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43 Hidden Hikes to Try This Summer

June 9, 2014
Shana Lebowitz

 Sure, hiking the Appalachian Trail is an experience no one ever forgets. But the United States is a pretty big place, with tons of opportunities for hiking and camping in spots that don’t attract millions of tourists every year. For those who like the feel of going where (almost) no man has gone before, or for those looking for a little peace and solitude, we’ve got just the solution.

This list includes 43 trails that are “hidden,” either because they’re physically hard to find or because not many people know they exist. Newbie hikers can take a stab at some of the mile-and-under strolls, while more experienced folks will love the long-distance treks. We’re talking breathtaking views of the sunrise, chilling with local wildlife (please don’t feed the animals!), and the chance to learn more about the natural environment. So lace up those hiking boots, buy a map, and most importantly, pack a sense of adventure.

Hidden Hikes in the Northwest

1. Hidden Creek Trail, Soldotna, Alaska
Length: 1.5 miles
Skill level: Easy
Okay, so the first part of this trail isn’t so spectacular. But hikers say once you get to the loop, you’ll find Hidden Creek (literally hidden in a grassy marsh), glistening Skillak Lake, and a breathtaking view of the Kenai Mountains—no manmade stuff in sight. It’s a pretty family friendly hike, too, since it’s relatively easy and there’s a bunch of fishing spots around the creek. Looking for more adventure? Start on one of the other trails off Skillak Lake Road.

2. White Cloud Mountains, Custer County, Idaho
Length: 32.5 miles
Skill level: Difficult
The Sawtooth Mountains usually steal the spotlight, but this lesser-known range offers equal opportunities for scenic long-distance treks. Forty years ago, a proposal to create a national park where the mountains currently stand failed. Today, it’s a place for ambitious hikers to catch a glimpse of the animal kingdom, including elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, and gray wolves.

3. Eagle Cap Wilderness, Enterprise, Oregon
Length: 41 miles
Skill level: Difficult
Beat the heat and hike by a serene lake surrounded by Indian paintbrush, sego lilies, and bluebell flowers (they bloom in July). Most hikers visit the Wonderland trail, so leave the masses behind and check out the 5,000-foot tall granite peaks that dot this hike hidden in Oregon’s largest wilderness.

4. Squak Mountain Connector Trail, Seattle, Washington
Length: 0.7 miles
Skill level: Moderate
The name “Squak Mountain” comes from the sound of the herons that visit here during the spring and fall. Any time of year, it’s a great place to bring the fam and even the dog for an afternoon of peace, solitude, and the chance to take in the beauty of the natural landscape.

Hidden Hikes in the Southwest

5. Dripping Cave Trail, Orange County, California
Length: 0.75 miles
Skill level: Easy
Take a hike through history on this multi-use route (open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians). The trail passes right by Dripping Cave, an area that was likely used as a refuge for Native American hunter-gathers and as a hideout for the Juan Flores gang of robbers. It’s one small part of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, a designated wildlife sanctuary that sprawls across 30 miles of trails and features a whole range of endangered animal and plant species.

6. Girdner Trail, Sedona, Arizona
Length: 4.5 miles
Skill level: Moderate
Ditch the daily grind and instead take a tour through Arizona’s amazing natural landscape. Hikers start out passing through lush forests and juniper groves with views of sandstone cliffs, then walk underneath sycamores until they reach a pink-tinged rockscape.

7. Mount Galbraith, Golden, Colorado
Length: 4.25 miles
Skill level: Moderate
There’s never a dull moment on this four-mile stretch that features trails, forests, and meadows. There will likely be some heavy breathing on the hike up to the loop, but once you get there, it’s an easy stroll with breathtaking views on both sides. Those craving more adventure after the hike ends can continue on to (possibly more well-known) trails in Golden Gate Canyon and Eldorado Canyon State Parks.

8. Mount Olomana, Kailua, Hawaii
Length: 3 miles
Skill level: Difficult
Well, at least this hike was pretty unknown until it made The New York Times a few years ago. The trip involves climbing three separate peaks, but most hikers just do the highest peak, totaling 1,643 feet. The chance to peer down through the clouds at the very top makes the whole trip up worth it.

9. Gila Wilderness, Catron County, New Mexico
Length: 35 miles
Skill level: Difficult
Set aside a few days to make this challenging trek. Some of the main attractions include hoodoos (tall columns of rocks), a 700-year-old cliff dwelling, and a hot spring.

