East to West: 8 Great U.S. Hiking Spots To Check Out This Summer
Lace up your hiking boots, throw on a merino wool baselayer, stuff an extra layer into your pack, and get ready. We're about to lay our top U.S. hiking spots on you. We've included hikes for every skill level, from flat-land strolls to overnight backcountry treks.
But, let's be clear, this is just a tiny sampling of the amazing outdoor adventures you can discover in this great country if you have the will to explore and the clothes to keep you warm and dry. Let's get started.
Baxter State Park, Maine
Day-trippers seeking outdoor adventure in Maine usually flock to its rocky coast and the Eastern U.S.'s only national park, Acadia. Those are great spots, no doubt, but for our money, you'll find Vacationland's most primo hiking at Baxter State Park.
Sporting 209,644 pristine acres of wilderness in Maine's interior about an hour north of Bangor, Baxter is best known as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, which ends (or begins, depending on the direction you're headed) at the peak of Mount Katahdin. But, this northernmost section of the AT represents only a tiny fraction of the 215 miles of hiking trails threading their way through the park.
One of our favorites for a day of hiking is the Doubletop Mountain Trail, a 13.4-mile out-and-back hike to the top of Doubletop Mountain. It takes a bit more effort to reach the trailhead for this hike than it does to get to the more popular trails around Mount Katahdin but in exchange for your trouble the Doubletop trail rewards you with scenic views and that captivating feeling of having the wilderness all to yourself.
Pro tip: Baxter is a limited access park, so make a reservation before you visit.
Breakneck Ridge, Cold Spring, New York
A little further down the Appalachian Mountain chain from Maine, the Hudson River cuts a wide swath through the hills on its inexorable southerly flow toward the Big Apple. At a beautiful bend in the river an hour and a half's train ride from Grand Central Terminal, you will find the hamlet of Cold Spring, New York.
Above it sits the Breakneck Ridge Loop Trail, a relatively short, but rather strenuous, scramble that offers some of the most stunning views available of the Hudson Valley. We love Breakneck Ridge especially because it offers a total escape from the big city that you can get there-and-back from in a single day.
Pro tip: Breakneck Ridge gets mighty slippery in wet conditions. If it's raining when you step off the train, consider staying down at river-level and enjoying Cold Spring.
The Palmetto Trail, South Carolina
From South Carolina's westernmost mountains to its easternmost shores, the Palmetto Trail offers hikers the opportunity to experience the vast diversity of the state's topography, culture, and history. The trail, which is not (yet) contiguous, comprises 28 separate "passages" ranging from short rambles to long, multi-day stretches through mountains, forests, towns, and lowlands.
For a relatively easy hike that does double-duty as a day trip or an overnight adventure, we suggest the longest passage on the Palmetto Trail, the 47-mile Swamp Fox Passage through Francis Marion National Forest. The mostly-flat Swamp Fox Passage winds through the Lowcountry swamps and forests where Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion hid out and mounted raids on British encampments.
It has three trailhead access points, giving hikers (and mountain bikers) the option of taking an easy hour-long stroll or spending the night at a campsite surrounded by cypress trees and Revolutionary ghosts.
Pro tip: Read up on the Swamp Fox before you visit.
Loess Hills State Forest, Pisgah, Iowa
Ah, hiking in Iowa. You might be thinking, "Wait a sec, isn't the Midwest kinda' flat?" Yes, indeed it is. But even flat land makes for some great hiking, and believe it or not, not all of the Cornhusker State is a tabletop. Allow us to introduce you to Loess Hills State Forest, an 11,600 preserve in western Iowa a stone's throw from the Nebraska state line.
50 miles of trails weave their way through the forest, offering the prospect of multi-day trips or a quick day hike for visitors from nearby Sioux City. We recommend the Preparation Canyon portion of the Forest, which in addition to its scenic beauty, also has an unusual and controversial history.
