My Five Favorite Appalachian Trail Day Hikes

by | Mar 25, 2024 | Hiking and Travel Tips

The Appalachian Trail, AT for short, is the longest footpath in the entire world. It spans from Georgia to Maine or vice versa. It covers 14 states. And while thru-hiking gets all the chatter most people encounter the trail via a day hike! In 2023 I section hiked 1,225 miles of the Appalachian Trail. In this article I share my five favorite Appalachian Trail Day Hikes from those 1,200 plus miles and 13 weeks on the AT!

Mount Katahdin Summit in Maine. My favorite day hike on the Appalachian Trail, even with the fog :).
This is not a blurry photo. It was just THAT foggy atop Mount Katahdin in Maine.

We started in Georgia on the AT Approach Trail and slowly worked our way up to the Northern Terminus in Maine. Living out of a camper van while working we got to hike in all 14 states. Somedays we felt like day hikers, sometimes section hikers, and even thru-hikers from time to time. Hiking the Appalachian Trail as a family was a life changing experience, and it was hard to pick out just my five favorite day hikes. But here we go!

First things first…

It’s a privilege to go hiking on public lands. Especially while you are taking a trip, on vacation, or on a holiday somewhere you don’t live. Giving love and respect to the culture is vital and while we are at it…Leave No Trace and Pack Your 10 Essentials :)!

Now onto the fun stuff…

Five Favorite Appalachian Trail Day Hikes.

  1. Mount Katahdin Summit, Maine, Northern Terminus. Out and Back.
  2. Woody Gap to Neel Gap, Georgia. One-way.
  3. Gale River Trailhead to Garfield Peak, Galehead Peak, and Twin Mountain. White Mountain Hut overnight, New Hampshire. One-way
  4. Baxter State Park, Northern end of 100 Mile Wilderness to Big Niagara Falls, Maine. Out and Back.
  5. Roan Mountain Highlands and Knob, Tennessee. Out and Back.

The Day Hiking on the Appalachian Trail is incredible.

I more or less day hiked the Appalachian Trail for 91 days. (I hiked every day for 13 weeks.) In fact my trail name is DH. It stemmed from “Day Hiker” (even though I was technically doing a long section hike.) Then it evolved to stand for Designated Hitter. A baseball position that only plays offense. Since I was hiking but not sleeping on the ground or pooping in a hole that felt like I was enjoying only the glitz and glamour of the trail. Which I might agree with :)!

Appalachian Trail Maine Day Hikes:

Katahdin’s Summit was not my final day on the trail. I actually hiked several more days in Maine with the way our itinerary played out. Then a month later two more days in New Hampshire (including a summit up Mount Washington.) Katahdin was the best. It was a memorable hike in headlamps, required a massive amount of bouldering, and we finished atop in a foggy wet and windy haze.

It was definitely my favorite day on the trail. But Baxter State Park was special in general. The day hike I did from the northern edge of the 100 Mile Wilderness to Big Niagara and back was gorgeous. It also was much nicer weather and WAY less hard. Katahdin gets, and deserves, the hype but don’t sleep on hiking in the rest of the park the Northern Terminus is located in.

If you aren’t thru-hiking Katahdin you’ll need a permit. I have all the details HERE in my Maine Guide.

My Other Favorite Appalachian Trail Day Hikes:

Woody Gap to Neels Gap: The summit of Blood Mountain. Cotton candy tunnels of blooming Rhododendron flowers. The oldest shelter on the AT. And the famous “hanging shoes” at the outfitters and hostel once you reach the gap. What a day! I saw TONS of day hikers on this trail and it was stunning.

Hiking the White Mountains in New Hampshire and staying in a AMC White Mountain Hut was one of my hopes to accomplish during this AT hiking experience. If you have the chance, and the money, to spend the night one in I highly recommend it. The hiking in the Whites was brutally hard. But offered epic views. I am being serious when I say it was some of the TOUGHEST hiking I have ever done. Be prepared.

This day hike was a total unexpected sleeper. But I should have known by the packed parking lot and cars on the side of the road. There were a massive amount of day hikers on this day. I even saw a couple get married on one of the summits on the Appalachian Trail. However I would say this makes it because of time of year. We randomly hit this portion of trail during a wild spring flower bloom and the weather this day on the Roan Highlands was 70F with no humidity. (PERFECT for hiking if you ask me!) If you do this trail on a cold and brisk winter day I am not sure you get the same feeling.

Far from Mount Katahdin at this point on the Appalachian Trail!

Day Hiking the Appalachian Trail Need to Know’s:

  1. The AT Conservancy and the AT Guide (formally the AWOL Guide) were a HUGE HELP in my planning. I couldn’t have done it without them.
  2. Most of the trail is dog friendly. But some is not (Smoky Mountains National Park, Bear Mountain in New York, and Baxter in Maine primarily.) The trail is steep so it’s not always good depending on your dog. I found Virginia to be pretty dog friendly to take my pooch with me for instance, but not New Hampshire.
  3. The Trail Towns welcome Day Hikers too! Part of the AT Experience is the Trail Towns. We did a whole podcast season on them, that’s how much we enjoyed them.
  4. Water is available to filter pretty much every several miles along the trail. But you should definitely filter it!
  5. Bears and snakes are in all 14 states. I ran into more snakes than bears. But ticks are the biggest concern if you ask me. Do a shakedown after your hike for sure, especially in the spring and summer!
The Appalachian Trail: Georgia to Maine! Or vice versa.
Balos Beach from the hike in, 4WD required to get to this trailhead or a dicey wager blowing a tire on your rental car!

Appalachian Trail Camping

There are shelters located along the Appalachian Trail. (If you get the AT Guide they have them down to the .1 mile specified.) You would still possibly want a tent. There are also dispersed camping options and everything from budget friendly hostels up to Fancy Inns (especially from New York to New Hampshire.) We stayed in a camper van and came off trail. We stayed at state parks, in National Parks, at locally owned campgrounds, at famous trail hostels, and even as I mentioned before in the White Mountain Huts.

Your options are limitless if you want to turn your day hike into a long weekend backpacking trip! Some of the hostels even offer pick up and drop off shuttle services to the AT trailheads.

The Appalachian Trail is over 2,200 miles long, but you don’t have to do it in one sitting!

This was one of the coolest family adventures we have ever done. Looking back on my 1,225 miles of the Appalachian Trail I tend to think of it as 91 unforgettable day hikes. I hope you can create some memories for yourself by choosing some of my top 5 of the 91.

Thanks for reading and supporting Happy People Hike, comment below with any questions about day hikes on the Appalachian Trail!

Happy Hiking,
Mike R

Mike Rudd

Mike Rudd

Nomad, Dood Dad, Planet Lover. Hashtag59 & Happy People Hike Lead Intern. Freelance Writer and Content Creator. Health and Wellness Curator.

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