Hiking Project is redefining hiking trail maps and guides. Hiking Project Journal provides information about various hiking destinations, hiking photography tips and tips about how to stay fit, for hikers.
Once a year, the American Hiking Society organizes National Trails Day, an event intended to encourage hikers across the country to trek trails and volunteer to help maintain them. From urban parks to remote wildlands, every trail experience cultivates a unique story. We asked American Hiking Society ambassador Shawnté Salabert about hiking solo, advocating to protect trails, and what she loves about getting outside on National Trails Day.
Why are you stoked on National Trails Day?
When you participate in something like National Trails Day, you are stepping into a community of like-minded folks.
Hiking naturally lends itself to solitude, but what are some perks to getting out with a group of like-minded folks?
I am a fan of both solo and group hiking, although I think with the latter, it’s important to keep the groups small enough so that they don’t impact other people’s outdoor experience. Also, this allows group members to bond with one another while they’re out there connecting with the land.
I recently led my first trail crew on an American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation in Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park. I loved working with the Forest Service and with the thirteen other volunteers on the trip. We bonded over trail work, but also over shared meals, pre-dinner yoga, and post-dinner puzzles.
Photo: Shawnté Salabert
Trails can provide fun and transformative experiences for anyone willing to take a journey, long or short. What are some lessons you’ve learned on the trail?
Two years ago, I began doing fieldwork for a book I wrote about section hiking the Southern and Central California portions of the Pacific Crest Trail. I was nervous about spending two months on the trail by myself—although, really, it’s hard to be totally alone on such a popular trail. Leading up to that trip, I heard a lot of naysaying: “Aren’t you worried? Aren’t you scared going alone as a woman?” and hated the implication that somehow, my gender made me less capable of taking care of myself out on the trail. What I found during those two months is that I was more than capable, that being out there was a badge of honor. That when confronted with bears, mountain lions, lightning, or snow, I was strong enough (mentally and physically) to handle all of it.
How do you give back to the trail?
It’s really important to give back to the places that give so much to us. I’m a big fan of participating in stewardship, especially when it comes to trail maintenance. I think a lot of people don’t realize just how much work goes into keeping our trails open; we’re talking thousands of volunteer hours on each and every maintained trail! Mother Nature would gladly reclaim it all if left to her own devices. When you take some time out to pitch in, you’re doing a service for everyone who enjoys hiking—and everyone who might discover they enjoy it down the line.
What are you expecting from NTD this year?
I’m looking forward to seeing people enjoying the outdoors on National Trails Day, whether that’s via stewardship projects or hiking. I will be at an REI event at Crystal Lake in the San Gabriel Mountains near LA. It is going to be a ton of fun with trail work, hiking, and mini-clinics of Map and Compass and Wilderness Survival.
Purple lupines, yellow pond lilies, fire pink, and more!
No matter where you live in the United States, you’re likely not far from colorful meadows and trailside displays. From the rugged Columbia River Gorge in Washington to a popular, yet remote island in Maine, here are five of our favorite hikes and parks to spot wildflowers throughout the country.
Dog Mountain, Washington
Each spring, hikers flock to Dog Mountain for its enormous wildflower blooms. | Photo: Wilson Bilkovich, Flickr
Dog Mountain is a rite of passage for Pacific Northwest hikers. Everyone suffers through the nearly 3,000-foot climb that guarantees you’ll earn your post-trek beer, and the summit promises unspoiled views of the surrounding Columbia River Gorge. Dog Mountain becomes perhaps the most sought-after hike in the region for a few magical weeks each spring. Hikers drive hours to catch a glimpse of the trail’s legendary wildflower blooms.
Balsamroot isn’t especially rare in the Columbia River Gorge, but the sheer abundance makes it worth the trek; at the flower’s peak, hikers walk through numerous meadows covered almost entirely in lemon-hued blooms.
Pro Tip: To hike Dog Mountain is to lament its congested parking lot. Rather than circling the lot all morning, catch a shuttle from Stevenson for a stress-free trip. Failing the shuttle, start hiking early or head out on a weekday.
[Wildflowers You’ll See] Balsamroot is the dominant wildflower lining Dog Mountain, though hikers might also pass fields of Indian paintbrush (known for its vibrant red hue) and stalks of purple lupine along the way.
[When to Go] Head out in late May or early June for the best views.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Virginia is home to a number of unusual landscapes; it’s not uncommon to travel between lush valleys, thick forests, and unforgiving mountain passes in a single hike. Those landscapes make the state an ideal home for all manner of wildflowers. And there may be no better place to explore that variety than Shenandoah National Park.
More than 850 varieties of wildflower call the park home and, with 500+ miles of trails, you’re sure to see their colorful displays throughout its boundaries. Early in the spring, hikers should tackle lower-elevation hikes (all the better if they’re near waterfalls like the 70-foot-tall Dark Hollow Falls) before heading to higher elevations as summer progresses. Some key hikes to spot the blooms? The 8.8-mile Old Rag Loop, the 14-mile Neighbor Mountain – Jeremys Run Loop, and the 2.7-mile Hawksbill Mountain Loop. The park’s famed Skyline Drive is also prime wildflower territory in summer and fall.
[Wildflowers You’ll See] The purple, cup-shaped bloodroot blooms in early spring, while walls of pink azaleas bloom by Mother’s Day. Later in the season, pink touch-me-nots take root near streams at the height of summer.
[When to Go] Wildflowers seem to be in bloom more often than not at Shenandoah National Park. The first waves bloom in early spring, but you’ll see wildflowers through fall (when wild sunflowers are at their iconic peak).
