From long alpine ridgelines to berry-filled pine bogs to scrambly summit bids, there is no hiking like that in America’s northeast. Peakbaggers can head to the Adirondacks and the Whites for years worth of panoramic summit views, while those who prefer a slower pace can head to the blueberry- and moose-filled forests in the valleys below. Pick from wilderness retreats where wildlife is more likely than hikers. Here’s Backpacker’s picks for the best summits, solitude, and wildlife in all of this particular corner of the country.
Best Dayhike in the Northeast: Franconia Ridge, NH
9 miles (Difficult)
Get a taste of the Alps in New Hampshire on this high-wire loop. Franconia Ridge’s exposed, 1.7-mile alpine traverse—over Little Haystack Mountain, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Lafayette—feels much higher than its 5,000-foot elevation. Tracing the rocky spine of the ridge through the White Mountains, the trail winds up and over the second-highest range of summits in the Whites, topping out at 5,249 feet on Mt. Lafayette, the fourth-highest peak in the entirety of the Whites.
The best loop route: Start on the Falling Waters Trail and climb through the spray of trailside cascades, emerging from treeline just below the summit of Little Haystack. Then head north on the Franconia Ridge Trail/AT and scramble over granite outcroppings as you peer across the entire Pemigewasett Wilderness. Rare diapensia and alpine sedges turn a patchwork of color in late September. From the AMC’s Greenleaf Hut, descend via the Old Bridle Path to close the loop.
Best Peak Hikes in the Northeast:
Cascade Mountain, NY
4.2 miles (Easy)
The easiest of the Adirondack 4,000-footers lies in the heart of the High Peaks between Lake Placid and Keene. On this round-trip hike, climb through a mosaic of rocks and roots, then break out of the trees onto the elongated bald summit–with views so stunning it feels like cheating. Gaze out at Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, Whiteface Mountain, and the iconic Great Range. Arrive by 9 a.m. for a parking spot, though there’s plenty of space for a private picnic on the expansive summit ridge.
Mt. Mansfield, VT
6.8 miles (Moderate)
Hike to the top of Vermont on this round-trip along the Sunset Ridge Trail. Pass gravity-defying Cantilever Rock and two tunnels formed by enormous glacial erratics on the 2,550-foot ascent to the summit. Above treeline, enjoy views of Camels Hump, the Green Mountains, and the Adirondacks. Merge with the Appalachian Trail on the ridge, then stroll across puncheon and bedrock to reach The Chin, the true summit.
Most Remote View in the Northeast
Saddleback Mountain, ME
13.4 miles (Difficult)
Yes, the Appalachian Trail climbs Saddleback, but you’ll find none of the AT hordes from down south: This exposed round-trip route, in the heart of moose country, is traveled only by thru-hikers and mountain-savvy trekkers. About 1.4 miles from the start, scramble to the top of jutting Piazza Rock, which hangs at an outrageous angle with a tree bizarrely rooted to its top. Break from the gnarled krummholz to traverse a 1.6-mile ridge amid a maze of lichen-covered slab and chunks of granite. Then ascend wooden ladders to a subpeak called The Horn, with stay-awhile views of the Rangeley Lakes and the entire Sugarloaf region.
Best Hikes in the Northeast to See Wildlife
Bald Mountain, VT
4.2 miles (Moderate)
Hike into the heart of the wild country on this South Trail out-and-back, which passes through several clearings where moose often linger. Then climb 1,450 feet to the summit of Bald Mountain-Westmore–which offers a striking view from the top of a 50-foot firetower. The vista encompasses nearby Lake Willoughby, the Whites in New Hampshire, and Lake Memphremagog.
Moose Mountain, NH
8 miles (Moderate)
You don’t name a mountain Moose for its bird life. Take the Appalachian Trail across Mink Brook–where you’ll likely see a large ungulate before you’ve even broken a sweat–and then climb 1.9 miles through hardwoods to 2,290-foot South Peak (one of two peaks that constitute Moose Mountain). Check the view of Mt. Cardigan, and continue two miles along the ridge to North Peak, your turnaround. Bonus: This trail is a great snowshoeing route in winter.
Best Hikes in the Northeast for Solitude
Baldface Traverse, NH
9 miles (Difficult)
Who needs the crowded Presidential Range when you can have an extraordinary alpine ridge to yourself? Overlooked because they are less than 4,000 feet (barely), the Baldfaces rise on the eastern edge of the White Mountains. You can see Mt. Washington and the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness from the summit of South Baldface. Follow the trail markers carefully on this steep, ledgy loop. If the rocks are dry, climb to the north peak first, cross the broad treeless ridge to the south peak, then descend via the distinctive bald face.
