Top Ten Long-Distance Hiking and Biking Trails
|Appalachian Trail in Maine, near Flagstaff Lake (Kate Chandler)|
Maybe it's our fixation to backpack or bike the longest trail in North America, or simply the need to leave behind the iPads, iPods, and iPhones and get lost in the wilderness listening to merely the sound of wind whistling through the pines. Whatever the reason, long-distance hiking and biking trails remain popular a century after the Green Mountain Club started work on Vermont's Long Trail in 1910. You can put your life on hold and tackle one of these trails, or, like most folks, sample the serenity in weekend or weeklong jaunts. (Note: Biking not allowed on all trails listed, only those that specifically mention it.)
10. Appalachian Trail
In 1921, Benton MacKaye had an inkling of an idea to create a single footpath along the Eastern corridor. Sixteen years later the Appalachian Trail made its debut. Starting at the top of Springer Mountain, Georgia, the AT touches 14 states and enters six national parks before reaching its northern terminus 2,178 miles later at the summit of mighty Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Follow the white blazes from its lowest point, 124 feet, at the base of Bear Mountain, New York, to its apogee, 6,625-foot high Clingmans Dome in Tennessee. One of the most popular sections is the craggy peaks and notches of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where thru-hikers get to rest their weary bodies and get a gluttonous dinner inside one of the historic huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. For guidebooks, maps, and trail updates, contact the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at.
9. Katy Trail
Starting just west of St. Louis, the 239-mile Katy Trail has the distinction of being the longest rail-trail in America. Much of the hard-packed gravel trail parallels the same Missouri River explored by Lewis and Clark over 200 years ago. Yet, far more intriguing for riders today is the fact that this section of Missouri was once the second-largest wine-producing region in the country prior to Prohibition. Wineries like Stone Hill in Hermann, known for a dry red wine called Norton, make for ideal pitstops along the route. There are a number of B&Bs that cater to bikers as you continue west to the capital of Jefferson City and the French settlement of Rocheport. Savor the stunning river views, hillsides draped with vineyards, and the limestone bluffs before calling it a day and having dinner and a room at any number of communities. BikeKatyTrail.com has a list of B&Bs, wineries, and other sites along the route.
8. Maine Huts & Trails
Larry Warren's decades-old dream of creating a 180-mile trail system through Maine started to take shape with the opening of his first backcountry lodge near the Sugarloaf Ski Area in Carrabassett Valley in 2008. Now Maine Huts & Trails, a non-profit membership based organization, has just opened their second of twelve huts, on the shores of Flagstaff Lake. Next year, a third hut, Grand Falls, is expected to open 12 miles north of Flagstaff. Other huts are soon to follow, each 10 to 12 miles away, or a day apart for the backpacker or backcountry skier. Each lodge contains heated bunk rooms, showers, and a hot meal, similar to the AMC huts in the White Mountains. Yet, unlike the Whites, the terrain is much gentler and more accessible. Instead of climbing 5,000-foot peaks, you'll be hiking along the shores of rivers and lakes. This being central Maine, the wildlife is sure to outnumber fellow hikers as you'll have the opportunity to see moose, beaver, and foxes.
7. Erie Canal
In 1825, the Erie Canal opened and became of a marvel of engineering as commerce could now be transported from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River through a series of locks. Then the train was invented, followed by the automobile and airplane and boating on the Erie Canal was reserved solely for anglers and sun bathers. It wasn't until the 1990s that bikers started to appreciate this 400-mile route from Buffalo to Albany on relatively flat towpaths of crushed rock and packed dirt, once used by mules to help open and shut the locks. You not only bike into history, but are seduced by the rolling upstate New York countryside that slopes down to the waters of the Seneca and Mohawk Rivers. You'll also get to stop at historic hamlets like Seneca Falls, a cornerstone of the women's suffrage movement which now houses the National Women's Hall of Fame. Other stops include the college town of Syracuse and Schenectady, the birthplace of General Electric and home to a renovated theater that's remained popular since Vaudeville times, Proctor's.
6. Long Trail
Vermont's 273-mile long high-country hiking trail is the oldest long-distance trail in the nation. Started in 1910, it's still a narrow, unforgiving rugged footpath in the wilderness that winds through the finest greenery of Vermont's pastoral beauty. Go whole hog and devote the four weeks or so necessary for an end-to-end hike. Or if you don't have the time, grab one of the Gap roads that carve through the mountains and park at the trailhead for the quickest route into the mountains. A worthy example is the hike from Lincoln Gap to the peak of Mount Abraham, one of the many 4,000-foot summits you'll reach on trail. To snag a copy of the essential Long Trail Guide and requisite maps, contact the Green Mountain Club.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication