Happy Trails

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Camp Outs, Family Vacations 1998

Happy Trails

From an all-day jaunt to a weeklong trek, seven kid-tested routes to the wilderness


Happy Trails
From an all-day jaunt to a weeklong trek, seven kid-tested routes to the wilderness

Ten drive-up campsites with a backcountry feel

Backpacks To Grow On
Seven packs for every size hiker

Leave No Trace
Teaching your kids these simple skills, and get them involved in protecting wild places

Boots Made for Mileage
Five tough hiking boots for kids and adults

All the right stuff for camping

The Ute Trail, Colorado

The trail: Four footpaths traverse the 1,200-foot drop from the juniper-dotted basins of western Colorado into the Gunnison Gorge. The easiest is the 4.5-mile Ute Trail, which starts off gently down rocky hills offering a great view of the canyon. About halfway down, it gets serious: Switchbacks trace the walls of dark pre-Cambrian schist and red sandstone before bottoming out at Ute Park, which slopes toward the Gunnison River. You can camp here in one of four walk-in campsites or head back in the cool of evening. Although this qualifies as a serious hike, kids as young as four have made the round-trip in a day. Things to do: The river is good for swimming and fishing for trout. You can scan the canyon walls to spot bighorn sheep and search the sky for golden and bald eagles. Mountain lions and ringtail cats have also been spotted in the gorge. Local wisdom: Drink lots of water, especially on the way back up. Watch for scorpions and rattlesnakes in the rocks. Campsite Ute II has a resident bullsnake — harmless to humans but an imposing six feet long. Groups are limited to 12. Fires are prohibited, so pack in a stove. The way there: From Montrose head north on U.S. 50 to Falcon Road and turn right. Seven miles later, turn right onto Ute Road and go a couple of miles to the trailhead. Fees are $3 per person per day for day hikers; campers pay $5 per person per day; kids under 16 are free. After a heavy rain, you'll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Resources: The BLM manages the trail (970-240-5300). A good resource is Best Hikes with Children in Colorado by Maureen Keilty (The Mountaineers Books, $14.95) — Lisa Jones

The Appalachian Trail, Connecticut

The trail: The designers of the Appalachian Trail didn't just connect Georgia to Maine in a straight line from Point A to Point B — they formed a sinuous path through some of the finest mountains and woods on the East Coast. In the Litchfield Hills section of Connecticut, 53 miles of the trail weave through forests of maples, oaks, and hemlocks. A 48-mile stretch starts at Bulls Bridge in the south and climbs two small mountains, Schaghticoke and Caleb's Peak, before reaching the 3.9-mile river walk along the Housatonic River. Then you head back into the hills, ending this six- to seven-day jaunt at Connecticut's tallest peak, Bear Mountain. At 2,316 feet, Bear's low summit makes this section of the trail good for young kids. Things to do: The stretch of the river near Housatonic Meadows State Park in Cornwall, about 20 miles from Bulls Bridge, is a nine-mile trout management area with three miles reserved for fly-fishing. Local wisdom: Make the trek in late June or early July; most of the trail's traffic comes in late July, and early to mid-June is peak season for mosquitoes. The way there: Ideally, park one car at Bulls Bridge and another at the Bear Mountain parking lot. Bulls Bridge Road is located off U.S. 7, three miles south of the junction with Connecticut 341 in Kent. The Bear Mountain parking lot is on Route 41, three miles north of Salisbury. Resources: For a copy of the Appalachian Trail Guide to Connecticut and Massachusetts ($24.95), call 413-443-0011. — Stephen Jermanok

