, rolling stretch of Virginia wilderness is part of a state park system and offers panoramic views from its plentiful meadows and balds—and, notably, the area is home to a thriving population of 4-foot-tall ponies. The ponies have roamed these lands since the 1970s, and, apparently, they also serve an important role in the highland’s ecology, munching on dead brush and keeping the bald’s landscaping in check (just like goats do). Though wild, many of the ponies are quite used to humans, so don’t be surprised if they come up to say hello or even try to steal your snacks. 

Mount Katahdin

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Image by Christopher Carlisle

For all the northbound hikers—also known as NOBOs—this is the final destination and hurdle of the trail and perhaps the most epic summit of the whole journey. It’s the highest mountain in Maine and the longest sustained climb of the trail, with more than 4,000 feet of straight elevation gain and involves scrambling over plenty of boulders and ledges. The ascent is grueling, gorgeous, and one of the most famous summits in the thru-hiking community. 

Franconia Ridge 

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Image by Rob Grady

Rugged, exposed, and venerable, this ridgeline is a crown jewel of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Many hikers have stories about battling rain, wind, and other inclement weather conditions at this lush yet bare path that is literally above the clouds. That being said, definitely check the weather to make sure you’ll have a clear hike before proceeding on what’s an 8.9-mile loop hike when approached from the road. Your reward? Panoramic views, whistling wind, and the euphoria that only comes from walking a path that truly feels on top of the world. 

Max Patch 

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Image by Mike Archer

This dreamy, sweeping summit is perched near the Tennessee and North Carolina state line. In the spring and summer, it’s often coated in wildflowers, and the soft grass makes it a deluxe spot for a picnic, painting session, or even an engagement photo shoot. The hike itself is easy—less than a mile to the top—but the real challenge is driving up a windy, slippery gravel road. It takes about an hour, but it’s absolutely worth it, every time. If you want to get the full AT hiker experience, we also highly recommend stopping over at Hot Springs for a dip at the spa’s warm, healing mineral springs. 

Anthony’s Nose and Bear Mountain Bridge

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Image by Charles Allen

It’s hard to believe this landmark is only a few hours away from New York City. Bear Mountain Bridge, ensconced above the Hudson River in the eponymous New York valley, is about as close as you can get to feeling like a tightrope walker on the trail. The suspension bridge is about a half-mile long and is one of the oldest bridges in New York. Get a bird’s eye view of both the river and the bridge with a hike up the nearby Anthony’s Nose, which has an extraordinary rock overlook. 

The Hundred-Mile Wilderness

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Image by Scott Densmore

Okay, so this one is a pretty elaborate stop that you’d need some fortifications to visit. If you’ve got some time, though, this hundred-mile trail section in rural Maine will transport you to another dimension, where roads and highways and traffic no longer exist. This arduous stretch of spruce-fir forest is entirely sequestered from civilization and brimming with pristine lakes, ponds, and plenty of river crossings. While this deserted stretch is not for the weak of heart, it’s an incredible place to heed the call of the wild. 

Clingman’s Dome 

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Image by Mr.JVwj

A zenith of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this viewpoint is known as “Kuwohi” by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to whom the land has great cultural and spiritual significance. It’s the highest point in Tennessee and on the whole Appalachian Trail. The summit is nestled in a coniferous rainforest and is often coated in layers of mist, cloud, and rain, giving it a reputation for absolutely stellar sunsets. Since it has a parking lot and a paved walkway, it’s also one of the most accessible viewpoints of the whole trail. The observation tower has a wide access ramp that’s only a 375-foot distance from the parking lot. 

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