Even without wildflower blooms, the Cub Lake Loop would be well worth any hiker’s time. The six-mile trek takes hikers through open meadows, delivers mountain views, follows the Big Thompson River, and cuts through the charred remains of the 2012 Fern Lake Fire. Each fall, hikers are likely to see herds of elk and the occasional moose grazing along the way.
Every spring and summer, more than 80 varieties of wildflowers bring the subalpine terrain to life. Pink-and-white wintergreen and bright violet bee balm, among others, line the trail and dot the meadows through which hikers traverse. Yellow pond lilies cover the surface of Cub Lake, creating a colorful contrast with the lake’s sapphire hue.
[Wildflowers You’ll See] More accurately, what won’t you see? Roughly 80 types of wildflowers bloom along the Cub Lake Loop, so you’ll enjoy an unprecedented variety. Yellow pond lilies, which bloom in July, are the star attraction on Cub Lake each summer.
[When to Go] Given Cub Lake’s elevation, wildflowers peak in early- to mid-season; visit in June or July for the best blooms.
Bar Island, Maine
Half the fun of seeing Bar Island’s lupine meadows is simply arriving on the island. Just offshore from downtown Bar Harbor, the island’s sandbar is only accessible from 90 minutes before low tide to 90 minutes after low tide; this gives hikers roughly three hours to explore the 1.5-mile trail.
That’s plenty of time to cover the island, part of Acadia National Park, but we can’t blame hikers for wanting more time to gawk at its explosive wildflowers. The middle of Bar Island is home to meadows of lupine, distinguished by their one- to two-foot stalks and deep shades of purple.
[Wildflowers You’ll See] You might see a handful of varieties, but fields of violet lupine are the main attraction on Bar Island.
[When to Go] Head there in May or June for the prime viewing.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
A wake robin in bloom at GSMNP | Photo: rjones0856, Flickr
That said, we’re partial to the rhododendron and azalea blooms that make the park resemble a sunset. The rhododendrons explode in crisp pink and white hues, while the azaleas bloom in bright shades of red, orange, and yellow. For the best views, take a low-elevation hike by the end of June and a hike at higher elevations in July.
[Wildflowers You’ll See] With 1,500 types of wildflowers blooming throughout the park, it’s tough to narrow it down. That said, Dutchman’s britches (resembling an upside-down tooth) grow throughout the park, while fire pink is every bit as vivid as it sounds.
[When to Go] Visit in the spring months (April through June) for the best blooms. That said, blooms vary with elevation; if you’re not seeing wildflowers on a lower-elevation hike, try something higher up.
With 15,000 miles of trail under her belt, this expert thru-hiker has more than a few tips to share.
Inviting long-distance hiking guru Liz “Snorkel” Thomas out for a four-mile stroll is the rough equivalent of asking Serena Williams to lob a few over the net. Accidentally shuttling her to a closed trailhead, then, is a bit like showing up with a broken racket.
Considering she once set the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail (AT), Thomas is infinitely patient as I slowly wind along the San Gabriel Mountains foothills in search of an open trail. We strike out once more, then finally land at an oak-filled pocket park, laughing at the irony of a note she’d sent me the previous day: “I have a bad habit of getting lost while driving… too many navigation decisions to make at speeds 20x as fast as I walk.”
“Walk” is a bit of a euphemism, of course. Thomas, along with fellow AT record holders Jennifer Pharr Davis and Heather “Anish” Anderson, is one of the country’s most accomplished hikers. Like many high-mileage devotees, she’s a Triple Crowner, having completed the AT, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and Continental Divide Trail (CDT). She’s gone far beyond that, though, to finish 20 long-distance routes, including the first thru-hike of the 300-mile Chinook Trail and the first documented traverse of Utah’s Wasatch Range. Along the way, she’s notched over 15,000 miles, the equivalent of walking from the crown of Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa—then turning around and marching halfway back.
Thomas on the Chinook Trail | Photo: Whitney LaRuffa
Growing up in Sacramento, California, Thomas wasn’t always the wandering type. Other than a single family camping trip in Yosemite National Park, her only real outdoor exposure came via a small green space located along the American River, a place she still holds dear. In college, she studied environmental science, a track that offered the opportunity to spend several dreamy summers conducting research out of a cabin in Lee Vining, a small Sierra outpost perched above Mono Lake, just outside the Yosemite boundary.
On one particularly fateful day off, she ventured into the park for a day hike and ended up mesmerized by a group of disheveled PCT hikers sprawled outside of the Tuolumne Meadows general store. Though the group was exhausted and demoralized by brutal trail conditions, their adventurous tales lit a flame and sent Thomas on a path to completing her first thru-hike, the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), the following summer.
In the chilly silence, she fixated on thoughts of blizzards and bears rummaging through her food.
Upon finishing the 165-mile route, Thomas was excited and emboldened. “I thought I’d been, like, this total badass on the TRT,” she recalls. Despite having done little research or prep work, she made the rash decision to snag a last-minute permit and jump on the John Muir Trail (JMT). (This was in 2007, before the massive crowds, when such sorcery was still possible.) Unfortunately, the season was shifting, with cold nights and fewer hikers, and in the chilly silence, she fixated on thoughts of blizzards and bears rummaging through her food. She lasted two days before she pulled the plug.
She knocked off a week from the previous AT unsupported speed record to cover its 2,181 miles in a blistering 80 days and change.
