8 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Share Their Favorite and Most Challenging Sections

As the 2023 thru-hiking season draws to a close, we’ve asked our Appalachian Trail finishers to share their thoughts on which parts of the trail were their favorites and which ones were the most challenging. Let’s find out what they had to say.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Bill “Dozer” Clark

A North Carolina bald.

Most Challenging Section

Based on weather, terrain, and insect assault, I would say New Hampshire and Southern Maine. Logistics were more challenging as there were limited sanctioned campsites, and resupply towns were not as ubiquitous. As it rained (heavily) every day, the footing was treacherous, and of course, the trail was pretty steep in this location. On the rare occasion, we weren’t getting wet, the mosquitoes and biting flies were relentless.

Favorite Section

I found things I loved about most sections of the trail, but I am a little biased towards the sections in my home state of North Carolina. The mountains provide challenging climbs for those just starting out and reward you with spectacular vistas. There are also some great trail towns nearby to help you recharge your battery.

Courtney Branson | @courtney hikes

Southern Maine. Photo credit: Kristen Dippolda

Most Challenging Section

The most challenging section really depends on the weather or other conditions you can’t control. There is a ton of fear-mongering on the trail about upcoming sections, but the worst for me were ones I hadn’t heard of and hiked when I had other factors like rain or sickness. My hardest single day on trail was when I accidentally hiked the Kinsmons with Covid.

Favorite Section

My favorite part of the trail was southern Maine. I hit it during peak leaf season and in a long stretch of sunny, warm weather. It was difficult terrain, but it was nice to be rewarded for my hard work on the climbs with incredible views.

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Eileen “Bagel” McHugh

Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains.

Most Challenging Section

For me, hiking from Virginia through Pennsylvania was physically the easiest section of the trail but mentally the hardest. I suffered a pretty rough case of the Virginia blues because it was such a long state and frankly, pretty boring. (Being from the northeast, I was so excited for everything past Pennsylvania, but getting there took a lot more mental stamina than anticipated…)

Favorite Section

Honestly, everything past Pennsylvania! New Jersey —-> Connecticut was beautiful. We had so much trail magic in Massachusetts. The Vermont flooding certainly made the hike more interesting. We had great weather in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. And regardless of the weather, every day in Maine was awesome.

Jon “The Incident” Fuller

Bigelow Mountain in Maine.

Most Challenging Section

Physically: From Moosilauke in NH to the Mahoosuc Arm in Maine. The climbs are tough but doable. The descents were torture on my knees and feet. Mentally: New York. The heat, humidity, bugs, and poor trail conditions nearly knocked me off the trail. Truly awful hiking conditions.

Favorite Section

Maine. Maine is the AT’s apology to thru-hikers for what it’s put us through for the past five months. Maine in the Fall is stunning. Some hard parts, for sure, but worth the effort. Runner Up: North Carolina’s balds. So nice to be out of the long green tunnel.

Andy Mac “VANGO” McMillin

Another amazing view in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Most Challenging Section

Geez, this is a hard one! From the drought, wildfire smoke, and rocky trail in Pennsylvania to the monsoon rains in Vermont (and nearly dying coming down Killington), those seem like obvious choices, but I think I’m going to have to go with New Hampshire. It was so stunning getting above ridgeline, but some of the rock sections were crazy! I’m 6’1″ so sometimes staring straight down at my feet to eyeball my decent down slick granite was so gnarly! I think I least enjoyed Mt. Moosilauke because I’ll never understand having to hike down the side of a waterfall!

Favorite Section

This is such a toughy too! I’m tempted to say wildflower season through the Smokies, or the balds in and around Roan Mountain, or the marathon day through the Three Sister peaks in Virginia, but I have to go with New Hampshire here too! I was lucky to catch some amazing weather through the Whites. I loved cowboy camping on Mt. Cube, the sunrise over Lafayette, had fun jungle gyming through the Notch, and floating on my air mattress in a pond near Carter Notch Hut!

The limited camping and the huts were a pain (the AMC really could do better to accommodate thru-hikers!) and did severely harsh the vibe (charge us $ like the Smokies and give us room to camp/sleep!), but those dang views will live on in my mind for eternity!

READ NEXT — AMC Thru-Hiker Pass: A Game-Changer for Thru-Hikers?

George “Captain Fantastic” Preiss

Woods Hole Hostel. Photo credit: Derek Witteman

Most Challenging Section

All of it! There was always a reason I found a section to be hard. New Hampshire and Maine certainly had the most challenging terrain. But Georgia and North Carolina were the coldest parts of my journey by far. And the pretty places in summer, like New York and Massachusetts, had to be viewed through a bug net!

Favorite Section

My favorite sections of trail were honestly the cool trail towns like Hot Springs, NC, Manchester Center, VT, and Hanover, NH. Hostels like Woods Hole in Virginia and The Barn in Franklin, NC were super fun too. But when it comes to spectacular sights in nature nothing could match the Whites or most of Maine.

Derek “Witch Doctor” Witteman

A section of trail in Maine that requires a bit of scrambling.

Most Challenging Section

New Hampshire: Steep and treacherous when wet. Very rewarding, though.

Favorite Section

Maine. It was a beautiful culmination of the whole trail, a little bit of everything: rocks, mud, water crossings, mountains, views, easy parts, and challenging parts. Also, moose!

Joanne “Lucky Penny” Gigliotti | @joanne_gigliotti

An incredible view in the Hundred Mile Wilderness.

Most Challenging Section

Some hikers may consider which state had the most challenging terrain. For me, it was my state of mind in New Jersey. I made a conscious effort to stay positive and really change the “Painsylvannia” narrative. After completing Pennsylvania, I knew the rocky terrain would continue. I became very dehydrated in northern Pennsylvania, but I was proud of myself for staying positive in a state that is notorious for wrecking the feet of thru-hikers.
I was not prepared for the mental toll I would endure in New Jersey. Though I do not recall New Jersey as physically challenging, it was the first state I found myself pulling out my “whys” list more than once.
“Why am I voluntarily hiking through more rocks!? I’ve endured enough of these rocks in Pennsylvania. I’m tired. Why does every mile look and feel the same? What if I quit? I want to quit. What would it look like if I quit? I CAN’T quit. I need to push on.”

Favorite Section

The true grit and glory of hiking the Appalachian Trail was, and will always be, for me- the entire state of Maine. The water crossings were high and swift in June and July. The 4K’s were painstaking after coming out of The Whites. The rugged terrain of the Hundred Mile Wilderness into Baxter State Park was heartbreakingly beautiful. Gazing just beyond that final climb in Maine to see the silhouettes of other hikers standing atop the Katahdin sign… it was a moment in time I will never ever forget.  It was everything my heart had longed to experience for many years. Not a day passes that I do not think about my time on the trail in Maine.

Featured image courtesy of Diane Duffard.

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Comments 1

  • CB : Nov 27th

    Very nice. I followed all of you for a time and two of you for your entire hike. Thank You.


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