WILDLIFE Black Creek Trail, MS
Head into the De Soto National Forest for a 41-miler on Mississippi’s longest trail, where you’ll travel rolling pine ridges to swampy bottomlands along the Black Creek floodplain. Find primitive camping near sandbars and oxbows that form beside the rushing creek. As you ramble, look for blue herons fluttering between longleaf pines and red foxes darting among the magnolias. Slot the trip for mid-February, when water is plentiful and mosquitoes aren’t. fs.fed.us/r8/mississippi/desoto
SUMMIT VIEWS Pinhoti Trail, AL
With rough and tumble stretches that could test a mountain goat, Talladega National Forest’s 335-mile Pinhoti Trail hovers at 2,000 feet as it follows the Appalachian Mountains’ spine. “You need solid routefinding and stamina,” says Terah Shelton (above). “The trail gets rugged and often fades.” For a sampler, hike 44.4 miles from Porters Gap to US 431, scrambling over boulders to vistas on Talladega Mountain. Camp at mile 14 and mile 28 in the Blue Mountain Shelter. pinhotitrailalliance.org
FALLS & SWIMMINGFlorida Trail, FL
Hike in the Panhandle highlands of Blackwater River State Park on a 42.2-mile point-to-point winding through lofty cedars, past spring-fed cascades, and over 75-foot bluffs. Start near Harold and hike north on the Jackson/Wiregrass Trail through longleaf pines along Juniper Creek, where deep eddies form head-high swimming pools. Connect with the Florida Trail before meeting the Alabama Hiking Trail at the state border. floridatrail.org/regions/panhandle/blackwater.html
For Travis Blair, 31, the Kisatchie National Forest is a lifesaver. “Being a Louisiana hiker means that it’s 10 hours to decent hiking,” he says. “The Backbone Trail is my escape.”
Terah Shelton, 32, an Alabama-based writer and BACKPACKER map contributor, has hiked the southern Appalachians since 1996. She’s currently trekking the trails of the Caribbean.