That initial foray on the JMT was a minor setback; a humbled Thomas internalized that summer’s lessons and began to more carefully plot bigger adventures. She found that long trips afforded an opportunity to, not only explore different ecosystems, but also relish in a certain freedom. “I think I liked the ability to just kind of drop everything away—just totally be disconnected and focused on what you’re doing, having that singular goal,” she reflects.
Photo courtesy of Liz Thomas
After completing a handful of long trails and refining both her methodology and gear, Thomas decided to hike the AT a second time (having already done it once three years prior) to see if she could beat the women’s unsupported speed record; she did, knocking off a week from the previous time to cover its 2,181 miles in a blistering 80 days and change. While most people’s knees might quiver at the thought, Thomas adopts an almost zen outlook. “I actually think that hike was my most fun hike,” she explains. “Nothing was going to distract me from the trail and living in that moment.”
Now that the Fastest Known Time (FKT) field is crowded with ultrarunners, Thomas is less interested in acquiring records than she is in accumulating experiences. She recently completed a “Denver Urban Brew Thru,” a charmingly boozy 8-day hike connecting the city’s 64 (and counting) breweries, and her summer is booked with adventures including a second traverse of the Sierra High Route and an attempt at Corsica’s GR 20, widely considered to be one of Europe’s most difficult long trails.
With a bit of mental and physical planning, anyone can join the unwashed ranks, even if they’re not gunning for, say, 15,000 miles.
While her hiking resume grows, her presence has also expanded off-trail. Thomas still conducts research (though now focused on long-distance trails and nearby communities rather than native plants and chipmunks), acts as an ambassador for the American Hiking Society and a slew of outdoor brands, and serves as Vice President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West. She’s also stuffed a decade of high mileage experience into a new book, Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike, a Backpacker-branded project born from her experience teaching a “Thru-Hiking 101” course for the outlet. The result is a resource that’s not only comprehensive, but also approachable, a suggestion that anyone—with a bit of mental and physical planning—can join the unwashed ranks, even if they’re not gunning for, say, 15,000 miles.
On our hike through the oak trees, I talked to Thomas about her book, her experiences, and what she hopes other hikers can learn from both.
There are other long-distance hiking guides out there—books by Andrew Skurka and Justin “Trauma” Lichter come to mind. How is yours different?
It felt like a lot of the guides that were out there focused more on gear. It’s cool and sexy to talk about gear, and everyone wants to read about gear, but ultimately, if you want to get down to the nuts and bolts of thru-hiking, you’ve got to start thinking a little bit wider.
The other thing I really wanted to do was appeal to people who were section-hiking or intimidated because when I think of Andrew Skurka or Trauma, I think they’re both amazing athletes and they look like ultrarunners… It’s just really intimidating when you’re starting off to see these people who are specimens of physical ability, being like, “OK, so I want to hike, but do I need to look like that person?” Or “I want to hike, but I can’t get second place at Hardrock on my first try—or ever.” Or “I want to thru-hike, but I can’t do the PCT in the winter.” I felt like there was such a big mental chasm between the skill levels of these people and people who were starting out, and because I had gotten into thru-hiking and backpacking as an adult, I totally remember what it was like starting off being like, “OK, where do I put my feet?”
Thomas’ book | Photo: Shawnté Salabert
You dedicate a lot of space to not only preparing yourself but also preparing those around you. Why is that important?
Maybe because I’m a woman, but that’s something that I was concerned a lot about when I was first getting into long-distance hiking. Even now, my parents are like, “Oh, I’m so worried about you every time you’re gone,” and I’m like, “Hey, I’ve got this.” But in some ways, I don’t think men get that as much, and because that was something that was always on my mind, it was really important for me to include that in the book. Especially as I get older and I have a partner and I have friends who are married, certainly thinking about the family aspect of making sure not only that your partner doesn’t feel you’re just abandoning him, but also that things are going to be taken care of. It’s not something people think about a lot, but problems at home really do take people off trail. I met this woman who was like, “Oh, I got a letter from the city that I need to fix my sewer by such and such date, so I have to get off trail!”
I actually got an eviction notice when I was on the PCT, even though I paid my rent in advance!
I think in the book I talk about my car getting towed. Trying to get the car out of being impounded while I’m on a mountaintop was so bad!
You also talked a lot of about the mental game of thru-hiking, and of actually understanding why you’re out there.
I think thru-hiking is really sexy right now, but it’s also a sacrifice. There’s an opportunity cost involved. The last thing I want is for people to think, “I’m going to quit my job,” and then two weeks later, quit the trail and be like, “Can I have my job back?” You know, there’s a big commitment: Some people sell their houses. It’s a big jump. I mean, you can enjoy a long trail by going out for weekends or as section-hikers, and I definitely want people to think about those as options before they drop everything to go for a thru-hike.
Speaking of, what’s been the hardest trail you’ve done, mentally?
Wasatch was pretty hard. CDT was really hard, too.
What was so hard about the Wasatch Range Traverse?
No one had done it before. I ended up doing it in September, which was okay, but it was really hot and the springs drying up was a big problem. The unknowns on it were difficult, and because the springs were really far apart, the unknowns were at kind of a high stake. And, you know, my car getting towed in the middle of it! The biggest mistake that I made on that trip—I try to tell people not to do it in my book, but I still do it—was not giving myself enough time, buffer room to make mistakes. I had 10 days off between my jobs at that time, or maybe it was 2 weeks off, and I think I had to put in like 28 miles a day. It’s the sort of thing where the mileage was so high that if I got lost, that totally messed everything up, or if I had to walk a couple miles out of my way to go to a spring, that totally threw everything off. I really should’ve given myself more time on that one.
