Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Sections of the Appalachian Trail

Of all 2,190+ miles of the AT, Class of 2023 thru-hikers voted these seven iconic sections as their favorites. Whether these stretches were loved for their panoramic views, memorable terrain, or mellow lake-strewn miles, one thing is clear: thru-hikers love a good challenge. 

These picks come from our 2023 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey. Meanwhile, all mileages used in this post are from the FarOut AT Guide’s northbound mileage. Although these sections are based on feedback from thru-hikers, we started and ended each one at the nearest logical trailhead to make the logistics friendlier to section hikers.


The 7 Best Sections of the AT, According to Thru-Hikers

1. Roan Highlands through Southernmost Virginia (134.5 mi)

Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Sections of the Appalachian Trail: Roan Highlands through Southermost Virginia. Photo via

Location and Mileage

  • Ash Gap (mi 377.4) – US Rt. 603 Crossing (mi 511.9)

This stretch totals 134.5 miles: 93.2 in North Carolina and Tenessee, plus the 41.5 southernmost miles of Virginia between Damascus and Grayson Highlands.

Hit the Highlights

Roan Highlands, Laurel Fork Falls, Watauga Lake, Damascus, Grayson Highlands, Mount Rogers (Virginia’s highest point)

What Makes This Section So Great

Escape the green tunnel for sweeping panoramic views, higher-elevation mountains, open hiking, and grassy balds. This beautiful section is frequently in the top one or two favorites of thru-hikers each year due to its rolling climbs and frequent unobstructed views, which often seem like they were plucked from Lord of the Rings.

Keep your eyes peeled for the majestic wild ponies that roam the Grayson Highlands, which many thru-hikers consider a highlight of their journeys.

2. Baxter State Park, ME (19.9 mi)

Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Sections of the Appalachian Trail: Baxter State Park. Photo via

Location and Mileage

  • Golden Road (mi 2182.7) to the summit of Baxter Peak (2197.4)

From the Baxter State Park boundary to the summit of Katahdin is 14.7 miles, plus an additional 5.2 bonus miles for SOBOs ascending Katahdin and NOBOs descending to finish their journey, for a total of 19.9 miles.

Hit the Highlights

Big and Little Niagara Falls, Daicey Pond, and Katahdin itself — the AT’s official northern terminus and Maine’s tallest peak.

What Makes This Section So Great

Thru-hikers will enjoy a park that is truly remote, either beginning or ending their journey atop the famed Katahdin. Often rated as one of the AT’s hardest sections, enjoy woodsy walking through Baxter State Park and a grueling, rewarding climb to the summit of Katahdin for unmatched views of Maine. Thru-hikers must obtain a free AT hiker permit for this area.

3. Roanoke, VA Region including Dragon’s Tooth / McAfee’s Knob / Tinker Cliffs (41 mi)

Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Sections of the Appalachian Trail: Roanoke Region. Photo via

Location and Mileage

  • VA Rt 621 (mi 689.3) to Daleville (mi 730.3)

This stretch of trail is about 41 miles and encompasses the entire Virginia Triple Crown.

Hit the Highlights

Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs, plus Three Lil Pigs Barbecue in Daleville

What Makes This Section So Great

Lovingly referred to as the Virginia Triple Crown, prepare to overload your phone’s camera roll with 30 miles of picturesque viewpoints. From the south, thru-hikers can venture 0.1 miles off trail to Dragon’s Tooth, a knobby rock formation that requires a bit of scrambling for top-notch views.

Next, don’t miss McAfee Knob, the trail’s most photographed feature, for your own iconic photo opp. Take note that this area is very touristy (and rightfully so); there is a shelter just north of the Knob if you’re keen for a sunrise or sunset photo.

Finally, traverse Tinker Cliffs for a view back to McAfee Knob and jaw-dropping vistas of the valley below. 

4. White Mountains, NH (99 mi)

Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Sections of the Appalachian Trail: White Mountains. Photo via

Location and Mileage

  • Glencliff Trail parking (mi 1797) – US Rt. 2 Parking (mi 1896)

Mount Moosilauke is generally considered the start of the Whites. While some consider the town of Gorham to be the end of the most scenic section, we push it a touch further north to the Rt 2 crossing to encompass the very memorable Wildcats, Carter, and Moriah for a total of 99 miles.

Hit the Highlights

Moosilauke, Franconia Ridge, Mount Washington, Presidential Traverse, AMC huts

What Makes This Section So Great

Get ready for some butt-kickin’ terrain (and equally butt-kickin’ views) on the intense climbs and wild views of the Whites. This region boasts some of the most difficult terrain on the AT, with steep, straight-up climbs (switchbacks who?) and knee-jerking descents.

