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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.

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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