10. Lee Pass Trailhead to East Rim Trailhead, Springdale, Utah
Length: 47 miles
Skill level: Difficult
A painter’s paradise, this trail in Zion National Park features the orange and red Kolob Canyons and some labyrinth side canyons made of white and red sandstone. The views from the top of canyon walls make the whole experience thrilling, and the best part is waking up early to watch light spread over the land.

Hidden Hikes in the Midwest

11. Indian Creek Bike and Hike Trail, Overland Park, Kansas
Length: 17 miles
Skill level: Moderate
Hikers, bikers, joggers, and dog-walkers are all welcome on this flat, paved trail. Veteran hikers say the path feels more woodsy than urban, and it’s generally pretty empty, especially on weekdays. The trail also connects to parks with ball fields, tennis courts, and playgrounds.

12. Siyeh Bend to Logan Pass, Kalispell, Montana
Length: 92 miles
Skill level: Difficult
Hike this less-trodden trail (part of Glacier National Park) in one long trip, or break it up into smaller treks. Either way, it’s a great chance to camp at a site surrounded by waterfalls and spot some wildlife. But beware: Bears have been known to make an appearance on the trail. 

13. Caprock Coulee Trail, Medora, North Dakota
Length: 4.3 miles
Skill level: Moderate
Everyone’s heard of Teddy Roosevelt, but his namesake park is less commonly known. Hikers on the Caprock Coulee Trail wend their way through water gulches and ascend a hill to a grassy butte, where they can marvel at the spectacular views before making their way back down.

14. McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area Trail System, Atoka, Oklahoma
Length: 23 miles (total)
Skill level: Moderate
These trails are designated a “quiet-water zone,” and visitors need a (free) permit to hike there. The trail system is also home to a bunch of wildlife, so expect some four-legged company on your journey.

15. Sage Creek Unit, Rapid City, South Dakota
Length: 20 miles
Skill level: Difficult
There aren’t actually any trails in the Badlands’ Sage Creek Unit, so hikers need to develop a good sense of direction before trekking along this route. The key is to make like the animals, following a bison path to another area where deer, antelope, and raptors like to play. Summer’s the perfect time to visit, especially for a more romantic experience—flowers bloom in June and the Perseid Meteor Shower is visible in August.

16. McKittrick Canyon to Pine Springs, Culberson County, Texas
Length: 24.1 miles
Skill level: Difficult
This trail, part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, keeps hikers on their toes, winding through terrain as varied as desert lands, canyons, and mountains. Camp overnight and snag a sunset view of the highest peaks in the McKittrick Ridge. The only (potential) problem is there’s no water available, so backpackers have to lug their own.

17. Southern Tetons, Jackson, Wyoming
Length: 30.5 miles
Skill level: Difficult
This trail starts at Death Canyon Trailhead in Grand Teton National Park. Sure, the name sounds scary, but starting from Death Canyon is actually a great way to beat the crowds and still snag spectacular views of the Teton spires below. Elk and moose will make up most of your companions on this journey, which features canyons, mountains, and hosts of wildflowers.

18. Big Woods Trail, Vermilion County, Illinois
Length: 1.5 miles (combined with Fox River Trail)
Skill level: Difficult
The Big Woods Trail slinks through American Indian trails and the ravine system, and ends with a photo op at the observation tower. It’s one of the many paths in Forest Glen Preserve, which includes other routes for backpackers, day-hikers, and those with handicaps.

19. Heron Rookery, Chesterton, Indiana
Length: 2.4 miles
Skill level: Moderate
Apparently, even Indiana natives aren’t so familiar with this trail, nestled among farm fields. Fishing aficionados can check out the Little Calumet River; everyone else can take in the beautiful wildflowers and watch the Great Blue Herons feeding in their natural habitat.

20. Shellrock River Greenbelt and Preserve, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Length: 7.5 miles
Skill level: Moderate
Leap through limestone bluffs and journey through woods, meadows, and ponds while viewing all sorts of wildlife. And don’t forget the PB&J: There’s a picnic area along the way.

21. Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Baraboo, Wisconsin
Length: 1,000 miles
Skill level: Difficult
Every step forward is a trip back in time on this trail, where visitors can learn about how the Ice Age shaped the natural landscape. Of course, it’s possible (and maybe even adviseable, especially for newbies) to only hike a portion of the super-long route.

