So far, we've covered just about every major area of the U.S. in our “Best of” round-up posts. With natural beauty galore and a little bit of everything ranging from green mountains to lush valleys, sandy beaches to swampland, we couldn't leave out the eastern U.S.! After all, many of the states along the eastern seaboard house sections of one of, if not the, most popular long-distance trails in the country: The Appalachian Trail. And, believe it or not, the most visited national park in our system is the Great Smoky Mountains, spanning between southeastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.
Whether you're looking for a quick weekend getaway or a week or month of solitude, our list has something for backpackers of all levels. So, pull up a chair and read on to find inspiration for your next great backpacking adventure in the eastern U.S.!
Featured Photo: Presidential Range (Photo by Chris M Morris)
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are known as one of the most scenic (and difficult) areas along the Appalachian Trail. For a taste of what they have to offer, take a 3-day hike on the Pemi Loop. This challenging 31-mile loop affords some of the best views of these mountains and the Presidential Range with perhaps one of the best lookouts on Mt.Liberty early on in your journey. The trail also affords the opportunity to summit 8 of the 48 “4,000 footer” mountains of NH and has plenty of spur trails along the way to climb even more on the list. You can find out even more about this trail in our full article.
Virginia Triple Crown
Want to hit up some of the most remarkable spots in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in one fell swoop? Then simply head out on what is touted as the state's “ Triple Crown Loop”. This is the perfect long weekend trip as it is about 32 miles in length and can be done in just a few days. You'll hit up the aptly named Dragon's Tooth rock formation, traverse Tinker Cliffs, and witness one of the best vistas east of the Rockies at McAfee Knob. In fact, the latter is said to be the most photographed spot along the AT, and for good reason! If all of that sounds enticing, read our full write-up on the Triple Crown Loop.
While you're in the area, don't miss out on visiting the equally stunning Shenandoah NP too!
Who says you have to choose between mountains or sea when it comes to hiking? If you're up for a long-distance trek, the new Mountains-to-Sea Trail may be just what you're looking for. This 1,175-mile journey begins near the popular Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains NP and runs across just about every kind of terrain you can think of in North Carolina, from stream-filled forests to farmland to coastal swamps. You'll end the trail with a bang too atop the “tallest sand dune on the east coast”. It is worth noting that the trail is still a work-in-progress, so you should look for detours and re-routes before your visit.
The more you get into backpacking, the more long-distance trails you discover. The Bartram Trail, located in western Georgia and North Carolina, is one such trail that is still relatively unknown. In fact, it has been voted as the best long-distance trail for solitude by Backpacker Magazine readers. This makes it the perfect location for some relaxation in nature in the wooded Southeast. The trail is long enough that detailed information can be found for each state's respective section. The Georgia section is perfect for hikers of all skill levels, with the most rigorous part being the climb up Rabun Bald. The trail also passes numerous waterfalls, creeks, and scenic gaps. Check out our full write-up for more information on this section.
No list of the best hikes in the eastern U.S. would be complete without at least one of the awesome trips in the Great Smoky Mountains. With its breathtaking views, it's not surprising why Mt.Sterling is one of the most popular spots for day hikers and backpackers alike to visit. The gurgling streams, shady forest, and waterfalls make the strenuous climb more bearable.
This is another great weekend trip at around 17-miles altogether, easily making it a 2 or 3-day trip. Keep in mind it's popularity, though. Be sure to get your campsite reservations as far in advance as you can.
Grafton Notch Loop
The eastern seaboard can be a busy place with all of the major cities along its coast, but you can't beat the remoteness of northern Maine when you're looking for some time away from all of the hustle and bustle. Not only is there the infamous 100-Mile Wilderness section of the AT, but many other shorter backpacking trips, including the Grafton Notch Loop. This relatively new trail, located in the Mahoosuc Mountains, takes you across 39 miles of crest lines, affording amazing views of the surrounding range and even into the Presidential Range next door in New Hampshire. All of this dispersed with walks through thick woods past babbling brooks and small waterfalls makes for an unforgettable time on the trail.
Art Loeb Trail
The Art Loeb Trail, located in the well-known Pisgah National Forest, is yet another great backpacking adventure brought to you by the state of North Carolina. This 30-mile, 4-day trek will take you up some steep inclines to be rewarded with top-notch views. Be sure to bring your wayfinding skills and sense of adventure as some areas of the trail are not marked well, if at all. Other than the scenic views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and beautiful wildflower meadows, extend your trip by heading up Cold Mountain. Head over to the full write-up for more information on this challenging trail.
If the Pemi Loop isn't enough of a challenge for you, traversing the entire Presidential Range should be! If you're not familiar with the area, don't let the short distance fool you. (The hike is only 26-miles in length.) This area of the White Mountains is arguably one of the most difficult and unpredictable hiking areas east of the Rockies. Mt.Washington's science center has recorded the second-lowest temperature on record for the entire world! In other words, don't underestimate this trail. Only the most experienced hikers should attempt this hike and even then you only have a short window in the summer months to do so. However, the forested lowlands and panoramic views atop the peaks can't be beat.
Mount Marcy, Mount Skylight + Gray Peak Loop
The Adirondack Mountains, located in the northeast corner of New York, are arguably one of the most scenic (and overlooked) natural areas in the eastern U.S. One of the most popular hikes, especially if you're looking for a challenge, is trekking the Mount Marcy, Mount Skylight, and Gray Peak Loop. If bagging three of the state's 46 High Peaks in one day, including the highest point of Mt.Marcy at 5,344ft, isn't enough, there are several lakes, streams, and waterfalls along the way, including the origin of the Hudson River. Bonus: Camping options abound, from a traditional campground near Marcy Dam to lean-tos and designated sites along the trail.
Whether you're looking for a quick, weekend getaway to the mountains or a cross-state adventure, our eastern states have plenty of backpacking trails for hikers of all skill levels.
Have you hiked any of the trails on our list? What is your favorite East Coast trail? Tell us about it in the comments section below!