Lakeshore Trail, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The trail: The Ojibway Indians called Pictured Rocks "the land of thunder and gods," and when you hear the waves of Lake Superior crash against the sandstone cliffs, you'll understand why. The main backcountry route in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the 42.8-mile-long Lakeshore Trail, with campsites spaced at two- to five-mile intervals. Start your four- to five-day trek at Miner's Castle, seven miles from Munising Falls Interpretive Center, and head east. The first 15 miles pass through the 50- to 200-foot-high sandstone cliffs, offering dramatic lake views. You can camp at Chapel Beach, 9.3 miles from Miner's Castle. The second night, stay at Trapper's Lake (another 7.3 miles) or Pine Bluff (6.9 miles). The cliffs later give way to the sand and pebble 12-Mile Beach, 6.9 miles from Trapper's Lake, where you can spend the third night. Spend the next night near the Grand Sable Dunes in the lakeshore's eastern section, at either Au Sable East or Masse Homestead backcountry campgrounds. End your 35.8-mile journey at the Grand Sable Visitor Center just west of the town of Grand Marais. Things to do: Look for agates at 12-Mile Beach; give kids a hand lens to study the sand, rocks, feathers, and leaves. Allow plenty of time to explore the Grand Sable Dunes. Local wisdom: Holiday weekends and mid-July to mid-August are the busiest times, so request your permit ($15 for up to 14 days) in advance. The way there: Reach the park from the west via Michigan 28 and 94 at Munising, or from the east via Michigan 77 at Grand Marais. To reach Miner's Castle trailhead take County Road H-58 east from Munising for about six miles, then head north on Miner's Castle Road for about six miles. Resources: Call Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore at 906-387-3700. — Larry Rice

Greenbrier River Trail, West Virginia

The trail: Formerly part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, this 75-mile hike, bike, and ski trail in southeastern West Virginia traverses 35 bridges and two tunnels as it winds its way down the beautiful Greenbrier River Valley. Much of the route is surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains, but the trail itself is level. A great section for a two- to three-day hike is the 24.6-mile stretch from the historic logging town of Cass south to Marlinton, which passes through steep bluffs and hardwood forests that are home to deer, wild turkeys, hawks, and songbirds. Things to do: The trail is full of railroad relics like water towers, depots, and trestles. Several designated primitive campsites (permits not required) are near or adjacent to the trail. A good first night's camp is 1.5 miles south of Clover Lick, with a clear-running river close by whose deep pools harbor brown and rainbow trout and smallmouth bass. Local wisdom: North-to-south hiking is easier (slightly downhill). Be prepared to step aside to allow bikers to pass. The way there: Cass can be reached off U.S. 219, heading east. Park at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and follow West Virginia 66 half a mile to the trail. For vehicle shuttles (about $75 for a group of four) and a welcoming B&B (the Elk River Inn & Restaurant; rooms, $60-$90; cabins, $95-$150), contact the Elk River Touring Center on U.S. 219 in Slatyfork at 304-572-3771. Resources: Contact the Greenbrier River Trail Association (304-572-3741) for trail guides and maps. — L. R.

North Country National Scenic Trail, Wisconsin

The trail: Snaking through the 858,000-acre Chequamegon National Forest, the 155-mile Wisconsin section of the trail is the state's longest. Try the three- to four-day, approximately 30-mile portion that starts from the North Country trailhead near the Lake Owen Picnic Area. On day one you'll hike about eight miles east into the Porcupine Lake Wilderness Area, a 4,446-acre expanse of rolling hills, lakes, and ponds. On day two, continue east about seven miles to the Marengo Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized Area, featuring glaciated terrain cloaked with northern hardwoods, pine, and some white birch and aspen. On your final full day of hiking, you'll follow ridgetops and pass small lakes on your way to Beaver Lake Campground, one of several developed recreation sites (picnic tables, outhouses, a boat landing) along the trail. Things to do: Look for whitetail deer, black bear, beaver, coyote, red fox, ruffed grouse, loons, bald eagles, and a roving pack of timber wolves. There are many unnamed lakes and streams along the trail where you can fish for trout, bass, perch, walleye, and northern pike. An old Swedish farm, established in the 1880s and abandoned in the 1920s, is about a half mile east of the Marengo River Adirondack shelter. Local wisdom: The best times to visit are late April and May and late summer through fall. Avoid June and July, when blackflies, ticks, and mosquitoes can be overwhelming. The way there: The trail is about 1.5 hours from Duluth/Superior or 3.5 hours from the St. Paul-Minneapolis area. Start at Forest Road 213, about three miles southeast of Drummond; end at Forest Road 187, about 3.5 miles north of County Road GG. Resources: Get free North Country Trail maps and brochures from the Chequamegon National Forest headquarters (715-762-2461) or The Great Divide Ranger District (715-634-4821). — L. R.

