CHOICE HIKES: MIDWEST
River to River Trail (moderate)
Shawnee National Forest
The Hike: A vast, butterfly-shaped swath of rolling hills, unusual rock outcrops, lakes, and bluffs, Shawnee National Forest covers nearly 270,000 acres of land in southernmost Illinois. The 146-mile River to River Trail stretches from Battery Rock, on the Ohio River, to Devil's Backbone Park, on the Mississippi, tracing footpaths or dirt roads through rugged country more suggestive of Missouri's Ozarks than the flatlands of the Prairie State. Take ten to 14 days to trek the entire trail, or cover a smaller slice in a weekend, such as the premier 18-mile stretch from Garden of the Gods Wilderness southwest to the Lusk Creek Wilderness.
Local Wisdom: Be forewarned: Mountain bikes are allowed on many sections of the trail (though not in wilderness areas). The ten-mile section from Camp Cadiz to High Knob, five miles east of Garden of the Gods, is especially popular.
Getting There: From Marion, take Illinois 13 east 25 miles until you hit Illinois 145; then head south four miles to Illinois 34 and Karbers Ridge. Follow the signs to Garden of the Gods (about 160 miles from St. Louis). Call the River to River Trail Society, 618-252-6789, for information and shuttle possibilities. Call Shawnee National Forest at 800-699-6637.
Resources: The River to River Trail Society sells its River to River Trail Guide, with topo maps and detailed route descriptions, for $20. Load up on maps and information at Shawnee National Forest headquarters in Harrisburg.
Civilization: Giant City Lodge, alongside the trail in Giant City State Park, is famous for its all-you-can-eat fried-chicken dinner. Doubles, $45-$80. Call 618-457-4921.
Knobstone Trail (easy to moderate)
Delaney ParkThe Hike: Best hiked in the fall, this 58-mile trail snakes through the hardwood forests, rolling hills, and steep ridges along southern Indiana's Knobstone Escarpment, where layers of weathered brown shale and sandstone have been heaved up to 300 feet above low-lying farmland and hollows. Beginning at Delaney Park, hike the entire trail in a week, or take on a smaller section--trailheads are spaced every 15 miles. The wildest nine-mile section begins at Leota Trailhead, climbs the sandstone Knobs and drops into the green valley of the North Branch of Big Ox Creek before ending at New Chapel Trailhead.
Local Wisdom: The Knobs are so dry that people who live in the area have to truck in their water. Hikers must carry in all their own water or cache it along the way at road crossings.
Getting There: From Indianapolis, take I-65 south 60 miles to U.S. 50 and go west ten miles to Indiana 135. Head 14 miles south to the Delaney Park turnoff and another seven miles to the entrance. The trail's southern terminus is about 25 miles north of Louisville. Register at the gate at Delaney Park.
Resources: A free waterproof topo map of the trail is available from Indiana's Division of Outdoor Recreation (317-232-4070). Call Delaney Park at 812-883-5101.
Civilization: The Story Inn, on Indiana 135 about 40 miles north of Delaney Park, is a renovated 1850s general store with a gourmet restaurant. Doubles, $76. Call 812-988-2273.
The Backpack Trail (moderate)
Yellow River State ForestThe Hike: You'd think you'd be hiking between a cornfield and a beanfield, but this 25-mile loop in the state's northeast corner is Iowa's answer to the Rockies: It meanders through oak-hickory forest rife with wild turkeys, deer, Cooper's hawks, and woodchucks and leads to big views of the Paint Creek Valley. From forest headquarters, take the west route, up and over a ridge along the Bluff Trail section of the loop, 8.5 miles to the Heffern's Hill backpack campsite. The next night, camp in the steep valley of Brown's Hollow, about six miles farther on, and then follow the loop back to headquarters.
Local Wisdom: Take special precautions against poison ivy and be on the lookout for cow parsnip, which is abundant in summer and causes nasty blisters.
Getting There: From Marquette, on the Mississippi, drive 12 miles north on Iowa 76, turn right on County Road B25, and drive four miles to forest headquarters (about four and a half hours from Des Moines). No permit is necessary, but you'll need a license if you want to fish the trout-stocked Paint Creek and Little Paint Creek. Call Yellow River State Forest at 319-586-2254.
Resources: USGS topos: Harpers Ferry, Waterville. Yellow River State Forest provides maps of the Backpack Trail.
Civilization: The FitzGerald Inn, on a bluff in Lansing overlooking the Mississippi, has five rooms plus a gazebo with great river views. Doubles, $65. Call 319-538-4872.
