Originally posted on The Trek on November 29th, 2016
Have some extra money for splurging? Want to get a small dose of the days of old when you were one with society? It doesn’t have to be all work and no play! Make the most of your thru hike by participating in some extra thrills, enjoyment, and activities that exist along the way!
Take the Side Trails:
Although you’ll likely not want to venture far from the trail since, well, you’re already planning on hiking an insane distance as is, there are several short side trails to amazing views, memorials/monuments, ruins, cemeteries, fire towers, waterfalls, and even museums (I recommend the free Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove Furnace State Park!)
Festivals & Fairs:
You might see flyers for local music festivals and fairs nearby, or you might want to participate in the “traveling party” which revolves around Trail Days in Damascus, VA. If you time your miles right, there are also plenty of other trail fests all along the trail at other locations worth checking out.
Water & Adventure Sports:
Some outfitters, adventure companies, and parks you might pass by may offer activities such as canoeing, paddle boating, whitewater rafting, tubing, ziplining, or mountain biking. Speaking of biking, you might want to rent a bicycle and cruise up and down the well-known Virginia Creeper Trail from Damascus which the AT intersects several times. Some hikers even bypass the white blazes of the Shenandoah to “aqua blaze” along the river instead.
Get a History Lesson:
There are numerous places along the trail, such as Hot Springs, NC and Harpers Ferry, WV to immerse yourself into some Civil War history, or you could travel a short distance to Gettysburg, PA to see where the bloodiest battle took place. Go even further back to the Revolutionary War by visiting Fort Montgomery State Historic Site in NY, or Bennington Battle Monument in VT.
It’s also worth looking into the Native American history, like the displacement of the Cherokees in the south, and African American history, like the Brown Mountain Creek Community, found along the trail. As mentioned earlier, there are many museums off and on trail of varying topics that you can check out as well.
You will pass by many breweries & brew pubs, wineries, and distilleries nearby the AT offering some of the best local beers, wines, and spirits! Go ahead! Indulge! Vitamin I isn’t the only cure for those aches and pains you’ll be experiencing!
Another way to help with those aches and pains would be getting a nice massage or soaking in a mineral bath. One of several places you can do both would be the “Hot Springs Resort and Spa” in Hot Springs, NC. You don’t even have to hike off trail to get there! The AT passes right on by it.
Travel from Farmland to Big City:
Some hostels you can stay at are on farmland with livestock and produce to boot. Some offer free meals or stay for farm work, others may provide other activities such as horseback riding or yoga. Want a break from the country? There are a couple big cities you can travel to by train, bus, shuttle or thumb like Washington DC and New York City that aren’t too far from the A.T.
Collect as Many Stamps in Your Passport as Possible:
Not of the international kind, of course! There is an AT Passport that you can get at most park visitor centers (ie. “Amicalola Falls State Park” in GA), or online. It only weighs 1 oz. and many businesses and organizations participate. You can find the total list here or follow the symbol in the AWOL Handbook if you decide to use it on the trail.
Go to the Movies:
You’ve been away from your Netflix account for too long! Maybe gather some hikers to check out the latest feature when you’re in town! There are a number of drive-in theaters where “walk-ins” are welcome!
Volunteer with Trail Maintenance:
I know a couple hikers took a short break from hiking the trail to assist in maintaining them! It’s a great way to give back to a trail that will be changing your life for the better. To find out more, contact the Appalachian Trail Conservancy or Appalachian Mountain Club.
Cool off on a hot day by going swimming at one of the pools in town or in lakes while hiking the trail. You can check out the caverns (ie. Luray, VA), go miniature golfing, check out the some of the many tourist attractions in Gatlinburg, TN, go to the zoo (ie. “Trailside Museum & Zoo” in NY) or sit in a wildlife program at an animal sanctuary or park. You can even ride the Cog Railway up to Mount Washington if you wish, although I think it’s more epic to travel on foot in my opinion.