Every park, forest, and wilderness in this country contains more than seven great day hikes, so this list is a bit partial, and biased. These trails, listed below according to region, were donated from the long-term memories of former area natives. When asked what one trail defined their region here is what they said.
Mount Washington State Forest
The Hike: This 5-mile hike begins in an open meadow filled with wildflowers that bloom into late summer. A look south reveals Hunts Pond at the mouth of a narrow valley and encircling mountains. This trail meanders up and down, through groves of birch and hardwood forests, into grassy meadows, across babbling streams, through seas of mountain laurel and wild berry patches until it finally reaches the true ascent. The west summit trail climbs up and around a cliff band to the 2,239 foot summit of Alander Mountain. Here views come from every direction: to the south, Mount Ashley, Mount Frissell, and Brace Mountain, to the west is the Hudson River and the Catskills, the northwest holds Albany and the Adirondacks, Mount Greylock lies due north, and Mount Everett lies in the east.
The Approach: Go south on MA 41 past MA 23, and turn right onto Mount Washington Road, just beyond Mill Pond. Stay on paved road for 9.1 miles (becomes East Street) until you reach the forest headquarters.
Contacts: Mount Washington State Forest (413) 528-0330 or Bish Bash Falls State Park at (413) 442-8928.
Insider Scoop: There is a great cabin near the summit that is free for overnight visitors on a first-come, first-serve basis. The mountain laurel bloom early in the summer, and the berries ripen later, entering fall.
Footwear: Approach shoes or light hikers.
Forbes State Forest/Linn Run State Forest
Wolf Rocks Trail
The Hike: One of my favorite trails, this area sees very few hikers. Located in the heart of western PA's Laurel Mountains, this 4-mile round trip trail rolls through a dense forest of hardwoods and hemlocks, carpeted with rhododendrons, ferns and moss-covered rocks. This canopy soon lifts, clearing a pristine and extensive view of the Linn Run Valley from a rock outcrop that drops 300 feet to the valley bottom. Fall Foliage views are spectacular.
The Approach: From the west, take Rt. 30 east out of Ligonier for 2 miles. At the intersection of PA Route 381, turn south for 4 miles. Turn left on Linn Run Road in the quaint town of Rector, and park at the Laurel Summit Picnic area. Follow trail signs.
Contacts: PA Bureau of State Parks (717) 783-4356, or PA Visitors Bureau (800) VISIT-PA.
Insider Scoop: Fill water bottles at the Grove Run Spring on Linn Run Road. Also, bring an extra layer; around here, 2739 ft. is mountainous. The trail gets rough in spots, so tread carefully.
Traction: Approach shoes, or trail runners. Light hikers for novice hikers.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Hike: This 4-mile trail begins with a steady climb along the Ramsay Prong on an old graded roadbed through forests of hemlock and mixed hardwoods. Large mossy boulders line the trail as Dutchman's pipe vine swing from the trees overhead. The roadbed becomes a footpath after a mile, and passes through a maze of mountain laurel and rhododendron until it opens into a canyon at mile 2. The trail climbs again through one of the largest pockets of virgin forest in the Smokies that includes hemlock, yellow poplar, black cherry, silverbell and cucumber magnolia. The trail becomes narrower and squeezes through boulder passages, spilling you into the bottom of Ramsay Cascades, a majestic 90-foot-high spillway.
The Approach: Take US Highway 321 east to the Greenbrier Road entrance to the park. Turn right on Greenbrier Rd. for 3.2 miles until you see a sign for Ramsay. Take a right and follow the road for 1.5 miles where it dead-ends at the trailhead.
Contacts: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (423) 436-1200 or the TN Chamber of Commerce (800) 900-4148.
Insider Scoop: Ramsay Cascades is the highest waterfall in the park, so it can be crowded. Try and travel on weekdays. Also, late April or early May are peak times to find the magnolia's in blossom.
Traction: Trail runners or approach shoes.
Big Bend National Park
The South Rim Trail
The Hike: Located in the Chisos Mountains (7200 ft.) this 13-mile loop begins in the Chisos Basin, a lush garden spot in the middle of an arid park, walled in by pink igneous rock. The trail forks a few times near the start; veer toward the South Rim trail and then connect with the Laguna Meadow Trail. The trail climbs up the drainage below Emory Peak, up several switchbacks until it reaches the grassy flats of the Laguna Meadow. From here the trail skirts the rocky talus slopes of Emory Peak for a mile and then levels out for an easy hike to the rim. As you near the edge, the mountains suddenly drop-off, and display the Chihuahuan desert thousands of feet below. Views extend to Mexico and include a great view of the Rio Grande.
