The Tenderfoot's Almanac
Hundred Mile Wilderness Trail
The Trail: The northernmost section of the 2,135-mile Appalachian Trail, known as the Hundred Mile Wilderness Trail, snakes through some of the least-developed forest in the country. From the small town of Monson in the south to the pinnacle of 5,267-foot Mt. Katahdin at trail's end, this area of central Maine is home to more than 10 million acres of boreal forest. That's the equivalent of five Yellowstones with a Yosemite thrown in for good measure. But unlike those two popular national parks, this region of Maine is not even designated a National Forest, virtually guaranteeing obscurity. On any given day in summer you're more likely to see moose, beavers, and loons than other hikers. This remote trail is ideal for families who want to get lost in wave after wave of spruce, firs, and maples, the mass of green interrupted only by ponds and rivers. The trail takes roughly twelve days to complete, but you can cut the hike in half by stopping at Jo-Mary Road, near Cooper Brook Falls, where a string of lean-tos and campsites are spaced roughly a day's hike apart.
Things To Do: This up-and-down trail is a thigh-burner for everyone, especially children under eight, who might find the hiking far too strenuous. Indeed, the elevation gain northbound is close to 17,000 feet. Take breaks at spots like Gulf Hagas, a 2.5-mile gorge that's ideal for swimming and picnicking. All along the route are fishing holes teeming with brook or lake trout.
Local Wisdom: With its cool nights and warm days, late August is the best time to try the trail. The black flies are long gone, wild blueberries are in season, and the first tinges of fall color begin to light up the route.
The Way There: From Portland, take I-95 north to Exit 39 at Newport. Follow Maine 7 north, changing to Maine 23 north in Dexter. In Guilford, follow Maine 6 west to Monson. The trailhead is four miles north of Monson at the junction of Maine 6 and the Appalachian Trail. To hear about the highlights from Appalachian Trail through-hikers, spend a night at legendary Shaw's Boarding House (bunks, $15 per person; private rooms, $20-$45; 207-997-3597) in Monson, a favorite hikers' haunt. Shaw can also shuttle your car from Monson to Jo-Mary Road for $10 an hour (approximately $50).
Resources: For excellent topos and descriptions of the trail, write to the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, P.O. Box 283, Augusta, ME 04332, for a copy of their indispensable Appalachian Trail Guide to Maine ($24.95). For further information, contact the Maine Publicity Bureau at 800-533-9595.
--Stephen JermanokJohn Muir Trail
The Trail: Straddling the Tennessee/Kentucky border, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects more than 100,000 acres of lushly vegetated ridges and valleys along the scenic and remote Cumberland Plateau, a large, flat-topped tableland rising more than 1,000 feet. The 50-mile John Muir Trail, named for the pioneering naturalist, starts at the O & W Bridge and ends at Pickett State Park. The trail shadows the Big South Fork River for much of its length, passing deep forests, historic homesites, canyons, and waterfalls. Commanding bluffs provide panoramic overlooks of the Big South Fork countryside, and there's plenty of exploring to do among the sandstone arches and rock shelters. Plan on at least four days to explore the whole stretch; although there isn't much elevation change, you still have some distance to cover.
Things To Do: A great spot to camp is Fall Branch, reached by following the trail north along the west side of the Big South Fork River from the Leatherwood Ford trailhead parking area. A quarter-mile bushwhacking hike from the campsite is Angel Falls, a nasty Class III-IV rapid. Where the trail merges with the river, fisherkids can try their luck for bass and catfish. After a spell of tenting, you might want to sample the creature comforts of the Charit Creek Lodge (adults, $46; children ten and under, $36; breakfast and dinner included; 423-429-5704). The rustic, full-service establishment, accessible only by foot, mountain bike, or horse, is located 4.1 miles up Station Camp Creek Trail where it crosses the John Muir Trail, 20.4 miles in. There is no electricity, but cabins are equipped with kerosene lamps and woodstoves.
Local Wisdom: June to mid-July and September are the prime times; late July and August are usually hot and humid.
The Way There: The trailhead lies about 80 miles northwest of Knoxville. From Oneida, take Tennessee 297 west 15 miles to the Big South Fork visitor center (where you can get free backcountry use permits).