Along that line, are there any close calls or bad situations you’ve experienced on the trails?
There have been other people who’ve written about preparing mentally for a trail, but one of the things maybe some of the other books don’t have is that I’ve failed on trails, or that I’ve quit trails before. It’s a super sticky, ugly situation to be in and it feels horrible, at least it did for me. I hate talking about quitting trails, because it sucks. I’m totally ashamed of it, but you know, I did learn a lot from those situations.
Photo: Shawnté Salabert
So, when I hiked the Mountains to Sea Trail, I was not in super great shape. I’d been working a desk job and it was the summer after I’d set the AT speed record, so I still mentally had this—it was kind of like the football player in high school who always thinks that he’s that strong, even though he’s gained 200 pounds. I was kind of in that same situation where I was thinking that I was a lot stronger than I actually was. I didn’t have super supportive shoes at the time, and I was trying to save money, so I was carrying a week’s worth of food when I was going through town every day. I did not have health insurance at the time, which was also another mistake of sorts. I ended up spraining my ankle. It got super swollen and turned purple, and felt like it was about to fall off. It was another situation where I could have taken a week off to see if it got better, but because I had penciled it in very closely with another thing, I ended up quitting that trail. That was really hard.
Your sidebars in the book were named for the famous trail maxim “Hike Your Own Hike.” What does that phrase mean to you?
The thing about “Hike Your Own Hike” is that it’s something that everyone says, and at some point, it becomes kind of cliché. But I think it’s really easy, especially when I’m the authoritative voice, for people to think there’s only one way to do things. “Hike Liz’s Hike” can be the case that happens in some of the other how-to books out there. Hiking is so based on your own experience and your fitness level and what trail you’re hiking and what time of year and who you’re hiking with and what your goals are, so this was all set up to make people reflect on all of those questions before they go on a thru-hike.
You also make a point to include other voices throughout the book—why was that?
As far as I know, this is the only long-distance hiking book that’s still in print by a major publisher that’s by a woman. So, in some ways, I felt this responsibility to include not just my voice, but the voices of other women out there. Also, I think that because of my work with the hiking community and the American Long Distance Hiking Association, we’re so big on sharing the voices that are in the community, and it goes along with not wanting people to feel intimidated. Even if you get the book and you don’t necessarily identify with me, there’s going to be someone in the Hike Your Own Hike sidebars that you’re going to be like, “Oh, this person is exactly like me!”
You not only included other women’s voices, but also a section called “Special Concerns for Women”—why was that?
I’m a woman and I get a lot of questions about “How do you deal with this? How do you deal with that? Are you worried about that?” I think because that’s something women are often thinking about when they go out, having it in the book was so important for me.
This person on reddit very kindly put something up about my book and was like “All these books that are written by men. It’s kind of weird because they’ll have a woman write this section. It’ll be on a sidebar, and it doesn’t feel super authentic—and it doesn’t really blend into the rest of the voice of the book.” In this book, because I’m a woman and I wrote it, it’s just there and normal.
You talk about safety in this section. Have you ever felt unsafe as a woman while thru-hiking?
In some ways, I feel like I’ve been at an advantage because when guys are being maybe a little aggressive, hitting on me, I’m fast enough that I can get away! But I’d really like to think that things are getting better. When I hiked the AT in 2008, I think women only made up around 10 percent of the people who were hiking. It really seems like the numbers are starting to get more balanced and that gives me a lot of hope.
The first views of Loch Lomond | Photo courtesy of Liz Thomas
You also included a section called “Special Concerns for Older Hikers.” Why was that important?
A big chunk of my friend population in the long-distance hiking community is people who have retired and just decided to thru-hike every year after that. The thing is, I don’t even think of them as older people because they’re young and they’re doing what I’m doing—and they’re doing it better in some cases. But some of the things that they talk about are finances: What do I do with my 401k? Also, when I do talk to older hikers, they’re like, “You know, I can tell that my body’s not repairing as quickly, so I do this, this, and this, and I’m slower ramping up my mileage,” and it doesn’t bother them because they’re able to crush miles and go out and do this every year.
Speaking of finances, you discuss them very realistically..
Calling all adventure mapping nerds, virtual trail stewards, and editors extraordinaire! This is an opportunity to work for an awesome, mission-based company that is as passionate about the outdoors as we are about building the best hiking, mountain biking, trail running, backcountry skiing, and rock climbing sites and apps in the world. In this role, you will work side-by-side with REI’s Adventure Projects Trail Content Team, helping to support our contributors and build out our maps. As a part of our virtual trail building team, you should be a self-motivated learner, a detail-oriented perfectionist, and a bit of an adventure nerd yourself.
Some of the day-to-day tasks you will tackle include:
Project Oriented Tasks:
Digitize, curate, and copyedit guidebook author content
Leverage existing MTB Project content for use on Hiking Project
Handle user-generated race updates
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Generate local club and land manager landing pages on AP sites
Field user requests to “own” the above pages
Basic GIS-related tasks
Rate and approve user-generated Symbols/Photos/Videos
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Other general Trail Content related support tasks
Qualifications Qualified candidates will have excellent verbal and written communication skills and an unsurpassed attention to detail. They must be self-motivated, organized, and excited about accomplishing routine tasks with accuracy and consistency. Additionally, they should possess a love for the outdoors and an interest in outdoor recreation.
