BEST LONG DISTANCE HIKING TRAIL
The 2,175-mile National Scenic Trail extends from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine.
“My first thru-hike was in 1973, and I’ve done 14 thru hikes in total. I keep doing it for the same reason people keep going to church. I enjoy it. It’s a passion and it’s my guidestone. The A.T. helps me move through the real world. It gives me something that is stable and fair and enables me to progress more confidently in a world that isn’t as consistent. You have to flow with the trail. You can’t fight it. As far as physical beauty is concerned, nothing can beat the diversity in the 70-mile section between Roan Mountain and Watauga Lake: Canadian spruce forest, high elevation bald, mountain plateau, deep gorge with waterfalls, and a man-made lake with an earthen dam. Plus, on that section, you’re walking in the footsteps of John Muir.”
—Warren Doyle, most accomplished A.T. thru-hiker with a record 15 thru-hikes.
2. Mountains to Sea Trail, N.C.
3. Tuscarora Trail, Va./W.Va./Md./Pa.
4. Bartram Trail, Ga./N.C.
5. Cumberland Trail, Tenn./Ky.
6. Massanutten Mountain Trail, Va.
7. Foothills Trail, S.C./N.C./Ga.
8. Benton Mackaye Trail, Ga.
9. Allegheny Trail, Pa./Md./D.C.
10. Pinhoti Trail, Ala./Ga.
BEST MOUNTAIN SUMMIT
Black Balsam, N.C.
The 6,216-foot bald mountain is covered with rock and knee-high grass, offering 360-degree views of the surrounding wildlands.
2. Old Rag, Va.
3. Roan Mountain, N.C.
4. Max Patch, N.C.
5. Whitetop Mountain, Va.
6. Big Bald, N.C.
7. Thunderhead Mountain, N.C.
8. McAfee Knob, Roanoke, Va.
9. Wayah Bald, N.C.
10. Rabun Bald, Ga.
BEST DAY HIKE
Ramsay Cascade Trail
An eight-mile out and back trail through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“There’s a lot of old growth forest left in the park, and this hike takes you through big pockets of old growth. One spot is almost magical: you pass through this gate of old growth trees and then you come to the largest tulip poplar on the trail. It’s massive. It takes four people holding hands to wrap around this thing. You hike along two different streams and the trail terminates at my favorite waterfall in the park. It’s not the highest or the most powerful waterfall, but there’s something about the way the water comes down over the ledges and drops that’s just gorgeous. If you were gonna have one day hike in the park, this would be it.”
—Eric Plakanis, owner of A Walk in the Woods hiking guide service in the Smokies
2. North Fork Mountain Trail, W. Va.
3. Roaring Run, Jefferson NF, Va.
4. Naked Ground Trail, Kilmer-Slickrock, N.C.
5. Piney River Falls, Sehnandoah NP, Va.
6. Gregory Ridge Trail, Great Smokies, Tenn.
7. Cooper Creek Trail, Chattahoochee NF, Ga.
8. Deep Gap Trail, Pisgah NF, N.C.
9. Mount LeConte, Great Smoky Mountains, N.C.
10. Wild Oak Trail, George Washington NF, Va.
A 36,000-acre chunk of the Monongahela National Forest where raw nature functions freely and unmanipulated, allowing rare ecosystems and wildlife to flourish.
“The Cranberry represents the last of the best red spruce ecosystem. One of the trails, the Middle Fork Trail, has been called the most beautiful hike in the Monongahela National Forest by guidebook writers. Personally, I like the ridgetop hikes the best, through the red spruce, but there are some great hikes along the valley floor, particularly next to the North Fork of the Cranberry, which is a great trout stream with campsites along the entire stretch. There are no big vistas. The entire area is forested. It’s deep, dark woods. But the woods are so magical. It’s enchanting to be engulfed by them. The new Wild Monongahela Act will add 12,000 acres to the Cranberry, making it the third largest Wilderness area in the Eastern U.S.”
—Dave Saville, executive director of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition
2. Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, N.C.
