I had been wanting to hike the Appalachian Trail since I was a kid.
The anticipation was so great, that I had most of my stops planned long before I was ever old enough to hike it alone.
Now that I have bagged it, here is a list of the 20 best places to rest while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I would not even attempt it without the proper gear. That said here is my Essential Ultralight Backpacking Gear List.
Without further ado…
The 20 best places to rest while hiking on the Appalachian Trail:
Neels Gap, Georgia
For those who have started at Springer Mountain and are heading north bound, Neel’s Gap is the first stop where they can put pizza in their bellies and yet more equipment in their packs. The Mountain Crossings store also has a hostel with showers and laundry facilities. They also sometimes run a shuttle to local restaurants for those looking to get a more substantial dinner.
Clingmans Dome, GSMNP, Tennessee
This is it, the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail. You will never go higher but that is not to say that the difficult mountains are now behind you. You will still be sweating and grunting as you climb the rest of the peaks ahead of you. Still it is an interesting feeling to know that this is as high up as you get (6,643 feet/2,025 m) so take a moment to rest and prepare yourself for the descent.
Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn, North Carolina
I enjoy a good steak but I must confess a love of vegetarian cuisine as well. Elmer’s, situated in Hot Springs, is a really cool place that does great dinners and awesome breakfasts all in a communal style and there is plenty to eat. The vegetarian cuisine will revitalise your body and gives you an excellent opportunity to restock on vitamins and nutrients. The Inn also has a great selection of AT related books to read and a music room.
Nantahala Outdoor Center, North Carolina
First good thing about the NOC? It is right on the trail. Second good thing about the NOC? You can buy pizza and ice cream there. There are other good points like discounted accommodation for groups of hikers or the ability to try out various water sports there if you are that way inclined. In the end though, it is the easy access to pizza and ice cream that will make you want to stay a while.
Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel and Outfitters, Tennessee
A good stop to spend the night is at Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin. They have bunk rooms, private cabins, a store and they also offer slack packing services. They also say that they have the best bath house on the trail and to be honest I would have to agree with them. Hands down the best shower I had on my five and a half month adventure. Not that I had many showers mind you.
Roan Mountain, North Carolina/Tennessee
Roan Mountain is well known for its incredible Rhododendron Gardens that burst forth in amazing colours. The best time to see this is in June. As you ascend the mountain make sure you take your time and breathe in the aromas.
Max Patch, North Carolina
This Bald Mountain situated in North Carolina has truly amazing 360 degree views. You can see the Bald Mountains in the immediate vicinity as well as the Unakas to the North and the Great Smokies lingering in the south. An ideal spot to reflect on where you have come from and where you are going.
There are two great things that Damascus has going for it. First it is actually on the trail (you follow the trail up the main high-street). Secondly it is home to Trail Days one of the best hiker festivals on the AT which is normally held in the middle of May. Most north-bound hikers will attempt to get to Damascus to co-inside with the festival where they can take a day or two to relax, eat free food and be sold new gear from reps from various Outdoors companies.
McAfee’s Knob, Virginia
McAfee’s Knob is very hard to pass up. It is located right on the trail and it is very hard to turn down a brief stop to admire the views. It is popular with locals so you may have company occasionally but if you are lucky you will have this fantastic view point all to yourself and you can bask in the Virginia sun and perhaps eat a well-earned snickers bar.
This small town has a great reputation among Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and for one reason in particular. The Home Place restaurant offers all you can eat food at good prices. Dine on fried chicken, a selection of vegetables and good deserts. Have as much lemonade as you can drink too! It is only a short diversion from the trail and boy is it worth it. The management feel that the thru-hikers “add to the ambiance” and on Sundays you will see hikers mix freely with local patrons in their Sunday best. The restaurant has even let some thru-hikers camp on their lawn in recent years.
Thomas Knob Shelter, Virginia
Grayson Highlands State Park is well known for its grassy hills and for the wild ponies that keep them that way. The Thomas Knob Shelter is a great location to take a short rest or even stay the night. Expect a group of ponies to wander over and investigate your presence. They are very good with humans but expect them to lick everything you have as they like the salt produced by your sweat!
Bear’s Den Trail Center, Virginia (in middle of the Rollercoaster)
This hostel is tucked away in the middle of the famous Rollercoaster of Virginnia. If you were to look at an elevation map you would see that the trail goes up, then down, up, then down over and over again. Thus the Rollercoaster. It is not fun but Bear’s Den Trail Center makes it more bearable. All the facilities you could hope for such as free internet plus they have a brilliant boot drier which is perfect for those that have been hiking through the rain.
Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia
Another town for which the trail passes directly through and also home to the ATC the organization that looks after it. This is a great stop for anyone who is interested in the history of the trail and you can find tons of information as well as checking on who is ahead of you and leaving messages for hikers behind you. It is also a point of interest for those interested in the American Civil War and John Brown’s raid on the Armory in 1859.
Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Pennsylvania
The half-way point of the Appalachian Trail is the perfect spot to take a few moments to sit down, relax, contemplate the huge distance you have already covered as a thru-hiker and realize that you have to now repeat that. There is also the Thru-hiker tradition of eating half a gallon of ice-cream to celebrate the milestone. Bear in mind that camping is not free in the park so if you may have to waddle out of the park with all that ice cream in your stomach. Don’t say I did not warn you!
501 Shelter, Pennsylvania
“You can order pizza here” should be all that is needed to encourage a thru-hiker to stay a little at this shelter. Situated just off Route 501, you will find dozens of takeaway menus in the shelter offering plenty of choice. If you plan on staying the night here you can expect a great social atmosphere where hikers kick back and relax a little whilst swapping stories and pizza slices.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
This is a really cool town within reach of the AT. It offers a lot of places to eat and drink and plenty of motels to stay the night. It even has a decent cinema. Special mention goes to the awesome pizza served at Baba Louies. Probably the best I have tasted on the entire trail!
White Mountain Huts, New Hampshire
The White Mountains offer magnificent views and draw in a huge number of tourists and day hikers for good reason. Dotted around the mountains are a number of huts for paying guests. As Thru-hikers it is possible to do work for stay which normally involves cleaning up after everyone is done for the night. The work is never too taxing and there may be food left over from the evening meal. The hut workers are normally very good to thru-hikers but do expect to have to sit outside the huts until dinner is over and it could get very cold!
Smarts Mountain, New Hampshire
The shelter that resides upon Smarts Mountain is the ideal place to see truly beautiful sunsets and sunrises. It boasts a fire tower that is accessible to hikers and offers amazing views of both Mt. Cube and Mt. Moosilauke. Though you can become quite jaded about sunsets and sunrises whilst hiking the Appalachian Trail (god knows you would have seen enough of them), Smarts Mountain is something else entirely.
Inn at Long Trail, Vermont
Situated in the town of Killington, the Inn at Long Trail is a historic Vermont Inn. This rustic yet comfortable Inn boasts good cuisine and they offer discounted accommodation to Thru-hikers of the Appalachian and Long Trails. The standout part of the Inn is McGrath’s Irish Pub which has a huge selection of Irish whiskeys and is the best place to relax after a day of hiking.
White House Landing, Maine
When I did my Thru-hike in 2008 there was one place that was mentioned to me countless times.
More experienced hikers would take me aside and tell of this cool location just inside Maine’s 100 mile wilderness.
They would inform me to follow the side trail to the lake, grab the air horn and use it once. No one is to use the air horn more than once! Failure to comply will result in the motor boat that comes to pick you up delays itself. When you get to White House Landing, expect good food and a comfortable night’s stay in a very beautiful location.
To your next adventure!