Piney Branch -> Hogback Mountain -> Thornton River -> AT Circuit

A versatile two-night trip with "views, poplar forests, park history, and fishing streams" open for harvest.

Hiking Difficult

26 km
1 km
1 km
6-7 hrs
Low Point
400 m
High Point
1 km
Piney Branch -> Hogback Mountain -> Thornton River -> AT Circuit Map

If you're looking for an overnight circuit with versatility, this is for you. Divided into 3 days/2 nights, this route is loaded with epic views, excellent fishing, and plenty of history along the way. The NPS highlights the poplar forests on the route and considers it an experienced-to-advanced loop.


A quick look at the map will reveal endless ways to shorten or lengthen the loop, plus it crosses Skyline Drive multiple times, most of which have defined parking areas. Matthews Arm Campground is also nearby if you want to reserve a site and begin there instead.

When hiked clockwise, plan to spend your first night on Piney Branch Trail past the junction with Hull School Trail. You may have to head off this route a little but shouldn't have an issue finding something nearby.

For your second night, find a site on upper Thornton River Trail, but not too close to Skyline Drive. There are few options within one mile of the road, according to the NPS. The Park Service also notes the potential for high water crossings on parts of this route, especially during the spring. Be sure to have this route downloaded on your watch or smart device since there are many trail junctions along the way. A printed map or would also be wise should you need to change plans for any reason.




Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

May, June, July, August, September, October


  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Summit Hike
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area