Cool Places to Stumble Across on the A.T.
This is part one of an article that lists some points of interest you will encounter on your A.T. thru-hike. Part one takes you from Springer Mountain to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, the unofficial halfway point! Part 2 is now available! Click here for Maryland through Maine’s Cool Places article. Some of these spots I describe are well known and detailed in AWOL’s guide. Others are hidden gems only discovered by talking with other hikers or stumbling upon them accidentally. Please note, there are myriad additional hostels, vistas, restaurants, and shelters that warrant recognition, but I have only listed the ones with which I personally am familiar below.
Sampling tasty beer is a hobby of mine, so look for the icon throughout this article for places that brew or serve quality beer along the A.T.! Other helpful icons are: for hostels, for shelters, for views or unique mountains.
Top of Georgia Hostel – Hiawasee, GA – This pet-friendly hostel is a 0.5 mile walk from the A.T. trailhead at Dick’s Creek Gap. Bob, aka “Sir Packs A Lot” runs a clean, full-service hostel with shower, laundry, bunks, breakfast options, and a resupply store on site. Free shuttles with stay to and from trailheads at Dick’s Creek and Unicoi Gap as well as into town for resupply. It’s a nice stop early into your NOBO (northbound) hike!
*While in Hiawasee, stop at Bacchus Beer and Growlers for a delicious variety of good beer. Enjoy a pint or a growler in a relaxed atmosphere! Located across the street from the Hiker friendly Budget Inn.
Tennessee/North Carolina Jewels
Franklin, North Carolina – When your walk leads you to the trailhead at Winding Stair Gap, you’re a quick 10 mile hitch from the fun North Carolina town of Franklin. The city offers cheap hiker-friendly lodging at the Budget Inn as well as variety of comfort food, good beer, and an outfitter.
While in Franklin, be sure to visit Outdoor 76 which is an outfitter AND a taproom all in one! The Rock House Lodge is a bar with 18 craft brews on tap and is housed inside of the Outdoor 76 shop. Buy your gear and celebrate your first hundred miles with a fresh beer or three!
For a beer experience straight from the brewer’s tap, walk another block down Main Street and check out the Lazy Hiker’s Brewing Company. The “Slack Pack IPA” was my favorite!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – This is the first of the two national parks you will walk through on your A.T. thru-hike. You need to purchase a $20 permit to hike through the Smokies! Get it online a week or so before entering the park or for NOBOs, do it before you start your hike to give you one less thing to worry with on trail. Dogs are not allowed on this section of trail, but there are dog kennels that will bring your buddy to meet you as you exit the park. Enjoy the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains!
Gatlinburg, Tennessee – As you faithfully follow the white blazes through the Smoky Mountains, you’ll find yourself at a trailhead named “Newfound Gap“, 0.4 miles into the park if headed NOBO. This gap is 15 road miles from Gatlinburg, TN, a fun place for a zero day if you’ve never visited this unique city. Be forewarned, it is tourist heavy. The Gran Prix Motel is very hiker friendly! The owner often holds rooms open for hikers during the busy season. The motel is situated two blocks from the NOC Great Outpost store and another block from the Smoky Mountain Brewery and every kind of food and drink you’d ever imagine! Heaven for a hungry hiker!
There are lots of good places to find liquid bliss in Gatlinburg. There is the Smoky Mountain Brewery which features 10-15 of their own brews and delicious food to wash it down. 😉 There are whisky and moonshine distilleries within walking distance that offer free tastings.
Max Patch – TN/NC border – The Appalachian Trail white blazes you right over the top of Max Patch Mountain and across this delightful bald. The 360 degree views are epic! For a sunset, a sunrise, and stars like you’ve never seen them, camp here. The grassy bald offers many tent sites. Be aware of weather conditions prior to camping on top of any bald. Winds can kick up pretty quickly.
Hot Springs, NC – About 70 trail miles farther north, the trail will walk you right through the quaint trail town of Hot Springs, NC. Riddled with hostels and hiker-friendly hotels, this town is worth a night! My crew and I split a little $80 cabin at Creekside Court. Everything in town is within a short 0.8 mile walk. Other popular options for hikers include Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn and the Laughing Heart Hostel. The Bluff Mountain Outfitter is one of my favorites on trail!
– No liquor is sold in Hot Springs, but there is plenty of liquid copper around to be enjoyed! Spring Creek Tavern and the Iron Horse were my two favorite hang out spots, well, after the beautiful sunny picnic table beside the library, that is. 🙂
Uncle Johnny’s Erwin, TN – A very popular hiker hangout, the A.T leads you right up to the front door of Uncle Johnny’s Hostel and Outfitters. They offer shuttles into town for breakfast at the Huddle House or lunch at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet! Give Jerry Garcia, the resident old dog, a big hug for me!
