Best Appalachian Trail Section Hiking, According to the Experts
The Appalachian Trail is a National Scenic Trail in the eastern United States that runs about 2,000 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It’s a huge undertaking that has changed the lives of many of its hikers. The trail boasts vast biodiversity, friendly trail towns, and ample history.
However, doing a full thru-hike isn’t for everyone. That’s why we’re bringing you ideas on the best Appalachian Trail section hiking straight from those who know the trail best.
What Is the Best Appalachian Trail Section Hiking?
Many of Gossamer Gear’s brand ambassadors have taken on the Appalachian Trail. They know it intimately, walking each of its unique miles and taking in its changing scenery. If you’re looking for insider information on the best Appalachian Trail section hiking, they’re the perfect resource. They can help you pick the stretch that is right for you when a full thru-hike is just a bit too long for what you’re after.
We’ve asked some of our brand ambassadors to share the best Appalachian Trail section hiking with our community. Our blog editor (me!) also chimed in as a non-thru-hiker with an opinion. We hope these recommendations help you choose your next section hike adventure on this great long trail.
1. Best Appalachian Trail Section Hiking, according to Arlette Laan
Brand Ambassador, Arlette Laan, has completed long distance hikes around the world, including in the United States, New Zealand, Switzerland, Kenya, Japan, Nicaragua, Patagonia, and Jordan. She became the first woman to complete all 11 National Scenic Trails—totaling over 18,000 miles—in 2022. Arlette also holds the fastest known time for the White Mountain Direttissima, hiking all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers in one continuous unsupported backpacking trip in just under nine days. Arlette shared that different sections of the AT are great in different seasons.
Here’s what Arlette had to say about the best Appalachian Trail section hiking:
For an AT section hike, I would recommend Georgia in spring for the rhododendron tunnels in bloom, the Virginia Grayson Highlands for the rolling hills and wild ponies, and the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for an amazing above-tree-line experience. However, my current favorite is northern Maine during fall foliage season. I love northern Maine in summer for the big lakes to swim in, but during fall foliage it’s simply breathtaking. Though, any section in New England in fall can be amazing in peak foliage.
2. Best Appalachian Trail Section Hiking, according to Lauren “Sparkle” Veloz
Lauren “Sparkle” Veloz is a Denver-based, long-distance backpacker. She sent us her thoughts on the trail in July 2023 when she was about 1,800 miles into thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. By this point, she told us she kept catching herself thinking about the AT section around mile 1,100 near the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania when you cross over the historic Mason Dixon line.
Here’s what Lauren had to say about the best Appalachian Trail section hiking:
I was surprised by what this stretch through a beautiful state park brought, like the Appalachian Trail Museum; a sweet, beachfront swimming hole; fries galore; and possibly the best shelter of the trail! Quarry Gap shelter is maintained beautifully with flowers and a welcome sign on the fence greeting you inside, a swing, a bear box for food storage, a covered table, and two separate sleeping areas for those who snore and those who don’t. I attempted learning the Euchre card game at this shelter and, although I can’t remember the rules, I’ll never forget the night we spent here. You’ll walk right through it on the AT, but you won’t want to leave! I had the best time on this stretch with friends, fun, and laughter.
Lauren also provided some insider tips for this particular Appalachian Trail section hike. In her own words:
- Stop by the Pine Grove Furnace Store, where hikers attempt the “half gallon challenge,” eating an entire half gallon’s worth of ice cream. Pro Tip: The tubs they sell are only 1.5 quarts, so you’ll need to grab an additional pint. Leave your quart out while you work on the tub so it’s a little melted when you’re ready to finish!
- Just past this store is the AT Museum, where you can find Heather “Anish” Anderson’s pack, dress, and books on display (and for sale!) from when she broke the women’s FKT self-supported record.
- Next, it just gets better: You’ll find a small beach with a gorgeous pond to swim in where the water is refreshingly chilly.
3. Best Appalachian Trail Section Hiking, according to Carolyn Blessing & Jeff Podmayer
Carolyn Blessing and Jeff Podmayer met working in outdoor education. They thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2021 as part of a journey to hike two long trails to form their marriage to one another. They saw and learned a lot along the way. One of their favorite sections of the Appalachian Trail was northern Maine, including the Hundred-Mile Wilderness.
