Mosquito Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
For backpackers, the best places often require some effort—like Mosquito Beach, a piece of rugged Michigan shoreline on Lake Superior. It’s accessible via the North Country Trail (near mile 12 from Munising Falls) or the 10-mile Chapel Loop (near mile 3), but no matter how you get there, plan to linger, says photographer Steve Perry. Spend the night (permit required; $5/person per night), and don’t miss the .9-mile spur to Mosquito Falls, which river otters and beavers frequent. Don’t let the name scare you away—the beach is named after the Mosquito River, not swarms of bugs. —Backpacker Editors and Contributors
China Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, OR
You’d be forgiven for thinking this coastline was the product of some artist’s fantasy. Here, near the California state line, erosion and uplift have joined forces to sculpt the seabed into seven arches and dozens of sea stacks.
Visit in winter when temps in the 50s and rain keep casual hikers in hibernation. First, tackle the 7-mile out-and-back to China Beach: From Indian Sands (42.1568, -124.3614), take the Oregon Coast Trail north past dunes to Thomas Creek Canyon, a 350-foot-deep defile. Cross the ravine on a bridge, then reconnect with the Oregon Coast Trail as it wends through Sitka spruces en route to China Beach. You’ll see more rocks and sea stacks poking out of the surf than you can count.
After, tick off the Natural Bridges Trail, a .5-mile out-and-back to an overlook of Secret Beach, where you can spot two arches, including the narrow slot pictured here. Not fantasy, just geology. —Maren Horjus
Hance Beach, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
We like to think of the Grand Canyon as a work in progress, subject to the whims and strength of the Colorado River. But there’s one area where it seems like the river saw its work was perfect and declared it done, and that’s Hance Beach. This long stretch of sand forms a wide peninsula alongside Hance Rapids (class 7 to 8 on the Grand Canyon scale), forcing the river to churn through a narrow stretch of boulders. Red sandstone walls rise sharply from the opposite side of the river, broken up occasionally by dark slot canyons, while grasses fringe the beach. Get there by hiking 6.5 miles from rim to river along the New Hance Trail, which many consider to be the toughest trail on the South Rim. Expect scrambles, downclimbs, and some routefinding as you drop through Red Canyon. Make your way back up via an 8.5-mile hike up the Tonto and Grandview Trails, which combine for 4,860 feet of climbing to the rim. —Graham Averill
Garden Key Campground, Dry Tortugas National Park, FL
You’ll probably want to park it in the sand upon arrival at the primitive Garden Key campground. For one, you’ve just reached the end of a long journey, capped by a two-hour boat ride into the Gulf of Mexico. And for two, the palm-shaded refuge in the shadows of a 19th-century military outpost is the kind of place where sunbathing, fishing for tarpon and bonefish, and snorkeling can tie up entire weeks. But you came all this way. So buck up, slide into your flip-flops, and kayak 3 miles west to Loggerhead Key, the largest of the seven Dry Tortugas islands (BYO kayak; for experienced paddlers only). Snorkel the 22,000-square-foot Little Africa Reef on the key’s western side or check out the Windjammer shipwreck off the southern tip. Return to Garden Key to camp. No kayak? Park yourself on that beach after all. —Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan
West Beach Loop, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, IN
A hotbed of summer shoreline activity, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s West Beach is the start point for this 3.2-mile loop. Begin by walking through the center of the bathhouse to the beach–bring a lock and stash your swimsuit in the locker room until the end of the hike. The Succession Trail’s boardwalk leads east and then south over a series of dunes. At the base of a long staircase overlooking the parking lot, turn south on the Long Lake Trail. In the summer, look for goldfinches and kingbirds on the 0.3-mile savanna-like stretch leading to the edge of Long Lake. The trail heads west, skirting the lakeshore and wetland area for 0.4 miles before crossing the park road twice and climbing an oak-covered dune ridge to a lookout. The north-bound portion ends with a short climb and rewards hikers with Lake Michigan views. The only sand dune-climbing opportunity too. It’s a sandy descent back to the parking lot. —Ted Villaire
Orchard Beach-Twin Island Loop, Pelham Bay Park, NY
From quiet, lush woodlands to brackish wetlands, Gneiss islands and isolated, rocky coastline, Pelham Bay Park showcases some of the most diverse scenery in New York’s five boroughs. The 5-mile route from Orchard Beach to the park’s northern islands is no exception. From the Bx29 bus stop, take the Mosholu-Pelham Greenway through a corridor of deciduous forest. The route curves around a lagoon with stunning salt marshes. It then slices through secluded woodlands on the Siwanoy Trail. Shortly thereafter Orchard Beach and the Long Island Sound stretch across the landscape. Cruise the boardwalk from jetty to jetty, finishing on the north side of the public beach.
A dirt path traverses East Island’s forests and bay shores. Continue over the thin, sandy barrier to Two Trees Island. Egrets fish along the waterfront. An abandoned sailboat rests partially capsized in the bay. Looking eastward, tiny, rock islands dot the Sound’s waters. After enjoying the vistas, head back to the promenade along Orchard Beach. Turn right immediately after the Nature Center to explore West Island. The trail traces salt marshes, ending at the cove between Hunter and the Twin Islands. Horseshoe crabs and other shellfish nearly cover the sands during low tide. When finished, retrace steps back to the start of the hike. —MacKenzie Ryan