In honor of walking through fourteen different states along the Appalachian Trail, I’d like to share some reviews on my hike as well as advice for future thru hikers, all in lists of fourteen. I’ll start off with fourteen reasons to hike the AT right after high school and review my opinions of the best towns, best hostels, best views, and toughest climbs on the AT state by state, through all 14 states.
First off, here’s a few details about my hike. I started in Georgia in late May right after graduating high school and hiked Northbound to Maine, finishing up in October. None of these lists are based off of scientific research or fact, it’s simply based off of my own experiences on my thru hike, so you’ll have to trust me to some degree here.
Fourteen Reasons to Hike the AT Right After High School
I had a great experience hiking the AT right after high school and I would recommend other people do it as well. Here’s why.
- There’s no better time- The dream of hiking the AT will never go away, so why not do the trail when you have time? Put off college or work for a few months, they can wait, they’ll be there when you get back. Post high school is a great time for a thru hike because you don’t have jobs, internships, college, or family holding you back.
- Do it while you’re young- I can’t tell you how many people I met on the AT who told me they wished they had done the AT when they were younger. Sure, it’s possible to hike the AT when you’re much older, but as an 18 or 19 year old it could be much easier and more enjoyable.
- It’s a good break- after going through years of school, taking between 4-6 months in the woods is refreshing for your brain. Give yourself a well deserved break and hit the trail.
- It gives you time to learn about yourself- Many people are under pressure to get a job or go to college right after high school without really knowing what they want to do with their life. Spending time on the trail gives you a chance to figure out what you want to study or work in.
- It’ll prepare you for the “real world”- I found this to be true. I spent four months taking care of myself financially as well as physically out in the woods. Living on your own in college will be much easier after you’ve been doing it for a few months already. The trail forces you to learn how to cook for yourself and otherwise take care of yourself.
- It’s a good resume booster- Thru hiking the AT takes a certain type of person, and putting a thru hike on your resume is a big boost for college applications or job applications. Think of how much easier those college essays would be if you could write about experiences on a thru hike.
- It gives you more time to save for college/ apartment- I spent several months hiking the AT after high school, and I still have a few months before I start college, which allows me to get a job and get a head start on saving for college and beyond.
- The AT is like one big senior trip. Instead of a week at the beach to celebrate graduating high school, why not celebrate your accomplishments for several months?
- It will make your friends jealous- while all your high school friends are cramming for finals, you’ll still be on vacation in the woods.
- You can avoid the crowds on the AT. Since most thru hikers start in March and April, and most high schools go until May or June, you wouldn’t be starting the AT until after “the bubble” has passed. If you’e one who likes the party bubble, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of people starting out late- a second “graduate bubble” of high school and college graduates is on the trail later in the year.
- The AT is a great opportunity to network- you’d be surprised how many doors the AT will open up for you. You’re looking for a job in engineering? Someone in your trail family studied that, or the hostel owner used to have a career in that field. All the connections you create on the AT can come in handy when you start searching for jobs after you get back from the trail.
- The AT teaches valuable lessons that will come in handy later in life- the trail will teach you leadership, time management, planning, problem solving, decision making, and so many others that will be invaluable later on. It’s better to learn these sooner rather than later.
- The trail is a good break from technology- The Appalachian Trail will force you to put down your phone or laptop and experience things firsthand, it allows you to connect to people face to face better. I wasn’t sure if I would like losing touch with social media on the trail, but I found that I really enjoyed not being caught up in the latest news or checking my phone every five seconds. You can still stay up to date in towns every few days along the way, so you’re not completely isolated from technology but there’s a better balance on the trail.
- Added maturity- the trail will impact you more than you immediately realize and change your life. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. After hiking the AT you will be more mature and ready to tackle anything life throws at you.
If you’re still not sure it’s a good idea to hike the AT right after high school, talk to past thru hikers about their experiences. I’m sure you’ll find out that it is very possible to hike the AT at this time in your life, and that doing so could be beneficial.
Best Towns on the Trail
These are, in my opinion, the best towns on the trail in each state. The very best trail towns have all the things a thru hiker needs- groceries, lodging, laundry, and food, while also being easily accessible and hiker friendly.
