The Appalachian Trail is renowned the world over as a stunning route through the scenic wilds of Eastern USA. It encompasses epic mountains and vast areas of remote wilderness as it makes its way through 14 states and is a truly absorbing journey.
The Appalachian Trail starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and goes north, finishing in Katahdin, Maine. It is challenging and rewarding, as it leads you through mountains, forests, and across a variety of terrain with amazing views along the way.
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most famous walking trails on earth and it is possible to drive parallel to the route on paved roads, so keep on reading to find out how everything you need to know to undertake this amazing adventure.
Where is Appalachian Trail located and where does it start and end?
While you can't drive the official Appalachian Trail, it is possible to drive parallel to the famous walking route, starting in Suches, Georgia, and finishing in Monson, Maine, the home of the Appalachian Trail Visitor Center.
The official route runs south to north, but it is possible to do the route in reverse order, the endpoints are interchangeable. The walking trail takes you on a 2,190-mile adventure through the most amazing terrain and is the longest hiking-only trail in the world.
Although some sections follow roads, the majority of the trail is through forests and wilderness, inaccessible to vehicles.
The driving route runs parallel to the walking trail on well-paved roads, covering 1,370 miles, and offers the chance to experience some of the best things the trail has to offer from the comfort of your own vehicle, making it much shorter, and significantly less physically challenging.
The starting point of the Appalachian Trail
Driving the Appalachian Trail begins in Suches, Georgia, around 80 miles north of Atlanta. The town itself is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is renowned for its scenic views and is often referred to as "The valley above the clouds".
The area is an outdoor lover's paradise, with so many hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail, and opportunities for camping, fishing and simply embracing the beauty of nature surrounding you.
There are many stunning waterfalls, with Sea Creek Falls one of the closest to Suches and the opportunity for wildlife spotting, with deer, bears, and bobcats all common to the area.
Suches also hosts many annual events, with the Indian Summer Festival one of the most popular, where you can enjoy country-square dancing and sample the delicious homemade pies. The Run Above the Clouds takes place in April, and the stunning backdrop makes it one of the world's most impressive 5 and 10k races.
The endpoint of the Appalachian Trail
The driving route's final destination is the small town of Monson, in Piscataquis County in Maine, a gateway into the popular Moosehead Lake Region. The area is popular with hikers with many excellent trails, and the nearby lakes are an idyllic setting for an outdoor swim.
The town itself has a strong sense of community and you will surely be given a friendly welcome as you complete the trail. The area is home to several events and festivals throughout the year, so you can celebrate completing this amazing trip in style.
The Monson Arts Festival in early October features hundreds of artists from all over the country, with live music, children's activities, and a varied mix of local food vendors. The Monson Fall Festival later in the month has a wonderful display of local crafts, a car show, live music, and family entertainment throughout the day.
The area also boasts a winter festival in February, where you enjoy winter sports, including ice skating and snowshoeing at the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce Winter Festival.
After a day of fun in the snow, you enjoy the chili cook-off and enjoy a relaxing evening by the bonfire. The first week of December also sees the town host its Christmas Stroll, with a tree lighting ceremony, Christmas carols, and an appearance from Santa Claus.
Where can I start my Appalachian Trail road trip?
Completing the entire length of the Appalachian Trail is a trip of a lifetime and well worth doing, but you may only want to complete part of the route, based on your closeness to the route.
Given the vast nature of the route, it's easy to join part-way from cities further afield and our table below gives an idea of travel times from various locations throughout the US.
|Major city/via point
From Suches, GA
From Monson, ME
|Baxter State Park, ME
|Quebec City, QC
How long does it take to drive on the Appalachian Trail?
Driving the Appalachian Trail is a mammoth road trip that takes 23 hours and 30 minutes. It is not possible to drive such a distance without taking a break, and with so much to see and do on this fantastic route, we recommend making the journey over 5 days, or longer if possible.
