5 Best Hikes in America

From the Appalachian Trail to Kilauea Iki, here are five walks you'll never forget.

By Derek Burnett from Reader's Digest | May 2005

From the Appalachian Trail to Kilauea Iki, here are five walks you’ll never forget.

One Step at a Time
It’s the Big Daddy of American hikes, more than 2,174 sole-challenging miles across 14 states, from a mountaintop in Georgia to another in Maine. Each year about 2,000 people set out from one end of the Appalachian Trail (AT) headed for the other; only about 400 soldier on for the six months it typically takes to finish. Mercifully for the rest of us, the AT has hundreds of entry points, and hikes suitable for almost any age, experience or waistline. It cuts through cities and green valleys and cow pastures, across sacred battlegrounds and historic sites, including an early settlement of freed slaves. Hikers pass by the President’s retreat at Camp David, and Mount Weather, the federal government’s super-secret underground bunker. So answer your call of the wild — and get going. For more information, log on to www.appalachiantrail.org.

Northern Beauty
Like the AT, the Superior Hiking Trail is also accessible at many points along the way — and getting on this relatively young trail (conceived in the mid-1980s) is definitely worth it. The 210-mile path extends through wilderness north of Duluth, Minnesota, to the Canadian border; a 40-mile extension is in the works. With knockout views of Lake Superior, the path draws 50,000 people a year, some of whom glimpse bear and moose. (Allow three weeks for the whole trail.) To learn more, go to shta.org.

Ozark Getaway
In the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas, head out on the Shores Lake-to-White Rock Mountain loop (13.4 miles). Part of the 165-mile Ozark Highlands Trail, it makes for a brisk day hike or a leisurely overnight, starting at scenic Shores Lake, ascending White Rock Mountain, then returning to the lake via the Salt Fork drainage. Early on, the well-maintained footpath shadows White Rock Creek, passing two eye-popping waterfalls. In spring, the excursion is a burst of dogwood and other blossoms. On the summit, see the spectacular sunset over Oklahoma, then sack out in one of three stone cabins built in the 1930s. Visit HikeArkansas.com.

Picture Perfect
A five-mile round trip on Mount Scott, the highest peak in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, offers breathtaking views of the country’s deepest lake, formed by volcanic eruption 7,000 years ago.
Along the way, you’ll step past 400-year-old whitebark pines, hardy high-elevation survivors. The view of Crater Lake is so stunning it will appear on Oregon’s commemorative quarter, starting in June. This hike isn’t for the fainthearted; you’ll gain 1,500 feet in 2.5 miles of climbing. But the 360-degree views of the lake, the Klamath Basin, and California’s distant Mount Shasta make it a great destination. Check out nps.gov/crla.

Cool, Hot Hawaii
On Kilauea Iki, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (4 miles), you’ll start out in a lush tropical rain forest, then emerge onto a sweeping panorama of black lava, where steam seeps through the vents of Little Kilauea’s crater. A two- to three-hour hike yields both extremes. Nearby, at the still-active volcano Kilauea, you might even catch a light show like the one at left. Visit nps.gov/havo.

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