Resources: Good reference books are Trails of the Big South Fork: A Guide for Hikers, Bikers, and Horse Riders ($12.95) by Russ Manning and Sondra Jamieson, and Hiking the Big South Fork ($10.95) by Brenda D. Coleman and Jo Anna Smith. These, as well as Trails Illustrated Big South Fork map ($8.95), are available from Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (615-879-4890).
--Larry RiceSuperior Hiking Trail
The Trail: A steep and narrow footpath following the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior, the trail stretches more than 200 miles from Two Harbors to the Canadian border. The 34.3-mile section from Caribou River Wayside to the Lutsen Ski Area is a rugged marvel (recommended for children 12 and over because of its many steep stretches) whose
Things to Do: Check out the glacial potholes in the Temperance River gorge, where the rock has been scoured into kettles. There are countless short spur trails that lead to overlooks like Carlton and Britton peaks, with views that encompass the vast forests of maple, birch, aspen, and mixed conifers. Watch for moose, waterfowl, bears, and even wolves. Fish for trout and salmon in the streams, and be sure to bring along pancake batter to mix with the wild blueberries during July and August.
Local Wisdom: Sometimes fog settles in for days, though it usually burns off in the morning. There are no rangers or patrols here as the trail was built and is maintained by volunteers. Expect a rich variety of insect life.
The Way There: From Duluth, follow Minnesota 61 north for 92 miles and park at the Lutsen Ski Area. Then take the Superior Shuttle back to your starting point at Caribou River State Wayside (Friday through Monday; late May to mid-October; $6-$15 per person depending on the distance).
Resources: For maps, guidebook, and trail information, call the Superior Hiking Trail Association (218-834-2700). For the Superior Shuttle, call 218-834-5511.
--Debra ShoreNorth Coast Trail
The trail: Sometimes the best way to ditch crowds on a trail is to stay off the trail altogether. That's not a practical option for families in most wild places. But it definitely is in Olympic National Park, where many stretches of a magnificent 57-mile strip of unspoiled ocean beach are easily negotiable.
One of the best and most accessible trips on this wild coastline is the 18.5-mile, three- to four-day hike between Rialto Beach and Sand Point. The strip can be hiked in either direction, depending on arrangements you've made for transportation at the southern (Rialto Beach) or northern (Sand Point, near Ozette Campground) trailhead. The flat grade and stunning scenery make this a good family outing. But often-blustery weather, a couple of tricky passages, and the general rigors of walking in soft sand put this hike out of reach of small children--it's best for ages 12 and up.
If the weather cooperates, the multiday walk is unforgettable: This stretch of beach is often called "The Shipwreck Coast," and several monuments to lost lives are among the few signs of modern man you'll encounter along the way. Wildlife (raccoons, sea lions, whales, deer, elk, and shore birds) is plentiful.
Local wisdom: Some headlands along the way can only be skirted at low tide, making an accurate tide table a must. Most of the route is on sand, but the path climbs over headlands in at least four places, depending on the tides. Consult park rangers about any missing rope ladders or other obstructions you might encounter, as well as overnight permits (required) and special campsite restrictions around Sand Point.
The way there: To reach the north (Sand Point) trailhead from Port Angeles (about three hours west of Seattle), follow Washington 112 west just beyond Sekiu, turn south on Ozette Lake Road, proceed about 20 miles and park at the lot near Ozette Ranger Station. To reach the southern (Rialto) trailhead, take U.S. 101 56 miles south from Port Angeles to Forks and follow signs 14 miles west to Rialto Beach. If the road (storm-damaged last year) is open to Rialto Beach, park there. If not, park two miles east at Mora Campground or at the boat launch area about .75 miles from Rialto Beach.
Resources: For general information and a pamphlet on coastal hiking, call Olympic National Park (360-452-0330). A good guidebook is David Hooper's Exploring Washington's Wild Olympic Coast (The Mountaineers Books, $10.95). Custom Correct Maps (available at most local stores: $2.50 per map), have accurate information about headlands and tides.
--Ron C. JuddStuart Fork Trail
The Trail: The 513,100-acre Trinity Alps Wilderness is the second-largest wilderness in California, a rugged, isolated area of more than 55 lakes, barren granite mountain ridges, deep canyons, and lush meadows between the Trinity and Salmon Rivers in California's northwest corner.
