Weekend Getaways on the Appalachian Trail

When most people think of hiking the Appalachian Trail, they imagine a full Wild-style expedition: a thru-hiker on a journey through the wilderness from Georgia to Maine. But the best thing about the AT is how accessible it is from cities up and down the east coast—making it the perfect trail for a quick hiking getaway. If you’re in a nearby metropolis, here are the best weekend trips for getting a breath of fresh Appalachian air.

Appalachian Trail Sign Maine to Georgia
The Appalachian Trail runs all the way from Maine to Georgia, offering plenty of weekend getaway hikes. Photo © SEASTOCK/iStock.

From Atlanta

Where to go: Atlanta residents can escape the city by heading two hours north on US-19 and GA-75 into Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

Where to hike: If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take the 10-mile Arkaquah Trail, which starts at a crossing with Trackrock Gap Road, up to Brasstown Bald: the highest peak in Georgia that offers views of the Hiawassee Ridge, the Blue Ridge peaks, and the Atlanta skyline. For a slightly less demanding trek, start from the Jacks Gap parking area and make your way to the iconic lookout. The hike is 6.5 miles and takes about three and a half to four hours.

What to do after: Drive into Hiawassee for an evening of buffet-style grub and cool breezes, and hunker down for the night at the rustic Lake Chatuge Lodge. The next morning, take on High Shoals Falls—an easy 2.4-mile hike that pays off with gorgeous wildflowers and two waterfalls. Back in town, reward yourself with some hush puppies and a beer at The Happy Hawg, then stroll it off at Hamilton Gardens. Take in one last view atop Bell Mountain before heading home.

From Charlotte

Where to go: Drive west on US-74 and I-26 for about three hours to Hot Springs, the perfect miniature vacation from Charlotte.

Where to hike: The famous Lover’s Leap Trail is just under two miles and takes about an hour to complete. From the trailhead on Silver Mine Road, hook up with the AT northbound as it skirts the French Broad River. Soon it’ll go up into the woods, ascending switchbacks, before leveling out at the Lover’s Leap Ridge. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a real Appalachian Trail test, head to nearby Big Bald in Tennessee—a strenuous 13-mile hike that cuts through deep forest and rewards with panoramic views of the Smokies.

What to do after: Rest your tired legs with a soak in the mineral baths at Hot Springs Resort and Spa. Fill up on elevated southern food at Iron Horse Station or a country dinner at the Smoky Mountain Diner before calling it a night. Grab a room at the Laughing Heart Lodge or the Iron Horse Station.

Newfound Gap on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee
Newfound Gap on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. Photo © SeanPavonePhoto/iStock.

From Washington DC

Where to go: Beltway residents are lucky to be pretty close to the Appalachian Trail. For instance, drive just one hour on I-270 north to Frederick: a fantastic little city with a burgeoning arts scene, great restaurants, and historic sites.

Where to hike: It’s a quick drive east on the Boonsboro Mountain Road to South Mountain State Park, which spreads out to the north and takes the Appalachian Trail with it. From the trailhead at Baltimore National Pike, hike 5 miles (2.5-3 hours) to Annapolis Rock, a scenic overlook providing sweeping views atop white cliffs.

What to do after: Back in Frederick, visit Everedy Square and Shab Row, a three-block stretch of local businesses and boutiques. Reward yourself with a beer at one of the city’s breweries (Attaboy Beer, Monocacy Brewing Company, and Midnight Run Brewing are all great). Get up early after a good night’s sleep at the Hill House Bed & Breakfast or 10 Clarke to hike the Big Red Trail at Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro, just 30 minutes away. Fuel up at Dan’s Restaurant & Tap House and pay a quick visit to the Antietam National Battlefield before heading back.

From Philadelphia

Where to go: It’s a mere 1.5 hours along I-476 north to Jim Thorpe, a rail and coal town with a storied past. The picturesque town makes a fantastic home base for an overnight that includes a hike of The Pinnacle.

Where to hike: Few scenic vistas on the Appalachian Trail get the press that The Pinnacle receives, and for good reason. From the trailhead at 400 Reservoir Road, the 8.7-mile, 5-hour hike takes you to the Pinnacle atop Blue Mountain, affording stunning views that stretch out beyond the Lehigh Valley.

What to do after: While in Jim Thorpe, stop at the Old Jail Museum and shop the Old Mauch Chunk Historic District. Make it a full weekend with a hike to Bake Oven Knob and a beer at Red Castle Brewpub, plus a trip on the Lehigh River with Jim Thorpe River Adventures.

From New York City

Where to go: There are plenty of easy escapes to the AT from New York, from East Stroudsburg to Warwick to Bear Mountain State Park. But one of the best getaways is two hours up I-87 and I-684 north to Kent, Connecticut.

Where to hike: A 6.2-mile, 4-hour hike, the nearby Macedonia Ridge Trail Loop is a difficult but constantly rewarding trek that provides views of the Taconics and Catskills. It’s the main route through Macedonia Brook State Park, one of the best hiking experiences in New England. Its main road and namesake brook runs up the middle of the park, while surrounding it are quick-rising mountains with ridges perfect for moderately experienced hikers.

What to do after: In Kent, spend some time checking out the scenic covered Bull’s Bridge. Grab a pick-me-up at the Annie Bananie General Store, find your next read at the independent House of Books, and indulge in a New American farm-to-table dinner at Kingsley Tavern or the Bull’s Bridge Inn. Stay the night at the charming Inn at Kent Falls, then wake up and visit Kent Falls State Park with a picnic before heading home.

Sunset over the Catskill Mountains of New York. Photo © brandtbolding/iStock.

From Boston

Where to go: Drive MA-2 west three hours to North Adams, a perfect base camp for a hike of legendary Mount Greylock.

Where to hike: Trekking to Mount Greylock is a 5-hour, 6-mile journey to one of the most famous summits along the AT and the highest peak in Massachusetts. The route to the summit is relatively direct and takes you through gorgeous wild country, spruce trees, and wispy fields. At the summit, you’ll find the Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower, a 92-foot-tall stylized granite tower that you can climb up to get a stunning 360-degree view across New England and eastern New York State.

What to do after: After your hike, grab a much-deserved meal at Public Eat+Drink and get some sleep at the chic Porches Inn (there’s also a Holiday Inn, if you’re on a tighter budget). The following day, hit up Renee’s Diner for breakfast before visiting MASS MoCA. Stop at Natural Bridge State Park to see the only natural white-marble arch in North America before heading back to Beantown.

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