Pro tip: Make sure to check out the portion of Preparation Canyon that took a direct hit from a tornado in 2008, an enduring reminder of the resilience of nature and its dedicated stewards.
Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas, baby. Home of nickel slots, floor shows and ... great hiking? Yes, it's true. The Strip isn't the only place to go a-wandering the morning after a raucous bachelor or bachelorette party. Just a few miles to the west of town sits Red Rock Canyon, a National Conservation Area with miles and miles of trails and dry desert air that will help you shake off even the worst hangover.
One of the more popular rambles is the Calico Tanks Trail, 2.2 miles of jumbled rock formations leading to an amazing view overlooking Sin City.
Pro tip: Bring water and layers. The desert air will dry you out, but maybe a little too much. Be sure you drink plenty of fluids, and throw an extra layer or two into your pack to guard against how quickly the temperatures drop at the tail-end of the day.
Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan National Forest, Colorado
The Weminuche Wilderness contains some of the finest, most pristine backcountry in the Lower 48. Covering just shy of 500,000 acres, the area straddles the Continental Divide and is home to three 14,000+ foot peaks and many more rising above 13,000 feet. This is raw, untamed, mountain country. Hiking here is not for the faint of heart. You need navigational prowess, backcountry camping skills, proper equipment (smart layering with an insulator like merino wool is a must), and a healthy respect for Mother Nature to visit the interior of the Weminuche responsibly.
Because of its rough terrain and relatively limited accessibility, a visit here calls for plenty of foresight and a plan to camp for at least a night or two. Not frightened off by those requirements? Then don't miss the Weminuche. It's a stunning, majestic place.
Pro tip: Practice a rigorous Leave No Trace ethic while visiting this backcountry wilderness and be especially careful in using any open flame, as the arid climate creates lots of forest fire fuel.
San Francisco, California
You don't have to travel to the middle of nowhere to get your hike on. Heck, we'd even argue you can enjoy a fine hike without even setting foot in what you'd call "nature." That's why we love San Francisco as a hiking destination. Not only do amazing parks, trails, and sightseeing areas dot the Bay Area, but the sidewalks of San Francisco themselves, with their steep inclines and bountiful vistas, offer irresistible opportunities for lacing up your boots and putting some miles under your feet.
Follow the Barbary Coast Trail through the city's neighborhoods to learn about San Francisco's origins in the Gold Rush, or climb the ridiculous curves of Lombard Street on Russian Hill. Just remember to pack an extra Meriwool merino wool shirt for layering, because when the fog rolls in temperatures can drop rapidly in the City by the Bay.
Pro tip: Carry a thin, waterproof outer layer in your pack, too - it's a good bet you'll need it!
Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii
Did you know it snows in Hawaii? For real. In the winter, snowstorms routinely drop several inches of snow on Mauna Kea, the state's highest mountain (which is, incidentally, also the tallest sea mountain in the world). In fact, in 2015, the mountain's summit road closed for several days due to blizzard conditions.
Why are we telling you this? To let you know that if you're lucky enough to visit the Big Island, one of the most stunning and unusual day hikes you can find doesn't wind through a tropical forest or along a surf beach. Instead, it leads up a super-massive extinct volcano to a summit where you'll find active observatories and you just might run into a snow squall. Which is to say, when you pack for your Hawaiian vacation, throw a pair of merino wool leggings and a sweater into your suitcase. You'll be glad to have the extra insulation when you're standing at over 13,000 feet gazing out over the vastness of the Pacific Ocean far below.
Pro tip: Depending on the time of year, you might even try skiing down!
Layer Up and Away You Go.
At Meriwool, we know you're smart about how you prepare for your hiking adventures. You pick the best spots and choose the gear to match. Layering with Meriwool keeps you warm and dry in any condition, and at a cost that leaves you with a little extra left over to put toward your next adventure in the great outdoors. So, what are you waiting for? Layer up and get going!
Written by: George Royle