That said, the views will more than make up for your efforts, with wide-open, treeless summits and sweeping gazes from the Presidential Traverse and Franconia Ridge. You’ll even summit Mount Washington, the highest mountain in the northeastern U.S. Just be wary of inclement weather that can move in fast — the Washington area is notorious for sitting in the midst of a perfect-storm formula, which can make for dangerous, quick-moving weather above treeline.

Hikers can also treat themselves to the charming AMC huts, which provide bunks (for a hefty fee, reservations strongly recommended), breakfast, dinner, fresh baked goods, and more goodies amidst these strenuous mountains. Thru-hikers can get discounts on food with the AMC thru-hiker pass, and a limited number can sleep free on the hut floor in a work-for-stay arrangement.

5. Smoky Mountains National Park, TN / NC (77.2 mi)

Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Sections of the Appalachian Trail: Smoky Mountains. Photo via

Location and Mileage

  • Fontana Village (mi 164.6) to Standing Bear Farm hostel (mi 241.8)

This section of the AT is a few miles shorter if you limit it strictly to where the AT enters the park just north of Fontana Dam and leaves it at Davenport Gap, but you would miss Fontana Dam and the quirky, fun Standing Bear on either end. As we have it, this section is 77.2 miles long.

Hit the Highlights

Fontana Dam, Shuckstack Fire Tower, Clingmans Dome, Charlie’s Bunion, Newfound Gap/Gatlinburg, TN, Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower, Standing Bear Farm

What Makes This Section So Great

The iconic Smoky Mountains boast an abundance of lush forests, cliffside trails, sprawling valleys, vibrant wildflowers, and unique wildlife. Take in the phenomenal scenery of these mist-covered mountains atop 6,667-foot Clingmans Dome, the AT’s highest point.

For northbound hikers, the Smokies constitute the first major landmark on trail, and hiking through a world-renowned national park is one to remember. 

6. 100-Mile Wilderness, ME (100 mi)

Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Sections of the Appalachian Trail: 100-Mile Wilderness. Photo via

Location and Mileage

  • Monson, Maine (mi 2,082.7) to Abol Bridge (mi 2182.7)

This section is 99.6 miles long when you first emerge onto Golden Road, BUT if you go all the way to the far end of the road walk, it’s an even 100.0.

Hit the Highlights

Shaw’s in Monson, Wilson Falls, Chairback Mountain, White Cap Mountain, first views of Katahdin, Antlers Campsite, Rainbow Lake, Abol Bridge (for the symbolism, views of Katahdin over the Penobscot River, and the campground restaurant)

What Makes This Section So Great

Soak in the sporadic views of Katahdin, easy miles (in the northern half of the Wilderness), and excess of rushing waterfalls, burbling creeks, and sparking lakes to cool off in. This section is infamous for being the most remote part of the trail, but you’ll be grateful to meander through peaceful woods after the bustle of the Whites and southern Maine. The footpath dilly-dallies between exposed peaks and forested trail, keeping things interesting.

Take a side trip to Cloud Pond or catch glimpses of Katahdin from White Cap and Nesuntabunt. Either way, you’ll get a glorious up-close view of the Greatest Mountain when you emerge from the Wilderness at Abol Bridge (possibly while consuming large quantities of Gifford’s Ice Cream from the campground).

7. Southern Maine (128.6 mi)

Thru-Hikers’ Favorite Sections of the Appalachian Trail: Southern Maine. Photo via

Location and Mileage

  • Centennial Trail parking (mi 1897) – East Flagstaff Road (mi 2025.6)

The actual Maine-New Hampshire border crossing is 15 miles north of the Centennial Trail parking area, but this is the closest parking area if you’re section hiking. The section ends just north of Little Bigelow, bringing the total length to 128.6 miles.

Hit the Highlights

Mahoosuc Notch, Rangeley, Saddlebacks, Bigelows

What Makes This Section So Great

Southern Maine is tough, but our thru-hikers like it that way. Often touted as one of the hardest AT sections, this is a section of trail to dig deep and embrace the suck. The trail itself throws plenty of rocks and roots at you. Although you may spend most of your day with your eyes trained on the obstacles of the trail, don’t forget to look up at the views every now and again. They are among the most rewarding on the entire trail.

Mahoosuc Notch, known for being the hardest or most fun mile of the AT, according to AWOL’S Guide, and the Bigelow Range don’t skimp on remarkable vistas above treeline, and this section gives you your pick of ponds to cool off in after a climb.

Stay tuned for the fascinating companion to this post: the Class of 2023’s LEAST favorite sections of the Appalachian Trail. Some of their choices might surprise you.

Featured image: Graphic design by Zack Goldmann.

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Comments 1

  • MahnaMahna : Jun 20th

    Can someone get through Southern Maine’s rock scrambles if they have bad shoulders?

    Asking for an old man (me).


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