Your Guide to an Appalachian Trail Road Trip
You can drive or hike the famed Appalachian Trail, but it's much easier to make a road trip out of it.
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Conquering the Appalachian Trail isn’t just achieved by lacing up and hiking the 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine over the course of several months. Growing in popularity is an Appalachian Trail road trip, where travelers cruise the Eastern seaboard taking in the sights from the comfort of their own vehicle, especially any of these top road trip cars.
- Most hikers travel Northward from Georgia to Maine not just because of weather, but the trail’s most strenuous parts are in the Northeast and at that point, hikers have built the strength to endure.
- Only 20 percent of those who attempt a through-hike actually finish the Appalachian Trail.
- The Appalachian Trail stretches across 14 states.
- The Appalachian Trail started to come to life in 1923 but no one attempted a through-hike until 1948 due to gaps in the trail because of things like a New England hurricane and the installation of a parkway in Virginia.
- Most of the trail is not of the original path. In fact, 99 percent has been moved or rebuilt over time.
- On average, the trail crosses an actual road every four miles.
- Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia (not Springer Mountain) marked the beginning of the trailhead until 1956.
- Storyland in Glen, New Hampshire: This theme park was inspired by giant dolls, making visitors of all ages feel like they stepped into a fairytale. The whimsical rides and one-of-a-kind setting make this theme park a must-see stop on your road trip.
- Red Caboose Motel and Restaurant in Ronks, Pennsylvania: Whether you’re looking to snap some photos, have an affinity for trains, or need a quirky place to crash or grab a bite, this Amish country stop will take you back in time.
Know before you go
Because much of the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through towns with spotty cell service, it’s best to gas up and pack your road trip snacks and meals in the event your only food option is the local convenience store (which can be quite charming, actually).
This part of the Appalachian Trail crosses over a very remote part of the state, known for its fall foliage. One of the more populated areas is Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabassett Valley, where travelers can rest their heads at the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel, which is about halfway through the state’s Appalachian Trail coverage of 282 miles. These photos of other picturesque mountain towns around the country will inspire you to hit the road.
The Mount Washington Auto Road is the most famous car-climb in New Hampshire and sees 45,000 vehicles annually on the 7.6-mile stretch. Visitors will be head-to-head with the clouds when reaching the 6,288-foot summit. This road trip stop is fitting considering New Hampshire has more above-the-treeline miles than any of the 14 Appalachian Trail states. The Glen House is a boutique hotel at the base of Mount Washington, which was first converted from a farmhouse to a hotel in the early 1850s and makes for a lovely place to stay. Here’s your complete guide to a White Mountains road trip.
Starting in Kingston, the Old Mine Road runs parallel to the Delaware River for 104 miles. If there’s a section of the Appalachian Trail you’re looking to hike, the section that passes through Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks is the oldest section of the trail, dating back to 1923. Complete your day in the wilderness with a stay the Bear Mountain Inn. Find the best state park in your state.
Skyline Drive runs 100 miles between I-66 and I-64, following the crest of Shenandoah National Park. A popular roadside attraction along this route is the quirky Dinosaur Land in the town of White Post, featuring over 50 of these prehistoric beasts for your Insta story. Quirk Hotel in Charlottesville is newly opened this year gives guests a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains while offering a contemporary vibe, if looking for a contrast from trail life.
Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile stretch from Blue Ridge to the Black Mountains and ending at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Even though travelers have their sights on an Appalachian Trail road trip, stopping in trendy Asheville is an easy detour. A stay in Asheville also offers convenient access to another driving experience: the opportunity to drive Land Rovers through mud and various off-road terrain.
The Appalachian Trail starts at Springer Mountain but visitors to the state may want to spend their time eyeing Tallulah Falls from US-441. For those who want to get up close, Tallulah Gorge State Park is full of trails, including a suspension bridge over the river and gorge. If you’re looking to overnight, Glen Ella Springs Inn and Restaurant is a mix of luxury and charm with awe-inspiring views of the Georgia Mountains. Next, read on to discover more about the best road trips in the U.S.
For more on where to go and what to see around the country, check out our Ultimate American Road Trip Guide.
Some sites listed here may not be open or may have limited hours or other restrictions due to COVID-19. Please check with them before you go.