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Hiking the Appalachian Trail is all about getting away from the “civilized” world. But after days of freeze-dried meals and little human interaction, it will start to feel like time to stop off somewhere to recharge and relax.
Want to know the best Appalachian Trail rest stops ahead of time? Knowing where the best places to sleep on the Appalachian trail, including railside hostels, outfitters, huts, rest stops, restaurants, and other points of interest should give you some extra motivation as you traverse one of America’s most beautiful natural corridors.
These rest stops on the Appalachian Trail also include meaningful milestones and places to stop and enjoy the scenery. Even if you stop for half an hour, it still counts as a rest right?
Read on to find out where hikers rest on the Appalachian Trail. And don’t get caught out on the trail with the wrong gear. Check out our Essential Ultralight Backpacking Gear List before you set off.
Without further ado…The 20 best places to rest on the Appalachian Trail:
Neels Gap, Georgia
If you are starting at Springer Mountain and heading northbound, Neel’s Gap is the first stop where you will be able to resupply with hiking equipment and get some pizza in your belly. The Mountain Crossings story has a hostel with showers and laundry facilities, and they run a shuttle to local restaurants for anyone looking for a delicious meal.
Clingmans Dome, GSMNP, Tennessee
This is it, the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail. But the difficult mountains are not all behind you. You will still be sweating and grunting as you climb the rest of the peaks. Still it is an interesting feeling to know 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 I enjoy a good (rare) 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! Their vegetarian cuisine will revitalize your body and give 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. Other benefits include discounted accommodation for groups of hikers or the ability to try out various water sports if you are so inclined. In the end though, it is the easy access to pizza and ice cream that will make you 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 offer slack packing services. They also say they have the best bath house on the trail and I would have to agree. I had the best shower of my 3-month adventure at Uncle Johnny’s – not that I had that many showers overall.
Roan Mountain, North Carolina/Tennessee
Roan Mountain is well known for its incredible Rhododendron Gardens that burst forth in amazing colors. The best time to see this is in June. As you ascend the mountain make sure you take your time and breathe in the nature.
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. Second, it is home to Trail Days, one of the best hiker festivals on the AT which is normally held in mid May. Most north-bound hikers will attempt to get to Damascus to coincide with the festival where they can take a day or two to relax, eat free food and check out new gear from various Outdoors companies.
McAfee’s Knob, Virginia
McAfee’s Knob 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, but if you are lucky you will have this fantastic view point all to yourself. Enjoy basking in the Virginia sun and eating a well-deserved Snickers bar.
This small town has a great reputation among Appalachian Trail thru-hikers 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 desserts (have as much lemonade as you can drink too!) It is only a short diversion from the trail and it’s worth it. The management feel 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 horses 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 Virginia. If you look at an elevation map of the area you’d see the trail goes up, down, up, then down over and over again. This earned it the “Rollercoaster” moniker. Bear’s Den Trail Center makes it more bearable. They have all the facilities you could hope for like free wi-fi and a brilliant boot dryer which is perfect for those rainy hikes when you need a rest from the hike!
Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia
The ATC passes directly through Harper’s Ferry, and this quaint town is also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which maintains the trail. This is a great stop for anyone interested in the history of the trail. You can find plenty 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’ve already covered as a thru-hiker and realize you have to now repeat it. There is also the Thru-hiker tradition of eating half a gallon of ice-cream to celebrate the milestone. Keep in mind that camping is not free in the park so you may have to waddle out 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 at this shelter. Situated just off Route 501, you will find dozens of takeaway menus offering plenty of choice. If you plan on staying the night 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 and it’s nice to sleep in a bed once in a while! As Thru-hikers it’s possible to exchange 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 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 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.
Experienced hikers would rave about a cool spot just outside of Maine’s 100-mile wilderness.
After following a side trail to a nearby lake, hikers could find an air horn in a clearly marked location. After using it once (and only once), a motor boat would come and pick you up to bring you to White House Landing, where you could expect excellent food and a comfortable night’s stay at a beautiful location.
It’s people and places like these that makes the Appalachian trail so special. Stopping for a hot meal and some new friends can give you the energy to keep going, especially if the terrain and weather are taking a lot out of you.
To your next adventure! Think you know a rest stop that should be on this list? Leave a comment below!