Extending nearly 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail is an east coast hiking highway that passes through 14 states. The trail, known simply as the A.T., features everything from easy sections tailor made for newer hikers, to more difficult parts that demand top fitness and experience. Many people try to hike the trail from end to end in one stretch, and others attempt a more demanding feat: hiking from one end to the other, and then turning around and going back to where they started. There are more than 500 road crossings along the trail, and parking areas are located at many of those crossings. So if you're looking to do a 5-mile hike on a Saturday morning or something more, you've got plenty of options.
What Makes It Great
The size of the Appalachian Trail is vast. About 165,000 white trail markers, painted on trees, line the A.T. They help keep everyone on course and heading in the right direction.
The Virginia section of the trail accounts for a quarter of the entire route (550 miles), and it's not easy. In the southeast corner of the state, for example, the trail passes less than a mile from the highest point in the state, Mount Rogers (5,729 feet).
As the trail heads north, it becomes easier. It runs adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway in central Virginia, and above that it hooks up with Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park. This section, which contains 104 miles of well-maintained trail, is not too difficult to get through. In fact, it's often a good spot for newer hikers to get their boots dirty and begin their hiking life.
In Northern Virginia, the A.T. traverses over some rolling hills as it treks along a ridge. A good hike, which will last a few days to a week, starts at Sky Meadows State Park — just above Front Royal and the end of Skyline Drive — and finishes at the Virginia-West Virginia-Maryland border in Harpers Ferry, W.V. The views in this section aren't as good as they are on other parts of the trail, but it makes for a nice week-long hike. There is, however, a spectacular view at Bear's Den Park in Bluemont, Va. So be sure to plan a rest break there and check it out.
After a short (4-mile) trek through West Virginia, the trail enters Maryland and snakes 40 miles along the spine of South Mountain, a ridge stretching from Pennsylvania to the Potomac River at the Virginia-Maryland border. This section isn't too difficult and is perfect for hikes that last 3-4 days.
Who is Going to Love It
It's impossible to single out a single person or group that will enjoy the Appalachian Trail, because it has something for everyone. That's especially true for the section running through Virginia and Maryland.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Once you choose a section of the Appalachian Trail you'd like to hike, your best bet is to check out an official map of the trail and find the best place to leave your car.