|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – September 2009
Hike these paths before the masses find them.
Continental Divide Trail, CO
Go high on the CDT's new Stony Pass section.
The CDT used to sink down into the drainage bottoms along this 12-mile section between Stony Pass and Cataract Lake, but a reroute puts the trail high on the Divide, entirely above timberline–thus delivering epic views of the San Juan Mountains' sea of Thirteeners stretching from Lake City to Silverton. From Stony Pass at 12,588 feet, hike north to savor views of Sheep Mountain's gemlike orange rock framed by thick fields of rainbow-hued wildflowers; the blooms in Maggie Gulch grow waist-deep in summer. Peer down from the trail into the sweeping alpine basins to watch elk herds (often 100 to 200 strong) munch meadow grasses. Above Cuba Gulch the CDT jogs east, following the Divide to a rocky perch overlooking Cataract Lake.
Info (719) 658-2556
National Scenic Success
In March, President Obama signed a bill establishing three new National Scenic Trails and 22 new National Recreation Trails. The federal recognition brings resources and funding that should help organizers complete trail-building efforts. Info nps.gov/nts
Florida Trail, FL
Hike this new 20-mile segment east of Pensacola, opened just last year, and you might spot a rare ivory-billed woodpecker: Auburn University researchers have reported 14 sightings of this near-mythical bird along the nearby Choctawhatchee River. Start at Seven Runs trailhead and hike west along the hills bordering Lafayette Creek, threading through juvenile longleaf pines and along the root-braided edges of swamps for 7.5 miles. Pitch your tent among the cypress and magnolia trees at Forgotten Creek campsite. Day two, roll from the tops of ravines down to hardwood-shaded bottoms for eight miles to the Steep Head Ravine campsite, on the edge of the pines overlooking open meadows frequented by coyotes. Next morning, continue 3.7 miles to the unsigned trailhead at US 331.
Mountains-to-Sea Trail, NC
One of the newest segments of the MST allows hikers eastbound access to Linville Gorge, the deepest chasm in the East. The 14-mile route features spectacular views of Mt. Mitchell to the west and Lake James on the east end. Leave a car at Kisler Memorial Highway, on the west rim of Linville Gorge, then drive to Woodlawn Park and hike east, climbing 1,998-foot Bald Mountain and descending to the North Fork Catawba River. Cross it via a new 200-foot-long pedestrian bridge. Continue east, sweating up through a spruce forest to 3,500-foot Bald Knob: Soak in wide-open views of Table Rock, Hawksbill, and Grandfather Mountains, then head north around Dobson Knob for 1.2 miles to pitch your tent. Day two, descend two miles to Linville Gorge.
Superior Hiking Trail, MN
This northern long trail extended its eastern reach by 39 miles in 2007. The addition skirts Duluth, following the ridgeline above downtown, and allowing a sweet two-day escape into the Emerald City's surrounding wilds. Hike east from Jay Cooke State Park on a 19.5-mile segment through dense pines and open ridgetops providing views over Lake Superior. (For the best vista, take a spur trail at 7.8 miles and detour 300 feet to the grassy, 1,250-foot summit of Ely's Peak.) Then ramble on through old-growth oaks, sugar maples, and yellow birch to Spirit Mountain Recreation Area at mile 12; a half-mile spur trail leads to the campground (800-642-6377, spiritmt.com). Next day, hike 7.5 miles, bobbing between rocky outcroppings and ducking through a pedestrian tunnel beneath I-35 to the Skyline Parkway trailhead.