Conecuh Trail Conecuh National Forest Explore lush cypress bogs.
Here’s one hike where flat is synonymous with fun. This 23-mile deep South circuit weaves among cypress bogs, fragrant cedar and holly forests, and Alabama’s densest collection of spring-fed ponds (aka swimming holes). From the Conecuh trailhead at Open Pond, an hour south of Montgomery, hike southeast past Buck Pond on a counterclockwise route around the 4.6-mile South Loop. You’ll visit Five Runs Creek and Blue Spring, a turquoise-tinted pool that begs a dip. Hang a right at the junction to follow a four-mile connector trail, which extends north past Blue Pond to the North Loop, and hike 3.5 miles west to camp near Mossy Ponds and its cypress pillars (pack deet). Day two, continue past pitcher plants and longleaf pines to retrace your steps on the connector trail. MapConecuh TrailMap ($4, see contact) Contact (334) 222-2555; fs.usda.gov/alabama
Mt. Ripinsky Trail
Haines State Forest Hike to fjord-wide views.
This lung-busting stairway to the heavens rises 4,800 feet over 10 miles and follows a ridge to four miles of open tundra with unobstructed views over a sea of glaciated peaks. You can dayhike it, but this point-to-point is best savored overnight, says Alaska Mountain Guides’ Eli Fierer. Follow the 7-Mile Saddle Trail, which ascends past giant sitka spruces before reaching treeline at the 2,400-foot-high saddle, a brown bear hangout (the spring tundra grasses and late-summer berries are good snacks). Traipse through fields of pink fireweed (mid-June through July) to Peak 3,920, the hike’s high point, then plunge down the cliffy east side (an anchored chain offers security). Camp at Jones Gap, a verdant hollow 4.7 miles from the start. Next day, continue over 3,563-foot Mt. Ripinski for more blown-open panoramas of the Chilkat and Chilkoot Rivers before descending rainforest to Young Road, in Haines. MapHaines State Forests Mt. Ripinsky Trail System (free at trailhead) or USGS quad Skagway B-2 ($8, store.usgs.gov*) Contact (907) 766-2120; seatrails.org
Haunted Canyon Trail
Superstition Wilderness Area Discover a hidden oasis.
If you can only do one hike in Arizona, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the Grand Canyon classic Grandview Loop (see right). But for under-the-radar solitude, our local scouts look outside the Grand to Haunted Canyon. “It’s so lush and quiet, you won’t believe you’re in the Sonoran Desert, an hour’s drive from Phoenix,” says Annette McGivney, BACKPACKER’s Southwest editor. This 12.6-mile hike starts with a weave through desert scrub at 3,140 feet with panoramas of the boot leather-colored Superstition Mountains sawing into the sky. After bouncing over a series of dry ridges, the route drops to follow an unnamed creek, winding among oaks and sycamores. At six miles, take a spur .1 mile south to Tony Ranch, a 1913 cabin near a spring. Fill up, then continue .2 mile to camp beneath the abandoned ranch’s shade trees. Next day, retrace your steps, or continue west on the faint Bull Basin Trail four miles to Bull Basin, one of the Supes’ most remote corners. Map Beartooth Publishing Superstition Wilderness Outdoor Recreation Map ($12, beartoothpublishing.com) Contact (928) 402-6200; fs.usda.gov/tonto
Ozark Highlands Trail
Fairview Rec. Area to Haw Creek Falls Explore waterfalls and a natural arch.
This 21-mile point-to-point hike rambles through rock gardens, splashes across clear streams, and visits the 30-foot-long Hurricane Creek Natural Bridge. From Fairview Recreation Area at 2,170 feet, descend through oaks, hickories, and shortleaf pine, and camp beside Hurricane Creek at 10.2 miles. On day two, pass crumbling homesteads, Hurricane Creek’s sandstone span, and Haw Creek Falls, a six-foot cascade that extends shore to shore and spills into muscle-soothing pools. MapOHT maps 10, 11, and 12 (free, ouachitamaps.com/OHT.html) Contact (870) 446-5122; hikearkansas.com
Kibbie Ridge Trail
Yosemite National Park Get Sierra beauty all to yourself.
“It’s my top overnight in the Sierra,” says Merrill McCauley, a Yosemite park ranger. From the Kibbie Ridge trailhead, at 5,880 feet in the Stanislaus National Forest, follow the Kibbie Ridge Trail past Shingle Spring before climbing 400 feet to the ridge. At 2.5 miles, skirt a marsh zipping with dragonflies in summer, then climb through Jeffrey pines to Lookout Point and its views west into the yawning canyon carved by Cherry Creek. At the national park boundary (mile six), the open ridge looks over a choppy sea of 7,000-foot, glacier-buffed granite domes. In another six miles, cut south off-trail to drop down to Many Island Lake. Camp on the north end for the best views and water access (you can swim to the nearest islands). Bring a tripod for sunset shots and mountains in the liquid mirror. Next day, regain the trail and continue two miles west to Boundary Lake, a pristine pool where the croaking of Yosemite toads echoes within the granite basin. Then retrace your steps down the ridge to the trailhead. Map Tom Harrison's Yosemite National Park ($9, tomharrisonmaps.com) Contact fs.usda.gov/stanislaus
Denny and North Cottonwood Creeks
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness View the state’s densest quiver of 14ers.
