What to Look for in an Early-Season Overnighter

The transition from winter is an awakening of the senses in the forest. The din of a pond teeming with newly-roused frogs, the impossibly clean aroma of snowmelt-swollen brooks mixed with budding flora, and the warmth of the sun on bare skin as it makes its way through the still leafless trees. These are the harbingers of spring, invigorating signs that we can go outside again.

Early season outings have their advantages and chief among them is the temperature: it’s not frigid, but not sweltering either. It’s warm enough to shed some of the heavier winter gear but it’s cool enough to keep the bugs and the crowds at bay. It’s also a time when water is plentiful, and a trail that might be dry as a bone in high summer will yield more than enough to keep that filter pumping.

On the flip side, being out in the spring in the northeast means you’re going to get wet. Wherever you’re going, bring rain gear, good (waterproof) footwear, and a change of clothes to stay dry in camp. Breaking out the hammock in lieu of a tent—and getting out of the mud—is also a smart move this time of year.

Any way you look at it though, it’s great to get back out there. Here are some tips on what to look for when selecting a spring backpacking trip.

The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak
The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak

Stay Low

For the high peaks of the Northeast, winter is a very long season where snow, ice, and some nasty chill can hang around until late. Ergo, if spring is what you’re looking for in a backpacking trip, it’s best to stick to lower elevations where the warmer temperatures creep in first. Fortunately, the Northeast boasts more than a few lowland backpacking routes, each with their own degree of natural splendor, rugged wilderness, and physical challenge. Spring will inevitably come for the mountains of the Adirondacks or the Whites, but in the meantime, the valleys are where you can find the change of season.

Cranberry Lake 50, Adirondacks

Located far in the northwestern corner of the Adirondack State Park, Cranberry Lake and its namesake hiking trail offer one of the top lowland wilderness experiences in the Northeast. Ample camping, arresting vistas, and real remoteness make this 50-mile loop hike a legitimate classic. Do it in early spring before the bugs wake up.

Lower Pemigewasset Loop, White Mountains

While the traditional Pemi Loop traverses the great ridges and summits of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the lowland route—linking the Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook Trails in an 18-mile loop around Owl’s Head with an overnight at Thirteen Falls Tentsite—is a wild, super remote alternative. Be prepared for a lot of water and know how to make a crossing safely.

Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak
Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak

Southern Exposure

Spring’s claim on the region moves from south to north, making landfall along Long Island Sound long before the snow starts to melt in the Great North Woods. This is great news for those hardy lovers of the cold among us, as the combination of elevation and location work to extend the ice climbing and skiing seasons well beyond the calendar’s winter. If that’s not your game, it’s best you turn your eyes to the south: friendlier climates make destinations like the Catskills, the Taconics, and the Poconos perfect for that first big trip of the season.

South Taconic Trail, Taconic Range

Stretching 16 miles along the New York–Massachusetts border, the South Taconic Trail is a gem of a hike all-too-often overlooked by the area’s backpackers. Steep climbs are rewarded with grassy summit balds and panoramic views atop Brace and Alander Mountains, and cool side trips—like the New York–Connecticut–Massachusetts boundary marker and Bash Bish Falls—make for a great weekend outing.

Burroughs Range Traverse, Catskills

Doable as a 10-mile shuttle or a 15-mile loop, the Burroughs Range is a Catskills classic that bags three peaks above 3,500 feet: Wittenberg, Cornell, and the tallest of them all, Slide. The opening climb is steep but gains what’s arguably the best summit view in the region. Beyond that is a rugged ridge walk that includes the Cornell Crack: a fun—and tricky—semi-technical rock obstacle.

Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak
Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak

Seek Shelter

Another excellent way to open the spring hiking season is by zeroing in on trails that have a good network of shelters. Backcountry shelters can vary greatly, from the full service huts of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the humble, trailside lean-to. Lean-tos are typically three-sided structures with a roof—just enough to keep you out of the temperamental early-spring weather and up off of the mud. Even on chillier nights, they can be down right cozy with a tarp lashed over the opening (though you should check with the land manager so make sure this is allowed—In the Adirondacks, closing off lean-tos is forbidden). Shelters are regular occurrences on long-distance trails, so Northeastern stand-bys like the AT is a good place to start.

AT–Mohawk Loop, Connecticut

This scenic hike in Connecticut’s rural Northwest Corner connects the Appalachian Trails of old and new—the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail actually follows the original path of the AT prior to being rerouted west of the Housatonic River in 1970’s—to make a 40-mile loop. The trip is replete with shelters, campsites and stellar views of the Litchfield Hills.

Harriman–Bear Mountain State Parks, Hudson Highlands

Despite being within an hour of New York City, Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks offer wilderness, an extensive network of trails and abundant shelters fit for overnight trips of any size. Link the AT with the Ramapo–Dunderberg, Long Path, and Red Cross Trails for a 22-mile loop that takes in some of the park’s greatest hits including an incredibly tight scramble, aptly named the “Lemon Squeezer.”

