7 Hikes to Beat the Heat - Backpacker

7 Hikes to Beat the Heat

Take off for one of these forested hikes to find some respite from the summer heat beneath the trees.
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Grove of the Patriarchs

Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

This 1.5-mile round-trip hike may not cover much distance, but you’ll want to leave plenty of time to linger among the enormous firs and cedars in this ancient grove. Hidden away on an island in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River, these trees cast the mossy forest floor into shadow, stretching up to three hundred feet towards the sky. It isn’t just the height that will leave you gaping, though; some of the oldest have trunks nearly forty feet in diameter, dwarfing passing hikers.

Permit National park entrance fee Contact Mt. Rainier National Park

Emerald Mile

Redwood National Park, CA

Three hundred-foot-tall trees rising from a fern-covered forest floor, gorges so deep they see no sunshine: Redwood National Park feels like an alien kingdom. Discover some of its most surreal scenery at the Emerald Mile, a natural tunnel of old-growth redwoods and Douglas fir. From the trailhead at Tall Trees Grove, make your way down to Redwood Creek’s wide gravel bars, then follow the creek south to become engulfed by the verdant surroundings. Turn around at mile 3.5, after passing through the Emerald Mile, to complete a creek-side, 7-mile out-and-back. -David Gleisner

Permit National Park entrance fee Contact Redwood National Park

Photo by Kristin Smith

Photo by Kristin Smith

Grotto Falls

Custer Gallatin National Forest, MT

Experience the Gallatin range’s mixed pine and fir forest on the Grotto Falls trail, a 2.5-mile out-and-back just outside Bozeman. Starting from the Hyalite Creek trailhead, follow a well-marked footpath about a mile along the meandering creek. Just below the first set of switchbacks is a fork; go right. A few hundred feet later reach Grotto Falls, a single cascade over ancient columnar basalt that counters its relatively low height with a sheet of tumbling water 15 feet wide. Crooked firs huddle at the upper edge of the waterfall, shading the pool below. Wade into the high-mountain snowmelt for an extra boost of chill against the summer heat.

Permit none Contact Custer Gallatin National Forest

Elwha River

Olympic National Park, WA

Spend a long weekend among the trees on this 45.2-mile jaunt through deep forest. The tumbling Elwha, dyed a remarkable blue-green by minerals from upstream, rushes past dense firs that keep the temperature beneath their boughs to a comfortable coolness, while moss and enormous ferns cover the forest floor. Pitch camp in the designated spot right on the edge of the Hayes River at mile 16.1.

Permit required ($6/person); obtain at an information center Contact Olympic National Park

Whiteoak Canyon Trail

Shenandoah National Park, VA

Shenandoah’s extensive forests provide a respite from summer’s heat for more than just hikers, with a healthy population of black bears foraging among the oaks and wild apple trees. Keep an eye out for bruins while looping past eight waterfalls in 7.3 miles on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. The falls start at 35 feet tall and soar to 86 feet, with swimming holes scattered at their bases. The trees press close over the cascading streams, scattering bright green leaves over the dark rock and shading the pools where passing hikers can wade into a break from the bright summer sun.

Permit entrance fee, $30 per vehicle per week Contact Shenandoah National Park

Porter’s Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

Follow Porter’s Creek through old-growth forest on this four-mile out-and-back, wandering back and forth over the stream with three bridges in the first 1.6 miles. The trail ends at Fern Branch Falls, a 35-foot cascade over a mossy cliff that drops towards the trail in a series of broad steps until it splits to drop in two bright ribbons of spray to a cluster of equally mossy boulders.

Permit none Contact Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Deer Valley Loop

Afton State Park, MN

Wander through oak, aspen, and silver maples on this Midwestern loop. Only 30 minutes from the urban buzz of St. Paul, this forested oasis provides a break from both the heat and the rush of the city, winding from the edge of the St. Croix River to hidden brooks in deep, forested valleys. Extend your trip by connecting the park’s several trails into an 11.1-mile loop past the backcountry campground, where 27 tent sites perch on a bluff above the river.

Permit required ($19); reserve online or obtain at the ranger station Contact Afton State Park