|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – September 2009
Hike these paths before the masses find them.
Pine Ridge Trail, NE
Hike through America's most surprising forest.
Even Nebraskans assume corn and grasslands dominate the state, so the panhandle's Pine Ridge surprises everyone with its tall ponderosas. Sample it on a 12.5-mile stretch of the Pine Ridge Trail. From East Ash trailhead, climb to a high meadow before dropping down to the forested headwaters of Cunningham Creek. Camp just downstream, among a stand of bur oaks. Next day, hike east to the Roberts Loop Trail, a side trip overlooking amber-colored sandstone formations. Continue east past Turkey Track Spring, scale a pine-topped ridge, and finish at the Coffee Mill trailhead.
Info (308) 432-0300
Mt. Edgecumbe Trail, AK
The U.S. Forest Service spent more than one million dollars to build this seven-mile trail up 3,021-foot Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano off the Sitka coast. But since the trail's completion in 2003, it's seen precious few hikers–mostly because reaching the trailhead requires a half-day paddle or 30-minute boat shuttle to Kruzof Island. Land at Fred's Creek Cabin (reserveusa.com) and climb through a patchwork of forest and muskeg–prime bear and deer habitat. From the volcano's bare cinder cone, gaze out over the Pacific and the peaks of Baranof Island. Return to the cabin or camp at the three-sided wooden shelter just off the trail, midway down.
Info fs.fed.us/r10/tongass; puffinsandwhales.com (for boat shuttle)
Comanche Bluff Trail, TX
You wouldn't expect recreational opportunities from the U.S. Armed Forces, so most hikers miss the Comanche Bluffs Trail near Austin. This 4.8-mile (one-way) path meanders alongside Granger Lake on land managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Fittingly, the trail's bridges put wooden planks to shame: 100-yard-long Hoxie Bridge, a quarter-mile from the trailhead, once spanned the San Gabriel River. Hike across prairie-covered hills and along the oak-lined lakeshore. The trail ends at the creekside Fox Bottom campsite, where pecan trees provide shade (and snacks, in November).
Info (512) 859-2668
Chadwell Gap Trail, VA
Closed for eight years due to private land issues, the 2.6-mile Chadwell Gap Trail reopened in April–and has barely been hiked. The path offers low-mileage access to the historic Hensley settlement atop Cumberland Mountain, and slices through a gorgeous corner of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, which straddles the Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee borders. Start on a packed-dirt trail and walk through jack-in-the-pulpit flowers that grow waist-high in summer. The route gets rockier as you climb, gaining 2,000 feet over two miles before intersecting with the Ridge Trail. From there, follow the faint, unofficial path northeast for a few hundred feet to a rock ledge affording stop-awhile views over the Powell Valley. Retrace your steps and hike one mile west, to Chadwell Gap at 3,385 feet, then on to the century-old Hensley cabins, built from massive, 40-foot chestnut logs. Retrace your steps, or camp among the oaks at Chadwell Gap (free permit required).
Klickitat Trail, WA
Each year, almost half of the 31-mile Klickitat Trail is closed from June through September–the height of hiking season–due to the risk of wildfires in the low-elevation terrain. Result: The 12.5-mile hike through Swale Canyon has literally dropped off the radar screen. Go in April, May, or October to hike this rail-trail segment through the steep-walled gorge. Hiking west from mile 28.5, you'll cross a railroad trestle (left) and spy Mt. Adams's gleaming glaciers in the distance before the grassy canyon walls rise to more than 1,000 feet above your head. In spring, swaths of yellow desert parsley and purple lupine decorate the hills. The easy grade makes for fast going–fit hikers can do the 25-mile out-and-back in a day–or turn around midcanyon.
Escape New York
Who would think to look for a quiet campsite in the shadow of skyscrapers? Apparently no one, which makes the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness–60 miles from Manhattan–a treasure. "You're guaranteed to find solitude hiking and camping in the wilderness," attests park ranger Joe Flynn. Hop a train from Jamaica Station to Patchogue and take the Watch Hill Ferry (May to October; 631-475-1665) to the visitor center. From there, hike east into the seven-mile-long wilderness, following the south shore's open beach. Look for carnivorous sundew plants, seals, and, in fall, migrating monarch butterflies. Camp on the beach (keeping close to the dunes) or inland among sparse pines that offer protection from sea breezes.