Backyard Bonanzas A great getaway is closer than you think.
You're on a business trip in an unfamiliar city, and you're desperate to escape the windowless convention center for a taste of the local wilds. Or you simply want to get to know your own region better, enjoying hikes that require no more than a long afternoon or a single day.
We can help you take that first step. Within an hour or two of most U.S. cities, there are nooks and crannies that beckon savvy hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. For the 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles guides to 18 cities, the editors at Menasha Ridge Press went straight to the locals who have earned reputations for knowing where and how to make a quick getaway.
Here's a sampling of some city-close treks, all guaranteed to knock your wool socks off. So the next time you find yourself hermetically sealed inside the Marriott Where-Am-I-Anyway? remember that a good helping of nature may be just a short distance away.
Poolside Among the Boulders Phoenix, Arizona
If you find sprawling Phoenix overwhelming, head to the rugged Superstition Mountains, the centerpiece of the 160,000-acre Superstition Wilderness Area. Veteran hike leader Charles Liu escapes the confines of his job as a software engineer by following one of his favorite trails, a ten-mile trek along Boulder Canyon to LaBarge Canyon.
The route offers close-ups of boxy Battleship Mountain and sweeping panoramas of the 5,000-foot-high Superstition ridgeline. But it's the emerald swimming hole at the mouth of LaBarge that brings Liu back again and again. "You round a corner, and suddenly there's a huge pool surrounded by towering cliffs," he says. "After hiking in the Arizona heat, you'll be completely hot and sweaty by the time you get there." The pool is at its best in late spring when temperatures are "only" in the mid-90s (and before the water stagnates in summer). You'll also enjoy wildflowers such as desert mariposa lilies, Mexican gold poppies, and blue dicks.
LOGISTICS Length: 10.5 miles Time: 5 hours Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous. Route-finding skills are required, and LaBarge Creek can flow dangerously strong after major storms. Directions: About 25 miles east of Phoenix on U.S. 60, exit onto Idaho Road. Drive 2.25 miles north and turn northeast onto the Apache Trail, SR 88. Go 14 miles to Canyon Lake Marina.
Rock on the Wild Side Austin/San Antonio, Texas
The massive dome of Enchanted Rock looms over the rolling central Texas Hill Country, providing uninterrupted views of a 100-square-mile region. That's enough to draw visitors in droves to the 325-foot granite landmark, but don't let that keep you away--just avoid visiting on weekends and holidays.
At Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, a loop hike meanders among pink-granite slabs and cabin-size boulders, eventually leading you up the Summit Trail to the park's namesake. From there, you can watch rock climbers scrambling on bluffs and domes. But Texas native and author Tom Taylor recommends the rock for what you can hear as much as see: "On hot summer days, the sun heats the granite so much that at day's end it groans as it cools down."
LOGISTICS Length: 4.1 miles Time: 3 hours Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous. Directions: From Fredericksburg (77 miles west of Austin via U.S. 290, or 68 miles northwest of San Antonio via I-10 and U.S. 87), follow RR 965 for 17 miles to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. The trailhead for the loop hike begins near campsite #22.
Canyons Without Concrete Chicago, Illinois
The northern two-thirds of Illinois is, or once was, a prairie, so a canyon hike near Chicago is a great find. Hiker and guidebook author Ted Villaire recommends the Dells Area of Matthiessen State Park, where you'll walk in the deep shadow of 100-foot-high sandstone walls. "I love the prairie's open spaces, but it's a thrill to explore these rare, damp shady corners," he says. "The mile-long canyon's surface changes as you make your way through, from nearly chalky white to shades of yellow and brown to a blue-green tint created by lichen." The 2,000-acre area was once a private park owned by 19th-century industrialist Frederick William Matthiessen, who constructed an intricate network of trails, bridges, and stairways. Expect close encounters with liverworts, mosses, and ferns clinging to canyon walls, a pool known as the Giant's Bathtub, and a colorful canyon dubbed the Devil's Paint Box. For a seasonal treat, visit in winter--cross-country ski rentals are available.
LOGISTICS Length: 2.2 miles Time: 1.5 to 2 hours Difficulty: Moderate. In places, the trail alternates between mud and rock and requires stream crossings. Directions: From Chicago, take I-55 south 42 miles to I-80, then drive 45 miles west to Exit 81 south. Proceed south along Illinois 178 for 5.1 miles, passing through Utica and crossing the Illinois River. The entrance to the Dells Area at Matthiessen State Park is on the right.
