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Best US Wilderness Adventures (From Day-Hikes to Extended Backpacking Trips)

May 14, 2019 6 min read 0 Comments

Best US Wilderness Adventures (From Day-Hikes to Extended Backpacking Trips)

I always find that the best way to relax before a big job interview or business meeting is a short hike through nature. But when you’re traveling from city to city, it can be difficult to find the time.

There’s a mentality that significant time investment is essential to hiking and camping, not to mention the feeling many of us have that rushing such an endeavor somehow lessens its value. Not true, I say! Sometimes a short, hour-long hike or overnight wilderness adventure is exactly what’s needed.

Life is hectic, but to those of us for whom time outdoors is paramount — whether it’s a relaxation hike before an important meeting, or just a much-needed break from the family reunion — here are a few ideas that will hopefully inspire you in taking a few hours out of your trip to check out the nearest wilds.

Best US Wilderness Adventures
(From Day-Hikes to Extended Backpacking Trips)

The Quick(er) Trips

Here are four of our favorite spots for a day-hike if you need a quick getaway from the hectic, fast-paced life you lead. Most locations are close to airports and other standard forms of transportation, so you won't waste time traveling (and you'll put all your time into exploring!).

No. 1: Hellhole Canyon


Don’t panic — I realize starting a list off with ‘Hellhole’ might seem a little dicey, but it’s really not what it sounds like.

Only an hour away from San Diego International Airport, along a picturesque drive through Escondido, it may be so hot in Hellhole Canyon that it is closed during the peak of summer, but it is also one of the most rewarding hikes you’re likely to find. If you endure the surface temps, prepare to be rewarded with a cooling descent into the lush riparian zone, Hell Creek. While I would agree that they might want to rethink their branding, the temperature drops considerably beneath stands of Sycamore trees along the oasis you’ll find at the end of this sweltering journey.

It’s the closest piece of real wilderness outside the metro area, but it is also surrounded by a number of other camping and hiking opportunities farther out, such as Palomar Mountain and Cleveland National Forest.

No. 2: Monongahela National Forest


After passing through the blazing crucible of Hellhole Canyon, you might like to explore something a bit more refreshing, so if you find yourself in rural West Virginia (hey, it could happen), then the Monongahela National Forest is the place to go.

I’ll admit, the name sold me, but it really is an amazing place. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia, you're bound to encounter gorgeous scenery and views everywhere you turn. Though not particularly convenient to arrive directly at the location, the drive alone — along scenic eastern highlands — makes its plethora of hiking opportunities worthwhile.

No. 3: Franconia Notch State Park


After heading northeast from West Virginia, we will find ourselves in New Hampshire, home of Franconia Notch State Park. Franconia Notch is located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and is an easy drive away from the hubbub of Boston. Even with its relative proximity to the city, Franconia Notch State Park will leave you feeling as if you have left civilization altogether. Filled with dense greenery, lush waterfalls, and epic hiking adventures, Franconia Notch will be a day-hike to remember.

No. 4: The Appalachian Trail


I know what you’re thinking, “THE Appalachian Trail on a list of time-saving jaunts?” It may seem out of place as a trail that also comes up frequently when talking about the longest and most difficult hikes in the U.S. However, what people tend to overlook about this admittedly intimidating option is that it is more than just one long trail. In reality, it is thesingle largest trail system in the U.S.

Roving through 14 states with over 2,000 miles of trails, it’s a pretty good bet that if you’re traveling to New England, you’ll be within a few hours’ drive of an A.T. trailhead.

It’s also such a popular system that it has one of the best resource networks of any trail I’ve ever seen — including an interactive map of the entire system by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. They even have an entire webpage dedicated to a variety of day-hike possibilities.

Trips to take if you have a bit more time

While day-hikes and over-nighters can be great, there may also be times when detaching from the modern world and getting back to nature via an extended camping trip is more what you have in mind. These locations might take a bit longer to get to, and they might not have the same proximity to airports as the previous few locations, but that makes them all the more special. There are no shortage of wild places in the U.S., but for those occasions when a real retreat is needed, these are the places to go:

No. 1: Olympic National Park


Maybe you don’t have the time or inclination to climb Mount Rainier — fortunately, the nearby Olympic National Parklocated on Washington's Olympic Peninsula offers enough challenge and isolation to keep your adventurous side appeased for at least a week or two. It also has the benefit of being Seattle-adjacent, offering both nature and culture.

It might not be the most isolated area I could have chosen, but it does have the distinction of housing three divergent ecosystems, including one of the few true rainforests in U.S. National Parks. There’s even the possibility of whale-watching if you end your hike in the northwest section of the park — you’ll want some durable sunglasses here, that can withstand the hike and optimize your whale-watching at the finish

No. 2: Glacier National Park


You would be unlikely to find yourself on this trail as a work trip extension — or any other kind of trip for that matter. Isolated way up in northern Montana, you really only end up here if it’s your destination. The perfect place for a digital detox.

Glacier National Park is known for being pristine and untouched, even relative to National Parks in general. The mountainous region has 700 trails winding along rivers, lakes and woodlands, and an actual area called the Goat Haunt. So yeah, it’s worth checking out.

A note for the truly adventurous: I put Olympic and Glacier back-to-back for a reason. If you’re looking for a hardcore escape, they form the head and tail of the Pacific Northwest Trail System, a 60- to 75-day trek overall.

No. 3: Yosemite National Park


Beyond purely being the most fun to say of any national park name, Yosemite National Park, which is located in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, also boasts some of the most beautiful and unique formations in the U.S., like the famous El Capitan — impressive enough to have a computer operating system named after it (despite the lack of relevance here).

While some of the easier-access areas can be clogged with tourists during peak season, the park is expansive — 1,200 square miles encompassing waterfalls, valleys, meadows and any number of granite batholiths beyond (but not above) El Capitan.

No. 4: Salmon-Challis National Forest


For our last suggestion, I wanted to go way off the beaten path— which somewhat ironically brings us to Idaho. You may be surprised (I was, at least) to find that the largest national forest in the continental U.S. resides in humble Idaho.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest is 4.3 million acres. It’s so big that instead of finding the best places to get away from the city, it might be more beneficial to focus on where you’re least likely to become lost completely.

In addition to the nearly unending forest, the 104-mile Middle Fork stretch of the Salmon River is a popular body of water for non-motorized water sports, or simply ‘floating,’ which apparently is a thing that people do.

You might never conveniently end up in these areas looking for thrills, but we'd like to remind you that if you’re vacationing in Maine or at a work conference in Boston, a good hike and mental reboot is never too far away. A little initiative and a dash of creativity is all you need for a micro-adventure or a sylvan sabbatical, wherever you find yourself — and a reliable pair of STNGR sunglasses for such occasions never hurt anybody.

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