20 Great Eastern Day Hikes

20 Great Eastern Day Hikes

Flickr/nc_hiker/zackojones

When you want to crash onto your pillow at the end of the day, content that you’ve conquered something straight out of an epic fantasy adventure, clamber up the trails around Falls Creek Falls. The climbing is brutal on this 6.1-mile point-to-point hike, but the scenery is pure magnolia magic. Start with a mile and a half of uphill climbing to the falls, and continue on over creeks and rocky switchbacks to the entrance of Jones Gap State Park. You’ll gain about 1,700 feet of elevation and earn a restful night.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go:
Late winter/early spring is best, but summer is great, too.
alltrails.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/cm195902

Good ol’ Rocky Top—the peak that launched a thousand country cover songs—sits way up in the Smoky Mountains along the border of Tennessee. To scope it for yourself, take the 13.9-mile roundtrip Lead Cove Trail to Bote Mountain. Yes, this is the same Rocky Top of Tennessee fight-song fame, so once you’ve taken in a panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains from atop this lovely Thunderhead Mountain sub-peak, prepare to have the twangy melody stuck in your head for life. Go in late May or June to enjoy the blooming laurel and rhododendron.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go:
Early summer
hikinginthesmokys.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/WanderingtheWorld (www.LostManProject.com)

Don’t dismiss all things Franconia simply because they’re so popular—there’s a reason this 9-mile loop is an eternal best-hikes chart topper. Sure, when it comes to hiking the White Mountains, you could dig up deeper cuts, but you’d be missing out on a classic high-elevation day hike with waterfalls, breathtaking 360-degree views for miles, and just the right amount of suffering to get to the top of Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack. Come for the scenery, not the solitude—chances are your good taste in hikes will be shared by plenty of other Appalachian Trail section hikers.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: Fall is best, but summer's pretty great, too.
sectionhiker.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/jdigit3l

It’s easy to feel trapped by city life and the sense that escaping to nature requires hours of planning, an empty weekend and some kind of sport-utility vehicle bursting with REI gear. But there are plenty of wilderness adventures you can access from public transportation without even leaving the city limits. Wissahickon Valley Park is right on the SEPTA line and features enough dirt and gravel trails—including this 7-mile namesake trail—to make you forget you’re less than five miles from the Rocky stairs in downtown Philly. The hiking is more casual than strenuous, but the views of giant sycamores and meandering creeks rival the best deep wilderness adventures.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go: Year-round
fow.org
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/mikerhicks

Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world, with more than 370 miles of known subterranean passages. Although the cool underground labyrinths are the park’s obvious draw, the above-ground trails are well worth exploring for the sinkholes, springs and wildflowers. The 16.6-mile roundtrip Sal Hollow connects singletrack and fire roads for a moderate trek past the mouth of cave entrances. There’s a lot to explore, including plenty of options to connect to other trails or take a wild cave tour that involves rock-climbing and army-crawling through keyhole spaces.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Year-round
nps.gov/maca
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/USDA.gov

The North Country National Scenic Trail is a bit of an unsung hero in the thru-hiking world. Twice the size of the Appalachian Trail, it stretches from New York to North Dakota and, when completed, will stake its claim as the longest continuous hiking trail in the United States. In Michigan near Mesick, the NCST traces some of the wildest, most beautiful parks and forest the Great North has to offer. Start at the Marilla Trailhead and hike 20 brisk miles to High Bridge for scenery, solitude and a great stretch of tree-lined climbs through the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Several trailheads in between allow for shorter options.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Year-round, but early fall is best for mild temps and changing leaves
northcountrytrail.org
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/katstan/dogtooth77

This short-but-scrappy 6.7-mile loop of the highest peak in the Catskills is an eternal favorite for killer autumn foliage and breathtaking views of 33 (out of a possible 34) other peaks. Come in from the east up the Curtis Ormsbee Trail for over 3,000 feet of climbing over Cornell Mountain and Wittenberg Mountain, which add together to produce one of the more brutal treks in the Catskills. Of course, it goes without saying that when it comes to hiking, rewarding and brutal go hand-in-hand.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go:
April-October
nynjtc.org
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/patrickhashley

