Mahoosuc Notch Trail, Maine
Ditch the crowds in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and jump north a state to Maine’s Mahoosuc Range.
“Mahoosuc is farther from Boston so it’s not as well known, but the hiking is more majestic and rugged, and it’s still part of the Appalachian Trail,” says Andrew Skurka, an adventurer, long distance hiker, and author of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide.
Do this seven-mile out-and-back trail in the summer or fall, and tread carefully over its notorious mile-long stretch of granite boulders—a section that many consider to be the toughest part of the AT. If you have kids under 10 years old, you might want to leave them at home for this one.
Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota
This 277-mile trail runs from Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian Border, and is peppered with 30 trailheads and 86 backcountry campsites, making it equally great for day hikes and overnight excursions.
Enjoy powerful views of Lake Superior as you traverse the spine of the ancient Sawtooth Mountains, skirting bluffs and cliffs, traversing rivers and waterfalls, and winding through forests of birch, aspen, maple, spruce, and balsam, all of which used by the area’s beavers to build massive natural dams. This trail is quite simply the best long hike in the country between the Continental Divide and the AT.
Coyote Gulch, Utah
On this hike through Utah’s Escalante Drainage you’ll experience a voodoo landscape of orange sand, hoodoos, arches, a natural bridge, waterfalls, Navajo rock art, springs, and wild gardens.
“This is classic red rock Southern Utah hiking,” says Skurka.
It can be done as a 12-mile day hike, but it’s best to camp a night in the canyon or two to truly appreciate all of the intricacies of the desert landscape. Bring a guidebook or a map and a compass (and know how to use them) for this hike.
Iron Creek Trail, Idaho
Perhaps the best thing about Idaho (besides world class fishing and skiing) is that it’s off most peoples’ radars.
“Idaho has the most national forest in the lower 48 states, and a small population. This means the trails are never crowded,” says Scott Marchand, an adventurer and Idaho hiking expert.
Iron Creek Trail is located in the heart of Rocky Mountain’s Sawtooth Range, which encompasses 678 square miles wilderness, including 40 peaks higher than 10,000 feet. You’ll climb 2,000 vertical feet over 5 miles as you wind through forests and meadows, around huge granite boulders, and across gurgling brooks and streams.
Take a picnic and relax at Sawtooth Lake. Your can have a refreshing swim while taking in views of the jagged peaks above.
Nankoweap Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona
Originally constructed by Major John Wesley Powell, who led the first known passage through the Grand Canyon in 1869, the Park Service lists this trail as “the most difficult of the named trails in the Grand Canyon.”
You’ll want some miles under your boots before you tackle this one. The 11-mile trail starts at the rim of the canyon and ends at its bottom at the Colorado River.
“It’s pretty light and airy,” says Skurka. “It’s also well used and well marked, but there are definitely spots where you’re kind of dangling out there, walking on 4 to 5 foot wide benches with 500 foot drops.”
The reward, of course, is an incredible view of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park, California
This 215-mile trail through the Sierra Nevada Range starts in Yosemite National Park and ends at Mount Whitney (elevation: 14,505 feet), the highest point in the continental United States.
“This is the most scenic part of the famous Pacific Crest Trail that goes from the Canadian border to the Mexican border,” says Heather Sable, who manages the trails program for the American Hiking Society.
Along it you’ll experience classic California wilderness, including giant sequoias, granite cliffs, and waterfalls. If you only have one day, do the section that ascends Yosemite’s famous Half Dome—an arduous trail with dramatic views that every serious hiker needs to experience at least once.
White Oak Canyon, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park has more than 500 miles of trails, and White Oak Canyon may be the best 4.8 of them. You’ll cross wooden footbridges over emerald pools, and see six major waterfalls and multiple cascades.
Whereas many high altitude western hikes can only be done a few months out of the year, this southeastern trail is open and accessible year round. Summer brings an escape from the heat, fall excellent colors, winter quiet frozen solace, and spring a bounty of wildflowers.
Guadalupe Peak, Texas
Known as “The Top of Texas,” this 8,751-foot peak in the heart of the Guadalupe Mountains is the tallest in the state. You’ll gain 3,000 vertical feet over four miles as you ascend through a forest of massive pines to a rocky cliff with sweeping views of the arid Chihuahuan Desert.
A stainless steel pyramid marks the top, with sides dedicated to American Airlines (which erected it), the Pony Express (which used to pass south of the mountain), and the Boy Scouts of America (just because). The climb is steep, so make sure you’re up for a hard hike before you set out, and give yourself ample time to rest along the way.