Make Way While the Sun's Shining - A Selection of Favorite Day Hikes
Even though we are known for designing and producing ultralight backcountry gear that lets you get away for a long while, let’s face it, the hustle of modern life cares not for how long you’d always like your escapes to last. You need to get your outdoor fix within the time you’ve got, and a great day hike – if only briefly – can do plenty to scratch that itch. Don’t dismiss their power!
Our squad of contributors and gear testers knows all too well that a little can go a long way when it comes to maintaining big trip readiness and often incorporate day hikes into their own regimes. Shorter trips also provide ample opportunity to try and fit new gear and keep trail etiquette sharp. A big bonus, though, is the chance to respectfully model to hikers that might be walking their first miles the minimal impact behaviors that keep these routes beautiful and undamaged.
A few of our favorite folks from the adventure set shared some of the spots where they love to chase sunlight. To get things started, they focused on both coasts with a surprise in the middle. What about you? If you’ve got a day hike that always brings a smile to your face, head to our Submission Page and send it our way with some intel, a short description based on your experiences there, and some high-res photos. We might include them in future posts about rewarding sun-up to sundown outings all over the globe.
CUTLER COAST TRAIL // MAINE
Distance: 10.5 miles, round trip
How Challenging (Easy, Moderate, Difficult): Moderate
Location: Cutler, Maine
Two hours northeast of Bar Harbor, you’ll find a stretch of rugged shoreline the locals like to call The Bold Coast. That name is pretty fitting: think miles of tree-lined, sheer granite cliffs diving right in the chilly ocean. Maine’s coastline often gets left out of the conversation when talking about great hikes in the region. But don’t be fooled: the 10.5 mile Cutler Coast Trail in Cutler, Maine has a reputation with locals as a gem of a hike for all skill levels as a day hike or backpacking destination. That versatility and accessibility makes it one of my all-time favorite hikes in the Northeast.
Cutler Coast Trail sits on a 12,000 acre expanse of public land, and the trail takes a mile-long path through a moss-covered littoral forest right to the shoreline cliffs looking out over the Bay of Fundy. Chances are you’ll feel closer to the Pacific Northwest than southern Maine’s sand beaches: jagged cliffs limned in mist and ocean breeze offer an experience unlike anything else in the region. Though the full loop is much longer, hikers looking for a quick jaunt can simply do an out-and-back at just over two miles and still pack in some jaw-dropping views. Cutler Coast is short enough for pros to trail run, yet long enough for beginners to practice their overnight pack-out at one of three beautiful sets of campsites. It’s hard to beat that combo of versatility and beautiful views!
Justin Smulski @tidetopine // Biddeford, Maine
POE MOUNTAIN TRAIL // Washington State
Distance: 5 miles
How Challenging (Easy, Moderate, Difficult): Moderate
Location: Central Cascades, Washington
The hike to Poe Mountain is especially gorgeous in the fall, offering a ridgeline ramble through a rainbow of fall colors. If you're lucky, you'll see a pika scampering over the rocks. And on a crisp clear autumn day, the summit offers incredible views of Glacier Peak, the Central Cascades, and even Mt Rainier far to the south.
Jessica Kelley @jessi_goes // Mazama, Washington
CHURCH MOUNTAIN TRAIL // Washington State
Distance: 8.5 miles round trip
How Challenging (Easy, Moderate, Difficult): Moderate
Location: North Cascades, Washington
Church Mountain is an incredible hike in the North Cascades, offering unobstructed views of surrounding peaks, as well as stunning fall colors. The trail is essentially broken into three sections: The first section is a relatively steep 3-mile climb through classic dense Pacific Northwest Forest. If you're looking for a workout, this hike delivers, with approximately 3000 ft of gain in the first few miles. Soon enough you emerge into a broad expanse of alpine meadows, blanketed in huckleberries that turn a fiery red in the fall. Wander through the meadows before the trail starts to climb again. You're now on the final push. Keep going and eventually you'll reach the rocky summit, which provides 360-degree views of the North Cascades including Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan and the rest of the North Cascades.
Jessica Kelley // Mazama, Washington
READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON TRAILS ASSOCIATION
BOND TRAVERSE // New Hampshire
Distance: 20 miles
How Challenging (Easy, Moderate, Difficult): Difficult
Location: Pemigewassett Wilderness, New Hampshire
A traverse of the Bonds in the White Mountain National Forest is a must-do if you’re a seasoned hiker looking for a challenge and amazing views. My favorite way to approach this hike is to park at the Lincoln Woods lot and start from Haystack Road trailhead. North Twin Trail is a little over four miles and brings you to the summit of the first of four peaks, North Twin Mountain. From there, the trail rises and falls above the treeline along Twinway before reaching the junction with Bondcliff Trail. At the junction, the trail remains almost entirely above the treeline for the next 2.5 miles. The views along this stretch of trail are some of the most well-known and coveted views in New England. If you’re up for a short side trip, be sure to take the ½ mile spur trail to the summit of West Bond, which has views of the summits of Mount Bond and Bondcliff. After reaching the summit of Bondcliff, the trail dips back below the treeline for the long, almost flat return to the trailhead at Lincoln Woods parking lot.