This 167,584-acre wilderness in central Colorado contains more Fourteeners (eight) than any other wilderness in the Lower 48, and this 24-mile route surveys the whole lot. It also passes within easy striking distance of one of them, says Keith Baker, an owner of The Trailhead gear shop in Buena Vista. From the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead, hike west on the Horn Fork Trail and pick up Browns Pass Trail to Kroenke Lake, four miles in at 11,516 feet. Then zigzag across the Continental Divide to 12,420-foot Browns Pass (mile five) and blown-open views of Mts. Harvard (14,420 feet), Columbia (14,073 feet) and Yale (14,196 feet). To the west, the immense Texas Creek Basin yawns beneath you and frames the deeply chiseled flanks of the Three Apostles, an evocative rock formation. Hike south from the pass on the Denny Creek Trail, following the 1.5-mile-long spur to Hartenstein Lake for a 12.5-mile first day. Rise early the next morning, regain the Denny Creek Trail, and hike south .7 mile to the Mt. Yale Trail junction. Go east for four miles, climbing over open tundra to reach Yale’s broad summit, then descend via Denny Creek to your car. Map Trails Illustrated Buena Vista/Collegiate Peaks ($12, natgeomaps.com) Contact (719) 539-3591; fs.usda.gov/psicc
CONNECTICUT Appalachian Trail
Salisbury to the Massachusetts border Bag the state’s highest summit.
The state’s loftiest walking—and bird’s-eye views—await on this stretch of the Appalachian Trail through Connecticut’s northwest corner, says David Roberts of Connecticut’s Appalachian Mountain Club chapter. This 14-miler (round-trip) starts at CT 41 and heads north on a 2.7-mile ascent gaining 1,000 feet to Lion’s Head, where panoramas unfold over lakes and farmlands to the south and east. Continue 3.3 miles to 2,316-foot Bear Mountain, the highest peak in Connecticut. Cross over the Connecticut/Massachusetts border and pitch a tent at Sages Ravine, a forested valley with a clear brook. Turn back on day two. MapMassachusetts/Connecticut Guide ($28, atctrailstore.org) Contact appalachiantrail.org
Blackbird State Forest Claim a secret campsite.
Strictly speaking, backpacking is all but impossible in tiny Delaware (state parks prohibit backcountry camping), making the Cypress Branch Shelter, nestled in hardwood forest 40 miles south of Wilmington, one of the state’s hottest finds. Bonus: Most residents head out of state for trekking, so it’s rarely crowded. The unnamed trail to it follows a creek before cutting through oak, hickory, poplar, and maple stands. It’s only 1.5 mostly flat miles to the three-sided shelter overlooking a 15-acre beaver pond where eagles hunt and mallards cruise. Permit Free, pick up at forest office (302-653-6505) Map Get the Cypress Complex map when you pick up your permit. Contact dda.delaware.gov/forestry
The Florida Trail
Big Cypress National Preserve Stalk swampland panthers.
This 15-mile south Florida circuit borrows a leg of the Florida Trail and tacks on a blue-blazed connector to loop through cypress, pine flatwoods (the most extensive forest ecosystem in the state), open prairie, and oak hammock. “This is a real wilderness escape,” says Florida Trail Association board member David Denham. It’s also prime real estate for alligators, black bears, and Florida panthers—species that need room to roam. From the mile marker 63 trailhead on I-75 (Alligator Alley), hike 5.7 miles north on the orange-blazed Florida Trail. It parallels a ditch that’s “full of alligators,” says Denham. Hang a right on a blue-blazed footpath and cruise through marshes, grasslands, and cypress (habitats change with the slightest variation in elevation). Pitch a tent at Panther Camp and keep your eyes peeled. Area hikers have spotted two here (there are only 50 to 70 statewide). Next day, follow the trail south to the Florida Trail. Permit Free at trailhead Map Florida Trail Big Cypress North and South ($6, floridatrail.org) Contact (352) 378-8823; floridatrail.org
Coosa Backcountry Trail
Vogel State Park Tackle Georgia’s toughest terrain.
Talk about a sneak route. This rugged, 13-mile loop passes beneath Blood Mountain, one of the state’s most-trod peaks, but summits other, people-free balds instead. Go counterclockwise for easier climbing (the circuit includes more than a mile of cumulative elevation gain). From Backcountry trailhead, hike west on Bear Hair Gap Trail to Coosa Backcountry Trail, which stairclimbs over ledges to 4,338-foot Slaughter Mountain and Wildcat Knob. Camp at Coosa Bald, just off-trail at mile 5.4, for views over the emerald rollers. In the morning, continue the ride north, negotiating mossy streams and craggy descents before returning. Permit Required (free at the visitor center) MapNorth Georgia WMA Map ($8, atlanticmapping.com) Contact (706) 745-2628; gastateparks.org/Vogel