Of all the country's long walks, the 2,175-mile AT is the coveted one – it's the most rugged, but with enough huts and towns to smooth out the edges. If you have time to do the whole thing, the best route is to start from Springer Mountain, Georgia, and head north toward Maine. Six months is the traditional time frame, but most fit hikers can do it in five. Plan to cover about two miles per hour and to finish hiking altogether by late September, when 5,267-foot Mount Katahdin's Baxter Peak, the terminus, can get nasty. The best monthlong itinerary – undulating terrain through blooming rhododendron – is from Hot Springs, North Carolina, to Atkins, Virginia. If you can only carve out a weekend, head straight to Katahdin, where hikers who complete the journey are rewarded with panoramic views of northern Maine's lakes. No matter the length of your trek, look out for the little gifts called trail magic – a reminder that the AT is one of the last places in America where the simple act of leaving an ice cold grape Fanta for a stranger becomes transformative.
Credit: Gareth Mccormack / Getty Images
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