While many people loathe this long stretch of trail, especially after a full day of hiking and over 4,500’ of climbing, I like to see it as a cool down and an opportunity to explore the history of the logging camps that were scattered throughout the Pemigewassett Wilderness in New Hampshire. Be sure to keep your eyes out for these small open spots scattered along the trail, where the camps were located at the turn of the twentieth century. There’s plenty of water along the trail at both ends, and by dropping down into the Guyot tent site along the ridge, you can obtain water from the spring. This is a perfect hike to tackle in September or early to mid-October for peak foliage season.
This trip usually takes me between nine and ten hours. It’s 20 miles from start to finish and between 4,500’ – 5,000’ in elevation gain.
BLACK BALSAM HIGH LOOP // Blue Ridge Parkway
Name of the Trail – Art Loeb / Black Balsam High Loop / Blue Ridge Parkway
Distance: Multiple configurations, including a 30-mile loop or a five-mile out & back.
How Challenging (Easy, Moderate, Difficult): Moderate. Typical Appalachian hiking with roots, rocks, and easy but sustained climbing.
Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
What comes to mind when you think of the southern Appalachians? A humid, subtropical climate with mild winters, abundant moss, and funky fungi? Leafy, deciduous trees that explode in ripples of red, orange, and yellow each fall? How about a cold-loving spruce-fir forest that’s typically found in the northernmost stretches of the continent, like Canada? What the southern Appalachians may lack in rugged drama, they make up for in diversity.
More than 2,000 species of plants call this area home, although the spruce-fir forests only occur at higher elevations, including portions of the Great Balsam mountains between 4,500 and 5,500 feet. Relics of the last ice age, these trees retreated south to escape the north’s burgeoning glaciers. As temperatures warmed, they climbed up the mountainside in search of cooler temperatures and eventually became stranded at the very top, creating modern-day “sky islands” of plants, animals, and scenery that you won’t find anywhere else in the region. The Black Balsam loop offers a glimpse into these rare and adaptable forests, along with some of the best views in the southeast.
On a clear day, this short climb rewards with terrific 360° views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains—a spectacular sight at any time of year, but one that’s renowned for its autumnal beauty. Looking east, hikers can view the Asheville city limits set against the looming backdrop of the Black Mountain range. Looking west, the rippling ridges of Great Smoky Mountains National Park come into view.
Folks who wish to spend more time in this special place can follow the Art Loeb trail for a 30-mile loop; those looking for a shorter or more diverse day can continue along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, where even more waterfalls, trails, and wildlife await. And, when you’re good and tuckered, countless farm stands—full of apples, pumpkins, and cider in all forms—are just a short drive away. This is Appalachia, after all.
Tina Currin @tinacurrin // Hot Springs, North Carolina
DAEMONELIX & FOSSIL HILLS TRAILS // Nebraska
Distance: 1 mile (Daemonelix) & 3 miles (Fossil Hills)
How Challenging (Easy, Moderate, Difficult): Easy
Location: Agate Fossil Beds National Park, Nebraska
When it comes to hiking—especially destination hiking—America’s heartland often takes a backseat to more exotic locales. But traveling through Nebraska, which I’ve done a few times, is always a delightful surprise and a breath of fresh air after throwing elbows in the nearby Badlands or Yellowstone corridor. I recently enjoyed a late-September hike in northwestern Nebraska, where the tall grass ripples across the high plain like a sea without water. Autumn’s changing landscape is more subtle here, but the cool breeze and wide-open views are more than enough to satisfy. Plus, there are dinosaurs! This National Park technically protects ancient fossil beds and modern excavation sites, but the fantastic hiking opportunities most struck me for visitors of all abilities.
In many cases, fall ushers in a hectic season of family time—and, if your family is anything like mine, there’s a distinct and impassable line between your “adventuring” and your “visiting” selves. But the trails at Agate offer a great opportunity to explore our natural and cultural history in an environment tailor-made for crisp autumn days. The three-mile Fossil Hills trail follows a wide, paved path for the entirety of the hike, showcasing five distinct plant and prairie communities along the way. There are amazing fossils, ancient sand dunes, ample wayfinding and trail guides, and some seriously beautiful scenery. Both trails were exciting enough for two thru hikers but simple enough that I immediately wanted to share them. If you live nearby or are planning a road trip to any of the larger National Parks in the area this fall, consider saving a half-day for Agate. Just don’t tell too many people.
Tina Currin // Hot Springs, North Carolina