Thru-Hiker’s Favorite Appalachian Trail Towns

Trail towns are a real richness for this particular trail. -Brian (Gadget) Lewis, NOBO 2010

Seeing a town coming up in the guidebook can make even the lousiest day on trail better. And when hikers near these following five towns that they’ve probably been hearing about for the preceding weeks, it’s even better. We polled past thru-hikers on their favorite AT Towns, and here were the ones that stood out. These towns are overwhelmingly hiker-friendly, convenient, and thoroughly unique. AT hikers will be hard pressed to not spend at least one zero in each of these stops.

1) Hot Springs, North Carolina

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What Makes this Town so Great

Hot Springs is the first true walk-through town NOBOs come to. The town is quaint, friendly, and the locals truly appreciate the thru-hiking culture. NOBOs descend into Hot Springs from their traverse through the Smokies, and as early spring dictates around there, it’s probably been a mixture of snow and freezing temps. Hot Springs is a welcome sight.

“Hot Springs is incredible—the trail winds through the cute, small, southern town. What’s not to love?! They even have the AT symbol engraved in all the sidewalks. The shops and restaurants were great and hospitable. It’s the type of place that you walk in to the restaurant and you know at least half the people in there because everyone is thru-hiking!”

Mileage

NOBO 273, SOBO 1,916

Best Place to Eat

There are two must-have burgers here: at the Smoky Mountain Diner (thru-hiker special is a 12-ounce burger) and Spring Creek Tavern (boasts a special AT burger).

Best Place to Stay

Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn is a one-of-a-kind stay, and the Hostel at Laughing Heart was on our Thru-Hiker’s Favorite Hostels. You really can’t go wrong with the accommodations in Hot Springs though. Most are set up to be incredibly convenient for thru-hikers.

Don’t Miss

For $20, you can soak in the mineral water hot springs at Hot Springs Resort and Spa. Your weary muscles will thank you.

2) Damascus, Virginia

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What Makes this Town so Great

Trail Days is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Damascus, but this hiker-friendly town is a joy to arrive at no matter when you hit it. May hikers actually prefer to land here without the huge crowds, which really lets you appreciate the small-town feel and amenities.

“They clearly liked having hikers in town and seemed to see the AT as a point of pride, not a nuisance. Both a friendly church and a friendly hostel helped my parents host a hiker feed for 40 people which was really kind of them”

Mileage

NOBO 468, SOBO 1,822

Best Place to Eat

Hey Joe’s Tacos is a sure bet. Aren’t burritos the official food of people who exercise a lot?

Best Place to Stay

This is tough- Damascus is full of amazing hostels. Woodchuck Hostel was named one of the top hostels on the AT, and hikers love Dave’s Place and Crazy Larry’s as well.

Don’t Miss

Trail Days, if that’s your thing. And for those of you who hiked nearly 500 miles with gear you hate, both Mt. Rogers and SunDog Outfitters are full-service gear shops where you can replace pretty much anything in your pack… or even your pack itself.

3) Waynesboro, Virginia

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What Makes this Town so Great

New Ming Garden Buffet (Ming’s) is the legendary AYCE stop in Waynesboro, but the town is hiker-friendly start to finish. Waynesboro sits 4.5 miles west of the AT, but it’s an easy hitch into town from Rockfish Gap, and shuttle options are plentiful as well. This is also the last stop before Shenandoah, and while you can eat your way through the park at the Waysides, it’s more cost-effective to at least carry some food with you. Hikers can resupply at the large grocery store, and take showers and camp at the local YMCA. Many hikers choose to take a zero here.

Mileage

NOBO 862, SOBO 1,327

Best Place to Eat

Ming’s obviously.

Best Place to Stay

Stanimal’s Hostel offers pickup and drop off at Rockfish Gap. The hostel is a bit out of town, so hikers looking to be more central often choose the Quality Inn, which offers hiker rates and free breakfast.

Don’t Miss

Check out Hiker Fest, a festive celebration happening this year on June 10. For fuel, gear, and other resupply needs, Rockfish Gap Outfitters is full-service with a knowledgeable, helpful staff, and you can even catch a movie at Zeus Movie Theater.

4) Monson, Maine

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What Makes this Town so Great

This is the last stop before the 100-Mile Wilderness for NOBOs, and the first town SOBO’s reach after completing the 100. It’s walkable, right on Lake Hebron, and very hiker friendly.

“Great small town, loved staying at Shaw’s hostel and eating dinner on the lake.  I didn’t want to leave town and head into the wilderness and the end my trip, but it’s a great stop before the 100-Mile Wilderness.”

Mileage

NOBO 2,075, SOBO 115

Best Place to Eat

Spring Creek Barbecue is top notch food with a small-town vibe. The locals are happy to start up a conversation with any hikers in the place.

Best Place to Stay

Shaw’s Hiker Hostel ranked #1 for thru-hiker’s favorite hostels, and for good reason. The owners dispel tear-inducing words of wisdom, and it’s a terrific place to rest up before hitting the 100.

Don’t Miss

Grab some food to go and enjoy it by Lake Hebron (pictured above).

5) Hanover, New Hampshire

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What Makes this Town so Great

This classy New Hampshire town is a friendly, welcoming New England hub that begs for a zero day. It’s home to Dartmouth College, which means the food and beverage selection here is wildly varied. Advance Transit is the public transportation system in town, which hikers can use free of charge. The drivers are friendly and helpful. AWOL has a great map of the route and town on the 2017 NOBO guide, page 184. Hikers can use the computers at the Dartmouth Outing Club, and grab a full list of hiker amenities from the kind folks at Hanover Friends of AT. Resupply at the drool-worthy Hanover Co-op, but be aware your wallet might cry a little.

Mileage

NOBO 1,747, SOBO 442

Best Place to Eat

Dinner at Thai Orchid, coffee at Dirt Cowboy Cafe. Since this is a university town, the food is plentiful and it’s hard to go wrong. To-go sandwiches and lots of healthy grub at the Co-op.

Best Place to Stay

The Sunset Motor Inn is found along the bus line a few miles from town, and they will shuttle if the bus isn’t available. There are lovely hotels in town as well, but they are pricey.

Don’t Miss

Honest-to-goodness farmer’s markets, every Wednesday from June through the beginning of October on the lovely town green.

 

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Comments 1

  • mrfusion14 : Jun 12th

    I ended up in Greenville instead of Monson, and it is a really cool place. Also a fan of Rangely.

    Reply

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