Skyscraper, Northwest-Style Portland, Oregon
Backyard wilderness may be easy to find in the West, but it's not always easy to explore. Cooper Spur on the north slopes of 11,239-foot Mt. Hood is one of the more challenging dayhikes you'll encounter anywhere. Within close range of downtown Portland, this eight-mile route takes you into the realm of mountain climbers, rock, and snow. (In the days before the famous Timberline Lodge was built high on Hood's southern flank, Cooper Spur was the standard route to the summit. Some peakbaggers continue to use it today.) On your way up, you'll pass through rare snow-zone old-growth hemlocks and Pacific silver firs. "I call them 'Buddha trees' because they're fat at the base but not tall," hiker and author Paul Gerald says. "They get snapped off too easily by the wind. And by November, they're often under ten feet of snow." As you ascend, you'll see the Eliot Glacier and may hear it pop and rumble. Just before the snowline--assuming you're visiting in summer or fall--you'll reach Tie-In Rock, where climbers with crampons, ropes, and adequate training head out onto the glacier and summit. For dayhiking mortals, this is a great spot to seek shelter from the wind before returning to lower elevations--you'll bask in views of Mt. Hood, the northern peaks of the Cascade Range, and the Columbia River Gorge.
LOGISTICS Length: 8.2 miles Time: 4.5 hours Difficulty: Strenuous. Unpredictable weather. Directions: Drive 51 miles east of Portland on U.S. 26, then north on OR 35. After 17 miles, turn left toward Copper Spur Ski Area. Go 2.4 miles and turn left. After 1.4 miles, you'll leave the pavement. Drive 8.3 winding miles to a junction and turn right. The trailhead is in the Cloud Cap Saddle Campground.
Black Bears and the Blue Ridge Washington, D.C.
Paul Elliott knows every remote corner of northern Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. And his advice for anyone hoping to avoid the crowds swarming its famous Skyline Drive along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains is simple: Hike from the bottom up rather than the top down.
Elliott, chair of the Sierra Club's Metropolitan Washington Regional Outings Program, which coordinates trips sponsored by three D.C.-area chapters, has mapped out an arduous 12-mile circuit on which he (almost) guarantees you'll encounter more black bears than people. "Once I stumbled upon several cubs on the trail," he says. "The mother was peering at me from a nearby ledge, patiently waiting." You may not be as lucky, but you'll get to see 93-foot-tall Overall Run (Shenandoah's highest waterfall), take in vistas of Massanutten Mountain and the Alleghenies that only get "bigger, brighter, and better" as you climb, and salute hike's end with a soothing dip in a series of pools.
LOGISTICS Length: 12 miles Time: 6 to 7 hours Difficulty: Extremely strenuous. Icy in winter. Directions: From the Capital Beltway (I-495) in Merrifield, Virginia, take Exit 49 and head 54 miles west on I-66 to Linden. At Exit 13, drive west on U.S. 55 toward Front Royal. After 5.3 miles, turn left on U.S. 340 and drive 9.3 miles south to Bentonville. Turn left on VA 613. After less than a mile, take a right on VA 630 and proceed for two miles to road's end.
River's Roost St. Louis, Missouri
Visitors to the heartland will be impressed with what they find in the middle of Missouri: The St. Francis River thunders down a canyon cut through the granite bluffs of the St. Francois Mountains. At Millstream Gardens Conservation Area, the river creates the state's only whitewater rapids, home to the annual (and crowded) Missouri Whitewater Championships in mid-March. If you've got hiking boots instead of a kayak, you'll relish the route between Millstream Gardens and Silver Mines Recreation Area. "It's incredible in spring when the water is up and running fast," says author and Ozarks trail guide Steve Henry. "The roar of the river is everywhere." In addition to views of rapids with names like Double-Drop and Rickety Rack (and of kayakers braving them), keep an eye on the sky for bald eagles. After negotiating the river's bluffs, at trail's end you can check out the "air conditioner," cool breezes that drift from an old mine shaft in Silver Mines.
LOGISTICS Length: 5 miles Time: 3 to 5 hours Difficulty: Moderate. Hiking can be strenuous in winter but worthwhile for the ice formations. Directions: Heading south from St. Louis, take I-55 and then U.S. 67 approximately 86 miles to U.S. 72. Drive 8.4 miles west. Turn left at the Millstream Gardens sign and drive a mile south to any of the three trailheads.
ON THE WEB
For information on the Menasha Ridge Press hiking guides, go to menasharidge.com. For outdoor suggestions from Menasha Ridge and other publishers, visit trails.com.