This species is 15–17 cm in length, and has the white-dark-white underwing pattern characteristic of Catharus thrushes. Adults are mainly brown on the upperparts, with reddish tails. The underparts are white with dark spots on the breast and grey or brownish flanks. They have pink legs and a white eye ring. Birds in the east are more olive-brown on the upperparts; western birds are more grey-brown. Hermit Thrushes hop and scrape in leaf litter while foraging. They perch low to the ground on fallen logs and shrubs, often wandering into open areas such as forest clearings or trails. Sometimes a Hermit Thrush will cock its tail and bob it slowly, while flicking its wings. The Hermit Thrush's song is ethereal and flute-like, consisting of a beginning note, then several descending musical phrases in a minor key, repeated at different pitches. They often sing from a high open location. They forage on the forest floor, also in trees or shrubs, mainly eating insects and berries.
Look for them in open areas inside forests, such as trails, pond edges, mountain glades, or areas partially opened up by fallen trees. In winter, Hermit Thrushes often occupy lower-elevation forests with dense understory and berry bushes, including pine, broadleaf evergreen, and deciduous woods.