The Tyringham Shakers selected a bald-topped mountain as their Mount Horeb, and marched to its summit following their celebratory religious feasts. The trail skirts well-crafted stone walls, provides views out over the patchwork of fields in the Tyringham valley, and crosses Jerusalem Street, where the remaining Shaker buildings and Shaker Pond, now in private hands, may be observed from the road (not open to the public).
Potomac River crossing at Harpers Ferry, Virginia/West Virginia
Approaching Harpers Ferry from Virginia, hikers cross over the Shenandoah River using a vehicle bridge. As they leave town and head for Maryland, they cross the Potomac River beside an active track on a railroad bridge.
In the days of the Underground Railroad, escaped slaves had to cross the Potomac (this dangerous "Jordan") during their Exodus to freedom. They waded and swam from island to island or slipped across hidden in a boat by a sympathetic ferryman. On the northern bank, the trail passes the location of John Brown's 1859 abolitionist raid on the federal armory, and the fire house which served as his "fort."
North of Harpers Ferry, the trail looks down on the peaceful agricultural valley surrounding Antietam, where the National Park Service has reconstructed the meeting house of the German Baptists, known as Dunkers, on the Civil War battlefield. Dunkers, who were baptized three times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, resisted slavery. The house served as a hospital during the battle of Antietam, one of the bloodiest battles in American history, when 23,000 were killed, wounded or went missing.
Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
The highest point on the entire trail at 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome (Kuwo-i or Mulberry Place in Cherokee) is the home of the White Bear, chief of the bears, according to Cherokee tradition. The Cherokee treated animals as members of neighboring tribes, who celebrated seasonal dances in their townhouses, just as the Cherokee did.
Hikers can enjoy the southern-most Appalachian spruce fir forest, and have the chance to view, not just numerous black bears, but endemic species such as the red-cheeked salamander and Fraser fir.
Heading south from Clingmans Dome, it's nearly 30 miles by trails or road to visit Native American museums. There is a replica of a Cherokee council house (the central religious building) at the Oconaluftee Indian Village (open May to October), and visitors can learn more about Cherokee religious traditions at the Museum of the Cherokee (year round) in the town of Cherokee, North Carolina.
Blood Mountain, Georgia
Nearly 30 miles north of the southern terminus of the trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia, Blood Mountain is known in Cherokee tradition as a townhouse of the Nunne'hi, a race of immortals. They are friendly to humans, assist lost hunters and support the Cherokee in battle. These gentle inhabitants of the heights love music, and local residents still report hearing the sounds of their drums and dances.
Several bald mountains or peaks with distinctive rock formations along the southern stretch of the trail are also associated with the Cherokee monster slayer tale of the giant horned lizard, the Utenka. A Shawnee medicine man pursued the ferocious beast, from nearby Brasstown Bald, Georgia, through Indian Gap and the Chimneys in the Smokies, in Tennessee to its home on Big Bald on the Tennessee/North Carolina border.
The open summits offer spectacular seasonal flora displays, including blooms of Catawba rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurels. Since a hiker can still stretch out on the grass or ascend above the trees on outcrops, the summits are among the best places to enjoy the ridges turning blue at sunset or to experience the August Perseid meteor shower, without the background lighting of civilization.