Best Winter Hikes on the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail knows no off season. Yes, there are plenty of stretches that should be avoided once the snow starts falling and ice covers the roots and rocks (looking at you, Vermont and Maine), the A.T. is a wonderful place for winter hiking. For one thing, the crowds are practically nonexistent. And with the leaves down, the mountain and valley views from the trail are stunning.
Whether you want to go for a quick stroll through the woods or an all-day excursion to snag some summit views, here are our favorite winter hikes from Best of the Appalachian Trail: Day Hikes by Leonard M. Adkins and Victoria and Frank Logue.
For great winter views
McAfee Knob, Virginia
7.4 miles round-trip
GPS Trailhead Coordinates N37° 22.805′ W80° 05.384′
McAfee Knob, an overhanging rock ledge with outstanding views, is the destination of this day hike. From the ledges, you can see both the Catawba and Roanoke Valleys, as well as the mountain ridges to the north and the west. To the right, view Tinker Cliffs; to the left, across the valley, view North Mountain, the former site of the A.T. In the fall and winter, Fort Lewis Mountain can be seen on the right.
For a respite from the summer crowds
Blood Mountain, Georgia
4.2 miles round-trip
GPS Trailhead Coordinates N34° 44.556′ W83° 55.268′
This hike is, without a doubt, the most traveled section of the A.T. in Georgia. On pretty spring and summer weekends, this section of trail is often crowded. The reason for the hike’s popularity is twofold: it is easy to get to, and the rocky summit of Blood Mountain offers a superb view of the north Georgia mountains.On the summit of Blood Mountain, there is a stone cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The two-room shelter, intended for overnight use by A.T. hikers, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The mountain’s name is said to date from a fierce fight between the Creek and Cherokee Indians. Also of interest in the area is Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi in Neels Gap. This hiking store sells a good selection of equipment and books on the outdoors and the region; drinks and snacks are also available here. The only covered section of the A.T. passes through a walkway at Mountain Crossings.
For a hike through history
White Rocks, Maryland
7 miles round-trip
GPS Trailhead Coordinates N39° 24.308′ W77° 38.415′
The highlight of this hike is a small quartzite cliff known as White Rocks. The views offered from this overlook are poor in the summer but excellent in the late fall and winter. This hike begins at Crampton Gap in Gathland State Park, where a memorial arch honors Civil War correspondents and artists. A battle was also fought in the vicinity, and the ruins of Gathland can still be seen.
Civil War correspondent George Alfred Townsend, who used the pen name Gath, built his estate on South Mountain in 1884 with the proceeds from his war fiction and newspaper articles. He built a home, a hall, a library, a lodge, a guesthouse, a house for his wife, servants’ quarters, a stable, and a tomb for himself (although he was not buried in it). He named the estate Gathland after his pseudonym. Since 1884, all the buildings, though built of stone, have been vandalized to such a degree that only a wing of Gath Hall has been restored. This building now houses a museum. Restrooms, water, and picnic tables are available in the park.
The arch also remains intact. Framing the Catoctin Valley, the 50-foot-tall structure faces the battlefields of Winchester and Gettysburg. Inscriptions cover the arch, and mythological figures are carved into its stonework. It remains a mystery as to whether it is a combination of a Moorish arch and the old Frederick fire company station, or a reproduction of the front of the former Antietam Fire Company build- ing. It was designed by Gath and is now administered by the National Park Service, whereas the Maryland Department of Natural Resources maintains the 135-acre park.