Greasy Creek Hostel – Bakersville, NC – Greasy Creek was a unique, unplanned stop forced upon me by bad weather. It was a blessing in disguise! This hostel is located down a 0.6 mile Woods Road walk. There were no signs when I passed through and it was a bit difficult to find, but with the help of the Guthooks GPS Map, I was able to navigate my way to the hostel, located in a lady’s home, Cee-Cee. There are a few resupply items available for purchase and shuttles into town are offered with a charge. The stay here is cheap, $10 for a bunk or $15 for a bed in the home. Showers are included. Cee-Cee, the hostel owner and home resident, is a wonderful, positive spirit who does her best to be uplifting and make your experience friendly and joyful!
Overmountain shelter – This is an unusual shelter among all of the others on the A.T. It was originally a barn that’s been converted and is much larger than most shelters. It’s worth the 0.3 mile blue blaze side trail. A piped spring is on the way so you can fill your water as you go. Sleeping options are nice here. You can choose to sleep inside on the upper or lower floor or on the “porch” area where a sunrise greets you as you awake. Sometimes caretakers actually leave wood on site for campfires!
Damascus, Virginia – The next town jewel you’ll walk right through while following the white blazes is Damascus, home of the annual Trail Days festival, the largest event on the A.T. This year the festival is May 13-15. There are myriad options for places to lay your head, do laundry, and enjoy a blissful shower or two in Damascus! The Hikers Inn, Crazy Larry’s, and Woodchuck Hostel are all pretty popular landing spots in this little trail town. There are three outfitters in town as well.
Virginia Creeper Trail – *If you are an A.T. purist, ignore this bit of advice. Just north of Damascus is a beautiful 35-mile long trail that overlaps the A.T. for about 0.4 of a mile as you’re leaving town. This trail, a former railroad bed, The Virginia Creeper Trail, intersects the A.T. in several spots, overlapping it again approximately 15 miles up trail where the two trails then go their separate ways. Cyclists, hikers, and horseback riders use the trail frequently. If you’re less concerned with passing by every white blaze on your journey to Maine, I highly recommend the Virginia Creeper Trail as a nice, 15 mile change of pace. It is about the same distance as the section of the A.T. you will miss and is so much more beautiful than more of the same trail. The Creeper Trail is flat, graded, and winds across the Whitetop Laurel River again and again. There are pristine, creekside camping spots available. For once, rather than having to keep your gaze pointed downward at the constant obstacles presented by the A.T. terrain, you will be able to hold your head up high and notice the beauty that surrounds you. All of the photos below were snapped on the Virginia Creeper Trail. The whole thing is like this.
The Damascus Brewery – A couple of miles from the heart of town is the Damascus Brewery! Damascus doesn’t offer much in the way of pubs or taverns, but The Old Mill restaurant has good local beer on tap. There is no liquor available in Damascus.
Fort Bastian – Just south of Bland, VA is a hidden gem that gets passed by often due to its location being 1.5 miles off the A.T. However, the 1.5 mile road walk is very pretty and not a tough one. “TruBrit” owns the place, but Mountain Mike caretakes it. Mountain Mike is loaded with knowledge of various trails and full of fun stories from his past adventures! Fort Bastian offers $10 for a bunk inside the barn or for a comfortable camp spot if you prefer your tent. There is an outdoor shower, tv with movies, and a small kitchen. Breakfast is offered for guests. My favorite part of the stay was talking to the caretaker and swapping stories. He really made my hiker friends and me feel right at home!
Grayson Highlands State Park – The land of wild ponies and alpine-like peaks! Look forward to this day on your hike. 🙂 The ponies are harmless, but they may try to snack on your backpack, so keep it close. Hint: If you want to actually see a few ponies, avoid this section on heavy rain days with highs temperatures 40 degrees. The ponies stay hunkered down during that kind of weather. Notice my lack of pictures and ask me how I know.
Woods Hole Hostel – Pearisburg, VA – Unfortunately I did not stay at this hostel when passing through. From those who did, I hear over and over again that I shouldn’t have missed it! Pets are allowed and there is yoga and massage therapy offered on site. Local/organic dinner and breakfasts are offered with at a cost of $13 and $8 consecutively. It is 0.5 miles off trail and offers bunks, tenting, showers, laundry, and wifi.
Four Pines Hostel – Catawba, VA – A pet-friendly, donation based hostel sitting 0.3 miles off the A.T., Four Pines Hostel is a comfortable place to relax for a night or two. They will shuttle you to the rumored “best all-you-can-eat restaurant on trail”, The Homeplace Restaurant. Joe, the owner of Four Pines, is pretty cool and does what he can to get to know the hikers who visit. There are lots of movies, comfortable sofas, and a shower in the 3-bay garage hostel.
