Several folks have expressed this sentiment. Most readers understood that I
was on the Trail for more than the time and miles, despite all the whining I did
about obstacles that slowed me down!
I figured out fairly early on that I wasn't going to be able to beat the
(soft) women's AT speed record, so I started focusing more on the journey than
rushing toward the destination.
And whenever I compared myself unfavorably to David or Andrew, I thought
about all the things I got to enjoy that they probably had no time for. I didn't
miss much, even when I was running. I have over 3,000 photos to attest to that!!
One of many goals I had was to share details about the Trail itself and the
areas through which I ran and hiked so others could "see" what I saw and "hear"
what I heard along the way. There are numerous places to which I'd love to
return to run or hike again in the future - and some where you will never
see me again!
I will focus more on the positive than the negative in the next two or three
entries which I have entitled "Favorite Places." I'll give a brief
explanation why I chose each particular place so you'll know if it's somewhere
you'd like to visit, too. Most places in each category will be listed in
descending order of my preference (i.e., most favorite at the top). I'll show some
photos I haven't used previously.
I'll list places that are great to run (assume that any of them are fine for
hiking), hardest climbs and descents, some dangerous places to beware, best and
worst rocks, and "destinations" that will keep kids and non-running family
members happy, too.
There are lots of categories, but if you think of others about which you'd
like my opinion, send me an e-mail.
Let's start with . . .
MY OVERALL FAVORITE PLACES ON THE A.T.
1. Mt. Rogers/Grayson Highlands area in southern Virginia - great
views on the balds, cool rock formations like Fat Man's Squeeze, sub-alpine
ecosystem, Virginia's three tallest mountains, and several feral pony herds to
play with. If I had to choose one day out of 113 on the Trail that was my most
enjoyable, it would be here. See
Day 32. (Photos above.)
2. White Mountains, New Hampshire - about twenty miles of ridges above
tree line, including Franconia Ridge and the Presidential Range, with awesome
views that remind me of Colorado or Montana peaks and valleys. The sub-alpine
and alpine ecosystems are fascinating. Huts and side trails allow many options
for time and distance. See
Yeah, yeah, I know I griped and moaned about the difficulty of these climbs,
but the views are so terrific that I want to return with Jim some day. The photo
below is looking north toward Mt. Lafayette:
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park - all 70+ miles! Much of the AT
follows the high ridges of the mountains on the North Carolina-Tennessee border.
This is the longest continuous high-elevation section on the entire Trail. It is
remote, peaceful, and drop-dead gorgeous in good weather. Views are spectacular
and brown bears are prolific. See
16. (I'll have tips later for those
who might want to run or speed-hike this section.)
4. Other southern balds like Max Patch (NC) and the Hump Mountains (TN) -
as you can see from my first three choices, I loved being up high where I
could see far! The balds also have interesting shrubs and flowers in the spring.
See Days 18 and
27. This is one of many views from Max Patch:
BEST LITTLE TRAIL TOWNS
1. Damascus, VA - considered the "friendliest" town by thru-hikers for
its hospitality and services (places to shop, eat, sleep, do laundry, get mail,
etc.). Damascus has traditionally catered to AT hikers and cyclists/runners
using the popular Virginia Creeper Trail. We highly recommend the Mexican fare
at the Baja Cafe and ice cream at a store on the east end of town right
across from the Creeper Trail.
See Day 30.
Damascus is also close to Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands State Park. This
is a busy town on a pretty weekend day, so plan accordingly if you're going to
visit the area. There are some very runnable miles before and after town.
This is a photo of the Virginia Creeper Trail, which the AT follows for a little
2. Woodstock, VT - neat, tidy New England houses, flowers galore,
scenic horse farms, numerous stone fences, covered bridges, great shops,
beautifully restored library, etc. If we were rich, we'd have a summer home
Days 74 to 81 and
3. Harper's Ferry, WV - the psychological half-way point on the Trail,
location of the main AT Conservancy office, full of history and beautiful old
buildings, interesting shopping, and two large rivers converge here. See
and 61. Very runnable miles before and after town. This photo shows the
confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers:
4. Kent, CT - lots of little shops, hiker services, and lovely
traditional New England houses and farms with beautiful gardens and rock walls;
smaller than Woodstock but just as charming. See
5. Boiling Springs, PA - beautiful lake and park that you follow through
town and past the regional AT office; very runnable miles before and after town
through lovely Cumberland Valley. See
BEST CREEKS AND RIVERS
1. Pierce Pond Stream, Maine - going
north, the AT follows this boisterous creek 3.7 miles down to the Kennebec
River. Although the drop in elevation is only 670 feet, the stream is full of
noisy cascades, chutes, rapids, and waterfalls, interspersed with quiet pools of
water that barely seem to be moving - very cool. See
This is one of the
more level spots along Pierce Pond Creek near the Kennebec:
2. West Branch of the Piscataquis River, Maine - very similar to
Pierce Pond Creek in its beauty and variety as it drops for six miles along the
AT before it merges with the East Branch of the Piscataquis. See
3. Sawmill Branch in Sages Ravine on the CT/MA state line -
small creek with all the features of the rivers above, flowing through a
tranquil half mile of gorgeous hemlock-and-fern forest. See
Day 100. This is one
part of verdant Sages Ravine:
4. Housatonic River in CT and MA - the AT follows this interesting
river off and on through both states (see
Days 98 to 102), including a pleasant
five-mile "river walk" on a fairly flat, sandy trail. I saw several folks
fishing, rafting, and canoeing various sections. The bisected Great Falls is
upstream at Falls Village, CT. It was one of my favorite waterfalls.
5. Beaver Brook on Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire - numerous
waterfalls along the very steep section on the north side of the mountain, right
next to the Trail for about a mile. Awesome, especially if you're going
southbound (up) - you can see it better that way. See
6. Big Branch and Mill River, Vermont - large boulders, wild water,
very nice suspension bridges (thank goodness hikers don't have to ford these
rivers any longer!!). See
7. Jones Branch above Nolichucky River, Tennessee - the AT crosses
this boisterous creek several times as it ascends Unaka Mountain. The delightful
sights and sounds of the creek help take the edge off the steep climb. I saw
dozens of little orange salamanders on the Trail in this area. See
8. Sherman Branch, north of North Adams, Massachusetts - lively stream
with lots of cascades and little waterfalls, plus knee-deep pools for cooling
See Post #4 for best lakes, waterfalls, bogs, spring flowers, and "scenic