The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200-mile wilderness footpath that runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, all the while linking together towns and communities along the East Coast.
The towns and communities that lie on or nearby the Appalachian Trail take pride in the fact that one of the world’s most iconic hiking trails runs in such close proximity. Sometimes the trail will even run directly through the town itself, with white blazes painted on sidewalks or telephone poles guiding hikers on their journeys.
Visiting and experiencing these small communities is a part of experiencing the Appalachian Trail, in my opinion. Having lived in the bustling metropolitan area of southern New York my entire life, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail gave me the opportunity to get to know smaller, rural, mountain communities; places I would probably have never visited otherwise.
There are several towns along the Appalachian Trail that many hikers consider “must-stops”. I know I definitely have a few in mind that stand out among the others, based on my personal experience.
This article will act as a Comprehensive Guide to My Top 5 Favorite Trail Communities along the Appalachian Trail, based on my own experience and opinion.
I took into consideration a variety of factors when crafting this list: proximity to the trail, landmarks and things to do or see, hiker friendly lodging options, restaurant and resupply options, how accessible the town is by foot, and the town's overall attitude toward hikers.
I hope this article will serve as an informational guide for aspiring AT thru-hikers, as I will be listing off key information, such as lodging and resupply options for each town.
#5 - Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Harpers Ferry lies in the state of West Virginia right along the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, near the borders of Virginia and Maryland. This town is rich with enticing Civil War history, and has tons of landmarks scattered throughout the town.
Arriving at Harpers Ferry is a huge milestone for thru-hikers. It acts as the unofficial ‘halfway’ point on the Appalachian Trail; although technically the official halfway point is further north in Pennsylvania. Harpers Ferry also acts as a starting/ ending point for flip-flop hikers.
Accessibility: The AT takes hikers directly into town, leading them through the historic downtown village. Everything is basically within walking distance in town. Like most trail towns, it isn’t very big. Short walks get you to everything you’d need such as lodging, resupply, and restaurants.
Landmarks: A short side trail from the AT takes hikers directly to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s headquarters, which is basically a must-stop for AT thru-hikers. There, you can register with the ATC, as well as get your photo taken and added to the scrapbook for your hiking class.
Walking through Harpers Ferry National Historical Park feels like you’re walking through a Civil War museum. It’s full of historic buildings and landmarks that document the story of abolitionist John Brown’s raid.
Harpers Ferry was home to a massive military arsenal, and in 1859 John Brown and a group of men raided the arsenal in an attempt to sieze weapons and free slaves. The buildings from the battle still remain as you walk right through where the action took place.
Lodging/ Restaurants/ Resupply Harpers Ferry doesn’t have any hiker hostels in town and has limited resupply options — basically some small convenience stores. There is an outfitter and gear shop right in town that sells some backpacking staples. This would be a good spot to mail a resupply package.
There are several dining options in town. The Anvil is a popular choice, along with Almost Heaven Pub and Grill. There are a few hotels to choose from near the trail; my parents came to visit when I rolled through and we stayed at the Econo Lodge.
Harpers Ferry would probably rank as my number one favorite AT town stop, if there were a hostel and better resupply options; but the town’s history, the iconic AT landmarks, and the fact that Harpers Ferry is a widely celebrated milestone for thru-hikers, make it deserving of a Top 5 spot.
#4 - Franklin, North Carolina
For Northbound (NOBO) hikers, Franklin is the first town stop in North Carolina. Franklin is rather large in comparison to other towns on this list, and has a wide variety of lodging and resupply options, including some awesome gear shops and the iconic Lazy Hiker Brewery.
Accessibility: The AT does not run directly through this town; it is about 9 miles away from the trail. Hikers can access Franklin at Winding Stair Gap, where the trail crosses US Route 52. Stick your thumb up to catch a quick ride into town, or call one of the several shuttle services available in the area. It isn’t rare to find Trail Magic at Winding Stair Gap, with people offering rides to and from town quite often (this is exactly how I got into town!).