Georgia: Hiawassee- this town is an easy hitch and has everything for thru hikers, including a variety of restaurants and even a full grocery store. It also offers several lodging options.
North Carolina: Hot Springs- this tiny trail town is one of the best. The trail passes right through the center of town, so most of the restaurants and stores are very easily accessible. The whitewater rafting in Hot Springs makes it a great spot for a zero day, or the natural hot springs the town is named for can make those worn out muscles feel new again.
Tennessee: Erwin- this is a larger trail town, but very close to the trail so also easily accessible. Erwin has a wide variety of dining options and even a Walmart a few miles outside of town.
Virginia: Damascus was my personal favorite town in Virginia, but Waynesboro was a close second. The trail passes right through Damascus, as well, and there are lots of great hostels to stay at. The town is very hiker friendly and has several outfitters in town. Spend a zero day biking along the Virginia Creeper Trail, which is a great change of pace from hiking.
West Virginia: Harper’s Ferry is the only trail town in West Virginia, making it the best by default. Be sure to stop by the ATC center here or spend some time rafting on the Shenandoah River. Historic Harper’s Ferry can be very interesting to explore as it has a lot of history.
Maryland: Smithsburg- most people don’t stop here since it’s not far past Harper’s Ferry, but if you do it has everything a hiker needs.
Pennsylvania: Hamburg- this is not as hiker friendly as some other towns, but it still has lots of great food options and several lodging options as well. I didn’t stay in Duncannon, but that could be another great town to stop by. Hamburg is a great time to take a break from the rocks for a bit and celebrate being halfway finished.
New Jersey: Vernon- a pretty sizable town with plenty of food options and resupply options. Not as hiker friendly as some of the other towns, but by no means are hikers treated poorly here. There are some great hiker friendly services here.
New York: Pawling is a hiker friendly town with some good dining options, but resupply and lodging don’t offer as many options. Pawling is a good spot to catch a train to NYC for a culture shock and reminder of how nice it is to be in the woods instead of the big city.
Connecticut: Salisbury- this small town is very close to the trail which makes it easy to access. The town itself is pretty cool, it has one of the coolest looking libraries you’ll find on the AT.
Massachusetts: The trail goes right through Dalton, which is a small town but close to other larger towns. It is hiker friendly and a good chance to rest up before the climb up Mt. Greylock.
Vermont: Bennington is a great town, it is pretty large and has a wide variety of food and lodging options. It is very hiker friendly as well. Look for the large, colorful catamount statues throughout downtown. Oh, and there’s lots of Pokestops as well.
New Hampshire: Hanover is one of the coolest towns on trail. It’s a great spot for a zero day to rest up before the Whites. Spend some time exploring Dartmouth University and see what life at an Ivy League school is like. This is a very hiker friendly town, there are even a few restaurants that offer some free goods to thru hikers. I never planned on staying in Hanover, but got sucked into its vortex and ended up spending two great days there.
Maine: Monson is a must stop town before the 100 Mile Wilderness, and thankfully it’s also one of the best towns. By the time you reach Monson you have a limited time remaining on the AT, so take a zero day and enjoy the last trail town.
Best Hostels on the AT
I didn’t stay at every hostel on the trail, so this is only based off the ones I stayed at or heard about from other hikers. There are lots of great hostels, and I can’t possibly list every one, but these are some of the best in each state.
Georgia: Top of Georgia Hostel in Hiawassee- it is well run, be sure to stay for the pep talk in the morning, it can be pretty inspiring.
North Carolina: Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs- right on the trail and a great hostel, although it’s a long walk from here into the main part of town.
Tennessee: Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin- also right on the trail, and it offers free town shuttles and everything else you could want. An easy walk from here down to the Nolichucky River to soak your aching feet for a few minutes.
Virginia: There are lots of great hostels in Virginia, but Bears Den hostel is not to be missed- the hiker special is a great deal and it’s also a beautiful building. Enjoy the sunset at Bears Den Rocks nearby and spend some time at the hostel recovering from the infamous roller coaster.
West Virginia: The Teahorse hostel is a great place to stay, and the breakfast is one of the best.
Maryland: Harper’s Ferry Hostel is actually located in Maryland, not West Virginia. This is a well run hostel.
