Moon Drive & Hike Appalachian Trail
The Best Trail Towns, Day Hikes, and Road Trips In Between
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- Make your escape on shorter trips from major cities or drive the entire three-week route from Georgia to Maine
- Find your hike along the Appalachian Trail with detailed trail descriptions, mileage, difficulty ratings, and tips for picking the right section of the trail for you
- Discover adventures off the trail: Immerse yourself in the spirit of colorful trail towns, peep the changing leaves in the Berkshires, and cruise the sun-dappled Skyline Drive. Kick back after a day hike at a microbrewery in Asheville, dig in to southern barbecue (hey, you’ve earned it), or unwind in the coffee shops and art galleries of a hip New England hamlet
- Take it from avid hiker Timothy Malcolm, who shares his insight on the best views, waterfalls, mountains, and (of course!) breweries
- Full-color photos, strategic itineraries, easy-to-use maps and site-to-site driving times
- Get the lowdown on when and where to get gas, how to avoid traffic, and braving different road and weather conditions, plus tips for LGBTQ travelers, seniors, and road-trippers with kids
DISCOVER The Appalachian Trail
Planning Your Trip
Hit the Road
The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, inspiring millions to test its presence and indulge in its beauty. Running continuously for 2,200 miles (3,540 km) from Maine to Georgia, it carves its way through wildflower fields, flowing rivers, and great peaks. Along the way, it tells the story of America.
The Appalachian Trail was conceptualized in 1921 as a way to connect city residents to American farms and wilderness. The Palisades Interstate Park Trail Conference—now the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference—created the first section of the trail, which opened in 1923 with a trailhead at the Bear Mountain Bridge in New York. Hiking or driving up to the bridge today, gazing at the rolling mountains on either side of the mighty Hudson River, you can understand the excitement the trail forefathers felt when completing their section.
Since its completion in 1937, the trail has been a monument to our connection to nature. Almost from the trail’s creation, people have attempted to hike its entirety without interruption; today, some 3,000 people start thru-hikes each year, weathering the elements and pushing their minds and bodies to the very limits. Their journey wouldn’t be the same without the small towns that punctuate the trail, made up of people who may prepare lunch, provide supplies, or offer shelter for the night.
It’s this sense of community that has sustained the trail and its surrounding area for more than 80 years. Surprises await modern-day visitors at every step—whether in the delicious farm-to-table cuisine or the unique craft beer—but the best surprise may be the warm hospitality you’ll find along the way.
To indulge in the Appalachian Trail is to experience the history of America itself, from the Civil War to Civil Rights. Every Appalachian Trail story is different, but each is distinctly American. Whether you’re chasing it all the way from Georgia to Maine or connecting to it from a nearby city, you can blaze your own path on the Appalachian Trail.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee
The bustling metropolis of Atlanta, with its museums and eccentric neighborhoods, makes a perfect base for a trip through the lower Appalachian Mountains. This region features the wild Nantahala National Forest, home to Appalachian Trail town Franklin, North Carolina, plus the popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where millions annually visit to summit Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. Bluegrass, beer, and art reign in exciting and young Asheville, North Carolina.
Virginia and West Virginia
The Appalachian Trail ambles along a constant ridge in Virginia and West Virginia, primarily through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. Stopover cities include Waynesboro, with its laid-back outdoorsy vibe; Front Royal and its Civil War history; and Roanoke, where a neon star rises high above the skyline and beckons lovers of all stripes. Nearby is iconic McAfee Knob, a necessary photo op, and every trail hiker should stop in Harpers Ferry, a historic community that’s also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Maryland and Pennsylvania
There isn’t much of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, but respites are welcome in Hagerstown and Frederick, the latter an artsy hub with fun dining and drinking spots. The Keystone State is known as Rocksylvania as the trail cuts through tenuous terrain. Hikers will find great backpacking opportunities at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, home to the Appalachian Trail Museum. In Harrisburg, visit the National Civil War Museum and dine at one of several fine restaurants. College town East Stroudsburg and trail towns Duncannon and Delaware Water Gap are not to be missed.
New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut
Visitors to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area can find marvelous waterfalls and the view from Mount Tammany. The High Point Monument towers above northern New Jersey, while in New York, hikers descend to the lowest point on the Appalachian Trail at the Bear Mountain Bridge. Stopover cities Beacon and Poughkeepsie offer artistic and gastronomical opportunities, and in Connecticut, the charming Kent and quaint Salisbury make excellent day-tripping destinations.