What are your favorite early-season backpacking locations? Let us know in the comments!


5 Shorter Local Thru-Hikes to Tackle this Year

Not everyone has the time, savings or desire to head out on a 5 month thru-hike adventure on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails. Thankfully, for those of us who want to keep our jobs, there are plenty of shorter long-distance trails right here in the Northeast that are just as gorgeous and challenging as a longer trail, giving you the experience of thru-hiking and long periods spend in the woods, without forcing you to sacrifice a large part of your life. Plus, some can be completed in as little as one or two weeks. Here are five favorite thru-hikes that are worth your vacation time this summer.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins
Courtesy: Haley Blevins

The 100-Mile Wilderness

Explore the Appalachian Trail’s most remote section along a substantial stretch of uninterrupted trail. Stretching from Rt. 15 in Monson and continuing to Abol Bridge, the 100-Mile Wilderness offers a challenging adventure deep in Maine’s woods.

Location: Monson, Maine to Baxter State Park

Length: 100 miles (5-10 days)

Terrain: Easy to moderate elevation change with roots and rocks in sections (18,000ft. of total elevation change). Occasional water crossings.

Season: Summer to Fall. The trail can be muddy in early spring and buggy in early summer. Opt for July through October for the best conditions.

Camping: Plenty of shelters throughout. Summer and fall hikers will find themselves sharing shelters and stories with AT thru-hikers as they near the end of their multi-month adventures. Seeking more solitude? There are lots of backcountry camping options (permitted 200 feet from trails water sources).

Resupplying: None. Unless you arrange a food cache through Shaw’s Hostel in Monson.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The 100-Mile Wilderness travels through some of the most remote country in the Continental U.S. (it doesn’t cross a paved road). It’s a parade of changing scenery, with low elevation forests featuring glassy ponds and waterfalls, to the traverse across the Barren-Chairback Range and climb up White Cap. Have an extra day or two? When you finish, continue another 20 miles up Mount Katahdin and enjoy 360-degree views after a grueling 4,000-foot climb.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Cohos Trail

Still relatively unknown, the Cohos Trail extends from the Canadian border near Pittsburg, New Hampshire to Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. Its remote nature guarantees frequent wildlife sightings and varied terrain through dense woods and across steep ridge lines through New Hampshire’s North Woods.

Location: Coos County, New Hampshire

Length: 170 Miles (10-15 days)

Terrain: Rolling hills combined with steep, rocky climbs through lush forests and by remote lakes. A combination of singletrack trail, snowmobile trail and dirt road.

Season: The Cohos can be hiked from May through October. August or September will provide ideal weather, with fewer bugs and more berries. Head out in early- or mid-October to catch the leaves change while enjoying cooler temperatures and a crowd-free White Mountains.

Camping: There are a few newly-crafted shelters, some state and private campgrounds on or just off the trail that provide more facilities, and two B&Bs in the small towns of Stark and Jefferson. Backcountry camping following LNT principles (camping at least 200 feet from the trail and water sources, packing out all trash) is permitted outside of the Connecticut Lakes Region.

Resupplying: A handful of general stores, campgrounds and inns that may accept resupply packages, and opportunities to get rides into the towns of Gorham and Groveton.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The Cohos travels through diverse ecosystems and terrain including Dixville Notch, Nash Stream Forest, White Mountain National Forest, and Connecticut Lakes regions. It’s a quiet, but challenging trail for both new and experienced hikers. With its panoramic views and frequent mushroom and wildlife sightings, this is a trail for anyone seeking solitude.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Long Trail

Stretching the length of Vermont, The Long Trail is authentic, demanding New England hiking. It shares 100 miles with the AT and summits most of the prominent peaks in the Green Mountains, including Killington, Camel’s Hump, and Mount Mansfield. While it’s the toughest of any on this list, that doesn’t go without huge reward and bragging rights: The trail climbs over 60,000 feet in elevation.

Location: Vermont; Massachusetts to Canada

Length: 272 miles (15-25 days)

Terrain: Rugged. Steep, muddy and rocky with lots of elevation change.

Season: June to September. “Vermud” is the real deal on the Long Trail, so it’s best to hike later in the summer or fall than at the height of wet trail season. The trail can be crowded in July and August with end-to-enders and AT hikers, but you’ll have longer daylight and pleasant summer temperatures. If you can tolerate, and have the proper gear for colder weather, October would be a quiet and colorful month to hike. Late fall hikes bring higher chances of snow.

Camping: There are over 70 shelters and nicer lodges (fee required) along the Long Trail built and maintained by the Green Mountain Club. You’ll find other lodging options directly on, or not far off the trail such as the famous Long Trail Inn.

