Best Sections of the Appalachian Trail to Hike in Spring

Springtime on the Appalachian Trail—can it get any better? I submit that it cannot. Nestled between the subzero temperatures of mountain winters and the overwhelming crowds of summer, the mid-Atlantic region is uniquely suited for the best sections of the AT to hike in spring. Containing some of the most gratifying vistas and top-notch landmarks on the entire trail, these segments offer a variety of hiking terrain to suit all abilities and desires. From friendly trail towns to abundant resupply options, you won’t be disappointed no matter where you start your hike in this region. Take a look for a few section hike ideas that are bound to be rewarding and get your hiker juices flowing.

Best Sections of the Appalachian Trail to Hike in Spring

1. Fontana Dam, NC, to Hot Springs, NC

Distance: 111 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Ideal Time Frame: June
Approximate Duration: Eight to ten days

Rolling hills of GSMNP.

About this section: If you want a thru-hike experience without the commitment, look no further than this 100-mile stretch through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Encompassing some of the best views on the entire Appalachian Trail (Shuckstack and Mount Cammerer) as well as its highest point at Clingmans Dome, this section really has it all. What’s more, you’ll also pass through the famous Max Patch, likely see some bears within the park, and even hike past the wreckage of a spy plane crash from the 1980s.

This area lends itself well to a resupply in Gatlinburg, TN, via Newfound Gap, as well as the opportunity to experience the glorious hiker town of Hot Springs, where you can stay at the wonderful Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn and fill up at the Smoky Mountain Diner. Be warned, however, that the elevation of this section is significant and the climbs are difficult. Plan to go near the end of the season to avoid snow while still beating the crowds of America’s most-visited national park.

2. Damascus, VA, to Pearisburg, VA

Distance: 166 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Ideal Time Frame: May to June
Approximate Duration: 12 to 14 days

Wild ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park. Photo By Virginia State Parks , via Wikimedia Commons

About this section: Beginning in the iconic hiker town of Damascus, VA, this section cruises through several scenic spots with close access to wildlife viewing, trail history, and great places to stay. Within the first couple of days you’ll enter Grayson Highlands State Park, known for its wild Shetland ponies, and drink in the views from Buzzard Rock. Farther along, you can stop at the Settlers Museum near Atkins to learn about the agricultural history of southwest Virginia while making your way through fields of former plantations.

Resupply can be easily obtained in Marion, VA, by hitching a ride from the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area headquarters (shuttles and food delivery to the nearby Partnership Shelter are also available). Wrap up your hike with a stay at Woods Hole Hostel, a unique mountain retreat and hiker refuge famous for its family-style meals and community-centered attitude.

3. Pearisburg, VA, to Daleville, VA

Distance: 93 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Ideal Time Frame: April to June
Approximate Duration: Six to eight days

McAfee Knob. Photo by Idawriter , via Wikimedia Commons

About this section: Peppered with rocky ridgelines and technical descents, this section is home to some of the most iconic and highly photographed features of the Appalachian Trail, including McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth. Although typically mobbed with visitors in the summer, hiking in the spring allows for a more peaceful enjoyment of the landscape while experiencing cooler temperatures and minimal rainfall. Other notable landmarks on this segment include the 300-yea- old Keffer oak tree, stunning views atop Tinker Cliffs, and a monument erected to Audie Murphy, World War II’s most decorated soldier who died in a plane crash on Brush Mountain in 1971.

Despite its high-traffic footpaths, there are limited resupply services along this stretch of trail. If you overnight at the donation-based Four Pines Hostel (near Dragon’s Tooth), you can snag a free ride to the nearby Homeplace Restaurant and Catawba Grocery store to pick up the essentials. The next viable town is the endpoint in Daleville, some 25 additional miles down trail.

4. Waynesboro, VA, to Harpers Ferry, WV

Distance: 161 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Ideal Time Frame: April to June
Approximate Duration: 12 to 16 days

Follow the brown ribbon for miles on end through SNP.

About this section: Bookended by two of the finest trail towns in existence, this region offers some of the smoothest and most pristine hiking of the entire AT. You won’t find anything like the 3,000-foot climbs of southern Virginia here; instead, your feet are treated to the plush and spongy paths of Shenandoah National Park. Although you’ll experience one tough stretch called the Rollercoaster—a 14-mile segment of continuous ups and downs—this is overall one of the easiest and most enjoyable sections of the trail. As you make your way to Harpers Ferry be sure to take in the landscape atop Bearfence Mountain, spend a night at the luxurious Jim and Molly Denton Shelter (complete with shower, horseshoe pit, and Adirondack chairs), and consider the historical significance of the area as you walk along former Confederate territory. Don’t forget to stop by the ATC Headquarters in Harpers Ferry on your way through to say hello and learn more about the exemplary efforts put forth by volunteers to keep the Appalachian Trail as immaculate and available as it is today.

Resupplies are plentiful along this section with numerous waysides (markets) throughout Shenandoah National Park which, while expensive, offer cooked-to-order food and snacks for purchase. Other options include the towns of Luray, Front Royal, and Bluemont, which all boast hiker-friendly markets and restaurants.

5. Harpers Ferry, WV, to Duncannon, PA

Distance: 123 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Ideal Time Frame: May to June
Approximate Duration: Ten to 12 days

Overlooking the pastures below.

About this section: If you’re keen on heading north from Harpers Ferry or are extending the previous section to add on some extra mileage, there is plenty more to see in the area. In addition to passing through additional historically significant battlegrounds, you’ll also hit the official halfway point of the Appalachian Trail and have an opportunity to partake in the half-gallon challenge at the Pine Grove Furnace General Store. Stop in to the Appalachian Trail Museum if you have a chance, then continue meandering through a short rocky section in Maryland, past the Mason-Dixon line, and into the pastures and easy rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania.

There are plenty of resupply options in this area, with grocery stores in Smithsburg, Waynesboro (PA, not VA), Fayetteville (stop into Timber’s Restaurant), and Boiling Springs. For a classic and unforgettable experience, book a room at the infamous Doyle Hotel in Duncannon and do some people watching in their bar while you sip cheap beer.

Whatever your style of hiking, from the challenging terrain of the Smoky Mountains to the cruiser miles of Shenandoah and Pennsylvania, the mid-Atlantic region has you covered. Offering the most ideal hiking weather on the East Coast, this region contains some of the Appalachian Trail’s best sections to hike in the spring. If you want to get ahead of the crowds without freezing while minimizing your exposure to bugs and humidity, do yourself a favor and hike these sections before the high season kicks in.

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Comments 1

  • John Robinson : Mar 13th

    I love this post because I am currently section hiking the A.T. it would be nice to have some suggestions though for how to get back to my car from the other end of the section. Are there inexpensive shuttle services or a bus system running between theses towns? I’m just asking because I know from experience that shuttles can get really expensive really quick for longer sections.

    Reply

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