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Backpacker Magazine – January 2009

Readers' Choice Awards 2009

Discover the best hike in every state, as voted by BACKPACKER readers. Plus: your essential gear, most desirable tentmate, worst-ever adventure movie, and our picks for the best reader-submitted photos.

by: The Backpacker Readers

Snowmass Mountain, Colorado (David Muench)
Snowmass Mountain, Colorado (David Muench)
The descent to Hawaii's Kalalau Beach (Matt Hage)
The descent to Hawaii's Kalalau Beach (Matt Hage)
Mt. Thielsen (Donna Ikenberry)
Mt. Thielsen (Donna Ikenberry)
Big Creek in the Smokies (Jeff Zimmerman)
Big Creek in the Smokies (Jeff Zimmerman)
An alcove in Davis Gulch. (James Kay)
An alcove in Davis Gulch. (James Kay)

Na Pali Coast
Explore Kauai's lush jungle–cool off in waterfalls, pick wild mangoes–on the Kalalau Trail.

It's only 21 miles round-trip, but allow yourself plenty of time to savor this tropical trek. Once you start down the Kalalau Trail from Kee Beach, you'll be reluctant to turn around. After a rugged descent over roots, rock slabs, and slippery mud, you'll cross Hanakapiai Beach (use caution crossing the stream here in high water) and hike through one valley paradise after another. Black volcanic rock pinnacles tower overhead, edge-of-the-world views open onto the ocean, and you'll find tropical treats like a giant mango tree (at Hanakoa camping area). At mile 4.6, don't miss a detour to Hanakoa Falls, a 1,400-foot waterfall that cascades down smooth, black rock. Before reaching Kalalau Beach, you'll have to cross a tight-rope section of trail nicknamed Crawler's Way (for obvious reasons). Resist throwing your gear down the moment you hit the sand: Camp near the waterfall at the end of the beach. Pitch your tent away from the cliffs, where there's a hazard from falling rocks. Tip: A ranger's shelter provides free surfboards for campers. See photos and download a map and tracklog at

Iowa Follow the quiet Winnebago River on a 6.3-mile loop.
Idaho Score stunning lake and peak views in the Sawtooth Wilderness on this 8.6-mile path.
Illinois Hike the Starved Rock Trail on a4.3-mile loop through sculpted sandstone canyons.
Indiana Explore the state's lone wilderness area on the 6.1-mile Sycamore Loop.
Kansas Mix prairie and sandstone hoodoos on Horsethief Canyon's 4.4-miler.
Kentucky A 6.6-miler on the Turnhole Bend Trail offers exceptional views of the state's last remaining old-growth forests.

Louisiana Birders love the 6.6 miles on the coastal Boy Scout Road.
Massachusetts Bag Mt. Greylock on a dayhike via Stony Ledge.
Maryland Walk 5.6 miles and 155 years back in time on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal tow path.
Maine Linger over panoramic ocean views on the four-miler up Acadia's Sargent Mountain.
Michigan See wolves, moose, and a pristine island wilderness on this 61.1-mile traverse of Isle Royale.
Minnesota Skirt the airy ledges of Superior Hiking Trail on a weekender.
Mississippi Go 12.9 miles along the steep banks of Black Creek.
Missouri Trace emerald creeks in the Ozark Highlands on the Big Piney Trail
Montana Explore Glacier National Park's alpine zone on this 54.8-mile loop.

Big Creek Climb Mt. Sterling and hike through history on this 16.9-mile loop through the eastern Smokies.

In a park known for abundant and beautiful creeks, they don't get any better than the one called Big. And the first part of the route follows an old railroad grade–used to transport trees during the logging boom at the start of the 20th century–making for a gentle entry into the deceptively steep Smokies. Allow plenty of time for frequent stops at swimming holes and a waterfall in the first few miles of the hike: Midnight Hole is a deep blue gem just 1.4 miles in; Mouse Creek Falls is a 45-foot cascade just a bit farther. (Tip: Camp along the Big Creek Trail just beyond the old logging camp at Walnut Bottom.) Spend the second night atop 5,760-foot Mt. Sterling, where there's a small glade with prime tent sites and a lookout tower with magical views. See more photos and download a map and tracklog at

North Dakota Lose yourself in the Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Nebraska Hike 3.3 scenic miles through Platte River State Park.
New Hampshire Climb Mt. Washington on a day trip via the life-list Tuckerman Ravine.
New Jersey Hike Kittatinny Ridge (and take the detour to Buttermilk Falls) on the AT.
New Mexico See the tallest peaks in the Pecos Wilderness on a high-country dayhike of the Hamilton Mesa Trail.