Assist in the creation, production, and maintenance of editorial content on REI’s Adventure Projects websites. You’ll work closely with a group of editors who cut their teeth at media outlets like Backpacker, Climbing, Outside, Men’s Health, and Runner’s World as well as writers and reporters who range from professional adventure athletes to award-winning authors.
An ideal candidate is passionate about the outdoors and knows our sites well. Majoring in the field of journalism is a plus, but is not required.
Generate ideas and write original articles
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A genuine passion for and experience with the activities we cover. None of us are elite athletes, not even close, but we love riding, climbing, trail running, hiking, and deep pow–and creating culture around these passions.
Strong writing/editing skills and an adaptable voice
Six dogs have done it. Chrissie, Terry, Bobo, Dara, Tigger, and Schuss are all in the record books as official Adirondack 46ers. No doubt they finished a few steps ahead of their human companions, looking back with a wagging tongue while summiting on those afternoons spent up above 4,000 feet. The six, along with another 10,137 bipeds are part of a semi-select group that has officially climbed the 46 highest peaks in New York State’s Adirondack Park since 1925.
The majority of these routes are remote, rocky, and downright nasty.
It’s no small feat. By my rough calculation of the typical routes, multi-peak days, and overnights necessary to finish, it works out to approximately 295 miles of hiking. Gained vert? Pegging the straight altitude gain to the highest peak, the challenge clocks in at somewhere around 70,000 feet in total. Time? At a moderate pace, the average hiker needs 230 hours spent on the trails.
Keep in mind that, with the exception of Whiteface Mountain, which you could summit by walking up its awe-inspiring scenic road to the top—and perhaps Giant, Rocky Peak, Cascade, and Porter perched close to (though high above) NYS Route 73—the majority of these routes are remote, rocky, and downright nasty. These trails are not walk-up, jog-up pathways with packed dirt or pine needles beneath your feet. Rather, the paths to the summits of the 46 are overwhelmingly directed over and around pure granite that has been arranged in a beautifully sadistic manner, just navigable enough for you to keep telling yourself that it’s not going to kill you. The majority of the routes are comprised of some combination of rocky creek bed staircases, wooden ladders, muddy bogs, sheer rock faces, river crossings, and vertical scrambles over giant ledges and boulders that force you to chuck your pricey trekking poles with abandon.
My expert is a 15-year old kid from Vancouver named Makalu Green.
Oh, and 20 of the peaks are considered “trailless” which, while a bit of a misnomer (they do not require full-on bushwhacking), does mean that at least the final summit push is made up of herd paths that are often so tight the scrub pines on either side scratch at your forearms and calves. Sounds like fun, right?
The element of family is most evident in the recorded 46ers. The annual tallies show brothers finishing with sisters, daughters finishing with fathers, and in some cases, entire families completing the summits together.
So here we are, the six dogs, the 10,000+, and me. Me at 50 years old. Me with a total of 27 High Peaks bagged in a meandering 31-year-long love affair with them. Me jumping past the mid-point last summer with a 5-peak, 10-hour day on the Dix Mountain Traverse that made me begin to think the full 46 were attainable. Me also realizing that my knees now scream for Aleve after a tune-up hike. Me acknowledging that the recovery time is no longer just 24 hours, and me admitting that the determination to get this thing in the record books is oft led astray by a part of my brain that tells me to go fly fishing on the nearby Au Sable River instead. Me, with 19 left to go and not a lot of free time on my hands. And we all know that while summiting over half of them might be considered impressive to some, unless you’ve stood on the summits of all, it is not to be reflected in the books with the six famous canines. It remains a quest.
And so I have made a decision to engage in a full-on assault of my remaining 19 peaks during the summer of 2017.
He became a 46er two years ago at the ripe old age of 13.
It’s worth noting that these beauties can be climbed in the winter. Over 700 folks have become Winter 46ers… but that’s not really my skill set. The official ADK guides, published personal accounts and books, REI trail reports, blogs, and chat threads are very insightful, and I suggest using as many resources as you can as you plan the attack. I personally love Jim Burnside’s book, Exploring the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, a detailed, if somewhat dated, account of a father and son and their love for the summits.
But I needed some live chat, some conversational insight on the most efficient way to get the job done, so I did what every person does in this scenario. I contacted an expert. My expert is not a guy from Keene Valley or a 10-time 46er. My expert is a 15-year old kid from Vancouver named Makalu Green.
My friend Michael introduced me to the Adirondacks on a rainy fall day 31 years ago. He shook me out of a haze one morning at Cornell and told me to pack a few layers of clothes, bring my Chuck Taylor high-tops (in lieu of proper boots), and get ready to make a three-hour drive to meet the Adirondacks. And now his son Makalu, or Muk as his dad calls him, was going to get me to the finish line. Muk is a young adventurer. He became a 46er two years ago at the ripe old age of 13, and while he certainly did not have 20 extra pounds on him and tired knees when he accomplished it, I knew it was fresh in his brain.
So, I sent Makalu a list of my remaining peaks and it was quickly obvious to him that I had skipped most of the most difficult ones. I also told Muk I was trying to keep these to single day hikes as much as possible because my wife and I have two dogs of our own that need a dog watcher at our base in Keene.
Those 154 miles will be a piece of cake, right?