22. Blind Ash Bay Trail, International Falls, Minnesota
Length: 2.5 miles
Skill level: Moderate
Wind your way through this rocky trail, part of Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. But don’t look down at your feet the whole time—the majestic forest surrounding you is beautiful. Return in the winter for snowshoeing!

23. Meremac Wilderness Trail, Sullivan, Missouri
Length: 8.5 miles
Skill level: Moderate
Deer, turkey, and squirrels, oh my! Our furry and feathery friends will likely be the only company we’ll have on the longest hike in Meramec State Park. It’s a sightseer’s paradise, complete with caves, springs, buffs, glades, and rock ledges. Choose to hike the whole thing in one day or stay overnight at one of the backpack camps along the trail.

24. Minong Ridge, Isle Royale, Michigan
Length: 37.3 miles
Skill level: Difficult
Leave the masses behind and take a pretty much private tour through trees, forests, and campsites by the lake. History buffs will jump at the chance to see a copper mine from the 1890s, while animal lovers can check out the variety of bird species. And better remember to pack some bravery: Wolves are known to make a rare appearance on this trail.

25. Nelson Kennedy Ledges State Park, Garrettsville, Ohio
Length: 0.5-1 mile
Skill level: Varies (easy to difficult)
Daredevils are welcome (and those with a fear of heights, beware): These trails are marked by a series of rugged cliffs. Four different trails are designed for four different skill levels, so anyone can try their hand (er, foot) at hiking. Tables and grills are provided—reward yourself at the end of a long trek with a little picnic.

Hidden Hikes in the Southeast

26. The Walls of Jericho, Huntsville, Alabama
Length: 3.5 miles
Skill level: Difficult
This trail isn’t too far from Huntsville, but it feels like it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. So slap on those waterproof boots and prepare to feel the burn as you trek downhill and then all the way back uphill through a muddy trail marked by caves and waterfalls. Legend has it a traveling minister named the hike more than two centuries ago when the nearly 200-foot walls reminded him of a cathedral.

27. Creek Trail, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
Length: 4 miles
Skill level: Varies
We love Disney World, but not all of Florida’s that crowded. Forgo the fifteenth ride on Space Mountain and check out this combination of forest footpaths, paved trails, and bridges over wetlands. Don’t worry about bringing a portable fan, either: A canopy of trees (including the “titi” tree) keeps things cool throughout the trek. (Note: Parts of the trails are also suitable for biking.)

28. Benton MacKaye Trail, Fannin County, Georgia
Length: 300 miles
Skill level: Difficult
Say “so long” for at least a few weeks if you plan to hike the whole thing. This 300-mile trail passes through the backcountry of North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, and includes parts of the Appalachian Mountains. There are also lots of options for shorter hikes along the way, passing through several federally designated Wilderness Study Areas. Try hiking from Three Forks to Springer Mountain, if only to marvel at the views of the southern Georgia Mountains at the end.

29. Linville Gorge Wilderness, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
Length: 22 miles
Skill level: Difficult
It takes at least three days to make the full circuit, so prepare for some hardcore camping. But it’s hard to prepare for what it feels like to stand on the edge of a cliff and look down at the gorge below. A thicket of hemlock stands, rhododendrons, and mountain laurel, plus a waterfall, make this trail feel simply magical.

30. Guignard Clay Quarry Loop Trail, Cayce, South Carolina
Length: 2.7 miles
Skill level: Easy
Though this trail is pretty close to Columbia, it’s the literal path less traveled, with minimal traffic throughout the year. The overgrown wetlands area actually used to be a quarry for a brick plant; today it’s a spot where hikers and their pooches can come for some solitude.

31. Crabtree Falls, Nelson County, Virginia
Length: 4.4 miles
Skill level: Options for easy, moderate, and difficult
Look up! The beautiful waterfall at the end of this uphill hike is the highest vertical-drop cascade east of the Mississippi River. Those afraid of heights (or who really have to pee) can take the trail past a series of lower falls.

32. Blair Spring Hollow Trail, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Length: 1.2 miles
Skill level: Easy
It’s a pre-Halloween spook-fest on this trail, part of Mammoth Cave National Park which features more than 300 miles of underground passages (and possibly more, still unexplored). While guided tours of the caves below ground attract lots of tourists, this above-ground trail doesn’t see much action throughout the year, so hikers can feel free to mosey in peace and gaze at the magnolia trees lining the path.