Pennsylvania: Church of the Mountain Hostel in Delaware Water Gap is a great hostel. Be generous with your donations and enjoy this hostel that’s comfortable and very close the the AT.
New Jersey: Another church hostel at the Episcopal church in Vernon, NJ is great because it is close to most hiker services, be sure to leave a donation to keep this great hostel going.
New York: There aren’t any hostels I know of in New York, but if you’re looking for a place to stay there’s a park in Pawling that offers camping for thru hikers.
Connecticut: Bearded Woods Bunk and Dine is by far the best hostel on the trail, it is a must stop which includes a fantastic breakfast and dinner and is very comfortable. Be sure to make reservations well in advance, space is limited and fills fast.
Massachusetts: I didn’t stay there, but I heard good things about the East Mountain Retreat Center in Monterey.
Vermont: The Yellow Deli in Rutland is a very popular place with hikers, the people are very friendly and it is a great stay. Careful not to get stuck in the vortex, many hikers do!
New Hampshire: Hiker’s Welcome in Glencliff is a very well run hostel and the breakfast in the morning will provide great fuel for the climb up Moosilauke. Be sure to stay here and glean information from other hikers and the owners about the trail that lies ahead of you- particularly the Whites if you are NOBO.
Maine: Shaw’s in Monson is a great hostel, and they offer everything a hiker could need. It is also close to some great dining options in town.
Best View in Each State
Georgia: Blood Mountain, one of the tallest peaks in Georgia, offers great views from the rock formations.
North Carolina: Max Patch Mountain, one of the famous southern balds, is a very cool spot to spend an afternoon and has great views looking south to the Smokies.
Tennessee: The Roan Highlands, a series of balds, are a popular weekend hike and you’ll see why if you hike over it on a sunny day.
Virginia: Many consider McAfee’s Knob to be the best view in Virginia, however Tinker Cliffs just a few miles north of the knob has great views of the valley below and the knob off in the distance. The Grayson Highlands are also pretty spectacular.
West Virginia: Jefferson Rock, a historical spot has a great view of the Shenandoah River.
Maryland: Annapolis Rocks is a very cool spot, worth the trip down the side trail.
Pennsylvania: The Pinnacle is a cool spot to stop for a break and catch views of the surrounding ridges.
New Jersey: Sunrise Mountain, complete with a pavilion, is an awesome spot.
New York: Bear Mountain, although often crowded with day hikers, has a fantastic view from the observation tower and you can see New York City on a clear day.
Connecticut: Rand’s View is a large grassy meadow overlooking some beautiful mountains, be sure to snap a few pictures as you pass by.
Massachusetts: Upper Goose Pond, it’s a beautiful spot for a swim and while it doesn’t offer the panoramas that Greylock does, the beauty of a mountain pond is not to be overlooked.
Vermont: Killington Peak has tremendous views, well worth the steep scramble up the Killington Spur.
New Hampshire: The Whites are filled with great views, but the view from Mt. Madison overlooking the rest of the Whites was one of my favorites. The descent down Madison, on the other hand, was not.
Maine: How could it be anything other than Katahdin? Maine is extraordinarily beautiful, but there’s something special about Katahdin. It is worth the climb up, and well worth the 2000 miles preceding it.
Toughest Climbs on the AT
The hardest climbs, by state, along the AT. This is a very subjective ranking because how tough I considered climbs depends a lot on how I felt on a particular day. A climb I thought was tough because I was having a bad day another hiker might have thought to be fairly easy. But, for the most part, these are some of the toughest climbs in each state.
Georgia: The climb up Rocky Mountain is long and steep. It’s a long ways from Unicoi Gap up to the top. Although Blood Mountain receives the most attention, this climb shouldn’t be overlooked.
North Carolina: Albert Mountain is a steep one, be prepared to use your hands to pull yourself up.
Tennessee: The Smokies are tough, but Roan Mountain is, in my opinion, the hardest climb. Tennessee is a tough state, and this is one of the reasons why.
Virginia: Three Ridges is a long, steep grueling climb. Not a fun climb to do on a hot day in the middle of summer, but there are some great views along the way to make it worthwhile.
West Virginia: There aren’t many climbs, but honestly the climb from the Shenandoah River to the ATC center might be the toughest. It’s very short, but fairly steep and it was difficult partly because it was so unexpected.
