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Backpacker Magazine – June 1997

Hiking Forests Primeval

Fifteen trails that'll take you from flaming maples to towering redwoods, with plenty of shimmering aspen in between.

by: Phillip Manning


Lake Solitude, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

20 Miles

Grand Teton is graced with woodlands of lodgepole pine, subalpine fir, and Engelmann spruce. The two main trails of this hike, Cascade Canyon and Paintbrush Canyon, take you right through the thick of the aromatic mix. The route is also spotted with rocky outcrops and meadows, which are typical in Rocky Mountain forests. Because the trail crosses Paintbrush Divide, at 10,720 feet, snow and ice often stay on the ground until July 15. The hiking season for this trail is over by Labor Day.

Getting there: This hike takes you into the heart of Grand Teton National Park, which is south of Yellowstone in western Wyoming. The loop trail starts in the String Lake parking area, just north of Jenny Lake.

Maps: Trails Illustrated map #202, Grand Teton National Park.

Contact: Grand Teton National Park, Moose, WY 83012; (307) 739-3600 (to request routine information) or (307) 739-3309 (for a human).

The Northern Circle, Glacier National Park, Montana

56 miles

This is not exclusively a forest trail because about half the route is above treeline. But the rest of it goes through a forest dominated by gray-trunked subalpine fir. Moose, elk, and deer browse the bark of these trees and occasionally attract predators. Though most visitors to Glacier know about the park's grizzlies, few realize mountain lions also live here. They are uncommon and secretive, but the subalpine forest is a good place to spot one. Prime hiking season is during July and August.

Getting there: This challenging loop trail is in the northwest corner of Montana, just south of the Canadian border. It starts on the eastern side of the park, at the end of Many Glacier Road, 12 miles west of the town of Babb.

Maps: Trails Illustrated #215, Glacier/Waterton National Park.

Contact: Glacier National Park, West Glacier, MT 59936; (406) 888-7800.

Boreal Forest: A dark, brooding place

"There it was, the State of Maine, which we had seen on the map, but not much like that-immeasurable forest for the sun to shine on," wrote Thoreau in describing the Northwoods. Throw in the well-used adjectives of other writers-"dark," "brooding," "somber"-and you begin to get a picture of the great swath of forest that runs across the top of North America from Maine to the Northwest Territories.

What is this dark, somber, brooding place? It is a primarily coniferous forest of balsam fir; red, white, and black spruce; and white pine. But deciduous trees grow here, too: ghostly white birch, aspen, and willow. Together, they make up one of the wildest places left in North America. Wolves, wolverines, and moose live here, and boreal owls have been caught by hand in these woods because they were so unfamiliar with out species that they hadn't learned to fear us.

What I remember most, though, is the silence. There's no place quieter than the needle-muffled Northwoods, and nothing better symbolizes wilderness than the maniacal cry of a loon breaking that silence.

Pogy Notch and Wassataquoik Lake Trails, Baxter State Park, Maine

23 miles

These trails pass northern hardwoods and dip into the great conifer forest that covers much of northern Maine. The principal trees are balsam fir, three species of spruce, and a scattering of hemlock and white pine. Winter use of the park is growing, but prime time to hike in Baxter begins in mid-July after the blackflies and ends in September before the snow flies.

Getting there: The hike starts at South Branch Campground in Baxter State Park. The trail proceeds south to Russell Pond, then west to Perimeter Road at Nesowadnehunk Campground.

Maps: A good trail map is included in the third edition of Stephen Clark's Katahdin: A Guide to Baxter State Park & Katahdin, North Country Press; (800) 722-2169.

Contact: Baxter State Park, 64 Balsam Dr., Millinocket, ME 04462; (207) 723-5140.

Snowbank Lake-Old Pines Trail, Superior National Forest, Minnesota

46 miles, with variations

The trail takes you into a boreal forest of fir and spruce. You'll also see plenty of aspen, birch, and jack pine, which spring up after logging or a fire. The high point of the hike is a never-logged stand of white pine on the southern leg of the Old Pines loop. The primary hiking season is May through mid-October.

Getting there: This loop trail starts in the heart of Superior National Forest, 18 miles east of Ely, Minnesota, and proceeds east into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The trailhead is near the end of Fernberg Road (County Road 18).

Maps: #9, Snowbank, Basswood; #8, Knife, Kekekabic Lake. McKenzie Maps, 8479 South Frye Rd., Minong, WI 54859; (800) 740-2113.

Contact: Superior National Forest, P.O. Box 338, Duluth, MN 55801; (218) 720-5324.

Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

40 miles

White spruce and balsam fir dominate the cool, dark forest on Isle Royale, but there are also nearly pure stands of sugar maple. Aspen and paper birch make fine browse for the moose that roam the island. And the moose, in turn, make fine browse for timber wolves. Although it is unlikely that you'll see a wolf, you'll probably run into a few of the lanky-legged ungulates, and you may well hear the chilling howls of their pursuers. The park is open from April 16 through October 31.

Getting there: The trail runs down the middle of Isle Royale National Park, a 45-mile-long island in the northwest corner of Lake Superior. Isle Royale is accessible only by boat or float plane. Contact the park for schedules and fees. The trail is usually hiked from east to west, and a connector trail begins in Rock Harbor and leads to the Greenstone Ridge Trail. The hike ends at Windigo, where you can hop on a ferry back to Rock Harbor.

Maps: Trails Illustrated #240, Isle Royale National Park.

Contact: Isle Royale National Park, 800 E. Lakeshore Dr., Houghton, MI 49931; (906) 482-0984.




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