There are a lot of small towns in America to love, and if you're planning to hike the Appalachian Trail, you'll soon get a front-row seat to some of the best. Hopping on and off the trail to visit a few of these quaint communities can add time to your expedition, but trust us, it will make the trip all the more worthwhile. Keep reading to discover 10 of our favorite small towns along the 2,190-mile trail, perfect for both "thru-hikers" or those just visiting the AT for a day hike.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce
Courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce
This bucolic hamlet seems straight out of a country song, complete with mountain vistas, lakefront cabins, and a population of 1,157 people who are waiting to welcome you.
Despite its small town stature, there is no shortage of accommodation options. The recently opened Hampton Inn Blue Ridge is for you if soaking up views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from a rooftop bar and restaurant sounds like your dream day off the trail. For entertainment, venture to Swan Drive-In, one of only three remaining drive-in theaters in Georgia. If you've got more time, hop aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway for a 26-mile train ride through the verdant landscape, starting at the town's historic depot. We'd be remiss not to direct you to Mercier Orchards for the juiciest apples and restaurants like Black Sheep and Harvest on Main for delectable eats.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism
This town of 285 inhabitants has four miles of the AT passing through it and is the headquarters of the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy, where you can swing by to grab guides and maps, learn about the trail from staffers, and shop for souvenirs.
The town has some historical importance as well. In 1859, John Brown's raid took place here in an attempt to orchestrate a slave revolt, widely considered to be the "dress rehearsal" to the Civil War. During your stay here, you can visit Brown's fort and other historic sites like St. Peter's Catholic Church (the only church in town that wasn't ransacked during the Civil War) and the location of 1861's The Battle of Bolivar Heights, an early face-off during the Civil War. Another local draw is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, a restored 19th-century industrial village and its surrounding natural environs. With adequately rested feet, venture to the park's Jefferson Rock lookout or The Point to see where the Potomac River meets the Shenandoah River.
If you're up for some thrills during your stopover, hit the Potomac River for whitewater rafting or tubing with River Riders, or explore their aerial adventure park or zip-lining course, home to a 1,000-foot zip line over the river. When your belly starts to rumble, grab a bite at The Anvil Restaurant (the jumbo lump crab cakes and hot crab dip are both sensational) or The Rabbit Hole for American classics and terrace hangout sessions. As night falls, retreat to the homey Town's Inn or equally cozy Stonehouse B&B, a "doily-free environment" built in 1839.
North Conway, New Hampshire
The fine people of North Conway, a town situated 28 miles south of New Hampshire's flagship Mount Washington, are used to welcoming AT hikers. As one of the most popular stops along the route, the residents will make you feel right at home whether you seek out a post-hike massage at Sacred Circle Wellness or celebratory brews and burgers at Delaney's Hole in the Wall.
Post up at North Conway Grand Hotel, a White Mountains retreat that shines in the fall when peak foliage is on view. And, if you happen to fall in love with the town, make sure to make your way back in winter for a ski vacation. The town is home to Wildcat Mountain, one of the few ski areas in the state that was hand-cut by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal program created during the 1930s. (It's also a mountain you pass on your way off of Mount Washington on the AT.)
Cortlandt, New York
Courtesy of Cristian Xavier
Cortlandt is one of the largest towns on this list, with approximately 42,000 residents, but somehow this Hudson River town still feels like a quiet village. The inviting spot is known for its Revolutionary War history, specifically for the Kings Ferry crossing point between Stony Point and Verplanck's Point, which George Washington's army traveled across on the Hudson River on their march to Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.
If you can, time your visit for Sunday, when you can shop the Market on the River in Verplanck (about five miles away) before kicking back on the lawn or fishing pier at Cortlandt Waterfront Park. For a splurge, book a night at The Abbey Inn in Peekskill, four miles down the road. The former 1902 convent of the Episcopal Sisters of Saint Mary's has been reimagined as a boutique hotel with the Apropos farm-to-table restaurant and bar and a spa on-site.
Courtesy of Michelle Murphy
The Berkshires has an impressive mix of first-rate culture thanks to events like the Jacob's Pillow International Dance Festival and spots like Mass MoCA, Clark Art Institute, and Tanglewood, Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home since 1937.
