Ultimate Road Trip: The Appalachian Trail
The historic Appalachian trail is the world's longest, continuously-marked trail.
nThe historic Appalachian trail is the world's longest, continuously-marked trail. With over 2,000 miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of opportunities to hop out of the car and explore the outdoors. The trail starts in Maine and then winds down through fourteen states, and officially ends in Georgia. Some people prepare for months to actually hike the entire length of the trail, which has been around since the 1920s, and is a permanent part of America's hiking heritage. But, it's also pretty fun to drive the Appalachian Trail, which is divided into three major sections: New England, Mid-Atlantic, and the Southern Appalachias. The New England stretch of the trail takes you from Maine to New Hampshire, a bit of Vermont, and Connecticut. The Mid-Atlantic states include New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Then you'll hit the Southern Appalachias, in which we'll include Virginia and West Virginia, then over to Tennessee and down to North Carolina and Georgia.
Along your Appalachian trail road trip, there are plenty of opportunities to get out and hike the trail itself. The New England section of the Appalachian trail is found in Maine and New Hampshire. It's also the most difficult section of the trail due to the rugged terrain and unpredictable weather. Some parts of this section are even above the tree line, which only amplifies any severe weather. This may be the best place to start at if you actually plan on hiking through of the trail. Breathtaking highlights in the area include Baxter State Park and the White Mountain National Forest. The trail picks up again in eastern Vermont and goes up to the New York-Connecticut border, this section of the trail is much less difficult than the northernmost segment for hikers. Expect to see many stone walls from previously existing structures such as farm buildings. This section also contains some hiking through gorgeous farmland and lovely pastoral views. Consider resting your legs at the waterfalls in Gifford Woods State Forest Park or Kent Falls State Park.
What to do
Maine's Grafton Notch State Park features beautiful waterfalls and gorges. Once you hit the road, plan on driving the Mt Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire, which is a seasonal byway, where you can find mountain tours, a gift shop and cafe. While in New Hampshire visit Story Land, a super quirky theme park that was founded by Bob and Ruth Morell after they had bought huge dolls from Germany. Their park is based on these massive storybook dolls. Next up, is Crawford Notch State Park.This 5,700-acre park has loads fo hiking trails, a few waterfalls and insanely gorgeous mountain views. There's also a campground onsite. A little ways down the road is Gifford Woods State Forest Park, which also features Appalachian trail camping.
Once you hit Massachusetts, head to Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams, to learn about the history of this part of Massachusetts. And a can't-miss museum is the Arrowhead Museum, which is the name of Herman Melville's House (the writer of Moby Dick). Over in Hancock, MA is the historic Hancock Shaker Village, which was established in 1791, and Bash Bish Falls State Park, home to Massachusetts' highest single-drop waterfall. Mount Washington State Forest is one of the prettiest forests along the route, and lies in the southern part of the Taconic Mountain range. Then take a leisurely stroll across the covered bridge at Kent Falls State Park, and hike to the cascading waterfalls.
Where to eat and sleep
The New England portion of the Appalachian Trail offers plenty of delicious places to eat. There's Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, NH, which is famous for its pancakes, obviously, but also its ambiance, as it's set in an early 1800s building that provides fantastic mountain views. A little drive away is the Sunny Day Diner in Lincoln, NH or the Blue Benn Diner in Bennington, VT, which is a classic 1945 railcar diner, where you can play some tunes on the jukebox while you eat all-day breakfast. Over in Massachusetts, there's East Side Cafe in Pittsfield, which has been a local favorite since the 1950s, and Collins Diner, a classic retro aluminum diner in Canaan, CT.
When you're ready to call it a day, head to Crawford Notch Campground in the White Mountain National Forest, or lakeside Loch Lyme Lodge, which offers cabins and cottages. Inn Of The Six Mountains in Killington is another great choice. The resort is surrounded by the Green Mountains, and if you're visiting during winter for skiing, they provide free shuttle service. Or you could spend the night in luxury at the Four Chimney's Inn in Bennington, VT, which is housed in a beautiful 1913 mansion, on 11 acres, and just a few minutes walk from The Bennington Museum and the Bennington Battle Monument. Lastly, the Maple Terrace Motel in Williamstown, MA will make you feel right at home with simple rooms decorated in a charming country theme.
The Mid-Atlantic section of the Appalachian Trail weaves in and out of some heavily populated urban areas, but the trail retains a feeling of remoteness as it passes to the west of major cities like Philadelphia or New York City. For hikers traveling through this section, the Mid-Atlantic makes it easy to resupply considering its proximity to so many cities. Dig the beautiful scenery at New York's Bear Mountain State Park and Pennyslvania's stunning Pinnacle Overlook.
What to do
Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY is a fun outdoor, open-air museum where you can easily spend an afternoon wandering around exhibits. Bear Mountain State Park in Tomkins Cove is 5,000 acres of scenic beauty located on the Hudson River, and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is one of New Jersey's best-kept secrets. It's forty lush miles of the middle Delaware River, surrounded by forests and rolling hills and river inlets. For a history kick, head over to the Friends of The Daniel Boone Homestead in Birdsboro, PA, where it feels like you've stepped back in time. It's a fantastic place to learn about the culture of Oley Valley during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Then there's Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in Elverson and the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County, PA. If you have time, plan to spend at least a day or two in Lancaster County, it's a gorgeous part of Pennsylvania and there's so much to do and see, you'd be remissed to just drive through without stopping. Lastly, there's the Haines Shoe House in Stonybrook. The house was initially built by a shoe salesman as an advertisement for his business, today it's a quirky, but iconic, roadside attraction.