Here’s what they had to say about the best Appalachian Trail section hiking:
We loved northern Maine. It’s a beautiful section with a good mix of experiences. Some challenging terrain, rewarding views, deep forests, thick moss, and lots of water—lakes, bogs, rivers, you name it. This section also has excellent bookends. To the north, it has the obvious and delightful option of traveling through Baxter State Park and starting or ending on Katahdin. To the south, Monson is great. We borrowed bikes to go to town and ate good food with a sweet view overlooking Lake Hebron.
4. Best Appalachian Trail Section Hiking, according to Duncan Cheung
Brand Ambassador, Duncan Cheung, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2013. He has since founded an inspiring nonprofit called Off Trail On Track. Off Trail On Track teaches minimalist backpacking and donates 100% of its profits to support conservation, diversity, and education in and for the wilderness. When reflecting on his time hiking the AT, Duncan recommends the trail section through the Presidential Range.
Here’s what Duncan had to say about the best Appalachian Trail section hiking:
For the AT, I'd say the Presidential Range would be one of the best (that I'm willing to share!). It’s not dramatic like the PCT, but as far as scenery goes, this traverse offers some of the best on the AT—especially since most of it is above treeline, which is harder to come by on the AT. The whole Presidential Traverse is about 23 miles, roughly a 9,000-foot gain. Bonus is that the White Mountains and other nearby mountains offer opportunities for competent folks to do some off-trail exploration and peak-bagging.
5. Best Appalachian Trail Section Hiking, according to Korrin Bishop
I admittedly have not thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. While I’ve done some small sections here and there, I don’t have the background to rank one place as being “better” than the rest. I also think that when it comes to wilderness, lists of the “best” are nearly impossible to guarantee. Different trails and environments appeal to each of us for different reasons: memories, companionship, preferences, views, biodiversity, seasonal changes.
The most experience I have with the Appalachian Trail is through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and I absolutely love this 72-mile stretch of trail. It’s physically challenging and soulfully beautiful. You’ll find great and well-earned views at Shuckstack Firetower, Rocky Top, Clingmans Dome, Charlies Bunion, and Mount Cammerer. But while you’re hiking through lush tree cover, you’ll also be able to take in the details of the most biodiverse unit in the National Park Service.
Yes, the Smokies is also the most-visited national park, but once you’re out on the trail, there is plenty of solitude to be found. Additionally, if you want fewer crowds, consider coming in March, April, or September. For a full guide on hiking the AT section through the Smokies, check out our Light Feet blog on the topic.
Resources to Help You Prepare for an Appalachian Trail Section Hike
If you're preparing for your own section hike of the Appalachian Trail, make sure to check out the Light Feet blog for additional resources and trail stories to inspire you.
Here are a few articles to get you started:
- 5 Trail Hacks for Beginner Thru-Hikers
- Hydration 101: Your Guide to Water While Hiking
- 8 Tips & Tricks for Solo Hiking Trips
- Learn the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace
- 8 Ways to Manage Spring and Summer Rain When Hiking
We also recommend grabbing a good trail read:
- New Book “Adventure Ready” Is Your Dream Adventure Buddy
- "Chasing the Smokies Moon" Is More Than the Story of Setting an FKT
Gear Up for the Best Appalachian Trail Section Hiking
Of course, you'll want to make sure you're outfitted with the best lightweight gear for your journey ahead. The Mariposa 60 and Gorilla 50 make excellent backpacks for section hiking the Appalachian Trail. We also recommend a Lightrek Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella for keeping cool and dry, as well as the LT5 Three Piece Carbon Trekking Poles for comfort and stability on high-mileage days.
Learn more about additional trail gear for your AT section hike in some of our Light Feet gear highlights:
- Cook Your Backpacking Dinner in Your Pants With Help From the “Crotch Pot”
- Gorilla vs. Mariposa: How to Choose Which Backpack Is Right For You
- 8 Top Accessories for Customizing Your Pack
- Have Your Best Pee Yet With the Gossamer Gear Exclusive Kula Cloth
- Pack Liners vs. Pack Covers: Which to Use for Backpacking