Trace the Great Range’s ridgeline on a magical journey past 150-foot waterfalls, open summits and multiple challenging peaks. Don’t be fooled by the “lower” qualifier of this “Lower Great Range Loop”—it’s still an epic, 14- to 17-mile trek over 4,000-plus-foot mountains with tellingly imaginative names like Wolfjaw and Little Nippletop. Get an early start from the St. Huberts Trailhead, and follow the West River Trail and Gothics-Armstrong Trail for a full day of dramatic, panoramic views. This is one of the best hiking areas in the Adirondacks, so there are plenty of more manageable options, including a 9-mile roundtrip on the West River Trail along the East Branch Ausable River to glimmering, glacier-carved Lower Ausable Lake.
Difficulty: Strenuous; Moderate to Ausable Lake
When to go: Summer to early fall
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Mr. Moment

The 296-mile Superior Hiking Trail follows the ridgeline over Lake Superior, through old-growth forests and stunning views of the St. Louis River and Superior’s north shore. Famous for its maple-and-pine beauty and carefully maintained paths, day sections of the trail rank as moderately difficult and are easy to break up from 75 different access points. Watch out for moose, black bears and other wildlife waltzing across the trail into the majestic Superior wilderness.
Difficulty: It's up to you.
When to go: Late summer is best.
shta.org
—Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/mabecerra/Matt Peoples

Arkansas isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you consider top-notch backpacking destinations, but the Ozarks definitely deserve some top-ten list credit for long treks like this 14-miler (turning back at Cherry Bend) through lush, dogwood-studded forests with quiet trailside camping. Prepare for moderate climbs and a gorgeous view from the top of White Rock Mountain. Go in November to see the leaves changing color, or soak in the swimming holes and waterfalls during the heat of summer.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Late fall is the time for leaves and mild temps, but summer delivers cool swimming holes and refreshing waterfalls.
ozarkhighlandstrail.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Lee Edwin Coursey

Here’s another great section-hike on the Appalachian Trail, but this 11-miler will make even the most creature comfort-loving of thru-hike skeptics consider quitting their jobs to tackle the whole thing. At 3,644 feet, White Cap Mountain is the highest peak in the area and offers Appalachian Trail voyagers a glimpse of Mount Katahdin—the northern-bound finish line of a months-long journey. It’s a tough climb, but the reward is the chance to swim in Cooper Brook Falls and take in the rugged Maine wilderness from high above. For a shorter, 7-mile segment of the trail, tackle Gulf Hagas, which passes a series of breathtaking gorge waterfalls that feel like they’re a million miles from civilization.
Difficulty: Strenuous for 11 miles/Moderate for 7 miles
When to go: Summer
outdoors.org
—Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Jeff Bang

File this one under “Hikes you don’t need a car to access,” and enjoy the hour-and-a-half train ride out to the beautiful Hudson River Valley. The views of the Hudson River can’t be beat from this admittedly challenging trek (the word “scramble” comes up often in Breakneck Ridge trail ratings). There are a number of shorter routes, including a 2.8-mile loop, but if you want a full 12-miler and a glimpse of downtown NYC, follow the white blazes to the fire tower at South Beacon.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: Year-round
nynjtc.org
—Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/woolcarderbee

Plenty of day hikes offer a window to the past, but how many look back to the time of wooly mammoths and sabertooth tigers? The 1,200-mile Ice Age trail follows the outline of a former glacier that receded from Wisconsin more than 10,000 years ago. Hike the Baraboo Hills section just south of Baraboo, Wisconsin, which follows the bluffs above Devil’s Lake. It’s a beautiful trek through natural history that boasts diverse fauna, prehistoric geology and more than its share of glacial oddities.
Difficulty: Moderate, depending on length
When to go: Year-round
iceagetrail.org
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/cm195902