Muk got to work on my list and came back with a plan. For me, it will take 11 days—with a few overnights on the trail. I’ll bag Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback in 18 miles and Gray and Skylightclocking in the same. The Santanoni range will be a long day crisscrossing herd paths and bogs in a 17-mile push. Marshall, at 12 miles, and Allen, at 19, are each a full day on their own. Donaldson, Seymour, Emmons, and Seward make up 21 miles and will require a lean-to overnight for two days. Gothics, at 12 miles, and Lower Wolfjaw, at 8.5, could be combined in a long, long day, but I’ll do each individually. Cliff and Redfield, challenging with distance and access, will be combined for another long 18-mile day from the Loj or a nice two-day with a lean-to. And hopefully, on a crisp fall day with great blue skies, the finish on Rocky Peak Ridge will come in at 11 miles.
Those 154 miles will be a piece of cake, right? Well, if those six dogs could do it, I have a shot.
Want to Bag an Adirondacks Peak? Find Your Trail Here.
Many thanks to Lee-Siobhan Nesbitt, the Historian of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, for her insight on the most recent number of finishers and the fact that dogs became ineligible by an official vote in the 1970s.
Spring has sprung and the time to go flower peeping is now.
Oregon’s high country is emerging from heavy winter snow, and with so much moisture in the soil, it’s bound to be a banner year for wildflowers. One surefire place to find those pops of color in the state’s high desert is at the Spring Basin Wilderness.
The first time I explored Spring Basin was nearly five years ago to the day. I’d heard so much about Oregon’s newest desert wilderness and wanted to see what the hype was about. I got up early and drove from Bend, some two hours to the northeast. As I set out, the sky was ominously dark, threatening to rain. But by the time I reached the town of Antelope, former home to the infamous Rajneeshpuram community, the sky had cleared and the weather was looking ideal for a day of hiking.
I glimpsed Spring Basin as I crested the Clarno grade. From here, the John Day River and a wavy sea of mountains came into view, leaving me spellbound by the sheer vastness of the terrain I’d soon set out to explore. I parked at the trailhead and found the Spring Basin Canyon Trail immediately in front of me. Within 25 minutes, I had gained the canyon rim and as I looked over the other side, spotted an immense field of balsamroot in bloom, blanketing the hillside in bright yellow. Since this initial hike, I have made a point of visiting Spring Basin every spring and have always found the wildflowers to be abundant.
Spring Basin has a lot to offer: 10,000 acres of grassy rolling hills, rock outcroppings, and dramatic cliff bands to explore. With views of the nearby John Day River and 50 million years of geology on display, there is reason to visit this desert gem any time of year. Though nothing beats the basin in the springtime when the desert explodes with blooming balsamroot, phlox, purple sage, hedgehog cacti, and more. Whether you’re up for a day hike or wish to backpack into the more remote recesses of this intricate wilderness, Spring Basin is a must-see.
The trails and viewpoints in these state parks prove the Garden State deserves its title.
When you think of New Jersey, the first thing that might come to mind is the I-95 corridor between New York City and Philadelphia, an area sometimes referred to as the “armpit of America.” But beyond the fences and parking lots, the Garden State is full of nature, rivers, and mountains galore. From over 130 miles of Atlantic coastline to the rolling terrain of the Skylands region, New Jersey is ripe for outdoor exploration.
Of all the gorgeous natural areas worth visiting in New Jersey, its state parks hold some of the most special scenes. Whether you’re on the hunt for new trails, sweeping viewpoints, or historical relics, these Garden State parks hit some of the highlights.
Home to (you guessed it) the highest peak in New Jersey (1,802′), High Point State Park is located in the state’s Sklyands Region along the New York border. Accessible year-round, but difficult during the winter months due to snow-covered covered roads, the park holds 12 of New Jersey’s 72 miles of the Appalachian Trail. (Hiked it? Share your knowledge!) With several trailheads and connections throughout the park, hikers can easily access one of the most notable trails in the country as well as the 220-foot-tall high point monument in one fell swoop. With a wide variety of landscape throughout the miles of trails, hikers can journey through swamps, rocky ridges, dense forests, fields, and valleys.
Worthington State Forest
There are over 26 miles of trails at Worthington State Forest, including 5 miles of canoe trails on the Delaware River, and over 7 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The park’s biggest draw? One of the most notorious hikes in New Jersey: Mt. Tammany. The peak, which towers more than 1,500 feet above the Delaware River, is accessed via a short-but-challenging 3.4-mile hike over steep, rocky terrain–well worth the effort for the panoramic views at the top. It’s so good, in fact, that Hiking Project users have voted it into the top spot on the list of best hikes in New Jersey.
On the complete opposite (south) end of the state, Wharton State Forest is home to over 50 miles of trails, including an interconnecting trail system between the Bryne and Bass River State Forests. There is an abundance of wildlife that can be found in this region of the state, including bald eagles, various hawks, great horned owls, turkeys, foxes, and beavers. The mostly-flat Mullica River Trail is a great option for visitors who hope to catch a glimpse of the aforementioned fauna. The park’s many miles of unpaved roads also make it a popular destination for mountain biking and horseback riding.
With over 60 miles of well-marked trails ranging from easy to strenuous, Wawayanda State Park is paradise for hikers of all ability levels in northeastern New Jersey. Of those trails, you can trek along a narrow and rocky 20-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, marked by its signature white blazes. Thanks to the park’s rolling topography, there are plenty of great overlooks to choose from. Hike to the Pinwheel Vista or the top of Wawayanda Mountain for some of the best panoramic views at Wawayanda.
