The Appalachian Trail is one of 11 National Scenic Trails and—along with the Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails—one of three popular, near-border-to-border treks in the U.S.
Through-hikers on the AT have a roughly 2,180-mile journey in front of them. However, the trail has hundreds of access points, which makes it popular with day- and section-hikers. Of the 14 states through which the trail passes, Maine and New Hampshire have the most rugged terrain, with long, rocky stretches and plenty of scrambling. Hikers often find the number of miles they can hike per hour drops precipitously in this section.
Though not a congressionally designated wilderness area, the Hundred-Mile Wilderness offers wild, scenic terrain running from Abol Bridge, just south of Baxter State Park, to Monson, Maine. “Many people who hike the entire trial say this is their favorite section,” says Laurie Potteiger, information services manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
The soaring views of—and the chance to hike—Katahdin, the state’s tallest peak and the northern terminus of the AT, no doubt popularizes this section. Potteiger notes that the 100-mile trek can take up to ten days, so hikers might want to consider portioning it into smaller sections.
Because spring rains could make the stream crossings required here hazardous (or impossible), Potteiger recommends waiting until July to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness or, even better, September when the hardwoods offer multi-hued fall foliage as temperatures cool.
The segment along the crest of the Green Mountains in Vermont is another prime section hike. Here lush evergreen forests give way to lovely pastoral views, distinguishing this portion from others in southern New England. This section is also nearly 100 miles long, but can be apportioned for shorter trips. Potteiger warns against hiking during “mud season,” which runs from spring thaw until Memorial Day weekend. Summer is, as with most of the trail, the most popular time to hike this area.
Lastly, the AT section from Hanover, New Hampshire, through the Connecticut River Valley is plush with bed and breakfasts. These cozy accomodations make it possible for hikers to sleep in a bed and take a shower every two to three days along that 90-some-mile stretch.
The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion is a useful guide to pick-up for planning—especially for choosing between trail sections.
For a visual of the routes mentioned above, check out the Appalachain Trail Conservancy's interactive map.