What are the Best Section-hikes in the Middle of the Appalachian Trail?
Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
The Mid-Atlantic section of the Appalachian Trail includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Surprisingly, this portion is known for the hottest weather—even more so than the southern section of the trail—due to lower elevations.
This segment is also rich in history. Take for example, John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, which is explored in exhibits at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia.
Harpers Ferry is also home to the offices of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and with public transportation to the trail seven days a week, the area makes for an easily accessible section hike. Consider a weeklong trek from Harpers Ferry across Maryland and into southern Pennsylvania. The trail passes battlefields on a 40-mile route along the backbone of South Mountain. Hikes from here make for good spring break trips thanks to low elevations and warmer temperatures.
Virginia is home to the most miles of the AT (around 550); West Virginia is home to the least (around four). The Virginias are synonymous with the “Green Tunnel”—miles of foliage that enclose the trail and limit views to only that.
Shenandoah National Park is primed for section hikes thanks to its accessibility, amenities, and beauty. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north-south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, making jumping off the road and on to the trail easy. In this section, hikers will hit towns every few days, where they can treat themselves with burgers, fries, and blackberry milkshakes.
Hikers looking for lodging will find it here, too: Shenandoah has two lodges with restaurants—Skyland Resort and Big Meadow Lodge—and the Lewis Mountain Cabins, which, though furnished, are more primitive than the lodges and don’t have prepared dining options. Shenandoah is home to wooded glades, cascading waterfalls, plenty of wildlife, and relatively few climbs—making for pleasant hiking.
Laurie Potteiger, information services manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, recommends steering clear of the Virginias in May, unless your express purpose is to attend Trail Days, a backpacking and musical festival in Damascus, Virginia.
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.