Nevada This easy three-miler affords spectacular views in Great Basin National Park.
New York Tag Mt. Marcy, New York's highpoint, on a 14.2-mile trek in the Adirondacks.
Ohio Roam wild hollows on a 15.2-mile loop in Wayne National Forest.
Oklahoma Spend a day amid towering pines on Horse Thief Springs Loop.

Mt. Thielsen
A climb up this Cascades volcano mixes crowd-free trails and a heart-pumping scramble. Mt. Thielsen is a stratovolcano like many other Cascade peaks, but unlike most, Thielsen's 9,184-foot summit has been fractured and eroded into a pointy horn of rock–with no crater–that makes for an exciting class 3-4 climb. It's only 8.8 miles round-trip, but start early: You'll climb 3,700 feet, and the peak's not nicknamed "the lightning rod of the Cascades" for nothing. You'll also need to do a bit of routefinding on the way to the summit: The Mt. Thielsen Trail fades after you cross the Pacific Crest Trail and you'll pick your way up a talus slope by linking cairns. The last 100-plus feet is a non-technical scramble, but the most cautious hikers pack slings and climbing rope. On top, enjoy views of Diamond Lake, Mt. Bailey, and Mt. Mazama. See more photos and download a map and tracklog at

Pennsylvania See 21 cascades in 7.2 miles on the Falls Trail Loop in Ricketts Glen State Park.
Rhode Island Okay, it's a driveway. But it's also the state's highpoint!.
South Carolina Hike 7.7 miles on the Raven Cliff Falls Loop.
South Dakota See bison roaming a rare swath of pristine prairie in Badlands National Park on this 4.2-miler.
Hike 5.2 miles to the highest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Texas Experience the vastness of Big Bend National Park on this weekender in the High Chisos Mountains.

Davis Gulch

Explore arches, rock art, and mind-blowing Southwest canyons along the Escalante River.

Journeys in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area should be measured by jaw-dropping moments, not quad-busting elevation–which is to say this 16-mile trek will keep your mouth hanging open for days. The trail descends through Navajo sandstone domes and open slickrock before entering Davis Gulch proper and following a wash filled with sagebrush, yucca, and snakeweed. You'll camp in stunning alcoves that were once at the heart of a thriving Native American civilization (they abandoned the area about 700 years ago), fill a memory card with pictures of LaGorce and Bement Arches, and get a taste of one the Southwest's most intriguing mysteries: the last known camp of Everett Ruess, an enigmatic writer and painter who disappeared here in 1934. See more photos and download a map and tracklog at

Virginia Climb Shenandoah's Old Rag Mountain on a bouldery 8.6-mile loop.
Vermont Explore alpine tundra on a 4.8-mile dayhike up Mt. Mansfield.
Washington Score solitude and sweet views of Mt. Rainier on an 8.2-mile trek in the Tatoosh Range.
Wisconsin Cruise 10.6 miles of Lake Superior's sandy beaches and sandstone cliffs on Apostle Island National Lakeshore's mainland trail.
West Virginia You'll swear you're in Canada on this 16.2-mile overnighter in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.
Wyoming Take an 80-mile life-list hike on the crest of the Wind River Range.

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Nov 26, 2012

The "Pacific Crest Trail" in this article is actually the John Muir Trail.....the PCT runs from Mexico to Canada, along the way it covers some of the same ground as the JMT. Wanted to clear that up. It is an amazing hike, it is in my top 3 backpack trips of all time!

Nov 26, 2012

The "Pacific Crest Trail" in this article is actually the John Muir Trail.....the PCT runs from Mexico to Canada, along the way it covers some of the same ground as the JMT. Wanted to clear that up. It is an amazing hike, it is in my top 3 backpack trips of all time!

Nov 22, 2012

thank you Jaafar for actually naming a best hiking trail (not canoeing) for Florida.

Eric Nelson
Aug 03, 2011

Well, I would say that the Wind River range is the best hiking in WY, however, for those that just want a weekend hike try the hike up to Big Sandy then the next day head to the Cirque. If you want a flavor of the remoteness of WY without the big miles, then the Cirque is the place to go.

