When I ask you to picture the mountains that span the Appalachian Trail, what comes to mind? Massive, majestic, daunting peaks?
Likely not—and you’d be right. It is for this reason that the uninitiated confuse the 2,189 miles (give or take, depending on the year) that make up the United States’ original long trail as easy hiking. Some of it is. Most of it, however, is excruciatingly difficult.
In fact, of the three long trails in the United States (the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail), the AT offers the most elevation change on average. I’ve hiked all across the country, including the entire Appalachian Trail, Mount Whitney in California and several 14,000 footers in Colorado, and I can attest that the AT presents some of the toughest terrain in the country.
So if you’re looking for a challenging day hike, you need not venture west to find it. Here are seven of the hardest day hikes on the Appalachian Trail.
7. The Priest
This hike is less than 9 miles round-trip but don’t confuse its short distance with ease. The Priest showcases central Virginia’s steepest climb with more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain over the 4.3-mile one-way trek (for those who start at VA56). To beef up an already challenging hike, park at the Crabtree Falls trailhead (a half-mile west of the AT) to hit the summit of the Priest, descend to the Tye River, climb to the summit of Three Ridges Mountain, and then back for a 24.6-mile round-trip haul.
6. Lehigh Gap / Superfund Trailhead
If there’s one word to associate with the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, “steep” would not be it; the correct answer is “rocky.” Of the fourteen states the trail passes through, Pennsylvania is one of the flattest (not to be confused with fastest, again—the rocks). That’s why countless hikers are caught off guard when they reach the Superfund Trailhead at Lehigh Gap, because what they’re presented with is a 900-foot seemingly vertical rock scramble over the span of just three-quarters of a mile. Upon reaching the top of this climb and looking back at the Lehigh River below, you will forever have a worthwhile retort to those who speak of Pennsylvania’s “flat” terrain.