The Approach: Take US 85, the main park road, to Panther Junction and turn right. Take a left on Basin Road and continue to the Basin Trailhead sign and parking area.
Contacts: Big Bend National Park (915) 477-2251, or Texas Parks and Wildlife at (512) 389-4439.
Insider Scoop: Water is scarce, so bring plenty with you. Great for winter hiking, but spring is when the cacti bloom.
Traction: Light or rugged hikers.
Superior National Forest
Bean and Bear Lakes Trail
The Hike: This great little hike spans 6.4 miles round-trip and leads to a pair of unexpectedly scenic lakes walled in by towering bluffs. There is not much scenery in the first mile, but hang in there for another mile for the first vista of Bean Lake (aptly named for its shape). 300 feet of rock cliffs separate you from this tranquil lake that lies between two high, forested ridges. Another mile of hiking brings you onto the bluffs of Bear Lake, where the hills are so plentiful it adopts a mountainous feel. Hikers can continue on the Superior Hiking Trail for another mile and reach the Lake Superior Overlook, where granite cliff walls drop off dramatically to the shores below.
The Approach: From MN Highway 61 and turnoff for Silver Bay, take Outer Drive (Edison Boulevard) for 2 miles. Then turn left onto Penn Boulevard (County Route 5) and drive .5 miles to the trailhead.
Contacts: MN Department of Natural Resources at (800) 652-9747 or MN Travel Information Center at (800) 657-3700 or (612) 296-5029.
Insider Scoop: The Bugs are crazy in the summer months, but July, August and September are Minnesota's only months without snowfall. This trail is also loaded with blueberries late in the summer.
Traction: Approach shoes, or trail runners.
The Hike: A full day hike to the largest lake in the Sawtooth Mountains. This 10-mile round trip trail takes you through a flat expanse of lodgepole pine, into a lush meadow with clear views of the Sawtooth Mountains. After a few switchbacks through Douglas Fir trees, the trail climbs up to a sub-alpine avalanche meadow, including a ford of Iron Creek (until August). Start climbing some more on a forested mountainside, until Alpine Lake comes into view 100 feet below (don't miss this view!). Things flatten out as you approach Sawtooth Lake, with majestic 10, 190 ft. Mt. Regan reflecting in its waters.
The Approach: Take Idaho Highway 21 heading northwest out of Stanley, ID for 2.6 miles to the Iron Creek Road turnoff. Drive 3.2 miles over washboard roads to Iron Creek Transfer Camp. Park the car and start hiking.
Contact: Sawtooth National Recreation Area, (208) 726-7672, or (800) 260-5970.
Insider Scoop: This lake can be crowded, but head one mile further to McGowan Basin for some solitude among the high altitude McGowan Lakes. Late July and August are prime wildflower months.
Traction: Light to rugged hikers.
Siskiyou Wilderness, Six Rivers and Klamath National Forests
The Boundary Trail
The Hike: This 10-mile trail winds along the Siskiyou crest from Elk Valley and joins the South Kelsey Trail at Harrington Lake. The trail gains and drops elevation as it meanders through meadows, and forests, over stony ridges, past walls of granite and red peridotite until it finally reaches quiet Harrington Lake. There are a few glacial ponds along the way, great places to stop for lunch and look for rough-skinned newts. Some other neat features are the stretches of Brewer, or weeping spruce, and a huge stand of Alaska cedars, apparently the southernmost occurrence of this species.
The Approach: Accesses are few and primitive so bring your maps: USGS Chimney Rock (1:24,000) and Prescott Mountain (1:24,000). Take US 199 to County Road 427. Take this to Forest Service Road 15N01. The trail departs from the northern end of the southern fragment of this road.
Contacts: Ukonom Ranger District (503) 627-3291
Insider Scoop: The Boundary Trail spans a landscape that is central to an active local Native American religious tradition, so it is not publicized or maintained by the National Forest Service. Tread carefully, with respect. Camps and fires are prohibited in this area.
Traction: Rugged hikers.