3. Tray Mountain Wilderness, Ga.
4. Ramseys Draft Wilderness, Va.
5. Citico Creek Wilderness, N.C.
6. Linville Gorge Wilderness, N.C.
7. Otter Creek Wilderness, W.Va.
8. Dolly Sods Wilderness, W.Va.
9. Beartown Wilderness, Va.
10. Shining Rock Wilderness, N.C.
Gorges State Park, N.C.
The tallest waterfall east of the Rockies, Whitewater Falls drops 411 feet near the border of North Carolina and South Carolina.
“It’s beautiful in all seasons. Catch it in the winter after it snows and it’s magical; during the fall it’s colored by surrounding yellows and oranges; during spring or summer, it cascades through verdant greens. You can hike to both Whitewater Falls and Lower Whitewater Falls for an incredible day trip.”
—Allen Easler, waterfall photographer
2. Crabtree Falls, George Washington NF, Va.
3. Triple Falls, DuPont State Forest, N.C.
4. White Oak Canyon Falls, Va.
5. Great Falls of the Potomac, D.C.
6. Ramsay Cascade Falls, Tenn.
7. Amicalola Falls, Amicalola SP, Ga.
8. Linville Falls, Pisgah NF, N.C.
9. Laurel Fork Falls, Foothills Trail, S.C.
10. Blackwater Falls, W.Va.
BEST URBAN HIKE
Carvins Cove consists of 14,000 acres of forest on the edge of the city of Roanoke, complete with 47 miles of trails (including 14 miles of the A.T.). It is the second largest city-owned park in the country.
“You can throw a rock from Interstate 81 and hit the cove, it’s so close to civilization. But once you’re in it, it’s amazingly pristine and extensive. It’s all woods, and there are so many trails, people get lost all the time. Not a tree has been cut commercially in over 50 years. My favorite trails are Enchanted Forest—an endless pine forest where hikers walk beneath a dense pine canopy—and Heidi-Ho, which is a tough climb up to the ridge top.”
—Roger Holnback, president of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club
2. Great Falls Park, Washington, D.C.
3. James River Park, Richmond, Va.
4. Kennesaw Mountain, Ga.
5. Rivanna Trail, Charlottesville, Va.
6. Blackwater Urban Trail, Lynchburg, Va.
7. Crowders Mountain, Charlotte, N.C.
8. Kanawha State Forest, Charleston, W.Va.
9. Bent Creek Forest, Asheville, N.C.
10. C&O Towpath, Washington, D.C.
Douthat State Park, Va.
Forty miles of trails sit crisscross this state park, all of which are easily accessible from the campground. But what makes this campsite so attractive is the 50-acre Douthat Lake.
2. Laurel Fork, Elkins, W.Va.
3. Carolina Hemlock, Black Mountain, N.C.
4. Cranberry River, Richwood, W.Va.
5. Pocahontas, Marlinton, W.Va.
6. Mortimer, Lenoir, N.C.
7. Davidson River, Brevard, N.C.
8. Sherando Lake, Lyndhurst, Va.
9. Standing Indian, Franklin, N.C.
10. Elizabeth Furnace, Front Royal, Va.
FAVORITE HIKING CLUB
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a non-profit that maintains the integrity of everyone’s favorite long distance trail with the help of 30 regional trail clubs from Georgia to Maine.
“The entire Appalachian Trail is maintained by volunteers. We make sure those volunteers are on the same page and have the equipment they need to take care of the trail that they love so much. We facilitate, making it as easy as possible for people to give back to the trail they love—whether it’s organizing trail work days, pioneering innovative projects like the Roan Mountain goat project, or helping to protect the Rocky Fork Tract, which is the largest tract of land left unprotected along the A.T. The A.T. is close to a lot of people’s hearts. People want to take care of it, and we make it easier for them to do so.”
—Andrew Downs, regional associate representative for the ATC
2. Sierra Club
3. American Hiking Society
4. Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
5. Carolina Mountain Club
HIKING MOMENTS OF THE YEAR
The Mountains to Sea trail in North Carolina reaches the 500-mile mark…The Wild Monongahela Act—the first Wilderness bill in West Virginia in 20 years—is introduced to Congress…The 60-year-long North Shore Road conflict is resolved when the National Park Service determined building 34-mile highway through the park would be environmentally devastating, and the $6 million settlement to Swain County passed Congress.