Massachusetts and Vermont
The Appalachian Trail climbs into the New England woods toward Mount Greylock, while along US-7, tourists enjoy the weekender charms of Great Barrington, Stockbridge, and Lenox, home to antiques centers and bistro dining. North Adams and MASS MoCA are necessary stops for art lovers, as are locations celebrating Grandma Moses, Norman Rockwell, and Robert Frost. In Vermont, scale the impressive Mount Equinox and daunting Killington Peak before visiting quintessential New England communities Manchester Center and Woodstock.
New Hampshire and Maine
Cooler with the chance of serious precipitation throughout most of the year, northern New England includes the alpine climate zones of White Mountain National Forest, anchored by the impressive Mount Washington. The trail is rugged and sometimes dangerous out here, especially through Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness. Still, iconic moments can be stolen at Height of Land in quaint Rangeley and the great Katahdin inside Baxter State Park.
When to Go
Those who thru-hike the Appalachian Trail pack it from March to October, which is when you’re best off as well. Spring can be wonderful south of Pennsylvania, when waterfalls are active and bugs aren’t yet teeming, but north of the Mason-Dixon Line you’re more likely to encounter snow or torrential rain through April. Summer is a fine time to visit the New England section of the trail, though mud is common in Vermont and bugs will attack throughout the season. If you want to hike parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, consider that traffic will be highest in summer and during fall weekends.
Speaking of fall: It gets busy everywhere. The leaves burst in oranges, yellows, and reds starting in late September in Maine and New Hampshire, and the color moves south through October. Mid-October is prime time for leaf-peeping in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, and the trail area will be packed. Fall colors reach the Virginias and southern Appalachians by late October, a fine time to visit the national parks because traffic is somewhat lighter.
From November to February, several roads are subject to closure, including Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Mount Washington Auto Road, and local roads at high elevations. Closures sometimes continue into March and April.
Know Before You Go
Considering the Appalachian Trail traverses nearly the entire Eastern Seaboard, weather can vary wildly from one location to the next. Areas south of Pennsylvania generally enjoy comfortable temperatures from April to October, though there’s always the threat of snow in higher elevations in March and April, and even in October. In the summer average temperatures are 75-80°F (24-27°C), though conditions are cooler at higher elevations. Winter can be somewhat comfortable in the southern Appalachians, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s, but wind, rain, and snow are always possible.
North of the Mason-Dixon Line is another story. Between Connecticut and Pennsylvania the summers are hot and humid, while up in New England you can enjoy 65-75°F (18-24°C) days regularly from June to September. Spring and fall can bring a range of outcomes, with temperatures typically anywhere between 30 and 65°F (minus 1-18°C) with chances of torrential wind, rain, and snow. Only serious travelers enjoy tripping the north during winter, when temperatures routinely fall below freezing, and snow and ice are always possible.
Reservations and Passes
You’ll need permits to camp at both Great Smoky Mountains National Park ($20) and Shenandoah National Park (free). Reservations are required to stay overnight in the Smokies, while all backcountry travelers need a permit at Shenandoah. Reservations are also required inside Baxter State Park in Maine, which has a quota for the number of permits it allots to long-distance hikers to climb Katahdin. If you’re day-hiking Katahdin, you don’t need a permit, but you’ll need to follow day-use trails and it’s advisable to making a parking reservation in advance. Also, only thru-hikers are permitted to camp overnight inside Pennsylvania state game lands. If you’re planning on overnight camping at a campground, call ahead to make a reservation.
If hiking on or near the Appalachian Trail, you’ll likely be close to either shelters or campgrounds. There are hundreds of manmade lean-tos (three-sided structures) along the trail, which are available to all hikers. Lean-tos can fit as many as a dozen campers, though no two lean-tos are the same. Hikers are asked to share lean-tos with others; if the structures are filled to capacity, typically you can camp nearby, or you may have to hike to the next lean-to.
Tent camping is also allowed along much of the Appalachian Trail, though there are some regulations and exclusions in specific areas. When camping, always follow leave no trace practices by taking all waste with you and sealed in a pack. Black bears are common in the backcountry and are attracted to scent. National parks and other designated areas will have bear-proof disposal containers; always keep food with you until you’re able to dispose of waste safely in one of these containers.