Next up, is Gettysburg National Military Park, which is probably the most important battlefield in America, commemorating the turning point of the Civil War. There's so many exhibits and a fantastic driving tour of the park. Plus, Gettysburg is a beautiful historic town to spend the day. If you want to get out to stretch your legs, head to Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, MD, which is home to a 78-foot tall cascading waterfall, Maryland's largest. Washington Monument State Park in Middletown features a 34-foot tall monument, and is just 4 miles from the town of Boonsboro, another great town to visit while on the Appalachian Trail.
Where to eat and sleep
Milford Diner in Milford, PA offers traditional, homecooked diner food in a very cool colonial-themed diner. In Belvidere, NJ there's Hot Dog Johnny's in Belvidere, which will make you tingle with retro roadfood nostalgia. Pennsylvania's Historic Hotel Bethlehem is a beautiful boutique hotel that's also pet-friendly, and has an onsite ice cream shoppe. For a quirkier place to sleep, there's the Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant in Ronks, PA, which is located on 10 acres in Amish Country. Here you can sleep in a historic train car and caboose, which comes with flat-screen TVs and some come with their own private deck. There's also an onsite country restaurant, petting zoo and buggy rides are also offered. Be warned, the Red Caboose Motel closes in winter.
THE SOUTHERN APPALACHIAS
This section of the Appalachiain trail offers some of the most scenic views and least-traveled sections of hiking trails. This segment in the Virginias is also a great place for hikers planning shorter trips. Skyline Drive offers amenities and accommodations closer to the trail than anywhere else along the entire length. Running from northern Tennessee to the trail’s end point at Springer Mountain in Georgia, this section takes hikers over the tallest peak on the entire trail at the famous Clingmans Dome. This section is mostly full of well-maintained trails, but some parts offer long and strenuous climbs. And there's no better site to see for somebody who started their hike up in Maine than Vogel State Park, one of the oldest and most popular state parks in Georgia and one of the last stops on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail.
What to do
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is located smack dab where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. This historic town has hiking and a charming downtown district that will make you feel like you're stepping back in time to the 1800s. The 110-mile Skyline Drive Skyline Drive runs the entire length of Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. While in Virginia don't miss the Luray Caverns, which has drawn visitors along the Appalachain trail since its discovery in 1878. To get your fill of history, visit the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, which is a fantastic living history museum focused on the stories of Old World migrants who settled in Shenandoah Valley.
A few other can't miss-places along the trail include Natural Bridge Park in Rockbridge County, VA. This is a beautiful geological wonder, which allegedly features some graffitti from George Washington. There's McAfee's Knob in Catawba, which is a breathtaking scenic overlook in Roanoke County. Rock Castle Gorge Trail in Floyd is a great places to hike, and even camp along the Appalachian Trail. Mystery Hill in Blowing Rock will make you question gravity and science, and Biltmore Estate in Asheville will give you a taste of the finer things. The Biltmore Estate was built by George Vanderbilt in the style of a Châteauesque mansion. It's basically America's version of Downton Abbey.
The Ghost Town in The Sky in Maggie Valley is a kitschy roadside attraction that's a fun little stop. It's a wild west-themed amusement park that sits right on the top of a mountain. Since you're so close, you should probably take a drive down one of America's most important classic drives, the Blue Ridge Parkway. This drive connects Shenandoah National Park with Skyline Drive. Prepare for a gorgeous and windy scenic drive along mountain ridges. And the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, NC is a fitting end to your Appalachian Trail road trip. Here can you learn all about the first peoples to use the area where the trail would later be established.
Clingmans Dome in Gatlinburg, TN is the third tallest mountain east of the Rockies, and at 6,643 feet, your view of the Great Smoky Mountains is unparalleled. It's also the highest point in Tennessee. Dry Falls in Highlands, NC is a beautiful 65-foot tall waterfall in the middle of the forest (don't worry there's a trail to it). Black Rock Mountain State Park in Clayton, GA is named after it's dark cliffs that jut out from Georgia's Blue RidgeMountains. Lastly, Tallulah Gorge State Park at Tallullah Falls is a fitting end to your Appalachian Trail road trip. It's home to a thousand foot gorge, tons of waterfalls and campground and a former Victorian-era resort town.
Where to eat and sleep
Michie Tavern in Charlottesville has opened its doors to travelers for over 200 years, providing hearty, homemade southern food based on recipes from the 1800s. The Chalet Restaurant & Switzerland Inn in Little Switzerland is a very unique lodge and restaurant. It's been in operation since 1910, and located right on the mountain top by Asheville and Blowing Rock. The rooms are large, the mountain views are stunning and the on-site restaurant serves food all day long. It's located at milepost 334 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you're vegetarian, then check out The Grit, which prides itself on being a 100% meat-free eatery, serving delicious fare in a historic building. There's also the historic Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park and the stately Natural Bridge Hotel. Lastly, the Mayberry Motor Inn in Mount Airy, NC is a retro-kitschy Andy Griffith Show-themed courtyard-style hotel, just off US Route 52 and less than two miles from the Andy Griffith Museum.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
The best time to drive down the Appalachian Trail is in the fall. Many places are seasonal along the route, and some are closed in winter, also some roads will be closed seasonally as well. Summer can be hot, but autumn is pretty much perfect. From September through mid-November the leaves will be changing and provide a gorgeous backdrop to your journey.Roadtrippers, a great resource for anyone interested in travel.
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