One, Two, Three Four ... Hike!

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

1999 Family Vacation Guide, Brat Packing

One, Two, Three Four ... Hike!

Ten Great Family Backpacking Trails

Chattooga River/Bartram Trail
Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Georgia

Made famous by Deliverance, that 1970s canoe-combat film, the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River in Georgia's northeast corner is one of the classic whitewater runs in the United States. Less well-known is the fact that right beside the river is one of the finest hikes in the Southeast, a 20-mile (one-way) trip between green wooded bluffs and sculpted rock formations.

Between cascading falls are pools and sandbars where you can picnic, swim, and fish for brown and rainbow trout and redeye bass. At times the trail crosses ridges, heading as much as half a mile away from the river. Kids can climb around the creeks, logs, cliffs, and big rocks. To the north is a remote region of conifers, hardwoods, wildflowers, and flowering shrubs — violets, azaleas, and rhododendron. Watch for turkeys, quail, raccoons, and deer.

Don't cancel your trip if it's threatening rain; heavy rainfall creates some outstanding waterfalls.

Take I-85 north to I-985 to U.S. 23/441. Continue north 28 miles to U.S. 76 and go east nine miles to the Chattooga River. Trailhead parking is on the Georgia side of the river at the Chattooga River Information Station.

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Tallulah Ranger District, 706-782-3320. Primitive camping is allowed 50 feet or more from the trail and water sources unless otherwise posted. Camping permits are not required within the river corridor.

West Rim Trail, Tioga State Forest, Pennsylvania
There's a lot of ground to explore in this 160,000-acre north-central Pennsylvania state forest atop the Allegheny Plateau. The 30-mile trail follows the west rim of Pine Creek Gorge Natural Area, known as "Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon."

This wild, 19-square-mile gorge provides a number of vistas of Pine Creek Valley. And the "Grand Canyon" stuff is no joke: The gorge reaches depths of more than 1,000 feet and widths of more than a mile. Trails are in good condition, but can be steep. Be on the lookout for barred owls, coyotes, and flying squirrels.

At places the trail snakes right along the cliff's edge, so tread carefully. Watch out for blackflies late May through June.

Take U.S. 6 11 miles west of Wellsboro to Ansonia; turn south on Colton Road. Several parking areas provide convenient access to the northernmost section of the trail.

Tioga State Forest, 570-724-2868. Wilderness Camping is permitted virtually anywhere in the forest; backpacking campers need a free permit only when camping more than one night at any site.

Lochsa River Historic Trail
Clearwater National Forest, Idaho

The 16-mile trail parallels both U.S. 12, the "Lewis and Clark Highway," and the Lochsa River canyon in a mountainous stretch of north-central Idaho. In spite of the highway, the trail has a secluded feel as it weaves through thick ranks of cedar and hemlock, crosses numerous tributaries, and passes by small waterfalls.

Although elevations do not exceed 2,000 feet, the backcountry is rugged. The Class III-IV river, which attracts kayakers and rafters during peak spring runoff, can be viewed from high on the canyon wall. To the south are panoramic views of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, one of the largest wilderness areas in the continental United States. Elks, deer, coyotes, and black bears can be spotted, as well as a fair number of cougars and about 200 species of birds.

Rangers recommend starting upriver and traveling down for a less strenuous trip. At high water the Lochsa lives up to its name, which means "rough water."

The trail can be accessed at mile markers 111.5, 118, 121, and 122 on U.S. 12 east of Kooskia.

Clearwater National Forest, Kooskia Ranger Station, 208-926-4275. Outside of developed areas, you may camp anywhere in the forest unless otherwise posted. Permits are not required.

North Coast Hike Olympic National Park, Washington
This is some of the most primitive natural coastline in the 48 contiguous states, with beaches, cliffs, offshore rocks, and islands that have changed very little over thousands of years. The 20.8-mile hike traverses sand, tide pools, and forests of Sitka spruce from Cape Alava to Rialto Beach.

This is a great area for picking raspberries and beachcombing amid the piles of driftwood. Look for whales and sea otters offshore, and deer, river otters, and black bears inland. Bring binoculars to spot scores of bird species.

Portions of the trail are tide-dependent, so bring a tide table to avoid being trapped by rising waters. At low tide trails can still be muddy.

The area is accessible from a spur road off U.S. 112. Follow the signs to the Ozette Ranger Station. It's about a three-mile hike from the trailhead to the ocean. Rialto Beach is 13 miles from U.S. 101.

Olympic National Park, 360-452-0330. Camping is permitted on the Olympic Coastal Strip except between Ellen Creek and Rialto Beach. Obtain free permits at the Ozette Ranger Station or park visitor centers.

Ouachita National Recreation Trail
Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area, Oklahoma

The 1.6-million-acre forest stretches from near the center of Arkansas to southeast Oklahoma. The trail traverses 186 miles across the scenic peaks of the Ouachita Mountains; a 45-mile segment lies in Oklahoma's 26,455-acre Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area and adjacent wilderness areas, with elevations ranging from 600 to 2,600 feet.

The many road crossings and access points make it possible to plan everything from day hikes to overnights to multiday backpacking trips. To hike the whole section end to end takes about four to five days with kids. In the deep, narrow hollows look for barely discernible wagon roads and signs of old homestead sites, evidenced by crumbling rock walls and chimneys. Check out Horsethief Springs, where notorious outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr used to trade their stolen horses.

In Wilhelmina State Park, five miles east, a lodge on a historic site provides rooms with views and good southern cooking (doubles, $57-$67, each additional person, $5; 501-394-2863).

The forest is 60 miles southwest of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and 200 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. Trailheads are along the Talimena Scenic Drive (Oklahoma 1) and U.S. 259.