Home to Allaire Village, a collection of historic buildings that was a bustling iron making town in the 19th century, Allaire State Park in Farmingdale, New Jersey, is centrally located and offers a wide network of trails. Throughout this region, you will find a great variety of wildlife, including a large habitation of migrating birds during the season. Also unique to the layout of the land is over 200 species of plant life, that is not normally native to the Jersey shore region, but finds life here due to the flood plain. The park’s four primary marked trails are interconnected by a vast system of unmarked trails, making essentially limitless options for loops. Want to stay longer than a single day? Book a night in one of the park’s yurts and keep warm by the woodstove while planning your next hike. (Hiked here? Share your trails!)
Known for the best trout fishing in the state, Allamuchy is a unique state park that’s also home to some excellent hiking. The park is divided into several sections and boasts over 50 miles of hiking trails total. It is home to the Muscanetcong River which allows a unique hiking perspective through marshlands. Looking for a leisurely hike? You can hit a three-mile section of the Sussex Branch Trail at Waterloo Road, which is on an old railroad bed that treks northwest to Kittatinny Valley State Park. There is also a 10-mile stretch of the Highlands Trail on the northern section of the park that ranges from moderate to rugged difficulty. (Hiked here? Share your trails!)
Skip the national park crowds and adventure right in your own backyard.
No matter how you slice it, we love our state parks. According to the National Association of State Park Directors, 739 million visitors check out forests, canyons, beaches, and deserts at 10,000 state parks each year. And as of 2014, those parks comprised of more than 18 million acres, which hosted 8,647 trails covering more than 43,000 miles in total length (good for nearly two trips around the Earth’s equator).
With so many trails and so much beauty, it can be tough to know where to start. Fortunately, you don’t have to. We’ve rounded up five of the best bucket-list hikes in state parks throughout the U.S., from the cliffsides on Kauai to the rainy Oregon forest to the South Carolina wilderness. Happy trails.
Kalalau Trail: Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii
Visiting Kauai without hiking at least some of the Kalalau Trail is akin to visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower or New York City without passing through Times Square. The Kalalau Trail unfurls the best of Hawaii’s world-famous beauty; the trail gains more than 5,000 feet over 19.1 miles, all of which parallels Kauai’s coastline.
Beyond the trailhead at Hāʻena State Park, enjoy panoramic ocean views, rugged cliffsides, cascading waterfalls, all manner of flora and fauna, a relaxing stop at Hanakpai Beach (an ideal turnaround point for day hikers), and perhaps a wild goat or two.
Kalalau Trail along the Nāpali Coast | Photo submitted by HP user AB CD
Trail of Ten Falls: Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
Every year, nearly a million visitors descend on Silver Falls State Park to horseback ride, mountain bike, camp, and hike. Spend a few minutes on the Trail of Ten Falls, and you’ll understand why. The well-maintained singletrack, which promises 1,095 feet of elevation gain over the span of 7.8 miles, delivers close-up views of—you guessed it—10 waterfalls (five of which are more than 100 feet tall). Walk behind four and gaze from the base of others on what might be the most scenic hike in the state.
Along the way, pass a number of canyon viewpoints and follow North Fork Silver Creek under a thick forest canopy. Visitors will notice numerous shades of green all year long, but the spring blooms and fall foliage are especially captivating.
Note: You’ll find plenty to love about the Trail of Ten Falls during any season, but it’s especially beautiful in early- to mid-spring; all of that winter runoff means the falls are booming.
Lighthouse Trail: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
Palo Duro Canyon State Park sits 600 miles from the nearest seaport in Houston, but it nevertheless gives hikers the chance to see a lighthouse up close. The Lighthouse Trail does not, in fact, end at a working lighthouse. But the 310-foot stone pillar for which the trail is named—by far, the most popular, recognizable destination in the park—is no less spectacular, and makes for a satisfying reward at the end of the three-mile hike. (The views of the surrounding canyon are an added bonus.)
The mostly flat trail (with just 361 feet of elevation gain) follows Sunday Creek at times and traverses a few small ridges, all through an arid desert setting. You’ll see several sun-stained rock formations and thick brush before arriving at the Lighthouse; at this point, you can approach the base of the pillar, but doing so requires navigating a small rock scramble. Be careful here, especially if it’s rained recently.
Palo Duro State Park’s Lighthouse Trail ends at a 310-foot rock formation known as the Lighthouse. Photo: Todd Shoemake, Flickr
Raven Cliff Falls Loop: Caesars Head State Park, South Carolina
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: The Raven Cliff Falls Loop in Caesars Head State Park is a challenging hike. But the payoff is worth the sweat.
Early on, the trail actually drops 1,300 feet (don’t forget about that on the return trip) before gaining most of that back and leveling out for the duration of the 7.8-mile hike. Fortunately, Caesars Head State Park offers plenty of natural beauty to offset the punishing terrain. The centerpiece of the hike is Raven Cliff Falls, which plunges 400 feet over a sheer rock face.
The falls are far from the park’s only natural attraction, though. Along the way, take in the thick forest canopy (visit in autumn for fall foliage displays), the 150-foot rock formation known as the Cathedral (the name will make sense at the base), and the always-bubbling Matthews Creek.
Black Elk Peak Loop: Custer State Park, South Dakota
The heart of the Black Elk Peak Loop is Black Elk Peak, the highest natural point in South Dakota. That’s certainly enough of a draw, but the surrounding beauty and wildlife make this a majestic must-hike in Custer State Park and the Black Hills National Forest.