Elk River National Recreation Trail (easy to moderate)
Elk City Lake DamThe Hike: This 15-mile ridge walk in the foothills of the Ozarks coils around the north shore of 13,000-acre Elk City Lake and up and down giant limestone boulders. Steep climbs to lakeside panoramas alternate with twisty rambles through thick woods of eastern red cedar, buckthorn, and shagbark hickory. A high bluff with rocky outcrops runs the length of the trail. Traverse it in two days, or make it a day hike by quitting after ten miles at the Oak Ridge Public Access Area, where there's a campground.
Local Wisdom: Copperheads abound in the shady areas on this hike--so watch where you sit.
Getting There: From Independence, take U.S. 160 west about six miles to County Road 3325 and go west less than a mile to County Road 4600. Follow the signs to the Elk City Lake dam (about 160 miles from Kansas City). The trailhead parking lot is just past the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office on the left. For more information, call the Corps office at 316-336-2741.
Resources: USGS topo maps: Elk City, Caney Northwest, Table Mound, and Bolton. Free maps of the trail and lake are available from the Corps.
Civilization: The Hedgeapple Acres B&B, two miles east of Moran and 40 miles northwest of Independence on U.S. 54, serves up biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Doubles, $65, including breakfast and dinner. Call 316-237-4646.
Greenstone Ridge Trail (moderate)
Isle Royale National ParkThe Hike: Located in the northwestern corner of Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is like no other park in the United States: No roads lead to it, and there are none in the interior of the densely wooded island, making it ideal for hikers. Allow four to five days to hike the 40-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail, the island's main end-to-end thoroughfare, which climbs Mount Desor (1,394 feet) and passes glacial lakes, bogs, and swamps. In spring and fall you'll be relatively alone with the island's timber wolves, moose, river otters, and red foxes. Camp at one of six designated sites along the trail, and hop a ferry back to your starting point.
Local Wisdom: The park is open from April 16 to October 31; you'd be well advised to avoid the throngs in July and August.
Getting There: Scheduled ferry service operates from mid-May to late September. The threeto seven-hour passage to Rock Harbor from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan, or to Windigo from Grand Portage, Minnesota, costs $70-$85 round-trip per person. Call Isle Royale National Park at 906-482-0984.
Resources: USGS topo: Isle Royale. A Trails Illustrated topo map of the island ($8.99) and Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes ($10.95) are available from the Isle Royale Natural History Association, 800-678-6925.
Rock Harbor Lodge, the only inn on the island, has 60 rooms and 20 cottages. Doubles, $119-$183. Call 906-337-4993 after mid-May, 502-773-2191 before then.
Superior Hiking Trail (moderate to strenouos)
Crosby-Manitou State Park,
Superior National Forest
The Hike: Cascading waterfalls, balsam pine forests, and spectacular views of the world's largest freshwater lake make northern Minnesota's 200-mile Superior Hiking Trail the perfect Midwest getaway. The trail starts north of Duluth in Two Harbors and rides the crest of the Sawtooth Mountains, winding through seven state parks to the Canada border. For a classic fourto five-day hike, start at Crosby-Manitou State Park, roughly midway along the trail, and wind up 80 miles later at the lakeside artist colony of Grand Marais. Designated campsites are spaced every five miles or so.
Local Wisdom: Northern Minnesota weather can be fickle, and the phrase "colder by the lake" is a local rule of thumb. Keep raingear and a fleece pullover within easy reach.
Getting There: Two Harbors is 26 miles north of Duluth on Minnesota 61. Crosby-Manitou State Park lies another 31 miles north; take a left on Lake County Road 7 to the trailhead. For shuttle service, camping, and lodging information, call the Superior Hiking Trail Association at 218-834-2700.
Resources: The Superior Hiking Trail Association sells McKenzie maps ($8.25 per map). Ask for maps 100, 101, 102, and 103. Call 218-834-2700.
Civilization: Lutsen Resort & Sea Villas is across the highway from the Lutsen Mountains ski area, 18 miles from Grand Marais. Doubles, $88-$125. Call 800-258-8736.
Tishomingo State Park Nature Trail (easy to moderate)
Tishomingo State ParkThe Hike: Named after the last great leader of the Chickasaw Nation, Tishomingo State Park sits in Mississippi's northeasternmost corner. The Nature Trail, which winds through it alongside Bear Creek, is sometimes steep and rocky and always scenic, lined with massive, jutting sandstone formations. The ten-mile loop is easily covered in a day. Resurrection ferns, Christmas ferns, and even the endangered walking fern spring from errant streams and line canyon floors. November is best for blazing fall foliage without the Northeast's chill.
