Take a Hike
Published: May 2009
By Elizabeth Garnsey
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
The trail: Fairyland Loop. Known for: Unparalleled views of hoodoos—brightly colored stone spires and pinnacles jutting upward like a throng of Giacometti sculptures—from the trail. Trip tip: Off the beaten path, this hike avoids the congestion of the rest of the park's popular trails. Length: 8 miles. Skill Level: Moderate to strenuous. For info: Bryce Canyon National Park, 435/834-5322; www.nps.gov/brca.
MOUNT HOOD NATIONAL FOREST, Oregon
The trail: Timberline Trail. Known for: A grandeur rivaling that of the Matterhorn, with Mount Hood's jagged peak often swathed in a skirt of clouds. Trip tip: Numerous side trails give day hikers a chance to sample Timberline's delights without committing to the long haul. Length: 38 miles. Skill Level: Strenuous. For info: Mount Hood National Forest, 503/622-7674; www.mthood.org.
MARK TWAIN NATIONAL FOREST, Missouri
The trail: Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail. Known for: Some of the last undisturbed wilderness in the country—in forest-speak, nothing says "Mark Twain" like sycamore, hickory, and sassafras. Trip tip: Watch for the Eastern collared lizard, who, if he doesn't know you personally, will stand upright and run away on his hind legs. Length: 33 miles. Skill Level: Moderate. For info: Missouri State Parks, 800/334-6946; www.mostateparks.com.
ROCKS NATIONAL LAKESHORE, Michigan
The trail: Chapel-Mosquito Loop. Known for: Beaches and inland waterfalls—the country's first national lakeshore is a 42-mile ribbon along Lake Superior on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Trip tip: Take a dip at the sandy, swimmer-friendly Mosquito Beach. Length: 10 miles. Skill Level: Easy to moderate. For info: Pictured Rocks Hiawatha Visitor Information, 906/387-3700; www.nps.gov/piro.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, Tennessee
The trail: Alum Cave Trail. Known for: Old-growth forests and sweeping views of the Smokies in all their mist-enveloped glory. Trip tip: Bring a picnic and refuel at the summit, where you can catch a 180-degree sunset from the lookout at Cliff Tops. Length: 10 miles, round-trip. Skill Level: Moderate to strenuous. For info: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 865/436-1200; www.nps.gov/grsm.
GREEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL FOREST, Vermont
The trail: Monroe Skyline. Known for: A challenging route along the ridgelines of six mountains, with thickly forested "green tunnels." Trip tip:The summit of Mount Abraham has a panoramic vista taking in New Hampshire's White Mountains to the east and Lake Champlain to the west. Length: 11.1 miles. Skill Level: Moderate to strenuous. For info: Green Mountain Club, 802/244-7037; www.greenmountainclub.org.
OCALA NATIONAL FOREST, Florida
The trail: Alexander Springs to Juniper Springs. Known for: Towering palms, oak hammocks, and cool natural springs—they're the reason this stretch is considered north central Florida's crown jewel. Trip tip: At hike's end, splash down in Juniper Springs, a swimming hole of the good old-fashioned variety, with water so clear you can see all the way to the white sand bottom. Length: 17.8 miles. Skill Level: Easy. For info: Florida Trail Association, 877/445-3352; www.florida-trail.org.
Make like a camel with the Hydrapak Delta (right; 866/549-0559; www.hydrapak.com; $46)—a lightweight day pack and hydration system in one. The inner reservoir holds more than two liters of water, and a valved hose pipes it to your mouth when you need it. Cool your heels in Merrell Chameleon Stretch hiking shoes (below; 888/637-7001; www.merrellboot.com; $90); breathable mesh and a stretchy lacing system make you feel as if you're walking on air. Wool isn't just for winter anymore—the new Breakaway jacket from Ibex (800/773-9647; www.ibexwear.com; $178) is made with Climawool Light, a high-tech blend of wool, nylon, and Lycra that wicks moisture from your skin. Get your bearings with the user-friendly Brunton Nomad (800/443-4871; www.brunton.com; $70), a digital compass with memory.
The official Web site of the National Park Service, www.nps.gov, is a complete guide to U.S. parks, landmarks, and monuments. U.K.-based www.OneDayHikes.com rounds up the best day hikes across North and South America, Europe, and Australia. Log on to www.gorp.com to research adventure trips and gear.