Maryland: The climb from Harper’s Ferry up to Weverton Cliffs can be a tough one, but luckily it’s not very long either.
Pennsylvania: PA is filled with short, steep climbs in between flat stretches. The climb out of Lehigh Gap is probably the toughest, it is a pretty technical climb and, no surprise, very rocky.
New Jersey: Pochuck Mountain is a pretty steep climb, it’s not very long but it’s one of the tougher ones in NJ.
New York: NY is a roller coaster of short and steep climbs and descents. It’s not an easy climb to go from NY 17 up to the Lemon Squeezer.
Connecticut: Bear Mountain is one of Connecticut’s tougher climbs. It’s not terribly steep or terribly long, but it will tire you out, still.
Massachusetts: Mt. Everett is a steep climb, it’s like a slice of the Whites placed in the middle of Connecticut. It’s a rocky climb complete with wood supports and rebar.
Vermont: The climb up Glastenbury Mountain is a pretty tough one, not too steep but not to be overlooked. Killington gets focused on the most, which is part of why Glastenbury can be surprisingly difficult.
New Hampshire: The Whites are very hard, and its difficult to pick the toughest climb in the Whites. The Kinsman Mountains are steep, technical, and probably about as tough as it gets in the Whites. Thankfully, the views in the Whites more than make up for the difficulty.
Maine: Mt. Katahdin is certainly the toughest, although there’s a long list of tough ones. Katahdin is steeper than any of the others and unbelievably technical. It’s a long climb and be prepared to do quite a bit of hands-on climbing through the boulders. It is also the most fun climb on the trail, and 2000 miles of conditioning make the climb easier. A determined day hiker should not be swayed, they can still make it up to see the fantastic views.
Here is the ranking of the 14 states on the AT, from first to last.
1. Maine- One of the toughest states but also without doubt the most beautiful state. The remoteness of the 100 Mile Wilderness is spectacular and the abundance of scenic ponds makes Maine so great.
2. New Hampshire- The White Mountains are incredible and have miles and miles of trails above treeline. Going through NH in the fall amidst the color change is an incredible experience.
3. Vermont- Walking through VT is peaceful and scenic. The spruce and fir trees in Vermont were very cool and made the hiking smell like Christmas.
4. North Carolina- This state had some great trails, beautiful views, and some great trail towns. The balds in NC and fire towers were always something to look forward to.
5. Tennessee- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best sections of trail, and the Roan Highlands in Tennessee are just as spectacular, making TN one of the trail’s best states to hike in.
6. Massachusetts- For me, the trail towns made this state so great, as well as some great views and one of the best shelters on the AT at Upper Goose Pond Cabin.
7. New York- The Trail can be crowded with hikers in the summertime and on weekends, but it is a great section of trail. Many people talk about the roller coaster of Virginia, but New York is where the real roller coaster is at.
8. Virginia- The longest state on the AT, but it has lots of great views, great towns, and of course, wild ponies.
9. Connecticut- A wonderful section of trail, and the first of the New England states for north-bounders. It’s one of the shorter states, but it is packed with cool views.
10. New Jersey- Sunfish Pond is a very cool spot, and the rest of New Jersey has its fair share of good views. The state was disappointingly rocky, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying my time in Jersey.
11. Maryland- Maryland was a nice state with easy terrain, but it was too short to be ranked higher on the list. There wasn’t really anything bad about Maryland, just nothing outstanding, either.
12. West Virginia- Harper’s Ferry is pretty awesome, but other than that there isn’t much to WV. The AT’s shortest state has pretty easy terrain and one of the best trail towns.
13. Georgia- This state, either the first or the last for thru-hikers, has lots of ups and downs and limited views, but walking through the mountain laurel while it is in bloom is very enjoyable.
14. Pennsylvania- The southern portion of PA is delightfully easy, but the northern section is covered in rocks and there are not many views through PA. That, combined with summer heat and unreliable water sources, made PA boring and my least favorite state. That being said, I still had lots of fun in PA and it is still enjoyable, just not as enjoyable as some of the other states.
I hope this celebration of the AT’s fourteen wonderful states inspires you to get out and hike on the AT or at the very least is a walk down memory lane.
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