"A world-class day hike, my favorite part of the Appalachian Trail," says hiking guidebook author Tom Stienstra of the daunting climb up Mt. Katahdin. "The views are nothing short of spectacular." Thru-hiker Brian Robinson is partial to the notoriously steep Abol trail. Hike in September and October to gaze at brilliant fall foliage. While crossing the vast forest, be prepared for the company of moose, bears and bobcats.
Recommended by: Jeffrey Hunter, Roy Robinson, Brian Robinson, Tom Stienstra
For more information: Baxter State Park
Making your way through Coyote Gulch feels a little like traversing a canyon on Mars. "The red rock is just incredible," says hiking columnist Kevin Myatt. "An otherwordly landscape. If you live in the east, it's something totally different." Enveloping walls; natural bridges, domes, arches; lengthy narrows; and panoramic views turn this landscape into a hiking funhouse. A popular day hike: Walking the two miles from Fortymile Ridge to Crack-in-the-Wall.
Recommended by: Kevin Myatt, Brian Robinson
For more information: Escalante Subdistrict
"Very, very unique," says Jeffrey Hunter, describing this ecological wonderland. The wildlife is abundant, and includes alligators, turtles and snakes. A 2.25-mile raised boardwalk leads you through five different environments, including forest and marsh. "Phenomenal birdwatching," says Hunter; dozens of rare species inhabit the area. As for the flora, expect "amazing orchids growing right off the trail." Not to mention ancient bald cypress trees, ferns, wildflowers and swamp lilies.
Recommended by: Jeffrey Hunter
For more information: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
"A western-like landscape unlike anything I've encountered in the East," gushes Kevin Myatt of this wonderland of waterfalls, forests, rock outcroppings and panoramic views. The American Hiking Society's Ivan Levin compares the area to the Scottish Highlands. Two highlights: roaming wild ponies and blooming rhododendron. The nine short hiking-only trails rate moderate to difficult. You can also pick up the Appalachian Trail to nearby Mt. Rogers.
Recommended by: Kevin Myatt, Ivan Levin
For more information: Grayson Highlands State Park
"I hesitate to recommend it, because people will go there," admits outdoors journalist George Lauer of this famously isolated stretch of Northern California coastline. Where Highway 1 dares not continue, hikers can—through unspoiled, rugged wilderness. From scrambling along wet beach rocks while fighting pelting wind and rain, to climbing, descending, then re-climbing a cumulative 8,000 feet, the daunting 25-mile north Lost Coast Trail will motivate any hiker.
Recommended by: George Lauer
For more information: King Range National Conservation Area
These mountain peaks, two of the most photographed in North America, poke the sky at 14,000 feet. "Breathtaking," says Doug Vieira of the National Recreation and Parks Association. He loves hiking the glacial valleys and alpine lakes, then relaxing at dinner in nearby Aspen. "Even the shorter trails require (steep) elevation gains," says Margie Cohen in admiration. Try the Maroon Creek or Maroon Lake Scenic Trails for more leisurely exploring.
Recommended by: Doug Vieira, Margie Cohen
An avalanche and volcanic eruption knocked off the top of this mountain in 1980. Tom Stienstra calls the aftermath of this cataclysm the best day hike in North America. Difficult trails on the east side take you smack through the blast area to the summit's crater. "From the rim, you look down into steaming bowels of earth," he says. "You can hike all over North America and not have that experience."
Recommended by: Tom Stienstra
For more information: Mt. St Helens
"Just stunning" says Margie Cohen. "Very spectacular," agrees well-known hiker Roy Robinson. Sportswriter Bob Padecky calls the 11-mile Kalalau Trail the most memorable hike he's ever taken. "First you're in desert-like conditions, the Pacific a thousand feet below. Sand, unsurpassed vistas. Then, literally, you take a step and you're in a tropical rain forest." The hike also follows the coast through looming cliffs, lush valleys, rolling hills, and waterfalls.
Recommended by: Bob Padecky, Margie Cohen, Roy Robinson
For more information: Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
Yearning to go even deeper into the wild? Try this largest of U.S. national parks. Giant glaciers, abandoned mining sites, icy rivers, waterfalls, spectacular mountain vistas, grizzly bears, 9 of the 16 highest U.S. peaks, and maybe even some auroral displays await. "Some hikes are not for the feint of heart," warns Margie Cohen. Though you'll also find some moderate treks and an easy 1.5-mile jaunt right alongside a glacier.
Recommended by: Margie Cohen
For more information: Wrangell St. Elias National Park
Brian Robinson pegs this iconic trail as his favorite day hike. Of the nearly one-mile climb up, the last 400 feet are the hardest: Two steel cables lodged into the granite aid the final ascent. "It's like climbing the side of a building," Robinson says. The pay-off? A panorama of the entire Yosemite Valley and the Sierras. Says Robinson: "On a very clear day, the view is almost endless."
Recommended by: Brian Robinson
For more information: Yosemite National Park