Local Wisdom: Don't let your mind wander for long: 20- to 30-foot cliffs are well hidden all along the route.
Getting There: From Tupelo, take the Natchez Trace National Parkway 45 miles directly into the park at milepost 304 (about two hours from Memphis, Tennessee). Call Tishomingo State Park at 601-438-6914.
Resources: Call the park at 601-438-6914 and ask for a brochure and mimeographed map of the trail. That's all you'll need.
Civilization: In the park itself, six rustic cabins perched above Bear Creek have beds, baths, kitchens, and huge stone fireplaces. Doubles, $40. Call 601-438-6914.
Pine Ridge Trail (moderate)
Nebraska National ForestThe Hike: The Pine Ridge Trail cuts a ragged arc across about 100 miles of Nebraska's northwest panhandle. The 6,600-acre Pine Ridge National Recreation Area is an unexpected woodland on the plains, with craggy sandstone buttes rising 1,000 feet above the surrounding hills and grassy swales. The best section of the trail is an 18-miler that starts at Coffee Mill Butte Trailhead, goes across the Pine Ridge escarpment--home to wild turkeys, bobcats, coyotes, and golden eagles--and takes you through ponderosa pine forests to the West Ash Trailhead. Camping is allowed anywhere along the trail unless otherwise posted.
Local Wisdom: On these arid plains, warm, windy weather can produce explosive fire hazards. Use a backpacking stove, not a campfire, during danger periods.
Getting There: To get to Coffee Mill Butte Trailhead, take Nebraska 71 north 75 miles from Scottsbluff to Crawford and head 20 miles east on U.S. 20 to Dead Horse Road. The trailhead is about ten miles south on the right (about six hours north of Denver). Call the Pine Ridge Ranger District at 308-432-4475.
Resources: USGS topos: Coffee Mill Butte, Chimney Butte, Crow Butte. The Pine Ridge Ranger District has a free Pine Ridge Hiking Trails brochure. The Chadron Chamber of Commerce sells the Trails Illustrated topo map for $6.31; call 308-432-4401.
Civilization: The Fort Robinson Inn, three miles west of Crawford, is a restored 1870s fort with 22 rooms and 24 cabins that were officers' quarters. Doubles, $25-$52. Call 308-665-2900.
Achenbach/Buckhorn Trails (moderate)
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The Hike: If you want an idea of the kind of wilderness that thrilled Teddy Roosevelt more than a century ago, hike the Achenbach and Buckhorn Trail loop in the 70,416-acre park that bears his name. From its trailhead at the Squaw Creek Campground in the park's North Unit, the 16-mile Achenbach Trail fords the Little Missouri River a couple of times while snaking through the Achenbach Hills, a line of barren clay buttes dotted with juniper and sagebrush. Extend your hike via the Buckhorn Trail, an 11-mile loop that takes you through an active prairie dog town.
Local Wisdom: Under normal conditions the Little Missouri River will be ankle- to waist-deep, but spring flooding and summer storms can change things dramatically. Check with a ranger for current river conditions.
Getting There: From Bismarck, take I-94 west 117 miles to the Belfield exit and then head north on U.S. 85 for 50 miles to the North Unit entrance. Pick up a free backcountry permit at the North Unit Visitor Center, 701-842-2333.
Resources: USGS topo: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, available at the North Unit Visitor Center.
Civilization: The Rough Rider Hotel, right on Main Street in Medora, off I-94 near the park's South Unit, has nine rooms with original 1880s furniture. Doubles, $40-$70. Call 701-623-4444.
Shawnee Backpack Trail (moderate)
Shawnee State Forest
The Hike: This 60-mile loop avoids the day-hiking rabble in Ohio's Hocking Hill region and the overused portions of the Buckeye Trail. You'll be trekking through a hilly 60,000 acres of oak, hickory, sassafras, pitch pine, and black gum stands--which means Technicolor fall hiking. Do the whole orange-blazed main loop in five or six days, or split the trip in half by taking either the 23-mile North Loop or the 29-mile South Loop, connected to the main trailhead by a white-blazed side trail. Primitive campsites are located about every six miles.
Local Wisdom: The eastern timber rattler is on the Ohio endangered species list, so don't whack off its head if you see one.