33. Spruce Flats Falls and Chestnut Top Wildflowers, Townsend, Tennessee
Length: 2 miles
Skill level: Difficult
While the gorgeous waterfalls are known to attract a bit of a crowd, the trail that leads there is more of a solo experience. The hike is only two miles long, but the uphill climb makes it a pretty intense workout.

34. Turkey Run Park, McLean, Virgina
Length: 2.25 miles
Skill level: Easy to moderate
This easy-to-miss collection of trails makes up part of the Potomac George ecosystem, and connects to larger public trails. It’s a journey through a natural paradise, complete with more than 200 species of rare plants, waterfalls, and woods. Wildlife roams throughout the trails—during the summer, hear woodpeckers calling from the branches of tall trees.

Hidden Hikes in the Northeast

35. Beaver Brook Trail, Milford, Connecticut
Length: 1.3 miles
Skill level: Easy
For those New Englanders looking for a way to pass a pleasant afternoon, consider crossing the trails and the footbridge across the wetlands in Beaver Brook. And don’t forget to bring the binoculars, since this is the perfect spot for bird watching. The summer’s also a good opportunity for fishing in the brook. Need some additional exercise? Continue on to the Mondo Pond paths.

36. Northern Section of the Appalachian Trail, Oxford County, Maine
Length: 33 miles
Skill level: Difficult
It takes about four days to hike this last stretch of the Appalachian Trail, left pretty much empty by tourists who flock instead to sites such as Baxter State Park. The hike is a postcard-picture-worthy journey up and down mountains, around lakes, and through thick spruce forests.

37. Chesapeake Wine Trail, Eastern Shore, Maryland
Length: Varies depending on tour
Skill level: Easy
Okay, so drinking out of a flask while hiking is generally not advisable. But sipping from a wine glass? So much classier. And we’re not talking about touring those famous wineries in California—there are lots of less well-known wine trails on the Eastern Shore. Visit St. Michael’s Winery, the biggest one on this trail, for some tastings, then work off all that vino by picking from apple, peach, pear, and plum trees.

38. Midstate Trail, Worcester County, Massachusetts
Length: 92 miles
Skill level: Moderate
Revamped in 1972, this trail is the product of teamwork between government officials and outdoorsy volunteers. Today, hikers can make the trek from Rhode Island to New Hampshire, winding their way through fields, forests, hills, and towns along the way. Of course, choosing just a portion of the trail to hike is also more than acceptable.

39. Falls in the River Trail, Pittsburg, New Hampshire
Length: 2 miles
Skill level: Moderate
This family-friendly trail runs beside the Connecticut River, and the sounds of rushing water greet hikers as they make their way along the path. Wildlife and waterfowl call this place home; otherwise you’ll find few distractions from peace and solitude.

40. Pochuck Mountain, Sussex County, New Jersey
Length: Variable
Skill level: Difficult
Talk about living history—the rocks that form this mountain are over a billion years old. And summiting them is no small challenge, either: The mountain peak stretches 1,149 feet into the sky. The name “Pochuck” literally means “out-of-the-way place” in the Lenape language, but don’t be fooled: The Appalachian trail runs over the top of the mountain, so this trail does see a bit more foot traffic than some of the other hikes on this list.

41. Walking Dunes Nature Trail, Napeague, New York
Length: 0.75 miles
Difficulty: Easy
If you like makin’ love at midnight, in the duuuunes of Long Island, this trail is for you. Or if you’re just into spectacular views as seen from between 40-foot-tall dunes, we recommend checking this place out.

42. Dingmans Falls Trail, Pike County, Pennsylvania
Length: 0.4 miles
Skill level: Easy
Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls… Unless you’ve just made it across the footbridge at Dingman’s Falls, some of the highest falls in Pennsylvania. Hemlocks and rhododendrons make this hike more of a walk through a natural wonderland.

43. Eshqua Bog Natural Area, Hartland, Vermont
Length: 1 mile
Skill level: Easy
When the local botanic gardens just don’t cut it, travel instead to see rare wildflowers (marigolds, bunchberry, lady’s slipper orchids!) on this trek through Vermont’s wetlands. A boardwalk over a bog makes up part of the trail, so it’s a bit easier on the feet than some of the other hikes on this list.

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