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Readers’ Choice 2012: Your Neck of the Woods – Southeast Hikes

See Shenandoah's tallest waterfall, traverse secluded ridgelines, score cliff-top panoramas, swim beneath falls, and walk through wildflowers and oak stands on the Florida Trail.

Brandon Strohl
Sterling, VA

“Shenandoah wildlife is most active in fall. I saw two black bears on this loop.”

Rose River Loop, Shenandoah NP, VA 
This 4.4-mile loop delivers the best waterfall-to-footstep ratio in the region. Descend the Rose River Trail from Fishers Gap (on Skyline Drive) through hemlocks to the 30-foot cascade of Rose River Falls. Then climb past Hogcamp Branch’s 19th-century copper mine ruins. “My nirvana moment comes as cascades crescendo in a 15-foot drop at mile 2.4,” says Strohl. At Rose River FR (mile three), go left on a .2-mile spur to see 70-foot Dark Hollow Falls. Return and climb one mile to finish. nps.gov/shen

Michael Juskelis
Pasadena, MD

“Pack extra bottles and fill up at mile three. The peak-side campsite is dry.”

Halfmoon Mountain Loop, George Washington NF, WV 
“Looping 10 miles over these empty ridges makes it hard to believe you’re just two hours from the Beltway,” says Juskelis. From Trout Run Road, ascend the Bucktail Trail 1,500 feet through rocky ravines to 2,826-foot Halfmoon Mountain at mile 4.3. Camp just below the summit in a grove of pines, where you can linger over evening-glow vistas of Great North Mountain and a sea of 4,000-foot peaks. On day two, return via the Halfmoon and Bucktail connector trails (3.6 miles). Trip ID 766969

Jason Stanley
Knoxville, TN

“Find Southeast solitude by targeting smaller natural areas and state parks.”

West Overlook Trail Loop, House Mountain State Natural Area, TN 
Score cliff-top views 10 miles from Knoxville on a 4.3-mile loop using the West Overlook, Crest, and Mountain Trails. From Hogskin Road, switchback .8 mile through chestnuts to a 2,000-foot Cumberlands-to-Smokies panorama. From here, join the Crest Trail for another mile of consistently open vistas. At East Overlook (mile 2.3), take the Mountain Trail left for a one-mile return. Tip: “House Mountain’s resident bobcat sometimes appears near the trailhead cliffs at dusk,” says Stanley. Trip ID 1373532

Tip: Look for large, tart huckleberries (ripe in July) in the sandy soil near the Crest Trail.

Nicole Pettinelli
Charleston, SC

“For the best waterfalls and deepest swimholes, go in spring or early summer.”

Foothills Trail to Laurel Fork Falls, Jocassee Gorges, SC
“The choice hikes in the South offer a chance to get wet,” says Pettinelli. “And this 8.1-miler hits rushing creeks, big waterfalls, and a perfect swimming hole.” From Laurel Valley Road, head west on the Foothills Trail four miles to reach Laurel Fork Creek. Turn left and follow it west downstream to two campsites near the top of 80-foot Lower Fork Falls. Make camp, then scramble down into a cove to swim where a series of falls plunges from a grotto into Lake Jocassee. Trip ID 1357858

Jason Dean
Jacksonville, FL

“Beat critters and keep creepie-crawlies at bay by sleeping in a hammock.”

Florida Trail, Ocala NF, FL
“The Florida Trail isn’t all swamps and gators,” says Dean. “It also winds through dry stands of hardwoods and meadows that rival any in the East.” On this 40-mile point-to-point from Salt Springs to Alexander Springs, you’ll get the best fall color or spring wildflower displays in the state. Day one, hike four miles and tent trailside. Day two is a flat 20-miler to live oak and longleaf stands (the former aflame in late October) at Juniper Springs. On the final five miles, spot deer among the hollies in Farles Prairie. floridatrail.org

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