Long before arriving at Black Elk Peak, stroll through quiet woodlands, with views of the rolling Black Hills region and rock formations (including Little Devils Tower). The trail gains 1,380 feet over 7.9 miles, so you’ll certainly feel the burn.
Though you may already expect wildlife on your hikes, Custer State Park ups the ante: Wild bison, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, and several species of deer may be spotted along the trail.
Hikers may see all manner of wildlife while hiking the Black Elk Peak Loop at Custer State Park. Photo: Jeffery Wright, Flickr
There’s an increased connection between nature and technology, but how far is too far?
Many of us seek outdoor spaces as a place to unplug from the constant pull that technology has on our everyday lives. But we’ve all experienced the slow creep of smartphones into the outdoors—the Insta-Snappers posing with a vista instead of enjoying it, the iPhone stereo system blasting from a passing hiker’s pack.
Can technology be used to increase conservation and preservation of our wild spaces, or even just inspire more people to get outdoors?
The greatest pro argument for cell service and Wi-Fi connectivity in the backcountry is safety. The ability to call for help in the wilderness, or triangulate a missing person’s location using their cell phone would be invaluable to Search and Rescue. But what about technology as a conduit for exploration? Can exploring a digitally created world provide the same sense of achievement we feel when hiking to the commanding viewpoint of an alpine ridgeline? Can technology be used to increase conservation and preservation of our wild spaces, or even just inspire more people to get outdoors?
Video Games and Exploration
Hiking and climbing are now commonplace in many video games. In Grand Theft Auto V, players have the ability to scale the heights of Mount Chiliad—a stand-in for Mount Shasta. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Link sets aside his iconic green tunic and dons a climber’s bandana, harness, and carabiners to gain a speed boost to scramble up mountains. Perhaps the most specifically hiking-related game is the critically acclaimed Firewatch, where players inhabit a fire lookout for the summer in Shoshone National Forest.
But can in-game exploration even compare to actually exploring these wild places? To gain some insights, we polled gamers on forums at IGN and Gamespot. For some users, a game’s environment was secondary to gameplay and storyline—they needed incentives to explore. But for a large number of gamers who responded, exploration of the in-game world was a driving force for their playing time. Unsurprisingly, many of these users also identified as avid hikers or outdoor recreationists. For them, discovering the hidden places tucked away in the virtual environment is almost like getting out on the trail.
Rather than compare the good and the bad when it comes to technology, perhaps we should instead consider the possibilities.
Simone Dietzler, team member at Nerd Fitness says, “It sounds silly, but I feel like looking at the game’s [Skyrim] northern lights or watching the snow fall in its mountainous pine forests is almost as good as being there in real life.”
For some, video games act as a substitute. Gamespot forum user “phbz” said that, “Playing this type of game ends up being a way to compensate for day-to-day life not allowing [me] to get on a plane to Iceland every time I feel like it.”
While outdoor recreationists appear to bring their thirst for exploration to the virtual world, the vast majority of users responded that video games have not inspired them to get outside. But some forms of gaming may change that.
Augmented Reality in the Outdoors
The smartphone game Pokemon Go brought augmented reality (AR) to the masses, inspiring users to get outside while increasing time spent staring at their screens. Injuries from playing Pokemon Go became so widespread (yes, seriously…) that the National Safety Council issued a warning: “The Council urges gamers to consider safety over their scores before a life is lost. No race to ‘capture’ a cartoon monster is worth a life.”
While Pokemon Go pro-and-con lists abound online, virtual reality producer Ryan Boudinot doesn’t necessarily see AR in the outdoors as a pro-vs.-con proposition. “I happen to believe that the distinctions we make between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ are themselves artificial constructs,” Boudinot says. “I view technology as one of Earth’s natural phenomena.”
Photo: PeakAR by Salzburg Research
Rather than compare the good and the bad when it comes to technology, perhaps we should instead consider the possibilities. One useful example of AR in the outdoors is an app called Peak AR. Say you’re out on a new trail and want to know the names of nearby peaks. With this app, you can point your phone’s camera at nearby mountains. The live image is overlayed with text, giving you their names and elevations.
Future possibilities are endless. “I would be interested in seeing an AR app that shows you the retreat patterns of glaciers or the effects of deforestation,” Boudinot says. “Imagine putting on an AR device and looking at a mountain range, and being able to see how big the glaciers used to be.”
VR experiences are becoming realistic enough to have practical uses beyond fun and games. In Tree VR, the user is transformed into a rainforest tree—experiencing the full life cycle from seedling to slash-and-burn death. VR films like this have the potential to be used as empathy tools, in this case creating a greater awareness of the need for conservation.
Play games for inspiration. But don’t forget to unplug once in awhile.
Of course, technology has long been utilized as a tool for conservation. Carleton Watkins’ 1861 photographs of Yosemite introduced the American East to the wonders of the West. “In part because of Watkins’ Yosemite pictures, in 1864 Congress passed and President Lincoln signed legislation preserving Yosemite Valley,” Smithsonian reports. “The law was an important first step in the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.”
If stereoscopic negatives can lead to the eventual creation of America’s NPS, imagine the conservation possibilities of virtual reality.
Exciting as it may be, technology will always have its limitations. Video games and VR simply can’t compare to actually being there. No audio-visual experience can compete with the sensation of feeling a cool breeze in your hair, smelling wildflowers, or tasting mountain huckleberries on the trail. And while AR takes place in real world environments, it can become a distraction from reality. So explore virtually from the comfort of home. Play games for inspiration. But don’t forget to unplug once in awhile and, in the words of the Park Service, “Enjoy the respite.”