Getting There: From Cincinnati, take Ohio 32 east about 40 miles and head south on Ohio 247 to West Union. Then drive southeast 23 miles on Ohio 125 to the trailhead, where you can self-register. Call Shawnee State Forest at 614-858-6685.
Resources: A free trail map is available at state forest headquarters. Guidebook: Fifty Hikes in Ohio ($14, from The Countryman Press, 800-245-4151).
Civilization: The Murphin Ridge Inn, 20 miles northwest of the forest on Ohio 125, has ten rooms and is only open Wednesday through Saturday. Doubles, $84-$94. Call 513-544-2263.
Ouachita National Recreation Trail (moderate)
Talimena State Park, Ouachita National Forest
The Hike: The Ouachita National Recreation Trail traverses the rugged, scenic peaks of the Ouachita Mountains for 223 miles. The best segment is a three- to four-day, 46.3-mile hike that starts at Talimena State Park and runs along flat-topped ridges with views of forested mountains and sweeping valleys. Camp anywhere along the trail as it winds its way through pine, oak, hickory, and cherrywood forests. The final stretch takes you to the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line; if you have the muscle, push on another 5.3 miles to Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Arkansas.
Local Wisdom: Water can be scarce; check in with forest headquarters for current availability on the trail. Black bears are found here, so take appropriate measures with your food.
Getting There: From Oklahoma City, take I-40 east 67 miles to Indian Nation Turnpike; then go south 41 miles to U.S. 270 and east 13 miles to Oklahoma 1/63. Drive 35 miles to Talihina and follow the signs to Talimena State Park (918-567-2052).
Resources: USGS topos: Blackjack Ridge, Leflore SE, Muse, Big Cedar, Page, and Mountain Fork. Trail maps are available for $3 from Ouachita National Forest headquarters (501-321-5202). Guidebook: Ouachita Trail Guide ($14.95, from Ernst Wilderness, 800-838-4453).
Civilization: The Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge, adjacent to the trail, has 38 rooms. Doubles, $55-$85, Call 501-394-2863.
Sage Creek Unit (easy to moderate)
Badlands National Park
The Hike: Within Badlands National Park is the 64,250-acre Sage Creek Unit, one of the largest prairie wildernesses in the United States. For the ultimate Badlands trip, leave your car at the Sage Creek primitive campground and strike out for the Wall, an assortment of steep, crumbling ridges about seven miles away. There are no set trails--bison paths are your surest guides. Camp anywhere amidst the spires and pinnacles, and carry in all the water you'll need--a gallon per person per day. If you don't see bison, prairie dogs, antelope, coyotes, and hawks, you're not looking.
Local Wisdom: Have a healthy respect for the 500 head of bison that roam the basin. They may look clumsy, but they can weigh a ton and sprint 30 miles an hour.
Getting There: From Rapid City, take I-90 east 56 miles to Wall, go south on South Dakota 240 to the Pinnacles park entrance, and then head west on Sage Creek Rim Road to the Sage Creek Campground. Call Badlands National Park at 605-433-5361.
Resources: Trails Illustrated's map Badlands National Parkis available for $8.95 at the park's Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
Civilization: The Triangle Ranch B&B, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has four guest rooms and is 16 miles from the park. Doubles, $60. Call 605-859-2122.
The Hike: Wisconsin's Chequamegon National Forest is a remote chunk of north woods larger than Rhode Island. Explore it on a 60.5-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which will eventually run from New York to South Dakota. The trail starts three miles west of the town of Mellen and ends ten miles north of Drummond. This five- to six-day hike cuts through the Rainbow Lake Wilderness Area, winding around lakes and a forest cloaked with northern hardwoods, pines, white birches, and aspens--where you might spot the elusive timber wolf.
Local Wisdom: If you only have a day, try the first 12 miles of trail, otherwise known as the Marengo River Valley hike, which climbs high bluffs for far-reaching views.
Getting There:From St. Paul, Minnesota, about 185 miles from the trailhead, take I-94 and U.S. 63 to Hayward. Then head east on Wisconsin 77 to County Road GG; the trailhead is three miles west of Mellen. Call Chequamegon National Forest at 715-762-2461.
Resources: Pick up a free North Country Scenic Trail Map at the forest headquarters in Glidden, 12 miles south of Mellen on Wisconsin 13.
Civilization: Mustard Seed B&B in Hayward, about 30 miles south of Drummond, has five rooms and a cottage, and great breakfasts. Doubles, $60-$95. Call 715-634-2908.