Mt. Abraham, ME
8 miles (Moderate)
Few hikers find their way to this spectacular mountain, despite its proximity to Portland and status as Maine’s first ecological reserve. The round-trip route starts out easy with a two-mile ramble through old-growth forest. Then it climbs relentlessly for two more miles–and almost 3,000 vertical feet–up a talus slope to the bald summit. The reward: a panorama that stretches from Mt. Washington to Mt. Katahdin–all to yourself. Above treeline, step carefully among the rare alpine plants, including Bigelow’s sedge and alpine bilberry.
Apple Pie Hill, NJ
8 miles (Moderate)
Solitude in America’s most densely populated state? You’ll find it here in the Pine Barrens, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Apple Pie Hill is only 209 feet above sea level, but it affords a commanding view of this million-acre maze of scrub pine, swamps, and bogs. Take the mostly level Batona Trail on this round-trip. In April, pine barrens tree frogs start raising their annual racket; orchids bloom from spring until late summer.
Peekamoose/Table Mts., NY
8.6 miles (Moderate)
Hikers flock to nearby Slide Mountain, the highest summit in the Catskills. Let them. This out-and-back explores quiet forests on a 2,400-foot climb past a series of gravity-defying rocks. You’ll first reach the wooded cap of Peekamoose Mountain, then drop into a col and summit 3,847-foot Table Mountain. Best lunch spot: on the ledges just below the peak.
Devil’s Gulch, VT
4.6 miles (Moderate)
This minimally-traveled section of the Long Trail offers maximum variety for the mileage: wildlife, ponds, a deep gorge, and a mountain view. Head south on the LT to Ritterbush Pond, in the heart of moose-rich Babcock Nature Preserve. Then meander through hardwoods to an A-frame “gateway” formed by two boulders, and enter Devil’s Gulch–a lush ravine with 175-foot-high walls. Ascend to a vista that includes Mt. Belvidere, then return through the gulch and close the loop by skirting the shore of Big Muddy Pond.
The Best Northeast Hikes for Berries
The Brothers, NY
10.3 miles (Hard)
This classic Adirondack loop is well worth doing without the sweet reward you’ll find in berry season. Add the bonanza awaiting on a series of open ledges on Big Slide Mountain, a mile from the start, and this is the region’s premier late-summer trek. It’s a stiff 2.6-mile climb, including a series of wooden ladders, to the 4,199-foot summit. On top, the vista encompasses Mts. Marcy, Giant, Algonquin, and other High Peaks. Continue over Yard Mountain, then descend to Johns Brook Lodge, the Adirondack Mountain Club’s historic outpost, on the way out.
Percival-Morgan Loop, NH
5.5 miles (Moderate)
The ridge separating the peaks of Percival and Morgan confronts hikers with this dilemma: Look down to grab handfuls of sweet blueberries, left for a jaw-dropping view of Franconia Ridge, or right across the entire lakes region? Fortunately, “all of the above” is a fine choice. Both summits are more than 2,000 feet high, and the loop route along the Crawford-Ridgepole Trail includes a descent down three ladders on a 50-foot wall of rock.
Bear Meadows, PA
3.5 miles (Easy)
One of the largest freshwater bogs in the East harbors a bountiful blueberry hike: Pick fruit along most of this loop as you watch for red-eyed vireos, hooded warblers, and scarlet tanagers–just three of the 88 bird species that breed here. The path tunnels through dense rhododendrons and hemlock trees up to 1,000 years old.
Cadillac Mountain, ME
Panoramic coastal views from the top of Acadia National Park’s Mt. Desert Island are worth an early start to beat the crowds. Take the North Ridge Trail (4 miles round-trip).
Gleasman’s Falls, NY
Head to the lonely western Adirondacks for this 5.6-miler to a waterfall. Pass a beaver pond on Burnt Creek along the way.
Hunger Mountain, VT
Take the Waterbury Trail, a ledgy route up several rock chimneys, to a dazzling view of Mt. Mansfield. Allow extra time for the stiff, 4.4-mile trek, especially in blueberry season.
For an 11-mile loop that makes a perfect (long) day, connect the Dudley Trail with the Saddle Trail.