After spring’s schizophrenic bounce between cool and balmy, we’ve finally arrived at sunny days. This seasonal entrance to long days also opens a unique window to access some of the country’s best summertime hikes as winter runoff dries up and cold fall days are far away. Travel along with The Manual to find the best places to chew dirt during the sunny season.
Nugget Falls Trail, Tongass National Forest (Easy)
We begin in the far northwest; north being the key word here. Many of these suggestions, such as this entry, are great for summer hikes, as the weather finally allows for easy access. Crossing the continent to arrive at Tongass National Forest outside of Juneau, Alaska, outdoor lovers will find over 700 miles of accessible trails spreading out before them.
The Nugget Falls Trail takes up less than a mile of this diaspora, but it provides a wonderful appetizer to the great wilds available beyond. At close to 2 miles out and back, the trail begins halfway down Photo Point Trail and skirts the flats at the edge of Mendenhall Lake. Views of the glacier above combine with incredible alpine views of the surrounding flora and fauna. Above, spy bald eagles and mountain goats navigating rocky paths. At eye level, arctic terns nest around the lake in the summer and black bear cubs emerge from dens. (Make sure to keep food secure so bears don’t get used to relying on humans for meals.) In the lake, salmon and trout dart below the cold water’s surface.
Along the way, visitors can choose to traverse dense forests and meadows, explore caves, and even venture on a wooden boardwalk trail through swampy bogs called “muskegs.” The trail ends at Nugget Falls, a dramatic cascade crashing into the water below, misting sweating hikers.
Tillamook Head Trail (Moderate)
Heading down the coast, we find another significant land’s end at Tillamook Head, endorsed by none other than William Clark, at the end of his historic exploration of the Louisiana Territory. Arriving here in 1806 after walking across the West for months, Clark summited the mountain ridge.
Poking through the old-growth, Douglas fir forest, the explorer “beheld the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed.” See what so impressed him as you step in Lewis and Clark’s tracks from the town of Seaside to Ecola State Park.
The 6.3-mile trail follows Lewis and Clark’s ascent, climbing over 1,000 feet through the ancient coastal rainforest to emerge and see dramatic views of mountain ridges jutting into the Pacific. The dense and almost perpetually damp environment (averaging more than 6 feet of rain over 194 days of annual precipitation) is at its least muddy in the summertime. Wildlife hikers can watch for forest elk, eagles, and late/early season migrating gray whales. On the trail’s descent to Indian Beach, views of Cannon Beach’s famous basalt rock formations peek through the often surrounding fog.
Blue Lakes Trail (moderate)
Further off the beaten path is the Blue Lakes Trail, tucked into southwest Colorado’s Mount Sneffels Wilderness. Gliding through a glacial basin, the Blue Lakes Trail is an unbelievable summer hike, given its remote location just north of Telluride and Silverton.
The 8-mile out-and-back hike crosses several mountain streams and passes through wildflower-filled meadows. Incomparable 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains abound at the second and third lakes, making this moderate trek worth every minute of the effort.
On the safety side of things, backcountry hikers need to make sure they bring enough water and food fuel for the journey because there is nothing on the Blue Lakes Trail besides nature. People are also advised to begin the 5 to 6-hour journey in the morning because summertime also means afternoon thunderstorms. For more intrepid travelers, backcountry camping options are available close to the first lake.
Highline Trail (moderate)
Edging along the Continental Divide (where water either flows west on one side or east on the other), the Highline Trail is a summertime favorite in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
At almost every step along the way, hikers are treated to spectacular scenery as the Highline travels cuts through the Garden Wall, an almost sheer alpine face looking at rolling hills of wildflowers and wildlife, like mountain goats, marmots, horned sheep, and more, poking in and out of the foliage like a pastoral Garden of Eden.
Outdoor people seeking solitude won’t find much on the Highline Trail. The 8-mile out-and-back trail leading up the Haystack Butte is one of the most popular in the country and best when the weather is warm. The trail narrows to a single-file width in some parts, causing further potential jams. Walkers also need to leave the pups at home, as dogs aren’t allowed on the Highline Trail.
Superior Hiking Trail (moderate to difficult)
Moving into the Midwest, outdoor lovers can find one of the country’s more epic, unsung hikes. The Superior Hiking Trail hugs the ridgeline of the frigid Lake Superior for 296 miles, providing freshwater views for as far as the eye can see. Rolling from Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian border, the Superior Trail follows the spine of the jagged Sawtooth Range, offering almost countless, vast vistas.
The trail fluctuates between 602 and 1,829 feet and climbs a total of 37,821 feet over the course of the epic through trail. An 18-mile stretch from Silver Bay to County Route 6 is a great taste of the full route, passing several small lakes and forested river valleys alongside the Sawtooth cliffs. Keep an eye out for moose, black bear, and beaver foraging amid abounding summertime wild berries.
Billy Goat Trail (moderate to difficult)
Get your hooves out, the Billy Goat Trail asks hikers to traverse slim ledges and hop across deep gaps that lead down a steep cliff face above the roaring Potomac River. Close to metropolitan Washington D.C., adventurers up for the challenge can choose any one of three sections of the Billy Goat Trail splintering off of the C&O Canal Towpath.
Section A is by far the most demanding. Consequently, it’s also the most rewarding. Scrambling over angled rocks and boulders, the frothing Potomac below squeezes through Mather Gorge down into the Great Falls.
Trekkers not so thrilled about heights can take a more leisurely stroll that still offers great views across the river to Virginia. Connecting all three hikes creates a strenuous, approximately 8-mile hike along the wild river. Take note: Being so close to the city, the hike is very popular, so people should plan to arrive early to beat the crowds.
Tongue Mountain Loop (moderate)
Continuing out to the eastern woods, outdoor seekers can head to the Tongue peninsula in New York’s Adirondack Mountains to find peace and solitude away from the bustling resort towns below.
Sticking out like a rocky green licker, Tongue Mountains’ five peaks rise above busy Lake George. Though the peninsula is striped with trails, hikers tend to concentrate on the 13-mile loop around the outcropping’s lower half, which offers peerless views of the lake and its many islands. Navigating from north to south, walkers earn a sweaty summertime workout scrambling up and down three 1,500-foot summits before descending to Montcalm Point’s cool waters at the tongue’s tip.
If these options don’t whet your appetite for hiking, these are only a few of the multitude of hikes available across the great, rolling North American continent. The weather is warm and the time is right, so make sure to enjoy some of the great wilds the U.S. has to offer before the sun starts to fade and the air begins to chill.
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