As mentioned earlier, Franklin is larger than the other towns on this list and you’ll have to walk around a bit to access resupply, lodging and restaurants.
Landmarks: I think it’s safe to say that the Lazy Hiker Brewing Co. is what mostly draws hikers into Franklin. This brewery is the perfect spot to unwind and enjoy some great beer and food with trail friends. The brewery is very hiker friendly and offers hikers postcards to send home to friends and family.
Other than the Lazy Hiker, the iconic Chica and Sunsets Hostel is deeply rooted in many hikers’ memories of and experience with Franklin. There are very limited beds at the hostel, and I didn’t have the privilege of staying there, but I heard nothing but amazing things about the friendly hosts.
Lodging/ Restaurants/ Resupply: Finding a place to stay, eat and resupply is not a challenge in Franklin. Other than the Lazy Hiker Brewery, there are a ton of restaurants spread across town. Between cafes, Mexican and Chinese restaurants, and fast food, you can surely satisfy all your hiker hunger cravings in this town.
One can easily resupply on a budget in Franklin too. Between Ingles, Dollar General, convenience stores and Outdoor 76, there are a ton of options available for resupply.
Outdoor 76 is an amazing gear shop that has everything a hiker needs in terms of food and gear. Stop on in for their 10% thru-hiker discount and a free buff.
There is no shortage of reasonably priced beds in close proximity to everything you’d need. In addition to Chica and Sunsets Hostel, thru-hikers often land at Baltimore Jack’s Hostel, or one of the several budget-friendly motels in town. I stayed at the Hilltop Inn for a $50 (clean) room and split it with two other hikers.
#3 - Monson, Maine
Representing New England on this list is Monson, Maine, a tiny village located just outside of the 100 Mile Wilderness. This place is basically a must-stop for every thru-hiker. It’s the final true trail town for northbound hikers (NOBOs) on the Appalachian Trail — a place to plan and gather gear for their final trek through the 100 Mile Wilderness to Mount Katahdin, the end of the trail. For Southbounders (SOBOs), this acts as their first town stop — a place to rest, recuperate and celebrate after completing their trek through the wilderness.
Accessibility: Monson is a quick ride for hikers who can access the town from ME Route 15. Stick your thumb up for a hitch or give Shaw’s Hiker Hostel a call for a shuttle into town. Monson is a tiny town and everything you’d need to access is easily within a short walking distance.
Landmarks: Shaw’s Hiker Hostel is what makes Monson a top tier trail town, and is one of the the best hostels, if not the best, along the entire trail. Shaw’s has a large property with plenty of beds and tenting space to go around for everyone.
Shaw’s offers an all you can eat breakfast that is real deal. Shaw’s also acts as an outfitter with tons of resupply options and gear, including backpacks, new shoes, and anything else you might need for your journey. Take out one of the canoes or paddle boards they offer hikers and enjoy a chill day at the nearby lake on your final, or first, town stop.
Lodging/ Restaurants/ Resupply: There isn’t a whole lot in terms of food, resupply and lodging options in Monson beyond Shaw’s, but there really doesn’t need to be. Basically everything you’d need, you can get by staying at Shaw’s. Located right down the street from Shaw’s are a couple of restaurants and a large convenience store that makes pizzas, burgers and sandwiches to order.
There are no true grocery or dollar stores in Monson, so your best bet for resupply would be at Shaw’s or mailing yourself a resupply package like I did for the upcoming 100 Mile Wilderness.
# 2 - Hot Springs, North Carolina
Another North Carolina mountain town making the list is Hot Springs, which truly has it all. Many hikers might rank this town number one on their list, and it is definitely right up there for me. Hot Springs was where I took my first ‘zero’ day. And, I’ll be honest, the luxuries and overall vibe of the town were hard to pull away from after just one day.
Accessibility: The white blazes lead you directly through main street. Hot Springs is a small town, and everything you could possibly need — from lodging and restaurants to resupply — will never be more than a mile’s walk away.
