Flying To Hike: Five Airports Close to the Appalachian Trail

You do not have to cover all 2,194 miles to make the trip worthwhile.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) between Georgia and Maine, a total of almost 2,200 miles through 14 states, has long been a “bucket list” item for many people. Those who end up actually making the trip do so for a variety of reasons.

For some, the attraction lies in escaping from their everyday routines for five to seven months— the average time it takes someone to hike the full distance. Others just want to see if they can do it—or perhaps if they can do it in record time. But regardless of your motivation, the trail is worth visiting for its natural splendor, historical waypoints, and challenging terrain. And, a section of the trail can provide a great hiking experience for even just a day or two.

The trail also happens to be lined with general aviation airports that make it easier to focus on hiking while spending less time driving to trailheads. Below are just a few examples.

Sugarloaf Regional Airport (B21)

Carrabassett, Maine

The AT hugs the western side of Sugarloaf Mountain while the airport is to the east, but they are close to each other and there are intersecting feeder trails to get you there. Indeed, there is a trailhead right on the airport. Maine’s roughly 282 mile stretch of Appalachian Trail includes some of the most challenging sections and is rated 2-10, or easy to difficult. Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain at 5,267 feet, is at the northern end of the trail, which leads hikers all the way to the top. It is a dramatic start or finish for those hiking the whole trail. 

Lebanon Municipal Airport (KLEB) 

Lebanon, New Hampshire

Lebanon is just a few miles from Hanover, home of Dartmouth College. Both the town and the college are longtime supporters of the AT hiking community. The Dartmouth Outing Club is an AT Member club that is responsible for maintaining 50 miles of the trail in New Hampshire. The trail runs through campus, past Robinson Hall, a student-life center that also has free internet and a place for hikers to leave their bags if they wish to explore the town with a lighter load. One of Hanover’s key resources for hikers is the Richard W. Black Community Center, which has easily accessible showers and laundry facilities.

Sussex Airport (KFWN)

Sussex, New Jersey

About 71 miles of the trail passes through New Jersey and its generally northward path hugs the borders of Pennsylvania and New York, turning southeast for a while before heading northwest into New York. It comes within about 5 miles of my home airport and I used the trail—the Kittatinny Ridge that it traverses and the High Point monument that it passes—as navigation aids while practicing pilotage as a flight student. This part of New Jersey is surprisingly wild for people unfamiliar with the area but the trail is rated easy to moderate and offers a reasonable workout with lots of scenery and bird-spotting opportunities.

Needwood Farm Airport (WV21)

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Among the 14 states that the trail passes through, West Virginia has the shortest section of the AT, at just 2.7 miles, but the area is steeped in history. The trail passes through Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which is the site of John Brown’s Raid in 1859 and a Civil War Battle nearly three years later. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is also located in Harper’s Ferry. A path connecting the trail to the conservancy headquarters passes through the campus of what used to be Storer College, a historically black college created to educate previously enslaved people after the Civil War. The grass-strip airport is a few miles away.

High Valley Airpark (GA87)

Suches, Georgia

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, nearly 4,000 hikers begin their trek on Georgia’s Springer Mountain each year with the intention of continuing to the trail’s northern end in Maine. This is another of the trail’s more rugged sections, rated 2-7, or from easy to challenging, and ranging in elevation from 2,520 to 4,461 feet. There are 78 miles of AT in Georgia, almost half of which is federally designated wilderness. Suches is about 2 miles from the trail and fairly close to its southern end—perhaps 20 miles.

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