Spray Park/Seattle Park Loop, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

The trail: If they could find a way around those pesky overnight-permit restrictions, wildflower lovers would want to be buried here, so heavenly are the meadows in Spray and Seattle parks on the northwest shoulder of Mount Rainier. The Spray Park/Seattle Park Loop, which begins at Mowich Lake Campground in Mount Rainier National Park's lesser-visited northwestern quadrant, is a grand 16.6-mile loop that can easily be hiked in two to four days. The most beautiful stretch — the five miles between Spray Park and Seattle Park — begins at about mile 3 just beyond the backcountry campsite called Eagle's Roost Camp (mile 1.8) and scenic Spray Falls (mile 2.1). From Spray Falls, the trail switches back steeply to Spray Park, a plateau filled with meadows, rocky glacial moraines, lingering snow patches, whistling marmots, and sunburned backpackers. Continue north about three miles to a second campsite, Cataract Valley Camp below Seattle Park, then descend 1.6 miles to a junction with the Wonderland Trail. The next stretch is a pleasant 2.9 miles west to Ipsut Creek Campground; the final leg is a 5.6-mile hike back to Mowich Lake on the Wonderland Trail. Get your overnight permit (free) a day in advance for peak periods. Things to do: From Spray Park, it's about two miles to the remnant Flett Glacier (there's no designated trail), a sprawling snowfield ripe for impromptu snowball fights and face plants. From the Seattle Park/Ipsut Creek area, you can make a day hike by following the Carbon Glacier trail upstream to the snout of the glacier and beyond on the Wonderland Trail. Local wisdom: Skirt the crowds at the Mowich Lake Trailhead by hiking and mountain biking this loop in the opposite direction. Park at the Carbon River Ranger Station and hike five miles along Carbon River Road to Ipsut Creek Campground and on to Seattle and Spray parks. The way there: From Puyallup (about an hour south of Seattle), drive 13 miles east on Washington 410 to Buckley. Turn right onto Washington 165 and proceed to Carbonado. Bear right onto Mowich Lake Road and continue 13 miles to the parking lot at the end. Note: The road doesn't open until the snow melts, usually in early July. Resources: Green Trails Inc.'s hiking map of the region is No. 269, Mount Rainier West. The USGS topo is Mowich Lake. For permit and road information, call Mount Rainier National Park at 360-569-2211. — Ron C. Judd

McKenzie River National Recreation Trail,Cascade Mountain Foothills, Oregon

The trail: Here's one that takes the "rough" out of roughing it: The McKenzie River Trail, a gentle path along the banks of one of Oregon's most scenic rivers, is lined with actual campsites (picnic tables, fire pits, pit toilets, running water!). The path stretches 26 miles between McKenzie Bridge and Clear Lake, passing magnificent stretches of whitewater rapids, old-growth forest, and a handful of waterfalls. Beginning at the trailhead near the McKenzie Ranger Station, you can journey 1.5 miles to the riverside Paradise Campground, then set out on a second-day trek of 2.6 miles to Belknap Hot Springs, a private lodge with a hot-springs pool. From here, continue upstream for overnight stops at Trail Bridge, Ice Cap, and Coldwater Cove campgrounds (between about two and six miles apart) until you reach Clear Lake, or return to Paradise Campground and hoof it back out on the third day for a round-trip hike of about eight miles. Things to do: A must-see attraction is the Tamolitch Falls area, where the river disappears below ground at Carmen Reservoir Dam, then resurfaces below the falls. It's a 3.8-mile round-trip to the falls from Trail Bridge Campground. Local wisdom: Keep this one on the list of year-round getaways. Winter and early spring trips on the McKenzie River Trail can be cold and damp, but also exhilarating. The way there: From Eugene, go about 50 miles east on the McKenzie Highway (Oregon 126) to the trailhead. Resources: Call the McKenzie Ranger District at 541-822-3381. — R. C. J.

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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