Landmarks: If you’re stopping for a stay in Hot Springs, then be sure to visit the Smoky Mountain Diner. Large portions and a very friendly hiker atmosphere make it hard to eat there just once. The Laughing Heart Hostel seems to be the most popular place to kick back and relax, surrounded by a beer or two and other hikers.
Lodging/ Restaurants/ Resupply: For such a small town, Hot Springs is jam packed with a large variety of lodging, restaurant, and resupply options. I stayed two nights at the Laughing Heart Hostel. The large property serves as the perfect place to rest and recuperate. The Appalachian Trail-er and Sunnyside Inn are two other popular lodging destinations in the town.
The restaurants in Hot Springs will satisfy any hungry hiker. I already spoke earlier on the Smoky Mountain Diner, but I can’t mention Hot Springs without also referencing both the Spring Creek Tavern and Iron Horse Station. After two full days in town, the hosts at the Spring Creek Tavern remembered me and my friends by name.
Dollar General is the best bet for resupplying in town. Hot Springs' best gear shop is Bluff Mountain Outfitters with tons of backpacking staples.
#1 - Damascus, Virginia
Trail Town, USA. Quite literally — you can even find a painted mural boasting the title when walking through Damascus. Located in Southern Virginia, just a couple of miles north of the Tennessee border, reaching Damascus is a huge milestone for both Northbounders and Southbounders.
Northbounders celebrate leaving behind the rugged mountains of the deep South and entering their fourth state; while Southbounders celebrate the end of the long journey through Virginia, with the Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus now in sight.
Damascus is known for hosting the popular hiker festival, Trail Days, and the town is considered a must-stop for almost every hiker. Damascus has it all! The hiker friendly atmosphere and abundance of food and lodging options make this the quintessential trail town, in my opinion.
Accessibility: Damascus is another town where the white blazes lead you directly through the heart of town, so no need to worry about finding a ride. Damascus is big enough, where it requires a bit of effort to access everything you’d need, but nothing too strenuous. The farthest walk I had to do was to reach the Damascus Brewery located on the outskirts of town.
Landmarks: Damascus is home to the Creeper Trail, a 35-mile bike path that runs directly through town. Hikers looking for some biking activity on their off day can rent a bike and enjoy a scenic cruise down the Creeper Trail.
During the Trail Days festival, which features booths from dozens of gear brands, food vendors, and live music, basically the entire town becomes a landmark; an area known as ‘tent city’ is where thru-hikers tend to congregate and pitch their shelters.
The Broken Fiddle Hostel and Damascus Brewery are also iconic hangout spots among thru-hikers.
Lodging/ Restaurants/ Resupply: Finding a place to stay in town will not be a difficult task. There are three hostels that cater to hikers: The Broken Fiddle, Crazy Larry’s, and ‘The Place’, which is a church that allows hikers to stay on a donation basis. Additionally, there are several motels and inns, such as the Big Bear Inn and Appalachian Trail Town Inn.
There are a large variety of restaurants where hikers can enjoy meals and drinks, most notably the Wicked Chicken Winghouse and Tavern, Damascus Diner, 7 Trails Grill, and the Damascus Brewery. There is also a Subway and a pizza shop located in town.
One can easily resupply in Damascus, between the Dollar General, several convenience stores, and two outfitters, Adventure Damascus and Mt Rogers Outfitters.
Thanks to the amazing hiker-friendly atmosphere and abundance of lodging and meal options, I found myself taking my one and only Double Zero here in Damascus. Worth it!
Is there an Appalachian Trail town you feel I left off the list? Let me know in the comments below!
Max is a runner, hiker, and outdoor adventurer based in the Hudson Valley region of New York. In 2021, upon graduating college, Max pursued a long-time goal of his and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. When not working, Max enjoys spending his free time running on local trails and exploring the mountains of the East Coast with friends and family. You can follow along with his adventures on his Instagram: @max_kiel_trail