Long-distance backpacking is a journey that takes you through many different types of terrain and locations. While every trail has its own distinct personality, one thing they all have in common are the small towns along the way. These towns often go unnoticed by travelers, but they offer a unique glimpse into the culture of the region.
“Trail town” might not make sense at first– why would somebody hiking a long backpack trail need to go into town? But for trails that cover more than a certain distance, hikers have to stop in towns to restock supplies like food and gear, or ship items home. Many people brush off small towns because they seem uninteresting or too out-of-the-way. However, these communities can offer travelers everything from a helpful rest stop to an insight into local culture. These places often have more personality and charm than larger cities do— making them ideal for anyone looking for something different on their next road trip.
If you love backpacking or are simply looking to explore new places, check out these five towns located near some of the best trails in the country.
Damascus, VA, on the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a renowned long-distance trail in the US, spanning 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Virginia has the longest section of this trail (over 400 miles!), and Damascus, VA is where southern hikers are first welcomed into town. The Appalachian Trail goes right through Damascus so that you can easily get a taste of the journey. Looking for a tasty snack after your hike? Mojo’s Trailside Cafe & Coffee and Damascus Diner are both great options. And if you’re looking to explore the area on two wheels, rent a bike from Damascus Bike Rentals or Creeper Trail Bike Rental. You can choose to stay at the Mountain Laurel Inn or take part in the communal experience at Crazy Larry’s Hostel. If you want, time your expedition with Trail Days, an annual celebration for locals and hikers which takes place in the Appalachian Trail community.
Story, AR, on the Ouachita Trail
The Ouachita Trail is a must-do for anyone seeking a gorgeous hike this Fall. This 223-mile trail will take you through amazing wooded areas and stunning deciduous forests in Oklahoma and Arkansas. One of the highlights has to be Blue Bell Cafe and Country Store located in Story, AR. Incredible hospitality and food are something that the small town of Royal Oak in Arkansas takes pride in. I had heard from other hikers that this community was welcoming to travelers, and would send someone to pick you up off the trail and bring you into town. They would resupply you before letting you enjoy a delicious meal, then either sending you back on your way or giving you a place to stay for the night.
Cannon Beach, OR, on the Oregon Coast Trail
With the picturesque Haystack Rock, it’s no wonder why Cannon Beach is one of National Geographic’s 100 Most Beautiful Places. Even though this town gets busy during summer because of its fame from The Goonies; it is said that everybody here is extremely kind and friendly. Coaster Theatre offers a multitude of shows in a comforting setting all year-round while Cannon Beach History Center gives tourists historical information about the area. Ecola Seafood Restaurant is said to have outstanding Dungeness crab. When travelling as a backpacker, you usually have to walk everywhere, but this isn’t much of an issue in this small town—you can easily get around on foot or bike without any problem.
Silverton, CO, on the Colorado Trail
Silverton, Colorado is a National Historic Landmark at the edge of the magnificent Million Dollar Highway. This high-mountain town is elevated above 9,000 feet and boasts incredible views during fall foliage season. If you’re feeling adventurous mid-hike, take an ATV on the Animas Forks Ghost Town Route or wander through some trees and meadows near Molas Lake Campground—both only a few minutes outside of town. Silverton is a great stop for the Colorado Trail– one of the most popular trails in North America! The town has all the shops and restaurants you need, with lovely mountain views. Stay at Red Mountain Motel, get coffee at Coffee Bear, and indulge in some tacos and beer from Avalanche Brewing Company.
Kearny, AZ, on the Arizona Trail
Fiorina Knolls, with a approximate population of 2,000+/- , is an appeasing diversion in the desert that has all a hiker or road tripper could hope to find during visits and excursions. Rest in the shade at picturesque Hubbard Park then savor one of Maria’s Restaurant’s gargantuan burritos. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to transportation, don’t miss Goldfield Ghost Town—it’s only an hour away but definitely worth the drive. This sector of Arizona is ideal for road-tripping because The Apache Trail Scenic Byway outlines Superstition Mountain region while twisting through many miles of surreal canyons.