Campfires are allowed throughout much of the trail, but there are exceptions depending on state or park regulations. Generally, campfires should be kept small and must always be extinguished before retiring for the night.
What to Pack
At the bare minimum, hikers should wear breathable clothing and sturdy shoes—preferably boots with good traction—and bring plenty of water. For day hikes of up to 10-12 miles (16-19.3 km), at least two liters of water is typically necessary. Backpacks that include bladders tend to work well for long-distance hikes, while experienced campers may bring water filters, which can be used to collect water. If collecting water in the backcountry, be sure to filter or boil it. Either way, anyone who hikes should pack water.
Hiking poles are useful in rocky areas, on steep hikes, and in potentially muddy or leaf-strewn areas that may be slippery. Most trails are well marked by blazes (the Appalachian Trail follows white blazes, and spur trails that lead to sights and campgrounds follow blue blazes), but bringing a compass is a good idea. Long-distance hikers should always leave contact information and hiking plans with friends and family members.
You should pack food, even if you’re trekking a short distance. Granola is popular, as is small fruit (oranges, berries, grapes), meat and cheese sticks, and tidy sandwiches (think peanut butter and jelly or standard meat and cheese on bread). Always bring a plastic bag for food waste and trash, and store that bag in a backpack, taking it with you.
Long-distance and overnight hikers will pack equipment including but not limited to hammocks, tents, sleeping pads, blankets, skillets, pots, a camp stove, plates, silverware, cups, a utility knife, and dry foods such as rice and pasta. An extra pair of clothing is always a good idea when hiking, even for short distances, and dressing in layers that can be removed when warm is recommended. For areas where elevations can exceed 3,000 feet (915 m), keeping skin covered is a necessity—think gloves, hats, facial stockings, headbands, and jackets.
Getting There and Back
The most convenient airport at the southern end of the route, especially for those wanting to visit or start a trek at Springer Mountain, Georgia, is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (800/897-1910, www.atl.com, ATL), the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic. Maine’s Bangor International Airport (207/992-4600, www.flybangor.com, BGR) is most convenient for those in the northern end of the route. Halfway through, Harrisburg International Airport (888/235-9442, www.flyhia.com, MDT) in Pennsylvania provides a wealth of connections to the East and Midwest.
Because the Appalachian Trail is a ribbon through America’s eastern wilderness, there are more than a few places where you’ll have to rely on state and county roads to get from one place to another. The most convenient interstate highways for travelers looking for quicker routes include I-75, which connects Atlanta travelers to the Blue Ridge; I-81, which runs alongside the Blue Ridge up through Pennsylvania; I-84, which cuts across New Jersey and New York to New England; and I-91, which runs up the middle of New England to US-2, the final stretch through Maine.
Your best bet for car rentals is at nearby airports, as you’ll be hard-pressed to find agencies in the more remote areas along the route. Note that much of the route is at higher elevations and has frequent twists and turns, sometimes-dangerous curves, and poor road conditions (especially in New Hampshire and Maine). That’s to say, be careful with your rental.
The Appalachian Trail brings city dwellers into wild countryside where forests thrive, wildlife roams, and GPS devices may not always work. Be sure to exercise caution when driving this route, handling curves at low speeds and observing all speed limits. While a black bear is unlikely to walk out onto the road (it has happened, though), squirrels, raccoons, and skunks are seen far more often. Still, the biggest wildlife threat to your car is the white-tailed deer, which is common to the eastern United States. Deer pose the highest risk around sunrise and sunset, and at night when visibility is low. Honk your horn if approaching deer by the road, brake slowly, and never swerve to avoid hitting one.
Finally, while in New Hampshire and Maine—especially on state and local roads—be on the lookout for moose. The highest collision risk is during late summer and early fall, during the fall breeding season, and at dusk or night. Drive slowly and use high beams whenever necessary.
As for GPS, you’re bound to lose a connection with it (and your smartphone) at some point, especially if you’re driving in the woods. Plan each day’s meal and rest stops ahead of time.
In higher elevations, roads will freeze or be heavily snow-packed, especially between November and April. These mountain roads are also subject to wind and rain damage. Sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway, plus Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and roads inside protected lands will close when conditions are unsafe for driving. Before setting out on your trip, inquire about road conditions with the appropriate parks and sites.