From Bridge Camp Campground in a forested canyon, the Stuart Fork Trail to Morris Meadows follows a fairly gentle course up the canyon of the Stuart Fork of the Trinity River, where the deep evergreen forest opens up to vistas of snow-covered granite spires. Families with children as young as six like this trail for a three- or four-day backpacking trip.
There are primitive campsites within two miles of the trailhead, but it's worth trekking on to just beyond Oak Flat (four miles from the trailhead), where you'll find several places to pitch your tent just before a river crossing. In late summer pools here are usually still deep enough for a swim, and there's good fishing for rainbow trout.
The next day, carry on to Morris Meadow, 8.7 miles from the trailhead, where the jagged granite peaks of Sawtooth Ridge rise almost 3,000 feet above the north edge of the meadow. Smaller patches of meadow extend into the forest, and numerous campsites with fire rings are tucked into the woods.
Things to do: An ambitious day hike from Morris Meadow is the 10.6-mile round-trip to Emerald Lake in the headwaters of the Stuart Fork. Though the Forest Service rates this hike as easy to moderate, the length makes it unsuitable for most kids under the age of nine or ten.
Local Wisdom: Although these are coastal mountains, snow often lingers until late June or mid-July. High trails are sometimes closed by snow into July, and the rivers and creeks don't generally warm up enough for swimming until the middle or end of July.
The Way There: From Weaverville, take California 3 toward Clair Engle (Trinity) Lake. Drive north for about 14.5 miles until you cross a bridge over the Stuart Fork Arm of the lake. Immediately after this bridge turn left and drive through the Trinity Alps Resort (916-286-2205) 3.5 miles to the end of the road. A store at the resort is a good place to pick up supplies. For maps and information about the Trinity Alps Wilderness contact the Weaverville Ranger District, P.O. Box 1190, Weaverville, CA 96093 (916-623-2121).
--Andrew RiceSan Miguel Island
Channel Islands, California
The Trail: Sixty miles by boat from Ventura off the Southern California coast, San Miguel Island is a wild and starkly lovely place. For years it was used as a Navy gunnery range, but now San Miguel is uninhabited and part of Channel Islands National Park. Eight miles long and four miles wide, the island represents a meeting of land and sea unlike anything on the mainland. Visitors land at Cuyler Harbor on the east end, a half-moon cove of perfect sand and outrageously blue water with seals basking on the offshore rocks. Because of the fragile ecology, all hikers must be accompanied by a ranger.
The most popular hike on the island is the 14-mile round trip from Cuyler Harbor to Point Bennett, a sandy point on the island's northwest end that is famous as the only place in the world where you can see six different pinniped species at once. As many as 20,000 Northern elephant seals, harbor seals, stellar sea lions, California sea lions, and Guadalupe fur seals all gather here. You'll probably be able to get close, but don't forget the binoculars--it always seems they're doing something really interesting at the other end of the beach.
On the hike back from Point Bennett, you'll see the unique caliche forest, a miniature petrified forest left behind when calcium carbonate present in blowing soil reacted with ancient plants' organic acid, leaving behind these eerie casts of their long-gone trunks and branches. Other wildlife here includes the diminutive island fox, a fearless variety found only in the Channel Islands, and countless species of sea and land birds.
Things to do: You can camp in primitive sites near the rangers' residence on the bluff overlooking Cuyler Harbor, but no potable water is available and fires are prohibited. Bring a good tent, as the wind blows constantly. The beach below camp is a perfect place to search for shells and pretty stones (though it's illegal to remove them).
For bedtime stories after sundown, borrow a book on island history from the ranger. Many ships have gone down here, and the history is filled with dramatic tales of tragedy, treachery, and heroic deeds.
Local Wisdom: San Miguel lies directly on the geographic demarcation between southern and northern California, and the weather varies accordingly: It can be sunny one day and pea-soup fog the next. You can always count on the wind to blow, but the island is gorgeous in any conditions.
The Way There: Most visitors to San Miguel arrive via the Island Packers' boat from the Park Service dock in Ventura (adults, $90 round trip; $80 for 12 and under; 805-642-1393). It's at least five hours from Ventura, so be prepared for a long and potentially rough haul. Along the way you might see gray and blue whales, basking sharks, and dolphins. Private boats need a Park Service permit to land, and campers need a free camping permit. Both permits are available at Channel Islands National Park headquarters at the Ventura harbor; call 805-658-5711.
Resources: Call the Park Service at 805-658-5730 or Island Packers for additional information.