By late March, daily highs here top the 70s. Work out winter cobwebs on this 10-mile circuit through an awakening forest of maple, oak, and sweet gum. On day one, you’ll follow the 2,000-foot ridge of Buckeye Mountain, then drop to creekside camping. Trace Caney Creek and its multiple falls back on day two. backpacker.com/buckeyecaney Trip ID960956
Pow Wow Trail
Wish you could time-travel back to a 1960s acid test? Until Apple unveils the time-travel app (we’re hearing 2014), visit this park on a vernal or autumnal equinox. You’ll be guaranteed the best northern lights show in the Lower 48 (see p. 18). This 27-mile lollipop hike tracks through pine and cedar and visits lakeside campsites with views of the north sky. Trip ID55019
Legend has it that the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh leapt across this limestone crack to evade capture by frontiersmen. We advise sticking to the 2.6-mile (one-way) trail by the Little Miami River, which goes from trickle to torrent as the gorge narrows. Trip ID21251
Highpoint: Black Mesa
The far western panhandle of Oklahoma is a desolate and rugged land of sagebrush, dark basaltic buttes, and still-visible dinosaur tracks trapped in cooling lava 180 million years ago. You’ll have this 8.4-miler all to yourself as you pad through Nature Conservancy land to the 4,973-foot state highpoint. Trip ID 960985
Brazos Bend State Park
Hiker Randy Noble of Friendswood, Texas, says no other trek in the area offers such an abundance of wildlife as this 4.6-mile loop connecting Elm and 40 Acre Lakes. “I’ve never seen this many alligators or exotic birds in one spot.” Noble’s tip: Go in the afternoon on mild, sunny days for the best gator viewing. Trip ID791485
Vern Wolf Lake Loop
The hike that made Milwaukee famous? That’s a tall order. But this four-mile loop around the 150-acre lake should be on your short list. Trek through oak-dappled savanna with views of the water—home to loon, snow geese, pelican, beaver, and osprey. Trip ID56351
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Lake Effect Snow
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Payoff When Arctic air crosses the comparatively warmer waters of Lake Superior, the temperature differential shoots moisture skyward, where it condenses into thick clouds. The 2,000-foot Porcupine Mountains ramp the air mass higher, producing some of the country’s biggest powder dumps—up to 25 feet annually.
Time For winter-travel experts, February offers opportunities to break trail in quiet solitude. By March, average daytime temperatures begin to melt out trail markers, and help consolidate a navigable hardpack.
Place From the park headquarters 150 miles west of Marquette, XC ski or snowshoe .5 mile to the River Trail. Follow it for 2.8 miles past the Union River’s mini cascades, then turn left onto the ungroomed, orange-flagged route to Lost Creek Yurt, keeping an eye out for wolf tracks. Turn around at the yurt for a 14.6-mile out-and-back or—better yet—fire up the woodburner and stay the night ($60/night, 800-447-2757).