The downside is plenty of others are also thinking the same thing, as evidenced by the record-breaking number of National Park visitors last year. These crowds are a blessing and a curse, putting an immense strain on limited resources and undermining the reason people hit the trails in the first place.
Fortunately the U.S. is a big place, and many of our natural habitats are perfect for long-weekend hikes. This gives you just enough time to get into the backcountry and away from the largest crowds. Out there, it’ll just be you and a handful of likeminded nature lovers, soaking in the rewards of a challenging trek.
Maximize the spring holidays by following some of the country’s lesser-known hikes without going off the beaten path. State and local parks, as well as national forests, host beautiful trails and are usually closer to home, helping you make the most of your time off while avoiding overuse elsewhere.
While you have a vast number of trail options across the country in any type of environment, we have a few lesser-known favorites to inspire your search. World-class hiking is closer, and quieter, than you think. Scan your map for the green patches that represent parklands which may seem obscure. The natural wonders found in big name parks can often be found in these less famous areas too.
Eagle Rock Loop, 28.6 miles; Arkansas
Nestled into southern Ouachita National Forest in western Arkansas, this is a challenging backcountry trek that boasts dense forest and gushing creeks, with multiple crossings and steep hills. Your work is rewarded with a series of peaks that let you gaze upon your route and appreciate your place in it. It may be a bit removed from things, but it deserves love just the same.
Grafton Loop, 38.6 miles; Maine.
Long weekends give you the perfect chance to tackle behemoths like the Appalachian Trail in manageable chunks rather than a six-month thru-hike. Unfortunately, the trail’s popularity means it’s often crowded. Grafton Loop provides an offshoot to the AT in northern Maine, introducing you to the AT experience while avoiding the crowds of thru-hikers and relieving pressure on the main trail.
Loowit Trail, 28 miles; Washington.
Take in the deceptive beauty of an active volcano from every angle. As you circle Mount St. Helens you’ll be able to follow the ever evolving topography that changes with each eruption.
Santa Cruz/Santa Rosa Islands; California.
Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited parks in the system, despite the diversity of the hikes and scenery packed into such a small place. Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa provide especially rugged opportunities with their backcountry campsites, and include limited opportunities to pitch your tent directly on the beach where few others know they can.
About the Author: Andrew Carpenter is an American University graduate who studied international relations, focusing on human rights and environmental justice. His starry-eyed tendencies have led him to bike across Europe and the U.S., last year writing about transportation issues that affect communities across the country from a cyclist’s perspective. Andrew is a freelance writer who looks to promote innovative, sustainable ideas that inspire discovery and bring communities together.