Best Towns on the Appalachian Trail
Adventurer & Writer
The Appalachian Trail, often simply referred to as “the AT,” is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. Reaching over 2,000 miles, the trail spans across six national parks and 14 states from Georgia to Maine.
Along the Appalachian Trail are various towns and communities that serve as both refuel spots for thru-hikers and basecamps for day trippers. In these towns, you’ll discover quaint village communities, relics of American history and the roots of Appalachian culture. Below is a list of some of the best towns on the AT, and each is an official, designated Appalachian Trail community. But first…
Where does the Appalachian Trail start and end?
The Appalachian Trail’s northern terminus is Katahdin, Maine, and its southern terminus is Springer Mountain, Georgia. Hikers can follow the trail going in either direction. However, for the purposes of this list of best towns on the Appalachian Trail, we’ll be traveling from south to north.
Our first stop on the AT is Helen, Georgia. An alpine-inspired village nestled at the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains, Helen is a popular destination in northern Georgia. The town has an alpine mountain coaster, zip-lining, hiking and other activities in the area. During summer months, visitors float down the Chattahoochee River which winds directly through town. In true Bavarian spirit, the town throws lively Oktoberfest events each year.
Our next Appalachian Trail community is a two-for-one destination: Damascus and Abingdon, Virginia. While Damascus is directly on the AT, Abingdon is a larger town just a few miles away. The Virginia Creeper Trail is another popular trail in the area that allows hiking, biking and horseback riding. In fact, Damascus is known as “Trail Town USA” because there are seven major trails intersecting in this mountain town. In Abingdon, catch a show at the historic Barter Theater and explore the charming downtown area.
Roan Mountain, Tennessee
Next on the list of best towns on the Appalachian Trail is Roan Mountain, Tennessee. The small town gets its namesake from the towering Roan Mountain which keeps watch over the village. Camp overnight in Roan Mountain State Park, located along the Appalachian Trail. In the summer, you’ll find vibrant rhododendrons and mountain laurel blooms and a sea of gorgeous fall colors in autumn months.
Duncannon is a true Appalachian Trail town, being that the trail itself follows along several streets through the town itself. Located in Pennsylvania, here you’ll find quiet, quaint streets. The town is tiny, but you’ll find enough places to grab a few provisions and take a break from the AT. The Doyle Hotel is a historic fixture in town and a solid choice for a hot meal. If you have a sweet tooth, the city of Hershey, home to the original Hershey chocolate factory, is just up the road.
Vernon, New Jersey
Hiking the Appalachian Trail through Vernon, New Jersey, it’s hard to believe you’re only an hour outside of New York City. On this section of the Appalachian Trail, hikers traverse several interesting bridges and boardwalks. Whether you’re thru-hiking the AT or out for a day hike to escape the city, this area provides plenty of undisturbed natural beauty.
Harlem Valley, New York
Moving along, another one of the best communities on the Appalachian Trail is Harlem Valley, New York. This region is accessible via commuter transit from New York City but is a world away from the hubbub of the city. Here you’ll find local farms and produce stands, vineyards, boutique shops, and quaint village communities. Whether you’re an AT hiker or just visiting the area, budget some extra time to embrace the charm of the Hudson Valley region.
Next stop: Cheshire, Massachusetts, one of the best towns on the Appalachian Trail for thru-hikers. Several years ago, the town dedicated municipal lands just steps from the trail as a campsite for hikers and outfitted the site with running water, picnic tables, hammock poles, and other creature comforts. The rest stop reflects a local appreciation for AT hikers and provides a safe, comfortable place for trekkers to recharge.
Continuing north, Bennington, Vermont, is an idyllic community found on the AT. From history to architecture, universities, and a growing arts scene, Bennington has everything you need for the quintessential New England experience. Expect mild temperatures in the summer months, breathtaking fall foliage in early autumn, and a winter wonderland during the cold season.
Gorham, New Hampshire
Further north, make a stop in Gorham, New Hampshire, located in the White Mountain National Forest. While the Appalachian Trail is exclusively for hiking, an extensive system of ATV trails can be found in the area around Gorham. Give your legs a rest and schedule an all-terrain excursion when you pass through this AT community.
Last but not least is one of the most northern towns on the Appalachian Trail. Monson, Maine, the gateway to the Monson Lake Region. The area features several waterfalls and in town you’ll find an adorable general store for restocking supplies. For thru hikers, Monson is one of your first or last stops on the AT, depending which direction you’re traveling. Hikers should also beware that this part of the Appalachian Trail around Monson is the longest uninterrupted stretch of trail on the AT, making it for serious thru-hikers only.