Hiking the 15-mile Coastal Prairie Trail is a step away from the stereotypical eastern hike in that you won’t face much climbing. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be awesome views—you’ll weave through mangrove forests and salt marshes along Florida Bay, tick off every colorful bird listed in your guidebook, and spill out onto a natural beach at the turnaround point. There aren’t a lot of those left in Florida, so take full advantage of the view. This one is more of a spectacular nature walk than a rigorous hike.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go: Summer is fine, as long as you come armed with DEET
nps.gov/ever
Caitlin Giddings

Wikimedia Commons/-Raeky

The aptly named Chimney Top is a striking rock structure presiding over hickory-oak forestland and West Virginia countryside. You’ll gain 1,700 feet of elevation on your way up the 2.9-mile (one way) North Fork Mountain trail, but rewards come in the form of 360 views from multiple vista points and the chance to spot a peregrine falcon on its morning commute. Getting to the very top of the peak will require a small amount of rock-climbing skills, but you can take in the rock formations on Chimney Top without too much scrambling. Bring a camera—and lots of water.
Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous
When to go: April-November
trails.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/paul+photos=moody/found_drama

The view from Camel’s Hump, the state’s third-highest mountain, is unsullied by cell towers, ski lifts and other standard manmade distractions, which is a surprisingly rare treat for a Vermont hike. There are a number of trailheads around the mountain, and all offer a chance to rock-hop your way to the 4,083-foot open summit. Our favorite is the 6.8-mile roundtrip route on the Monroe Trail. Expect steep climbs and exceptional views of endangered alpine vegetation.
Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous
When to go: All summer is great, but fall is best.
summitpost.org
—Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/stevenosloan

Shining Rock Wilderness off the Blue Ridge Parkway is a popular Asheville escape for good reason—6,000-plus-foot peaks offer amazing views of blooming rhododendron and laurels for miles. Scramble up the steep rise to the 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob for a quick survey of the scene, then continue up the rugged trail to the quartzite peak of Shining Rock for a 10-mile loop. Wild blueberries are everywhere in August.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Summer rules here
localhikes.com
Caitlin Giddings

Wikimedia Commons/Knowandtell

The Zaleski trail network offers moderate to difficult treks through a woodland wonderland. Start at the historical Hope Furnace, which produced iron ore and weaponry starting before the Civil War, and disappear into a forest filled with mining remnants, secret caves and dense clusters of maple, hickory and oak. If you don’t have the time or energy for an all-day 18-mile push around both loops, no one will you call you lazy if you stick to the 10-mile South Loop.
Difficulty: Strenuous for 18 miles; Moderate for 10 miles
When to go: Year-round
ohiodnr.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Oblivious Dude

DC's 2,800-acre Rock Creek Park has more than 25 miles of trails, and while it doesn’t offer much in the way of truly strenuous hiking, it’s a great way to get a quick jolt of nature before plunging back into the noise and stress of the city. There are two main trails, which meander around streams, waterfalls, rolling hills and a Nature Center and Planetarium. It’s like escaping to an island of comparative wilderness for when you want to get away without leaving the city limits.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go: Year-round
nps.gov/rocr
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/adamiwebb

Is it really that surprising that so many great eastern hikes are on the Appalachian Trail? At 3,941 feet, Mount Greylock is the highest peak in Massachusetts, offering spectacular, colorful views of four neighboring states on a clear day. Base to summit is an all-day, 13.6-mile roundtrip undertaking, but there’s a 1930s-era lodge at the peak where you can eat lunch or spend the night. You’ll also pass rich vegetation, scores of interesting wildlife, and a stray lighthouse miles and miles from the ocean.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: April-October
mass.gov
Caitlin Giddings

Click here for 20 Great Western Day Hikes.

20 Great Eastern Day Hikes