"The Presidential Range Traverse in New Hampshire is without question the finest hiking route in the east," says Peter Potterfield, author of Classic Hikes of North America. "It's a three-day route and the clear highlight of the Appalachian Trail."
But it's not his only tip. South Dakota's spectacular Centennial Trail in the Black Elk Wilderness area affords less-crowded views of those iconic Mount Rushmore faces, while Big Bend National Park's South Rim Trail in Texas is equally awe-inspiring.
"It's not just on the U.S.-Mexico border, it is the border," he explains. "It's a two-day walk along the South Rim of the High Chisos Mountains, with views over the Rio Grande and the peaks of northern Mexico."
He also has a lesser-known favourite out west: "Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park, California, is a stunning, week-long route covering the highlights of Sierra Nevada high country."
Potterfield isn't the only Golden State fan. California-based John McKinney (thetrailmaster.com), author of 30 hiking books, has explored the region from top to bottom and has a bulging backpack of suggestions.
"Hit Redwood National and State Parks for fern-filled canyons, 40 miles of wild coast and the tallest trees on Earth," he says, adding the transit-accessible coastal trails around San Francisco plus the state parks in Napa-Sonoma wine country.
But what about heading off-the-beaten-path? "Isolated from Coast Highway 1, the Lost Coast area is California's wildest shore. It's a fist of mountains thrusting from the surf – with redwood groves, Roosevelt elk and cliff-hugging trails."
California – and the southwestern states – can offer year-round hiking, but adventure writer Philip Werner (sectionhiker.com) says a flexible approach to the elements is usually required. "Plan to stay in the area for several days and find other activities to enjoy if you need to move your hike to a different day," he advises.
And once the clouds clear? Agreeing with Potterfield about the Presidential Traverse, Werner has several more hotspots on the bucket-list Appalachian Trail.
"New Hampshire's Kilkenny Ridge Traverse is a three-day hike through a wild part of the White Mountains far from the crowds. Its varied appearance is a joy – bearded trees, open ledges and summits and forest shrouded in mist and cloud."
Then there's the 100 Mile Wilderness hike on Maine's Appalachian swathe, which takes up to 10 days. "Full of mountains, lakes and wild rivers, it's strenuous and extremely scenic – but you'll need to carry your food and be self-sufficient in all weathers."
It's similarly enticing over in the Pacific Northwest, site of die-hard hiker Kolby Kirk's (thehikeguy.com) top recommendations.
"Oregon has nearly 50 wilderness areas – but none quite like Opal Creek Wilderness on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains. The trails wind through old-growth forest where it's easy to believe you're in Jurassic Park – minus the dinosaurs."
Adding Oregon's Newberry Crater area – "all the charm of Crater Lake without the amount of visitors" – he points his boots southeast for a final fave.
"Utah's Buckskin Gulch is one of the world's longest and deepest slot canyons. Over 13 miles long and rarely more than 20-feet wide, it's a beauty with a beast: Storms can cause dangerous flash flooding. But I love its sexy curves, with the high Navajo Sandstone glowing orange and yellow."
But don't be lured by sexy trails without being prepared, Kirk cautions. "Always carry the 10 essentials: map, sun protection, extra clothing, headlamp or flashlight, first-aid kit, matches or lighter, knife or multitool, extra food and water and an emergency blanket."
According to Werner, your prep should start long before packing. "Research backcountry hiking and camping regulations – they differ between regions and national and state parks," he says.
Finally, McKinney adds, don't overstretch yourself. "You'll have a much better time if you take conditioning hikes before leaving home. And always make sure you know your limits and abilities."
OUR READERS WRITE
- I highly recommend Ricketts Glen State Park in central Pennsylvania. There is a hike which has 22 named waterfalls along the route, ranging from 15 to 94 feet in height. The hike has an elevation gain of 1,081 feet and is mostly a loop route. Wear good hiking boots, bring food, water and hiking sticks and be prepared for an amazing adventure. Glen Simpson
- #1: In Colorado, don’t miss the Brainard Lake Recreation Area about an hour from Boulder. Great mountain, lake and alpine scenery. #2 Southwest Utah is a hiking hotspot. Check out Bryce Canyon, Zion and Capital Reef national parks. For superlative canyon scenery, visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Leigh McAdam
- The Mount Mansfield section of the Long Trail in the Green Mountains, Vermont. For the clean fresh air, the silence and using the low-lying blueberry bushes as a mattress for my sleeping pad. @Whistlersnowpig
- Where to start? The Mammoth Lakes area of Sierra Nevadas; Enchantment Lakes in Washington state; and Wind Rivers in Wyoming. @seattlekim
- Na Pali Coast State Park [Hawaii] for the water views and interim swims. @CharlesMcCool
- I like all the paths and bicycle trails between the beaches at the tip of Cape Cod. Plus the Finger Lakes region, New York. @HelloSandraLove
- If time is no object, the Pacific Crest Trail; even if you are constrained, pick any section, through desert, glacier and lush forests: pcta.org. Brian in Mississauga
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