Recommended day-hike: Canyon Rim Trail near Blackwater Canyon
From the adventure town of Thomas, W.V., take U.S. Route 48 west 6 miles to Forest Road 18 (turn left) and at the fork take a right on FR 717 to the Olson Observation Tower. Start by walking to the top of the tower and get a 360-degree view of the surrounding Monongahela National Forest (aka the Mon); you can see Blackwater Canyon and the Cheat River Canyon in the distance. Then hike the section of the ALT here that is the Canyon Rim Trail (TR 701) through hardwood forest and rhododendron tunnels almost 3 miles to FR 18 where you can turn around for a roughly 6-mile out-and-back.
Recommended weekend trip: Seneca State Forest
The Allegheny Trail winds 10.4 miles through Seneca State Forest, and you can take a weekend backpacking trip here without having to schlep a tent. Park at the trailhead parking on Laurel Run Road. Be sure to contact the state forest office to get permission for overnight parking. Hike south to forest boundary at state Route 28 for a 13-mile out-and-back through hardwood forests and rhododendron coves. There are two backcountry Adirondack-style shelters at miles 2.2 and 5.3. They are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Or take it up a notch and spend the night in the Thorny Mountain Fire Tower (4.3 miles in), complete with 360-degree views of unending mountains. Local tip: The fire tower is hard to reserve, so plan ahead. Reservations open a year in advance on the first day of the month; be at your computer at 12:01 a.m. to secure your reservation for a date the following year, during the month in which you’re booking ($99/night weeknights, $109 weekends).
Thru-hike PA to Virginia
Southbound: With the northern terminus only a 90-minute drive south of Pittsburgh, and the southern terminus just a 3-hour drive west of Charlottesville, Va., the ALT isn’t as remote as it feels. Southbound is a popular option. Have someone drop you off at the northern terminus on the PA-West Virginia state line north of Bruceton Mills, W.V. You can find a place to bed down every night along the trail, and resupplies don’t require mail drops. This still requires planning, though, so pick up a copy of the Hiking Guide to the Allegheny Trail. Walk through state forests, state parks, many miles of the 900,000-acre Mon and the George Washington and Jefferson national forests.
Northbound: The southern terminus meets up with the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. A 35-plus-mile gap still exists in the ALT, between Interstate 64 near White Sulphur Springs, W.V., and Virginia. One good option for a northbound hike is to hop on the southernmost trailhead of the contiguous ALT—just 2 hours by car from Charlottesville—and hike north. This trailhead is just off of I-64 at Exit 1 in Virginia (Jerry’s Run Road).