By Bradley O’Neill
Hiking is one of the great American passions and there’s plenty of reasons why. It’s free, healthy and good for the soul and it also brings you into contact with the nation’s stunning natural beauty. The National Trails System covers 88,600 miles of hiking trails nationwide., which means there should be something close to home. While states such as Alaska, Colorado and Washington boast some of the best hiking trails, here we’ll focus on more underrated locations. So lace up your boots and get walking.
Thoughts of The Sunshine State often conjure up images of theme parks, surfing and white-sand beaches. This is the flattest state in the U.S. so there are no mountains to climb. Instead, hiking in Florida is about exploring gorgeous stretches of coastline and tropical state parks. The Florida Trail is a 1,400-mile-long thru-hike between Pensacola Beach and Big Cypress National Preserve, in the Everglades. A walk along the sugary sands of Santa Rosa Island is among the many highlights.
Have you ever considered hiking in Idaho? With an unblemished wilderness of crystalline rivers, dramatic ravines and soaring mountain peaks, there’s every incentive to go. One day you’ll be crossing lava fields in the Craters of the Moon Wilderness and the next gazing in awe at the Sawtooth Range. It’s worth hiking to Heaven’s Gate Lookout for superb views over no less than four neighboring states. Idaho even claims a little slice of Yellowstone National Park.
In south-central New England is the nation’s most populous state; however, there’s boundless opportunities to escape the crowds. As this is New England you can delight in the spellbinding colors of the fall foliage. Trails present intimate encounters with the natural riches of Blue Hills Reservation and bring you to the coastal villages of Barnstable County. You’ll feel world’s away while hiking forests and meadows on the Bunker Meadows Trail. A 90-mile stretch of the legendary Appalachian Trail weaves through the state, too.
This Midwestern state is known more for prairies and lakes than hiking but don’t let that put you off discovering it on foot. In fact, if water is a priority then there’s over 10,000 lakes to wander around in Minnesota. The Gitchi-Game State Trail travels the northern shoreline of Lake Superior, which just happens to be the biggest of the Great Lakes. It’s part of the Superior Hiking Trail, a 310-mile-long lakeshore route that presents a snapshot of the state’s beauty.
Illinois is another unsung hiking destination in the Midwest. The Prairie State has a landscape made up of emerald green forests, undulating hills, wetlands and, of course, prairies. In Starved Rock State Park, where deer roam freely and eagles fly overhead, are glacier-carved canyons and waterfalls. The 400-mile network of trails in Shawnee National Forest are nirvana for hikers. Be sure to get acquainted with the might of the Mississippi River at Mississippi Palisades State Park.