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The Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail are two of the most popular hiking trails in the United States, which means they’re likely to be pretty crowded during peak hiking season. For a more peaceful experience, venture out on a trail more off the beaten track — literally. Find solitude on one of these lesser-known hiking trails around the country.
Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Wisconsin
The 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail snakes its way across Wisconsin — tracing the edge of a glacier that covered much of the state during the Ice Age 15,000 years ago. The trail itself highlights the landscape left behind from the edges of glacial movement — resulting in a varying display of forests, prairies, lakes, and rivers.
Midstate Trail, Rhode Island to New Hampshire
In the 1970s, several wilderness trails from Rhode Island to New Hampshire were connected to create the 92-mile Midstate Trail. It’s considered an easier hike without a lot of climbing or scrambling to find the isolated rock and boulder formations and kettle ponds, thanks to a landscape squashed by glaciers roughly 200,000 years ago. Be careful not to confuse this trail with the Mid State Trail (note that important spacing between "mid" and "state"), which is a 323-mile path through Pennsylvania.
Gila Wilderness Loop, New Mexico
The Gila National Forest has hundreds of miles' worth of hiking trails, including the 55-mile Gila Wilderness Loop. The trail takes you along two forks of the Gila River all the way to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Be warned: The Loop is surrounded by untouched wilderness, and there are no shelters, buildings, bathrooms, signs, or any other type of infrastructure. Bring a GPS system to make sure you don’t get lost and let someone know where you’re going before you head out.
Benton MacKaye Trail, Georgia to North Carolina
Both the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) begin at Springer Mountain in Georgia, but the Benton MacKaye Trail follows the original 300-mile path Benton MacKaye (co-founder of the Wilderness Society) had planned for the Appalachian Trail before the route was changed. The two trails cross paths four times in the first seven miles of the BMT before it forges its own path through temperate forest across Tennessee and ending on the North Carolina border.
Minong Ridge Trail, Michigan
Isle Royale, an island and national park in Lake Superior close to Canada but still considered part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, has 161 miles for trailblazing, but the Minong Ridge Trail is the most difficult hiking trail in all of Michigan. The 29-mile trail opened in 1966 and retains the original undeveloped state it had when it was first built for firefighters needing to reach the island’s north end. You can expect rocky crags, scrambling, and continuous elevation changes, but also more wildlife than other trails on Isle Royale.
K’esugi Ridge Trail, Alaska
If conditions are right, the K’esugi Ridge Trail, which is seasonal and often has parts closed due to flooding or bear sightings, is one of the most scenic hikes across Alaska. It runs about 27 miles through Denali State Park with an immediate ascent before eventually heading back down into the forest. From the ridge, you’ll get great views of both the Talkeetna Range and the Alaska Range (home to Denali).
Gold Camp Road, Colorado
The Gold Camp Road Trail is an old dirt road that once connected gold mines in Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs. Since the tunnel on the road collapsed in 1988, it’s been used as a scenic hiking and biking trail. Here, you’ll walk through wildflowers and can explore remnants of old mine towns for a glimpse of Colorado’s western history.