Maine to Florida - East Coast Exposure
With a stop at the highest point east of the Mississippi, 11 east coast trails for exposure-seekers...
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From the White Mountains to the Smokies, the Eastern United States is peppered with adventurous hikes. You’ll find rocky rambles along coastal headlands, cloud-swarmed summits, and forest-shrouded waterfalls to discover. So lace up those hiking boots, load up your pack, and tackle some of the best hikes with exposure on the East Coast.
1. Franconia Loop, New Hampshire
•Distance: 8.5 miles
•Elevation Gain: 3,705 feet
Of course, with all due respect to the Presidential Range, the 8.5-mile Franconia Ridge Loop might just be New Hampshire’s most iconic White Mountain tour. The circuit strings together Little Haystack Mountain (4,760'), Mount Lincoln (5,089'), and Mount Lafayette (5,260') along knife-edge Franconia Ridge, giving you plenty of time above treeline and featuring views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness and the Kinsmans. Stretch out the high-country tour with a night at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut, which even offers family-style meals throughout summer and early fall.
2. Old Rag, Virginia
•Distance: 9 miles
•Elevation Gain: approx. 2,200-3,000 feet, depending on route
Standing alone, like a Blue Ridge outlier, Old Rag isn’t the loftiest peak in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, but the granite-studded summit is certainly the most panoramic, rewarding trail-weary hikers with 360-degree vistas. The circuit hike to Old Rag is about a 9-mile trip, with several miles to the 3,268-foot summit on the Ridge Trail consisting largely of a hand-over-hand rock scramble, a prolonged exercise in Class 3 boulder-shimmying. But once atop the craggy summit, picturesque picnic-spots abound. Plan for the full hike to take 7 to 8 hours.
3. Gothics, New York
Work towards becoming an "Adirondack 46er" by scaling the range’s most formidable pinnacles. Photo: Shahid Durrani
•Distance: 12-14 miles
•Elevation Gain: Varies
Northern New York’s Adirondack Park is the largest state park in the country, and it isn’t short on spectacular summits. The chain of peaks forming the Great Range are among the most sought-after in the entire 6-million acre park—and they provide a formidable notch on the belt for aspiring "Adirondack 46ers," the title bestowed on trekkers who have scaled all of the park’s loftiest summits. Earn serious bragging rights scaling the range’s most iconic pinnacle—the 4,736 foot Gothics—and tack on the short, 0.3-mile trip to panoramic, Pyramid Peak (4,550') for unsurpassed views of the Great Range, while Upper Ausable Lake glistens below.
4. Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
•Distance: 11.4 miles
•Elevation Gain: 3,600 feet
Looming over the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell exudes an irresistible pull for East Coast peakbaggers. The loftiest summit east of the Mississippi River and the pinnacle of the Black Mountain Range, the climb to the peak’s summit is also among the toughest hikes in the Southeast. Although there are easier routes from Mount Mitchell State Park, the path to the summit from Black Mountain Campground gains nearly 3,600 feet in just 5.5 miles.
5. Black Balsam Knob, North Carolina
•Distance: 5 miles
•Elevation Gain: 800 feet
Presiding over North Carolina’s Shining Rock Wilderness, the treeless summit of the Black Balsam Knob feels more like a sprawling alpine meadow than any sort of pinnacle. But, thanks to its perch at 6,214 feet, the southern Appalachian bald boasts a 360-degree view of a skyline-silhouetted with peaks, including the Great Smokies and the summit-studded Black Mountains. The summit is also the high point of the Art Loeb Trail, which takes trekkers on an iconic 30-mile tour of the Pisgah National Forest. You’ll find a multitude of trails in the area to craft the length of hike that you’d like, but a good option is the Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain Loop, a five-mile trek that includes time on the Art Loeb and Ivestor Gap trails and reaches two summits.
