The Appalachian Trail and the White Mountains
The Appalachian Trail, the most famous hiking trail in the world, wends its way down along the U.S eastern coast from the north woods of Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, a distance of more than 2,100 miles.
Estimated to be some 5 million steps long, it passes through fourteen states, with the longest section in Virginia (545 miles), the greatest elevation in Tennessee’s Great Smokies (6,643 feet), and, by most accounts, one of the most beautiful and challenging parts running through New Hampshire. About half of New Hampshire’s section of the AT (as hikers like to call it) falls within the White Mountain National Forest, a rugged, sprawling recreational playground of 661,000 acres that has drawn lovers of the great outdoors since the 19th century, particularly hikers. The famous AT is only one of many trails that link up to an elaborate 1,200-mile network that ranges from the easy to the extraordinary.
The granddaddy of the White Mountains (so named because their granite peaks are so frequently covered by snow) is Mount Washington, the highest in the northeast at 6,288 feet, and fabled for harsh and unpredictable weather that can rival that of Antarctica.
The area’s most popular excursion is the innovative 1869 Mount Washington Cog Railroad, which chugs 3 ½ dramatic miles to Mount Washington’s peak. It can also be reached on foot or by car (allow one hour each way by car on the 8-mile road, and check your brakes first). Another favorite local excursion is the justly famous Kancamagus Highway (a.k.a. the Kanc), which stretches 33 miles from Lincoln in the west to North Conway in the east. During fall foliage season it’s the quintessential scenic New England drive.
It’s hard to compete with so much natural drama, but the majestic Mount Washington Hotel boasts 1,500 acres of its own. Its manmade centerpiece is a rambling 200-room leviathan that’s been welcoming visitors since 1902, and makes for a perfect rest stop. Stake out a rocker on its 900-foot veranda for the chance to revel in the beauty of the Presidential Range without having to lace up your hiking boots.