The mountain peaks that make this list could double as a greatest hits compilation for the Appalachian Trail below the Mason-Dixon Line: all but one are accessible via the AT.
5. Springer Mountain, Georgia
For AT thru-hikers, the 2,100-mile trek to Maine doesn’t officially begin until they trudge up the eight-mile Southern Terminus Approach Trail from Amicalola Falls State Park to the 3,800-foot summit of Springer Mountain and sign the register. There are plenty of taller mountains in Georgia, (Brasstown Bald is the state’s highest, at nearly 4,800 feet), but none carry the history or symbolic importance to hikers that the climb through oaks and maples to the top of Springer does.
Go with: North Georgia Mountain Outfitters
4. Clingmans Dome, Tennessee
The highest peak on the Appalachian Trail and in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome is often overshadowed by the bare, imposing summits of nearby Mount Mitchell in North Carolina and Mount Washington in New Hampshire. A seven-mile access road leads to the observation tower at the top, but a better way to get there is to hike the 7.7-mile stretch of the AT from Newfound Gap to the summit.
Go with: Smoky Mountain Outfitters
3. Mount Rogers, Virginia
It’s not the rare Fraser firs decorating its slopes or the 360-degree view of southwestern Virginia from its exposed summit that makes Mount Rogers unique. It’s the 100-plus-strong herd of wild ponies that live in the high-elevation grasslands atop the 5,729-foot mountain. There are more than 400 miles of footpaths within the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, but to reach the summit you’ll need to hike four miles on the Appalachian Trail from Elk Garden, then follow a short blue-blazed access path.
Go with: Mount Rogers Outfitters
2. Max Patch, North Carolina
This 4,600-foot bald just east of the Tennessee border in western North Carolina is one of the classic short hikes of the Blue Ridge. From its grassy summit in the Pisgah National Forest, you can peer across to the Great Smoky Mountains on one side, and Mount Mitchell and the towering Black Mountain range on the other. Although it's accessible from the Appalachian Trail, the quickest way to the top is the two-mile path from the Max Patch parking area.
Go with: Bluff Mountain Outfitters
1. Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
Located about 30 miles north of Asheville, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell is the tallest peak in the eastern United States, and the only mountain on this list that's not on the AT. Trek up to the rocky, exposed summit, and you'll be rewarded with an eagle's eye view of the Appalachians. There are two popular ways to get to the top. The first is to drive up on the paved access road (open year-round, weather permitting). The second is to hike the 5.5-mile Mount Mitchell trail, which climbs more than 3,000 feet through thick spruce and fir groves from the Black Mountain Campground to the observation area on top of the mountain.
Go with: Black Dome Mountain Sports