The route begins in Suches and takes you to Cataloochee, NC, passing through the stunning Great Smoky Mountain National Park towards Asheville and then onwards to Exchange Place, Tennessee. It continues through Roanoke and Harrisburg and the Shenandoah National Park before reaching New Vernon, New Jersey.
Continue north, passing Hartford and Hampton and following the Atlantic coast beyond Boston before crossing the state border into Maine and heading inland to Monson.
Things to know that can impact your driving time
Undertaking a road trip of this scale is something to get excited about, and a journey cross country through many states will be remembered for years to come. Completing the trip safely is paramount, and here are our top tips for driving the Appalachian Trail in the shortest time possible:
- Check your brakes before you go. There's mountainous terrain that can be taxing on brakes.
- When you travel can significantly impact the driving time. The roads can be crowded in the summer months, and making the trip in spring or fall will allow a more leisurely driving experience.
- If you have two drivers, you will be able to alternate while allowing your companion to rest.
- If you choose an economical car, you will minimize the fuel cost and will end up making fewer stops.
- Visit the ranger stations. They'll help you navigate the roads and suggest the best scenic byways.
- Drive on Sundays, or weekdays when there's likely to be less traffic.
- Always check the weather forecast in advance. Rain or snow can cause the road to be more slippery, or even closed in severe wintry conditions, so plan ahead and drive in accordance with the conditions.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The hiking route along the Appalachian Trail is one of the most popular long-distance trails in the world, with over three million people visiting every year, although many only complete part of the trail. The trail can be steep in places with lots of elevation, whereas the driving route in contrast, is much simpler.
If you wish to complete the whole trail on foot, it can take around 7 months, and with few facilities along the way, you must carry everything you need, and plan well in advance on where to stock up on supplies.
Driving the trail can be done in a couple of days, although with so much to enjoy, taking a week or longer is advisable to experience as much as possible. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants, and gas stations, although planning ahead is still recommended.
Given the length of the hiking trail, it is not uncommon to encounter hours of solitude in which to savor the incredible environment and enjoy being at one with nature. On the other hand, the driving route can be particularly busy at times, especially during the peak summer season.
Walking the trail is a trek of epic proportions and is not to be attempted without prior training. It is extremely demanding on the body and building up fitness in the hills is essential preparation.
Even driving the route isn't easy given the distance covered and it is advisable to have someone to share the driving and the fantastic scenery.
Whether you are walking or driving, it is always advisable to let people know your plans and routes and check in at regular intervals if possible. The main thing is to enjoy the whole experience and to do it as safely as possible.
Attractions and scenic areas on the Appalachian Trail
As you'd probably expect, a route covering 14 States offers spectacular views, scenery, and a whole host of historical attractions that will keep you entertained throughout and make this one of the most epic of road trips.
Here are some of our favorite attractions that make the route so special:
- Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests (Suches, GA) - a beautiful landscape in northern Georgia, with over 867,000 acres of stunning mountains, valleys, and forests to explore.
- Jarvis Palmer House (Waynesville, NC) - this historic house in North Carolina, built in the late 19th century, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a perfect example of a Queen Anne-style mansion.
- Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum (Asheville, NC) - The museum features an impressive collection of antique and vintage cars, and well worth a visit.
- Exchange Place (Kingsport, TN) - Get a glimpse of 19th-century life in this historic farmstead, and learn all about the traditional crafts that were a vital way of life, such as spinning, weaving, and candle-making.
- Virginia Museum of Transport (Roanoke, VA) - Enjoy the impressive vehicle collection of trains, cars, and planes.
- Frontier Culture Museum (Staunton, VA) - See how early settlers lived in the Shenandoah Valley and explore the traditional buildings which took their inspiration from around the world.
- Virginia Museum of the Civil War (New Market, VA) - Based on an actual battle site from 1864, learn all about the Virginia civil war, and over 10,000 artifacts from the battle.
- Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (Middletown, VA) - Visit the preserved site from the American Civil War, at the site that was decisive in the outcome, and enjoy the numerous hiking and biking trails.