6. Seneca Rocks, West Virginia
•Distance: 3.2 miles
•Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Rising from the leafy woodlands of West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, the Tuscarora sandstone spire dubbed Seneca Rocks has lured rock climbers for nearly a century. But the toothy crag, which rises 900 feet above the North Fork River, also draws hikers to the Seneca Rocks Trail. After climbing 700 feet through a mixed hardwood forest with oak, hickory, and maple, hikers are rewarded with vistas of North Fork Valley and the encroaching Alleghenies—without having to climb the spire. Snag a site at the panoramic Seneca Shadows Campground to admire the towering sandstone turret at sunset and sunrise.
7. The Pinnacle, Pennsylvania
•Distance: 9 miles
•Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
Besides rewarding hikers with jaw-dropping views of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and the endless string of summits studding the 185-mile Kittatinny Ridge, the Pinnacle is also one of best places on the planet to observe birds of prey, especially during the fall migration. Sitting at 1,615 feet, the rock outcrop jutting from Blue Mountain is accessible from the Hamburg Reservoir via the Appalachian Trail. Stop by and visit the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary en route. The world-renowned raptor conservation and research facility has educational displays, more trails to explore, and panoramic observation sites.
8. Tallulah Gorge, Georgia
•Distance: 3 miles
•Elevation Gain: approx. 100 feet
Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge is one of the most geologically dramatic landscapes in the Southeast. The giant fissure is 1,000 feet deep and nearly two miles long—providing hikers plenty to explore. Admire the vast canyon from above on the North and South Rim Trails at Tallulah Gorge State Park, or grab one of the free permits required to visit the gorge floor, and head for Hurricane Falls.
9. Rocky Top, Tennessee
•Distance: 11.6 miles
•Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet
The fog-bathed peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are among the Southeast’s most stunning spectacles—and one of the best ways to admire the misty sea of summits is from the vantage point nicknamed Rocky Top. One of three pinnacles crowning Thunderhead Mountain, Rocky Top was the artistic muse for Tennessee’s official state song. These days, the hike still stuns with spectacular views of North Carolina’s portion of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, stretching all the way to Fontana Lake. On the way to the trio of summits, the Appalachian Trail also moseys through Spence Field, a sprawling alpine bald providing some of the best vistas in the entire park.
10. Chinnabee Silent Trail, Alabama
Hikers on the Chinnabee Silent Trail in Alabama are treated to a number of impressive views and hidden waterfalls like the Devil’s Den. Photo: Alan Cressler
•Distance: 12 miles
•Elevation Gain: 1,350 feet
Get a taste of the Cheaha Wilderness—and an eyeful of the highest summits in Alabama—along the Chinnabee Silent Trail in the Talladega National Forest. On the way to Little Caney Head, among the highest points in Alabama, the trail treats trekkers to streamside strolls, secluded swimming holes, and backcountry cascades, including Devil’s Den and Cheaha Falls. The footpath is also a portal to one of the Southeast’s premier distance tracks, the 337-mile Pinhoti Trail, which runs from Alabama’s Flagg Mountain to the Benton MacKaye Trail in Georgia.
11. Precipice Trail, Maine
•Distance: 2.6 miles
•Elevation Gain: 931 feet
In Maine’s Acadia National Park, where granite mountains crumble into the icy Atlantic Ocean, there is no shortage of postcard-worthy coastal tracks. Still, the panoramic Precipice Trail stands out. The steepest route to the 1,070-foot summit of Champlain Mountain—you’ll climb nearly 1,000 feet in just 0.9 miles—the Precipice Trail is also the park’s most challenging ascent. Clinging mostly to the exposed east face of Champlain Mountain, the footpath is not for the faint of heart or greenhorn climbers. This trail is closed from March 15-August 15 while the falcons are nesting. You can do the shorter out-and-back to the summit of Champlain Mountain in around 2 hours, or complete the full loop for a 3-to-5 hour hike.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with La Sportiva.
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