Though there are a number of stellar small towns in the region, including rural Monterey and hipster North Adams, we're partial to historic Adams. A town of 8,170 or so residents, it's the birthplace of women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony. It's also where you'll find Mount Greylock, Massachusetts' highest peak with an elevation of 3,489 feet. During your Adams jaunt, get a hearty meal at Miss Adams Diner, and if camping at Mount Greylock isn't for you, stay at the acclaimed TOURISTS in North Adams, an homage to the American roadside motor lodge with upscale accoutrements.
Courtesy of The Bristol Hotel, a Charlestowne Hotels
Bristol may only have an estimated 16,912 residents, but its country music lineage gives it plenty of big city energy. In 1998, the United States Congress even declared it "The Birthplace of Country Music."
After taking in a local show, head to the city's only rooftop bar, Lumac, located at The Bristol Hotel. Or, kick back at the Original Burger Bar, famously known as the last place Hank Williams, Sr. was seen alive. We also recommend heading underground for tours of the ancient Bristol Caverns, created by Mother Nature more than 200 million years ago.
And, if you can, plan a trip around the Appalachian Trail Days Festival, a celebration for all things AT in the neighboring town of Damascus. The festival is typically attended by thousands of hikers and supporters and includes a hiker talent show, a parade with a marching band, a bonfire, drumming, and plenty of dancing.
Bryson City, North Carolina
Courtesy of Bryson City TDA & Chamber
Bryson City may not be a household name, but with postcard-worthy charm and many independently owned shops, breweries, and dining establishments, it deserves to be. The mountain town is situated in western North Carolina and is the main gateway to the southern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In town, hikers can most certainly find budget-friendly, hostel-style lodging, but for something more upmarket, our vote is the Everett Hotel, perched on Bryson City's picturesque town square.
Since the town is easily walkable, visitors don't need to worry about renting a car or bikes while wandering to spots like Buttermilk Farms Antiques or Jimmy Mac's Restaurant. Should you decide to spend a few days here, book a scenic ride with Great Smoky Mountains Railroad or find a rafting guide to take you down the nearby Nantahala River Gorge.
Vernon, New Jersey
Courtesy of Vernon Township Recreation Department
Located in Northern New Jersey along the AT, Vernon more than delivers on the small town charm. After cranking out all that mileage, relax at Mountain Creek Resort and enjoy a zip line tour, snow tubing, or an aerial adventure park in the trees right on-site. If you're visiting in the fall, take a turn apple or pumpkin picking at Heaven Hill Farm or Pochuk Valley Farms, or linger over live music and a glass of wine, cider, or spirits at Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery.
The spring is another ideal time to walk the town's Appalachian Boardwalk and Stairway to Heaven Trail (prepare for your jaw to drop at the view from the Pinwheel Vista), both of which are connected to the Appalachian Trail. Summer and winter are pretty packed in this pocket of the Garden State, so you may prefer off-season travel to enjoy its ample natural wonders.
Joshua T. Moore/Virginia Tourism Corporation/Courtesy of Smyth County, Virginia
This Smyth County oasis is home to some 5,700 residents who are happy to have you over for a spell. While in town, treat yourself to a superb vacation rental, like the modern-farmhouse gem, The Lucille, or an A-frame cabin on the 200-acre working farm, Spenceville Farms. During your stay, scope out the downtown of "America's Coolest Hometown," where streets are lined with independent restaurants and eclectic boutiques.
Don't leave without noshing at the Dip Dog Stand, a famed eatery that's been doling out hot dogs for some 65 years. Indulge your crafty side with a guitar-building workshop at The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts. If you're up for some more walking, Smyth County is also the gateway to Grayson Highlands State Park, where wild ponies roam.
Hanover, New Hampshire
Courtesy of Visit New Hampshire
While hiking the AT, you really can't miss this town as the trail runs right down the Main Street of Hanover, making it one of only 10 towns where Main Street and the AT are at a literal crossroads.
Fuel your excursions with a cup of Joe from the Dirt Cowboy Café, and once you've worked up a proper appetite, Molly's Restaurant & Bar serves glorious wood-fired, thin-crust pizza and a hot fudge sundae that's the stuff of childhood daydreams. Then, nestle into bed at The Hanover Inn for a good rest between hiking days.
Perri Ormont Blumberg is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. She's based in New York City, but is always dreaming of the Catskill mountains. Follow her on Twitter @66PerriStreet.