Trips

Hike America: 10 Trips to Check Off Your Bucket List in 2021

[Member Exclusive] You don’t need to renew your passport to make memories this year: Get out and get hiking with these phenomenal, uncrowded destinations.

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We’re not going to lie: It’s good to have 2020 in the rearview mirror. But while we’re itching to leave the closures and quarantines behind, that doesn’t mean we’re in any hurry to join the crowds at parks like Yosemite and Zion again. Our 2021 resolution: seek out uncrowded US destinations that marry world-class scenery with a little bit of social distance. So shake the cobwebs out of your backcountry kit and join us on a trip to 10 of the best underappreciated hiking destinations of 2021. We’ll start with some slot canyons, explore a lakeside ice cave, check out a volcanic eruption, then hit up the world’s tallest trees. And the good news is that after taking a break from, well, us, the natural world is looking better than ever. It’s going to be an epic year.

trees
Sheila Sund

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California

For years, Grove of the Titans, a pocket of giant coast redwoods, served as a cautionary tale for our digital age: when someone posted the coordinates online in 2011, thousands of visitors descended, creating “social” trails that wreaked havoc on the understory growth and root structure, threatening the health of some of the largest-known coastal redwoods. But finally there is a bit of good news for Leave No Trace-conscious tree huggers: a 1,300-foot elevated boardwalk is set to be complete in 2021, which means you can make the trek to see this special place for yourself with none of the guilt. Hike It: Grove of the Titans (1.5 miles)

Moose Isle Royale
Ray Dumas

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Sometimes it pays to social distance. At the lower 48’s least-visited national park, backpackers can find true solitude along 165 miles of trail lined with cinnamon ferns and calypso orchids—or depart from the trail entirely to find their own patch of paradise among the stands of white spruce and balsam fir. The park is even wilder this year than normal thanks to the pandemic limiting ferry service to the island, allowing the locals—including 2,000 moose and fourteen wolves—enjoyed a much deserved break from its fair-weather visitors. Hike It: Scoville Point Loop (4.9 miles)

Grand Staircase-Escalante
Bureau of Land Management

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

These slot canyons, ochre-hued cliffs, and slickrock washes have been enchanting humans for a long, long time—since at least 1,500 years ago, when ancestral puebloan people built their dwellings and granaries here. This year marks a smaller, but still significant, anniversary for Grand Staircase-Escalante: it’s been twenty-five years since President Bill Clinton granted this corner of southern Utah the designation (and protection) of a national monument. There are any number of ways to mark the occasion: hiking through narrow, water-carved fissures, trekking out to Lower Calf Creek Falls to see a 126-foot waterfall cascade into a turquoise pool, or enjoying a leisurely overnight up the Escalante River to the natural bridge in Coyote Gulch. Hike It: Lower Calf Creek Falls (6.7 miles)

Stekehkin River Valley
Maurice King

Stehekin, Washington

Don’t even bother with Google Maps on this one. The only way to reach America’s most remote mountain town–perched at the end of fifty-mile-long Lake Chelan–is by seaplane, by boat, or by foot via the Pacific Crest Trail. However you get to Stehekin Landing, you’ll be forgiven for wondering whether you’ve also journeyed back in time. Maybe it’s the single pay phone in the center of town (trust us, you won’t have cell reception), or the frontier-style farmstead a mile up the road. It could even be that 1940s-style red bus, run by the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin, that shuttles visitors up to 312-foot Rainbow Falls or deeper into North Cascades National Park for week-long adventures. Stay here long enough and you’ll start to lose track of what day (or year) it is too. Hike It: Agnes Gorge (7.9 miles)

Apostle Islands Ice Caves
Justin Meissen

Apostle Island National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

Every year, cold air blows in from the north and freezes the surf coming off of Lake Superior as it crashes against Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands, transforming the idyllic limestone caves nestled against the shore into a wonderland of ice stalactites, spiraling columns, and cavernous chambers. 2021 is set to be a banner year for these formations, as this winter’s La Nina weather pattern increases the rain and snow coming down around the Great Lakes. Check the NPS page for current conditions before venturing out (a minimum of 10-inches of ice is considered necessary to make the hike safe). Hike It: Apostle Island Ice Caves (2.5 miles)

Vine Maple leaves
Peter Stevens

Corvallis to the Sea Trail, Oregon

Weekend warriors, take note: the second half of a new 62-mile route through Oregon’s Coastal Range is set to open in 2021. Starting in the verdant Willamette Valley, this mixed-use trail ambles up 2,000 feet into a classic PNW forest of salal, salmonberries, and vine maples shaded by an overstory of western hemlock and Douglas fir, before heading back down the other side to the Pacific Ocean. If that still isn’t enough of a challenge (we’re looking at you, thru-hikers), the end of the route connects to the 380-mile Oregon Coast Trail. Hike It: Corvallis to the Sea Trail (62 miles)

Alligator
Judy Gallagher

Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

While lightly trafficked compared to its southerly neighbor the Everglades, this unique blend of swamp, prairie, hammock, and estuary is home to everything from iguanas to ghost orchids to herons—and did we mention the crocs, cottonmouths, and panthers? But the flourishing biodiversity of the preserve belies how sea level-rise is pushing salt up through the limestone bedrock, endangering the eponymous cypress trees (the recent discovery of oil near the preserve isn’t helping matters either). See this one before it’s too late. Hike It: Gator Hook Trail (4.7 miles)

ANWR
Danielle Brigida, USFWS

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

To those of us raised in the lower 48, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge might seem like a bleak landscape at first glance—all grassy plains and forbidding mountains backdropped by the frigid waters of the Beaufort Sea. But this tundra is home to a rich tapestry of snowy owls, polar bears, wolves, golden eagles, and, of course, the porcupine caribou herd that has nourished the native Gwich’in people for thousands of years. This might be one of the hardest bucket list destinations to get to in the US (plan to charter a plane), but bringing attention to the Sacred Place Where Life Began has never been more important than in 2021, when it’s under threat (again) from the sale of drilling leases. Hike It: Atigun Gorge (8 miles)

Volcanic eruption
National Park Service

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

In 2018, a series of once-in-a-life time eruptions and earthquakes rocked the Big Island as waves of pulsing lava oozed out of fresh fissures on the lower slopes of Kīlauea and down to the ocean. Not surprisingly, this resulted in some closures at the national park, thanks to damaged infrastructure. Today, the park has (mostly) opened back up again, but with a few changes: Several trails and roads remain closed (or are gone). Cracks remaining from the eruptions abound, from the pavement to the lava tube caves to sewer lines. The Halemaʻumaʻu crater (within the larger Kilauea crater) has doubled in size. And–apropos for 2020—Kilauea began to erupt again in December. Hike It: Crater Rim Trail (4 miles)

waterfall
Kelly Bridges

Birthplace of Rivers, West Virginia

It’s the heart of outdoor life in this patch of the Appalachians: The source of the Elk, Cheat, Jackson, Greenbrier, Tygart Valley, and the South Branch of the Potomac Rivers stretches out across 120,000 acres (including the Cranberry Wilderness) of West Virginia, a wonderland of waterfalls and thick forest. It’s also a hot spot for outdoor enthusiasts–whether it’s hiking through the red spruce and goldenrod around Tea Creek Mountain, fishing for trout, hunting white-tailed deer, or even whitewater paddling along the Cranberry River. This one was a near miss for achieving National Monument status five years ago—here’s hoping 2021’s the year. Hike It: Tea Creek Mountain (5 miles)