Eric Nelson
Aug 03, 2011

Well, I would say that the Wind River range is the best hiking in WY, however, for those that just want a weekend hike try the hike up to Big Sandy then the next day head to the Cirque. If you want a flavor of the remoteness of WY without the big miles, then the Cirque is the place to go.

Aug 01, 2011

Best adventure book by Bill Bryson? Good lord. Has nobody ever read Edmund Hillary, Eric Newby, Shackleton, Roosevelt, Capstick, or any of the dozens of other classics? Bryson is funny, but best adventure? No way.

Jul 25, 2011

"Best" hiking trail is highly subjective. My favorite is actually pictured on this page: Big Creek waterfall in the Smokies. Memorable--recognized the waterfall immediately.

Jul 25, 2011

Sorry, but why on earth is the "best hike in Florida" actually a canoe trip in the Gulf of Mexico?

It's not like there isn't plenty of trail in Florida: there's the Florida Trail snaking North-South through the state, plus a bunch of smaller side trails maintained by the Florida Trail Association running East West, in addition to the trails in Everglades National Park and various state parks, national forests and wildlife management areas.

To pick a canoe trip as Florida's best "hike" is to feed into the mistaken belief, so common among northerners who associate hiking with mountains, that because Florida is flat, it has no hiking trails worth mention.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'd consider the Florida Trail segment from Loop Road to the Oasis Ranger Station on the Tamiami Trail/US-41 (about 8 miles each way) as a good contender for the "best trail," for instance.

A walk/slog (depending on the season) traveling through prairies of sawgrass and stunted bald cypress, and tropical hardwood hammocks that make you feel like you've stepped into the Amazon, it's idyllic, remote, and not at all comparable to hiking elsewhere in the 'States. I've come across alligators ON the trail, and hiked for miles in shin-deep water swimming with small fish and crayfish. Where else in the country can you do that?

There's also the Coastal Prairie Trail in Everglades National Park. The southernmost trail in the continental United States, it's about 7.5 miles each way, through shady buttonwoods and open mudflats and prairies of saltwort along the coast, ending at a backcountry campsite on an empty white-sand beach. Beautiful hiking, and unlike anything up north.

Jul 23, 2011

Isle Royale, Minnesota??? Sorry Bonni, Backpacker's got it right. It may be closer to Minnesota, but it's still in Michigan.

Jul 23, 2011

Isle Royale, Minnesota??? Sorry Bonni, Backpacker's got it right. It may be closer to Minnesota, but it's still in Michigan.

Jul 22, 2011

Ummm, sorry backpacker, Isle Royale is actually part of Minnesota, not Michigan. You've gotten it right elsewhere on your site, I don't know what happened here...

Jul 22, 2011

The Best Hike in my the Crawford Path to Mount Washington in the Southern Presidential. It is absolutely breathtaking!!!!

Jul 21, 2011

How about Michigan?

Jul 21, 2011

OK haters let me clue you in on a little secret...the word "BEST hike in..." is a better title stater than "a very good hike, maybe the best, but probably not, hike in..." So, when you see the word "BEST" keep in mind that it was one person's opinion. That person might have a very different idea of what constitutes a "best" hike. If you read the description, the author usually gives their argument for including the hike. Also, if they didn't print your favorite hike, count yourself as lucky, you will be able to enjoy that spot without all the Backpacker readers in the state racing up and down the trail complaining that your trail in not nearly as good as some other trail.

Ed 'n Lauky
Jul 21, 2011

As for your New Hampshire choice, while Tuckerman
Ravine is interesting to see, there are trails up Washington with much better overall views and with far fewer people.

However, if you really like hiking in Times Square type crowds, then The Tucks trail is definitely what you want.

Bob Hansen/Pathfinder1
Jul 21, 2011

Am I the only one who gets a "no longer exists" when I click on your site to enter the contest for gear you are giving away?

Jonathan Althaus
Jul 21, 2011

Oklahoma-Wichita Mountains
New Mexico-3 Rivers
Texas-Davy Crocket Nat'l Forest

Scott Sanders
Mar 26, 2009

Panther Creek in Georgia is nice, but try Jacks River Trail, Conasauga River Trail, the 80 or so miles of the AT in Georgia. I'll think you'll like them more.

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