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BACKPACKER Trail Scouts’ Top Eastern Local Hikes

Check out the River Trail in South Carolina, the Florida Trail, or a loop in Mississippi and Virginia.
NOV12TRIPE_FF_AGE_RadnorLake_445X260South Cove Trail at Mile 2.9 ( Photo by Superstock/AGE Fotostock)

Florida Trail, Olustee Battlefield to Ocean Pond, Osceola NF, FL
Mike Campbell, Jacksonville, FL

Embark on this 14-mile out-and-back overnight on the 1,400-mile Florida Trail. From the site of the state’s largest Civil War battle, hike 3.5 miles through a palmetto-and-pine flatwood (look here for rare red-cockaded woodpeckers) to shady Cobb Hunt Camp. Day two, dayhike about 2.5 miles to a .5-mile, blue-blazed side trail to scope for herons at 1,760-acre, cypress-lined Ocean Pond; return the way you came. Trip ID 1695127

“Look for woodpeckers in cavities of the longleaf pines.”

Radnor Lake Loop, Radnor Lake SNA, TN
Steve Ward, Nashville, TN

Circle an 85-acre lake brimming with waterfowl on this 4.3-mile loop. At the December peak, hundreds of ducks (such as blue-winged teal and canvasbacks) gather on the lake’s surface; spot them from the shore throughout the first mile. Ascend 300 feet to horseshoe-shaped Ganier Ridge. “It’s a great place to see coyote and deer,” Ward says. Loop back to the lakeshore, where oaks, maples, and sycamores reach max fall color in early November. Trip ID 22895

“Large bucks clash antlers during the deer rut, which peaks the first week of November.”

River Trail, Congaree NP, SC
Corinne Fenner, Pickens, SC

Venture into the swampy—and, come fall, delightfully bug-free—heart of the Southeast’s largest old-growth floodplain forest on this 10-mile lollipop. Follow boardwalks and footbridges over guts (small streams) and sloughs (larger, less-defined waterways), watching for otters playing in the transparent brown water. Continue past massive cherrybark oaks, including a 160-foot trailside specimen at mile two, en route to a one-mile section paralleling the swamp’s lifeblood: the Congaree River. Trip ID 1147914

“In November, yellow tupelo leaves and rusty red cypress needles stain the water the color of dark iced tea.”

Primitive Loop, Clark Creek Natural Area, MS
Katherine Gividen Baton Rouge, LA

Tick off a half-dozen of this 700-acre park’s 50 waterfalls on a 4.7-mile lollipop reminiscent of more rugged regions. “The streambeds and rolling hills remind me of the Smokies,” Gividen says. Just before mile one, scramble down a 20-foot bluff to stand on the brink of a 30-foot waterfall plummeting into a cove. Watch for deer, turkey, and armadillo en route to mile 2.5, where you’ll climb alongside a 50-foot cascade to a ledge overlooking the mixed hardwood-pine treetops. Return past four more waterfalls, including a triple-headed 25-footer at mile four. Trip ID 330154

“The second-to-last waterfall flows into a fun splash pool.”

First Landing Loop, First Landing SP, VA
Jennifer Huggins, Virginia Beach, VA

Witness rapid transitions through swampland, maritime forest, marsh, and coastline along this 9.9-mile loop in a state park jutting into Chesapeake Bay. “There aren’t many places you can find this many habitat types together in 2,888 acres,” Huggins says. Hike across a bald cypress-dotted swamp en route to a 50-foot tunnel through draping Spanish moss (mile 4.5). Close the loop along the sandy shores of Broad Bay. Trip ID 248320

“Morning is the best time to see migratory waterfowl.” 

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