Flying Mouse Brewery – Located 0.5 miles off the A.T. between Daleville and Troutville, Virginia.
Tinker Cliffs/McAfee Knob – The trail will lead you here. Very popular spots for day hikers as parking is located pretty close to these breathtaking vistas! McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots on the A.T.
Come walk with me on Tinker Cliffs!
Glasgow, Virginia – The hitch into and out of town was a bit difficult at the VA 130 A.T. trailhead. Patience eventually paid off, however, and if you can land a ride, Glasgow is worth it for a free shower and place to hang out for a night! The city offers a free hiker pavilion in town with tenting, shelter, porta-potties, a shower and power outlets to charge your phones. There’s not a heck of a lot to do in town, but there’s a Dollar General Store and a small grocer for resupply and a pizza joint and a dinosaur. Yes, a dinosaur.
The Priest – Your walk will take you to the summit of a mountain named “The Priest”. Be sure to visit the shelter on the peak. The Priest Shelter, like all A.T. shelters, provides a shelter log for hikers to make notes and leave their mark. The Priest’s log is unique and offers very interesting, time-killing reading. Hikers make confessions in this log, some comical and some serious stuff. Definitely worth the read. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about some of your hiker friends!
Devil’s Backbone Brewpub -The Devil’s Backbone was my FAVORITE brewery on the A.T. The pub serves lunch and dinner and a hiker-only breakfast for $5. Hikers are also welcome to camp on the brewery’s lush 100 acre grounds. When I visited in October, 2015, the manager shared hopes and plans in the works to install free showers for hikers by the 2016 season. Free camping, showers, and all the beer and food you could eat!? Yes, please.
Waynesboro, Virginia– A substantial city with an all you can eat Chinese buffet, several hostels, Rockfish Gap Outfitter, and every kind of food you could ever crave while out on the trail! My stay in Waynseboro was longer than I had planned thanks to Hurricane Joaquin passing through. Stanimal’s Hostel was a neat landing spot. It was a bit cramped due to the storm, but “Stanimal” was super laid back and cool about shuttling us to restaurants and resupply points. There are bunks in the downstairs hiker room. These pictures show all of us hanging out in the sunroom area.
Shenandoah National Park – The SNP is one of the two national parks you’ll walk through on the A.T., and you may be a little spoiled by the end of this section. Resupply and meal options, called Waysides, are available almost every other day as you hike through the Shenandoahs. The Loft, Big Meadows, and Skyland offer restaurant and bar options and stores for resupply. If you stop at Big Meadows, say hey to Sam and Debbie, the bartenders downstairs. Wildlife is abundant in the park! Hunting is off-limits, so the ubiquitous bear and deer aren’t frightened by your presence as shown in the video links below. This often provides you with memorable experiences to last a lifetime! Please respect the wildlife for what it is, and do not feed the animals. The last thing future hikers need is to be associated with food.
Check out these brief youtube videos of my memorable wildlife encounters in SNP, a family of deer close enough to reach out and touch and following a bear up trail.
Close encounter with bucks
Tracking a bear part 1
Tracking a bear part 2
Bear’s Den Hostel – This castle-like, stone hostel is absolutely beautiful! The hiker hostel is in the lower level of the lodge. They offer a hiker special of a bunk, laundry, pizza, soda, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for $30! Tenting and bunk only options are available too. The grounds are beautiful, and a self-serve pancake breakfast is provided with the price you pay to stay! The hostel is located a quick 0.1 mile walk from the view you see below.
Blackburn A.T. Center – This is a donation-based hiker shelter about 0.3 miles down a steep blue blaze side trail. I found it well worth the walk! There is a small cabin with hiker bunks and a wood-burning stove that’s reserved for thru-hikers only. You can also chill on the large wrap-around screened porch of the main building and charge your devices. There is a solar shower on the premises.
West Virginia Points
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia – This is another famous trail town that you walk right through while following the white blazes. There is a handful of hostels in town and several restaurants. The biggest attraction for hikers is the 0.2 mile blue blaze side trail to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters. Here thru-hikers get their picture taken by the ATC and “go on record” as a thru-hiker! I happened to be hanging out in the hiker lodge organizing my resupply on a day when a 7th grade class was touring the facility. I was asked if I would answer a few questions as a thru-hiker. Previously being an elementary school teacher, I was more than happy to chat with this group and share my experience!
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Wow, this post is wicked informative! You’ve made me so excited for my thru-hike! I’m happy to read that I can drink good beer on the trail! Thanks Clarity!