Ouachita National Forest headquarters, 501-321-5202; Choctaw Ranger District, 918-653-2991. Camping is allowed anywhere along the trail except within the adjacent picnic areas and at the trailheads. No permits required.

Big Savage Mountain Hiking Trail
Savage River State Forest, Maryland

Sitting astride the Appalachian Plateau Region, the 53,000-acre forest has elevations ranging from 1,300 to just over 3,000 feet. The Big Savage Mountain Hiking Trail is the main pathway through the backcountry, extending along the 17-mile spine of Big Savage Mountain from near I-68 to the Savage River Reservoir.

Hike through the valleys and over ridges to reach scenic overlooks. The terrain ranges from steep and rocky to flat and easy. Watch for black bears, bobcats, great horned owls, and white-tailed deer. Catch native brook and brown trout in the river (heavy brush can make casting difficult).

Watch out for rocky outcroppings. Also, keep an eye out for poisonous snakes — like copperheads and rattlesnakes.

The forest is located in the Maryland panhandle, 150 miles west of Baltimore. Take Exit 29 from I-68.

Savage River complex, 301-895-5759. Backpackers can camp anywhere along the trail with a permit ($5).

Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Located in Lake Superior's northwest corner, this park has no roads within it or leading to it. Though small by national-park standards (40 miles long and 8.5 miles wide), Isle Royale's secluded wilderness contains 165 miles of trails. The longest and best-marked route is the 40-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail, which extends down the island's high, forested backbone.

The trail passes through forests, glacial lakes, and bogs and goes along scenic shorelines.The area is home to timber wolves, moose, red foxes, river otters, beavers, and snowshoe hares. The route climbs to more than 1,300 feet at Mount Desor, the highest point on the largest island in the largest freshwater lake in the world. Allow five to six days to hike its length. Stop to pick blueberries, and look for a group of 3,000-year-old copper pits. Fish for northern pike, perch, and an occasional walleye.

The busiest times are the last week of July and the first two weeks of August. The ferry to the island crosses choppy water, so kids might get a little queasy.

Scheduled ferry service operates mid-May through late October. The two- to seven-hour passage from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan, and Grand Portage, Minnesota, is $64-$104 round-trip for adults, $32-$58 for kids under 12.

Isle Royale National Park, 906-482-0984. Camping is allowed in designated sites (first-come, first-served). Camping is free, but there's a user fee of $4 per person per day (free for kids under 12).

Butte Lake to Snag Lake Loop
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

This 106,000-acre park shelters a hodgepodge of extinct and inactive volcanoes. Towering above it all is 10,457-foot Lassen Peak, the southernmost volcanic mountain of the Cascade Range. The park's 150 miles of trails are mostly in day-hike range, but combining trails creates a 13-mile round-trip that takes about two to three days with kids in tow.

The trail climbs gently, then levels off, passing mountain lakes, high meadows, lava fields, pine forests, and cinder cones with views of adjacent peaks. July, August, and September are sunny and warm (75 degrees) in the daytime, but temperatures drop to the 30s at night. In midsummer you'll see gentian, columbines, and monkshoods in the meadows, as well as bird species characteristic of three regions: the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, and the high-desert plateau of the Great Basin.

Don't miss Bumpass Hell, a 16-acre area of volcanic hot springs, boiling pools, mud pots, and steaming vents. Ask the rangers how it got its name.

The park is 50 miles east of Red Bluff on California 36, and 50 miles east of Redding on California 14.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, 530-595-4444. A wilderness permit (free) is required for overnight camping.

West Fork Wallowa River Trail-Lakes Basin Loop
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon

This 30-mile loop is part of 500 miles of trails in the 360,000-acre Eagle Cap Wilderness Area in Oregon's northeast corner. Within the area are 31 summits exceeding 8,000 feet, glacier-carved canyons, and 52 named alpine lakes. You'll be surrounded by spectacular views of granite domes, glacial bowls, and valleys.

Stop for a swim in the inviting (but icy) lakes. Watch for black bears, cougars, deer, elks, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. You can fish in the lakes and streams for rainbow, eastern brook, and golden trout.

The trails are under snow until about July 4, then stay open until late October. Give yourself time to adjust to the altitude — you'll be hiking to 8,450 feet.

To reach the trailhead from Joseph, Oregon, go south on Oregon 82 for six miles, bearing left on Upper Powerhouse Road. Go another mile to the trailhead at road's end opposite South Unit, Wallowa Lake State Park.

Wallowa Mountains Visitor Center, 540-426-5546. Get free backcountry permits at the trailhead, visitor center, and forest offices.

Cliff Creek to Swampy Pass Trail Loop
Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

In the 176,000-acre West Elk Wilderness you'll find 200 miles of trails, among them this scenic 23-mile loop that leaves from the Horse Ranch Park trailhead and goes to Sheep Lake via Cliff Creek Trail and returns via Castle Pass and Swampy Pass trails. The trip takes about three days and climbs a moderate 2,000 feet, passing craggy summits, broad ridges, and long valleys.

This is great country for wildlife-watching; you'll spot bighorn sheep, black bears, coyotes, and a band of mountain goats that was transplanted here in the 1970s. Teach the kids how to identify the prints of the larger mammals.

Thunderstorms occur daily in the summer months, so avoid open terrain in late afternoon. Wildflowers bloom in mid- to late July.

From Crested Butte drive west on County Road 12 to Horse Ranch Park to find the Cliff Creek trailhead.

Gunnison National Forest, Paonia District, 970-527-4131. Backcountry camping is allowed virtually everywhere; no permits required.
— Larry Rice

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