Length: 2,100 miles (88 in New York State) • Elevation: 6,625 feet (Clingman’s Dome, Tenn.); 1,433 feet in New York State (Prospect Rock in Orange Co.) • Highlight: The chance to encounter a scruffy, underfed thru-hiker
The grandfather of hiking trails, the AT — which traverses the spine of the entire Eastern Seaboard, from Maine to Georgia — turns 90 next year. The first section of the route was blazed at Bear Mountain in 1922; in June 2010, a portion of this original path was repaved with 800-pound granite “steps” — laid in place by 700 volunteers — in order to accommodate the throngs of people who hoof this stretch of the path each year.
The New York section is relatively flat; in fact, the lowest point on the entire trail (124 feet above sea level) occurs where the AT crosses the Hudson via the Bear Mountain Bridge. The byway winds through several state parks and preserves, including Sterling Forest and Harriman in Orange County, Bear Mountain and Fahnestock in Orange/Rockland and Putnam (respectively), and the Pawling Nature Preserve in Dutchess — all of which offer access to it. On weekends and holidays, city types can exit Metro-North’s Harlem Line trains at the Appalachian Trail stop in Pawling. The trailhead crosses the train tracks just south of the station, and begins the ascent of Hammersly Ridge. By combining this section with portions of other trails, hikers can traverse varied terrain (wetlands, stands of hemlock trees) and catch sight of local fauna — from wild turkeys and deer to the occasional beaver.