Sure, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is all about disconnecting from society, living a simpler life, getting in decent shape, witnessing unforgettable scenery, and making long-lasting friendships with fellow hikers. But it’s also about getting drunk in trail towns.
Kidding, of course… But only slightly. You see, after week-long periods without resupply, no greasy animal protein, and no cold, hoppy beverages, it’s really nice to fully indulge once you reach a trail town. We’re talking burgers stuffed with macaroni and cheese, golden ales with absurdly high AVB’s, and—get this—social interactions with real life human beings other than thru-hikers.
So, prospective thru-hikers, if it’s your first attempt at the AT, and you’re a beer drinker, calorie craver (all of you will be), and lover of a good time, here are 7 must-stop places along the trail where you can let off steam and indulge in some of those creature comforts that you’ll inevitably wake up dreaming about late one night when you’re alone in your tent and it’s freezing and it’s raining and you’re stomach is growling and all you want is something warm, anything warm, but all you have are cold toes and hopeless thoughts… Anyway, happy trails!
1. Spring Creek Tavern and Inn
Located in the welcoming trail town of Hot Springs, NC, the Spring Creek Tavern and Inn is a hiker friendly—wait for it—tavern and inn. But it’s more than just that. For Northbounders, it will be one of the first restaurants they see when entering the first town they’ve seen since before the Smokies. (Unless they’ve made the questionable decision of stopping in the Gatlinburg vortex.) And given the unpredictability of the weather in the Smokies, hikers could either arrive at Spring Creek Tavern in excellent spirits eager to down a few local beers on the outdoor patio, or they could arrive with frozen beards ready to find refuge in a dark corner and demolish a few wood-fired pizzas. Live music from Thursday-Sunday nights makes this place a really fun spot to visit on the weekends.
2. Damascus Brewery
Damascus, VA—or Trail Town, USA, as it’s frequently called—is a place that’s brimming with life. If you happen to miss the annual Trail Days Festival, occurring this year on May 16, no need to fret because there’s still much to experience in this tiny town where the Appalachian Trail, Virginia Creeper Trail, and Trans-America National Bicycle Trail all converge. One spot, in particular, that’s an absolute blast is the Damascus Brewery. Offering over 30 beers that rotate through 8 taps, you won’t go thirsty, and with live music every Saturday night, you won’t be bored either. While the brewery is only open on weekends and isn’t actually located in the heart of town itself, if you manage to make it here, you’re in for one hell of a time—just be careful with the “Amberdelic Amber,” as it’s so smooth, you can easily down 3-4 of them before you know what’s hit you.
3. Devil’s Backbone Brewery
Located along the “Brew Bridge Trail”—a highway in Central Virginia that’s riddled with craft breweries, one brewpub stands out among the rest (for thru-hikers, at least): Devil’s Backbone Brewery. Here’s how it works: you arrive at Reeds Gap (mile 832.2 for NoBo’s), you call Devil’s Backbone (434-361-1001), they’ll send a shuttle to come pick you up and take you to the brewpub. Then you’ll feast on pork sandwiches, burgers, and fries, and gulp down a few of their award-winning beers, and once you’ve had your fill, you’ll head over to the white building across the lawn, and set up camp behind it with fellow hikers. THEN, you’ll wake up in the morning and head back to the brewpub to enjoy a specially-made-for-hikers breakfast before the restaurant even opens its doors to the public. At the end of all this, they’ll take you back to the trail. Sounds a little too good to be true, doesn’t it?
4. The Doyle
Located in the rundown town of Duncannon, Pennsylvania—fun fact: the only trail town with an operating strip club—the Doyle is a place that you’ll hear about long before you actually reach it. It’s legendary. Run by one of the friendliest couples you’ll ever meet, the building is ancient with a lot of character, the food is greasy with a lot of calories, and the beer is plentiful with a lot of, er, drinkability. This is a hotel that was originally built in the 1770’s and where Charles Dickens once stayed, so while you’re sipping your Yuengling (be sure to call it a “lager”), try to appreciate this place for what it’s become: a weary, old building where weary, old hikers can come together and collectively find a little life and rejuvenation.
5. Woodstock Inn
Slightly pricier than most thru-hikers would care for—especially considering the somewhat hush-hush Chet’s Place Hostel is just down the road in the adjoining town of Lincoln, and it’s free—but if you’re looking to splurge close to the end of your journey, the Woodstock Inn in North Woodstock, NH is certainly worth considering. You might not agree if you’re a proud owner of the “Hiker Trash” moniker, but really when it comes down to brass taxes, who can honestly disagree with staying the night in a hotel that offers fresh white linens, perfectly firm mattresses, and crappy cable television, and that also doubles as a brew-pub? Yes, that’s right. The Woodstuck Inn is not only a quaint hotel, but also a fully operating brewery and restaurant. Drink their beer, eat their unhealthy food, snack on unlimited amounts of free popcorn, and if you’re lucky, listen to the live music that they have on occasion. In the morning, enjoy one of the best Eggs Benedict breakfasts you’ll ever have in your life.
6. The Gypsy Joynt
Located in the resort town of Great Barrington, MA, The Gypsy Joynt is a Bohemian restaurant that has to be experienced to be believed. The waitstaff are dressed in all sorts of flowy garments that reveal their tattoos and piercings. The walls and ceilings are decorated with all sorts of hippie charm. The beer is served in Mason jars. And there’s a stage that hosts a variety of different musical acts. But the food, ah the food. It’s one of those places that will induce crippling indecision, where you can stare at the menu for minutes on end and still not come to a decision. Our recommendation: the burger that comes fully loaded with Bayou bacon, BBQ sauce, jalapenos, caramelized onions, potato chips, and macaroni and cheese. And please do your sweet tooth a favor and follow it up with the moistest, butteriest, and largest cinnamon bun imaginable.
7. Sarge’s Sports Bar and Grill
Anecdotally, I have a bone to pick with Sarge’s. I should have won that karaoke night back in July 2013! I had three toothless little women with leathery faces and arthritic hips dancing to my rendition of Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never,” but I unfairly lost out to a local on account of my thru-hiker status. (At least that’s what I like to believe.) But really, Sarge’s is a fun, salty, dive bar in Rangeley, Maine that offers homey pub fare, standard drink selections, and an unforgettably awesome atmosphere, where locals and hiker trash can mix and mingle as one. And even if you don’t win, try to hit it during Saturday Karaoke Night for the perfect send off to your final 220 miles to Katahdin.