9 more hikes where natural sounds rule
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Memorial Forest
Trek into the white noise capital of the East.
If the sounds of babbling water and wind through the leaves soothe a frazzled mind, then the 13.3-mile Slickrock Trail might just be the country’s most relaxing hike. You’ll cross Slickrock Creek 12 times in the first six miles and pass three named waterfalls on your way to a breezy campsite at Naked Ground Gap, a tree-covered pass at 4,000 feet. From the Slickrock Creek trailhead at 1,060 feet, wind along the creek, heading upstream along a gentle grade. Seven miles in, listen to the crash of 30-foot Wildcat Falls and its four separate drops. At camp, perk your ears for great horned, barred, and screech owls. Hike out the way you came.
>> Map Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness and Citico Creek Wilderness ($10, fs.fed.us)
>> Info (828) 479-6431; joycekilmerslickrock.org
Canoe Area Wilderness
Hike beneath airplane-free skies.
Along with the White House and Area 51, the Boundary Waters prohibits planes—even float, bush, and fire-detection flights—from flying below 4,000 feet. Result: no drone. Take the Angleworm Trail on a 14-mile short-handled lollipop loop that gradually wends 500 feet up a granite ridge, through groves of red and white pines. Angleworm, Home, and Whiskey Jack Lakes each have a symphony of loons, geese, and occasional wolves. One of our scouts even heard canis lupus devouring a kill near here. Can you handle -30°F nights? Snowshoe this route to hear whines, gurgling, and gunshot cracks as ice forms across these narrow lakes. One ranger says it sounds like whale song. Typically, this annual sonorous event occurs in December or early January. Camp on the eastern bank of Angleworm, near mile seven at a site overlooking the water.
>> Map Boundary Waters Canoe Area West ($12, natgeomaps.com)
>> Info (218)-365-7600; bwca.com
Navajo National Monument
Hike through the Southwest’s best-preserved ancestral pueblo.
Northern Arizona’s celebrity attraction, the Grand Canyon, hogs hikers’ attention—but it is also plagued with tourist flyovers. Navajo National Monument’s 17-mile (round-trip) Keet Seel Trail is reliably empty and quiet. It’s more than two hours from Flagstaff, the nearest city larger than 10,000 people; the trailhead is literally at the end of the road (AZ 564) in Navajo Nation; and strict permitting limits access to 20 daily. From the Keet Seel trailhead, drop 1,000 feet through sandstone rubble and dunes to the canyon floor, where you’ll cross Keet Seel Creek. The only hubbub is the wind in the junipers.
>> Map Provided at orientation
>> Info (928) 672-2700; nps.gov/nava
City of Rocks National Reserve
Camp in a Martian landscape with noise-canceling formations.
Marooned on a high desert plain of sagebrush, just outside of Almo (population 150), City of Rocks’ granite domes and spires once served as a crucial landmark for pioneers traveling west to California. Today, the surreal surroundings are a stomping ground for rock climbers, hikers, and solitude-seekers. Spend a night in one of the City’s campsites tucked into the aspen groves, then dayhike. From Pinnacle Pass, head north cross-country, using the west side of the formation as a handrail to reach the least-visited pocket of the park. Next day, hike seven miles from Circle Creek Overlook trailhead to the Indian Grove campsite. From here, scramble 8,867-foot Graham Peak. Listen for red-tailed hawks, scurrying rabbits—and ghosts. Some hikers say they have heard train robbers hiding gold amongst the rocks.
>> Map Sawtooth National Forest Map ($10, fs.fed.us)
>> Info (208) 824-5910; nps.gov/ciro
Kings Canyon National Park
Follow the footsteps of John Muir, one of our country’s first natural-sounds enthusiasts.
Although Muir trod through the West’s wilderness long before the era of microphones and digital recorders, his writing captures the sounds of nature in thoughtful and captivating prose. (Hempton once spent an entire summer searching out the sounds of Muir’s writing in Yosemite’s backcountry.) But instead of battling the crowds and tour buses clogging Yosemite Valley, head to Tehipite Dome, 1.7 miles inside Kings Canyon’s western boundary, which Muir argued rivaled its famous neighbor in splendor. Start at the Sierra National Forest’s Rancheria trailhead, and as you hike the 13.5 miles to its base, see if you can hear the difference between Jeffery, fox tail, and lodgepole pine. Really. Camp creekside near Deer Meadow or Crown Creek.
>> Map Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks ($12, natgeomaps.com)
>> Info (559) 565-3766; nps.gov/seki