- Patsy Cline Historic House (Winchester, VA) - This was once the home of the country music legend, and houses many of her personal items, including her guitar, clothes, and grammy.
- Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom (Allentown, PA) - Spend a day at this amusement and water park with 64 rides, and some of the longest rollercoasters in the world.
- Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (New Vernon, NJ) - Home to a variety of wildlife, this refuge is a popular retreat for birdwatching and hiking,
- Mark Twain House and Museum (Hartford, CT) - A Museum in the home of the famous author, full of period pieces, and many personal belongings including his all-important typewriter.
- Hampton Beach State Park (Hampton, NH) - Enjoy swimming, fishing and simply being at one with nature in this 50-acre park where the Hampton River meets the Atlantic Ocean.
- Ogunquit Beach (Ogunquit, ME) - A stunning sandy beach spanning over 3 miles and home to a variety of shorebirds, fish, and seals, and a great place for humpback whale spotting.
- Victoria Mansion (Portland, ME) - Also known as Morse-Libby Mansion, it's an excellent example of American residential architecture from the mid-19th century.
As well as the cultural attractions, the route is blessed with some of the finest views and outdoor trails in the country, and here are some of the best:
- Sosebee Cove Scenic Area and Trail (Blairsville, GA) - Located in the Chattahoochee National Forest, this 175-acre cove forest is home to a variety of wildlife, tall trees, and beautiful wildflowers, the perfect place for a relaxing hike at any time of year.
- Trahlyta Falls Spur Trail (Blairsville, GA) - This short trail through a pine forest leads you to a viewing platform, an excellent vantage point for the series of cascading waterfalls,
- Shooting Creek Scenic Overlook (Hayesville, NC) - Witness amazing views over the Blue Ridge Mountains from this overlook on the outskirts of Hayesville. There are several trails to enjoy and it's a beautiful place for a picnic.
- Woodfin Cascades Falls (Sylva, NC) - Situated in the Pisgah National Forest, the 50-foot falls cascade down the rocky landscape, where you can sit back and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
- Cataloochee Valley Overlook (Waynesville, NC) - Enjoy stunning views over the Great Smoky Mountains, and look out for the herd of Elk that call this place home.
- Cataloochee Divide Trail (Waynesville, NC) - A more challenging hiking trail, offering stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains over quite rough and steep terrain in places. The trail is 14.1 miles in total.
- Appalachian Trail - Sams Gap (Mars Hill, NC) - Enjoy panoramic vistas in all directions from this high-elevation pass on the Appalachian Trail, close to the North Carolina and Tennessee border.
- Sams Gap Scenic Overlook (Flag Pond, TN) - An impressive viewpoint, offering uninterrupted views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the surrounding wilderness.
- Colorblind Viewfinder (Erwin, TN) - A visit to the Viewfinder in Tennessee is an excellent way for people with red-green colorblindness to witness the beautiful colors of the surrounding foliage. Fitted with special lenses, it allows those with color blindness to see the beauty of nature in color for the first time.
- Mendota Trail (Bristol, VA) - This hiking and biking trail flows through forests and across streams spanning the former Southern Railroad corridor and can be enjoyed all year round.
- Anthony Wayne Loop Trailhead (Tomkins Cove, NY) - Enjoy stunning views of the Hudson River and the neighboring mountains from this 5-mile loop trail.
- Bear Mountain Bridge Scenic Lookout (Highland Falls, NY) - Situated just a stone's throw from the car park, the lookout in Bear Mountain State Mountain Park offers enviable views of the Bear Mountain Bridge and Mountains.
- Lonestar Trail (Cold Spring, NY) - Enjoy a stroll along the 4.1-mile trail in Hudson Highlands State Park, passing through beautiful forests, streams, and lush meadows.
- Back Cove Trail (Portland, ME) - An easy trail through forests and salt marshes, perfect for hiking, biking, and running.