While an Appalachian Trail hike is first and foremost a wilderness experience, there are many windows of civilization that exist alongside the trail. Trail towns, as they are commonly known, provide hikers with intermittent access to the creature comforts—things like laundry facilities, running water, a home-cooked meal, and the occasional cold beverage..
Not all trail towns are created equal. Some exist on the margins of the trail and require hikers to hitch a ride in, while others—towns like Damascus, Virginia and Hot Springs, North Carolina—share primary downtown thoroughfares with thru-hikers.
Damascus is the quintessential trail town. Situated in Virginia’s southwest corner amidst the rolling Blue Ridge, this town’s main drag, Laurel Drive, actually doubles as the AT. Visitors to Damascus will find hiker friendly hostels and great local eateries along with outfitters, like Adventure Damascus, fully equipped to cater to all your adventure needs. Damascus is often heralded as “The Friendliest Town on the Appalachian Trail”, but it’s also home to the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Trans American National Bike Trail, and the Iron Mountain Trail, giving it the second moniker of “Trail Town USA.” Each year AT hikers, outfitters, and outdoors enthusiasts from across the country descend on this sleepy hamlet for the annual Trail Days celebration. More on Damascus here.
HOT SPRINGS, NORTH CAROLINA
Just 274 miles from the southern terminus, the trail town of Hot Springs is the only North Carolina community where the A.T. actually passes through the heart of town. After emerging on the southern end of town, the A.T. transforms into Main Street Hot Springs for about a mile, crossing the French Broad River before ascending Lover’s Leap on its way out of the river valley toward Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hot Springs welcomes more than 2,000 hikers every year, many of whom arrive in the spring still in the early stages of their quest for Katahdin. As one of the first places where northbound trail goers emerge into the civilized world, Hot Springs often holds passing hikers for two or three days while they restocks on provisions, tend to dirty laundry, and enjoy a home-cooked meal.
HARPERS FERRY, WEST VIRGINIA
For most northbound A.T. thru-hikers, Harpers Ferry serves as a “psychological halfway point.” Though not the official midpoint as far as miles go, the town gives hikers hope and shows them the light at the end of their 2,000 mile tunnel. Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, this historic town serves as the national headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Many hikers stop here and pose for a photo in front of the iconic ATC Visitor Center sign. Other attractions in Harpers Ferry include boutique shops, local eateries, and multiple outfitters geared to help with rafting, tubing, zip lining, and kayaking adventures.
Nestled in the rolling hills of Gilmer County, Georgia, Ellijay is a certified Appalachian Trail town and all around adventure hub. It is roughly one hour from the summit of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the A.T., and has long served as a gateway town, not only for those looking to access the A.T., but for anyone with a sense of adventure and a love for the Blue Ridge. With as many as fifty-nine nearby mountain bike trails, Ellijay is known as the mountain biking capital of Georgia. In addition to the A.T., you’ll find several impressive waterfalls and some of the best trout waters in the Southeast. Gilmer County is also home to the Coosawattee River, and the nearby Cartecay River is one of the most scenic class III rivers in the South.