It’s the middle of the winter. The furthest point during the year from the usual long-distance hiking season. If I were doing a big hike like the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or Continental Divide, now would be the time for me to start the long-term planning for six or seven months on the trail. But I’m not doing anything huge this year.
Most of us don’t have the time to hike two-thousand miles in one summer, but what about the shorter trails? I’m a big fan of trying something other than the Big Three. Here are just a few of the trails I’ve hiked or would like to do some day, that I hope others would like to explore as well.
Cohos Trail: One or two weeks up in northern New Hampshire can give you all the scenery and solitude you could hope for. One of the newest long distance trails out there, the CT is a little weird with lots of snowmobile trails and dirt roads, but don’t let that dissuade you. Hike it in late September, and you’ll have the most gorgeous fall foliage you’ve ever seen, moose and loons at every turn, and an introduction to an area you’ll wish you’d discovered years ago.
Metacomet-Monadnock Trail: A one week hike from southern Massachusetts to Monadnock in New Hampshire. This trail is a gem, not too difficult and well maintained. Another good one for early autumn, or the middle of the summer. The deep forest of western Massachusetts is perfectly relaxing, but broken up by the short and rugged Holyoke Range. Though there aren’t many high elevations on this trail, there are plenty of great views and nice spots to camp. Top it off by finishing on the always spectacular Monadnock, and then a victory celebration at one of many great restaurants in the Keene area.
Monadnock Sunapee Greenway: Or continue another fifty miles to Mount Sunapee. The MSG, much like the M-M, is pretty relaxed, with no massive climbs except those at either end. But the Greenway is unbelievably gorgeous. Walk through quiet, woodsy towns, stop to pick blueberries in giant patches, look out from spectacular cliffs, and lounge by the side of lakes. You could hike this one on its own and it might be the high point of your summer.
Long Trail: The granddaddy of long distance hiking trails in America, the LT just turned 100 years old last year! And they did it in style, too, with trail crews fixing up several of the dozens of shelters and campsites along the way. Walk the length of Vermont, hitting all but a handful of the most prominent mountains in the state, stop at a few lakeside campsites, spend the night in a lodge near the top of the highest peak in the state– If you can hike this trail, you’re pretty much ready to hike any long distance trail.
Long Path: You could walk from Manhattan to Albany, and be surprised at just how gorgeous the scenery is between the two. The Long Path goes through the Palisades, the Shawangunks, and the Catskills, all of which are jewels of New York state. It’s pretty easy to find a time to hike this trail when you won’t see many people on it, and you’ll have quite a handful for yourself. The Catskills alone have some of the most spectacular views of the Hudson Valley that you’ll see anywhere. The Gunks and Palisades, just as nice. I haven’t been in this area in several years, but it’s always high on my list of places to visit again soon.
Northville-Placid Trail: What northeast hiking list would be complete without the Adirondacks? The Northville-Placid Trail goes through some of the wildest parts of the Adirondack Park for a little over a hundred miles. While the trail sticks to the valleys and lower elevations, I’m pretty sure you could find the time to hit a few of the big peaks before finishing the trail in the heart of the region at the busy little tourist town of Lake Placid.
Ozark Highlands Trail and Ouachita Trail: Finally leaving the northeast, I’ve had these two trails in Arkansas on my radar for several years. Both a good distance (200ish miles), they’re supposed to have some of the nicest scenery in the south. Normally, I don’t feel the need to leave New England all that often, but a National Geographic article a couple years ago highly recommended this area, and who am I to argue with NatGeo?
Benton MacKaye Trail: And for something a little different that’s still near the Appalachian Trail, there’s this alternate route from Georgia to the Smokies. It’s supposedly much more difficult than the corresponding section of the AT, and there are less people on it, but you get similarly nice scenery.
I think the next one on my list is the Long Trail, but I’d like to get around to all of these some day. For various reasons I won’t get into just yet, I like the shorter trails more than the 2000+ milers. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the PCT and AT, but hiking two or three hundred miles seems so much more magical and special. Give it a shot and see what you think!