Devoting a few months to completing an entire long trail may not be realistic for everyone, but hiking discrete sections of these trails is more doable—and much closer to home—than you might think. Try one of these eight section hikes for a day away from the hustle and bustle, all within a 90-minute or less drive from a city.
Long Trail: Sterling Pond | Cambridge, Vt.
Spanning 273 miles through Vermont, the Long Trail is the country’s oldest long-distance hiking trail. This short day hike, less than an hour’s drive from Burlington, visits two Long Trail highlights: Smugglers’ Notch and the state’s highest-elevation trout pond. Park in the lot off Route 108 and follow blue-blazed Sterling Pond Trail, climbing rock steps and turning north to cross a gully. In 0.9 mile, the dense trail intersects with the Long Trail, which you’ll follow to the banks of Sterling Pond. Switch to blue-blazed Elephant’s Head Trail along the pond’s southern shore before turning right back onto Long Trail to loop to
Distance: 3.1-mile loop
Info: AMC’S Best Day Hikes in Vermont (AMC BOOKS); Vermont State Parks
Appalachian Trail: Mount Moosilauke | Benton, N.H.
The 2,192-mile Appalachian Trail unleashes some of its most strenuous mileage in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Just an hour from the state’s capital, in Concord, this hike—maintained by Dartmouth College—sticks to the AT for its entire route up and over Mount Moosilauke, providing 360-degree views on a clear day. Spot a second car at your endpoint, the Glencliff trailhead just off Route 25, then drive to the Beaver Brook trailhead on Route 112. The first 2 miles of Beaver Brook Trail is beautiful but steep, making this route best for hikers with some experience. After taking in the summit vista, continue southwest along the Glencliff Trail ridgeline for about a mile to South Peak then follow the trail back to your car.
Distance: 7.3 miles round trip with car spot
Info: AMC White Mountain Guide (AMC BOOKS); Dartmouth Outdoors
Bay Circuit Trail: Nobscot Hill and Tippling Rock | Sudbury, Mass.
The Bay Circuit Trail provides greater Boston residents with 230 miles of trails, many accessible by public transit. For this section hike, start at the Weisblatt Conservation Land trailhead, following the Bay Circuit Trail and Salamander Trail for an easy ascent through a vibrant woodland ecosystem. When Salamander Trail loops back toward the trailhead, continue following the Bay Circuit Trail and detour right at the junction with Nobscot Mountain Spur Trail, leading to the summit of Nobscot Hill. On a clear day you can catch glimpses of the Boston skyline. Return to Salamander Trail and back to your car.
Distance: 4 miles out and back
Info: AMC’S Best Day Hikes Near Boston (AMC BOOKS); Bay Circuit Trail & Greenway
New England National Scenic Trail: Kilkenny Rock | West Hartford, Conn.
Follow this section hike of the New England Trail, which celebrates its 10th anniversary as a National Scenic Trail in 2019, within West Hartford’s Metropolitan District Reservoirs. From the parking lot off Route 4, follow Red Loop Trail as it circles Reservoirs 5, 2, and 3, passing an information kiosk at the southern tip of Reservoir 3. Detour to the road until you reach the blue-blazed Metacomet Trail and follow it to Killkenny Rock, an exposed ledge near the southern end of the Talcott Mountain ridgeline. Once you reach the outlook, turn and retrace your steps back to the kiosk and to Red Loop Trail.
Distance: 5-mile loop
Info: New England Trail; The Metropolitan District Hartford, Connecticut
Long Path: Pine Swamp Loop | Tuxedo, N.Y.
New York’s 358-mile Long Path connects Manhattan’s 175th Street subway station to Albany. This section starts at the Lake Skannatati lot, about an hour outside New York City. Following the teal-blazed Long Path, trace the shoreline for 1.1 miles before reaching your first junction, marked by a boulder labeled “Times Square”—a common meeting place for thru-hikers. Turn right on yellow-blazed Dunning Trail and continue 0.6 mile before taking another right on Arden-Surebridge Trail, marked by red triangle blazes. Return to the trailhead from there.
Distance: 4-mile loop
Info: AMC’S Best Day Hikes Near New York City (AMC BOOKS); New York State Parks, Recreation & Historical Preservation
Laurel Highlands Trail: Route 653 to Grindle Ridge | Mill Run, Pa.
Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail stretches 70 miles along Laurel Ridge in the Allegheny Mountain Range, with northern and southern trailheads each about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh. Begin following the yellow-blazed path at the Route 653 trailhead, passing through a field of massive erratics, or boulders displaced by glaciers. Turn around at Grindle Ridge Shelter, a popular campsite for backpackers, and return to your car.
DISTANCE: 6.7 miles out and back
Info: National Park Service
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail: Great Falls Park | Great Falls, Va.
Begin at the Riverbend Park lot, located 15 miles outside Washington, D.C., and follow the blue blazes south 1.75 miles along the Potomac River to the Great Falls Visitor Center. You’ll ascend a rocky ledge carved into the hillside before crossing a stream and emerging at an overlook with views of Conn Island. Continue on the blue-blazed trail heading uphill and toward the Mather Gorge, turning right onto Ridge Trail. When you reach the four-way trail intersection, turn right onto Old Carriage Road and onto Upland Trail, which will take you back to your car.
DISTANCE: 6.8 miles round trip
Info: AMC’S Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C. (AMC BOOKS); National Park Service
Appalachian Trail: Lewis Falls | Stanley, Va.
This short section hike, an hour north of Charlottesville, covers 3 dynamic AT miles, with a breathtaking waterfall, panoramic views, and rocky scrambles that lead to cliff outlooks. Start past the yellow gate, just south of milepost 51 on Skyline Drive, and follow the yellow-blazed fire road to the AT. At 0.25 mile, the trail turns left on blue-blazed Lewis Springs Trail; at 0.9 mile, Overlook Trail offers a brief detour to dramatic views of Lewis Falls. Two miles in, turn right back onto the white-blazed AT, looping back to the parking area.
Distance: 3-mile loop
Info: AMC’S Best Day Hikes in the Shenandoah Valley (AMC BOOKS); State of Virginia