High-elevation roads may become extremely narrow and challenging to navigate. If you feel any trepidation about driving on a road, don’t attempt it. When driving on a narrow road where traffic moves in both directions, proceed slowly and take note of areas where you can pull off to let oncoming traffic pass.
You’ll only need to observe mileposts on the Blue Ridge Parkway and on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway counts down south to north, starting at Mile 469.1 at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ending at Mile 0 at Shenandoah. Skyline Drive then begins at Mile 105 at the park’s southern entrance, counting down to Mile 0 at the northern entrance in Front Royal.
As a general rule, fill up the tank before starting a daily drive, or whenever you’re below a half-tank and you’ve reached a town or city with at least one gas station. You’ll encounter the greatest challenge in the area between Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia and Asheville, North Carolina, where stops include Hiawassee, Franklin, and Hot Springs; on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, where nearby gas stations might be up to 30 miles east or west of an exit; and in Maine, where gas is harder to find north of US-2.
If you’re pinching pennies, avoid filling up too much in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, where gas prices are historically well higher than the national average. Tennessee and Virginia tend to have lower gas prices than the national average.
HIT THE ROAD
This road trip follows the traditional thru-hiker’s journey, which starts in Georgia and runs north to Maine. It begins in Atlanta, a major transportation hub, then follows Route 19 north to meet up with the Appalachian Trail as it weaves through wild Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. From there, it follows a series of state routes, avoiding interstate highways to mirror the trail’s purpose of connecting visitors to the countryside. At the northern portion of the route in Maine, it leaves the trail and extends to Bangor, the closest transportation hub to the end of the trail at Mount Katahdin.
While the route generally parallels the Appalachian Trail, in areas where accommodations near the trail are less frequent (such as parts of the Tennessee/North Carolina border, southern Pennsylvania and western/central Maine), the route separates from the trail and crosses small towns and cities such as Asheville, NC, and Hershey, PA.
Popular roads marked as part of the route include the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in Virginia, Route 9 following the Hudson River in New York, and Route 7, which crosses many towns in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. These roads typically feature plenty of nearby hikes and outstanding vistas.
21 Days on the Appalachian Trail
Spend a day learning about a couple of American legacies at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Spend your evening with the hip kids in Cabbagetown and Reynoldstown.
ATLANTA TO CHEROKEE
161 miles/259 km, 3 hours
Leave early and take I-85 and US-23 north for two hours to reach Nantahala National Forest, a rather unheralded region of challenging peaks and wild trails. Hike Wayah Bald (7.2 miles/11.6 km, 4.5 hours), then stop in Franklin for a beer and a bite at Lazy Hiker Brewing Co. before spending the night in Cherokee.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
108 miles/174 km, 3.75 hours
Start your day with breakfast at Peter’s Pancakes and Waffles and a visit to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. You’ll spend the rest of the day inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America. Drive up Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome, the highest point along the Appalachian Trail. If you’re up for a challenge, spend the rest of your afternoon hiking Rocky Top Trail (13.3 miles/21.4 km, 7 hours). After your drive or hike, continue on to Gatlinburg for dinner and to spend the night.
GATLINBURG TO ASHEVILLE
81 miles/130 km, 1.75 hours
Wake up and head to Asheville via US-321 N and I-40 E. Mosey around downtown for a bit and visit the Biltmore Estate. Then check out the River Arts district, where you can peruse plenty of cool local art, before visiting Wedge Brewing Company. Be sure not to miss Burial Beer Co. while in the city. Finish the night with a nice meal at The Admiral.
ASHEVILLE TO ELIZABETHTON
100 miles/161 km, 2.5 hours
Fuel up with some amazing biscuits at Biscuit Head before making the 40-minute trek via US-25 to Hot Springs. Hike Lover’s Leap Trail (1.8 miles/2.9 km, 1 hour) and relax in the water at Hot Springs Resort and Spa. Then drive a little over an hour on US-208 and US-26 to Johnson City. Reward yourself with a beer at Yee-Haw Brewing Company. Before the day ends, drive the extra 10 miles (16.1 km) on US-321 to Elizabethton. Cool off in Blue Hole Falls and prepare for a heavenly plate at Big Dan’s BBQ.
- On Sale
- May 7, 2019
- Page Count
- 350 pages
- Moon Travel