Resupplying: Most hikers will only carry 2 to 4 days of food at a time. Resupplying by sending boxes to locations closer to the trail is also an option.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: Not only is the Long Trail the oldest (established in 1930) long-distance trail in the country, it’s also one of the toughest. Through rocky high peaks and evergreen tunnels, hikers will experience challenging terrain with rewarding panoramic views. The culture of thru-hiker camaraderie and history the generations of passionate outdoors-people who’ve sustained this trail, are something special.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The New England Trail

Stretching from the Long Island Sound to Massachusetts’ northern border, this trail follows classic New England landscapes: unfragmented forests, traprock ridges, historic towns, river valleys, waterfalls and farmlands. It is comprised mainly of the Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems and makes for an attainable thru- or section-hike.

Location: Massachusetts & Connecticut

Length: 215 miles (10-20 days)

Terrain: Moderate elevation change on well-maintained single-track trail with some river crossings and some road walking.

Season: Year-round. If you’re not afraid of cooler temperatures, October is a gorgeous time to hike the NET, thanks to colorful leaves, no bugs, and beautiful temperatures (and do-able ford of the Westfield River). Summer hikers will see optimal daylight and more crowds because the trail travels through popular day-use areas. Spring would be marvelous and lush as well.

Camping: With only 8 “official” shelter and tentsite locations, camping can the biggest challenge of an NET hike. Much of the trail crosses private property or State Parks where backcountry camping is not permitted. The map clearly outlines the boundaries of these areas and since the trail crosses roads often, it is entirely possible to avoid camping illegally with the fitness to pull bigger mileage and/or finding a ride into nearby towns for the occasional hotel stay.

Resupplying: Logistics are a breeze on the NET. The trail stays pretty urban for the most part, with opportunities to eat at restaurants and re-up on food at gas stations or post offices (via resupply box) along the trail. In addition, there are many places to get rides into towns for full amenities including grocery stores, lodging and laundry. By studying the maps, hikers can easily plan for major resupplies in Northampton, Massachusetts, Farmington, Connecticut, and Middletown, Connecticut.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The New England Trail offers the unique experience of hiking through historical woods and townships among sweeping vistas, diverse resources, and plenty of summits. In addition, the trail is so accessible, providing easy logistics and gentle terrain. Highlights include the 12-mile ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range above Northampton, Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking Hartford, and Ragged Mountain.

Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski
Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski

The Northville-Placid Trail

While many people have experienced the joy of the High Peaks region, possibly bagging one of the Adirondack’s 4,000 footers, fewer have traveled the remote valleys between them. From Northville to Lake Placid, hikers can enjoy the solitude of backcountry lakes, rivers and woods.

Location: The Adirondacks, Upstate New York

Length: 136 miles (7-12 days)

Terrain: Moderate rolling hills at low-elevation, with some rocky and wet sections.

Season: June through September is the most appropriate time to hike. Since the Northville-Placid Trail stays at lower-elevation, there’s a few areas the trail runs through swamp lands, which would be buggy in early-mid summer. Days can be warm and humid with cooler temperatures at night. For warmer lakes to swim in, drier trail, and fewer bugs, hike it in September.

Camping: One of the greatest aspects of the NPT is the scenic lean-tos placed along the entire length of the trail close to many of the pristine lakes that are available on a first come, first serve basis. Backcountry camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail or body of water except at designated camping areas marked with a yellow sign.

Resupplying: In the heart of the Adirondacks, the NPT is remote and does not come within distance of any larger towns, requiring mailing resupply packages or finding a way into a town. Most hikers will send resupply boxes to the tiny towns of Piseco (mile 40) or Blue Mountain Lake (Mile 80) and get a ride into Long Lake, where you’ll find the Adirondack Trading Post and restaurants, laundry and lodging. Lake Placid (the northern terminus) is an outdoor town with many services, including shuttles and an EMS.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: With its mellow terrain and many backcountry lakes to cool off in, the Northville-Placid Trail travels through some of the wildest and most remote valleys of the Adirondacks. Some highlights include the Cedar Lakes, Canada Lakes, Long lake and the High Peaks Wilderness. The conveniently-placed shelters and straightforward logistics make it a fantastic hike for both new and experienced long-distance hikers.


Top 5 Reasons to Hike the AT SoBo

Each year, thousands of people head to Georgia or Maine, looking to start their journey across almost 2,200 miles of wilderness. Most of these Appalachian Trail hikers choose to work their way north, giving them time to build up strength for the harder sections later and to get the full (social) AT experience.

So, if going northbound on the AT is the more popular option, then why should someone start their thru-hike in Maine? It turns out, heading down the trail might be the way to go.

Mount Katahdin in Maine. | Credit: Chris Bennett
Mount Katahdin in Maine. | Credit: Chris Bennett

1. Get the toughest part done first

One of the biggest complaints against going southbound (SoBo) is the beginning: It can be boring, especially when compared to the finale. When starting in Maine, hikers spend day one on Mt. Katahdin, the highest and toughest mountain on the trail. Even after the 4,200-foot ascent, the mountain is immediately followed by the 100 Mile Wilderness, which requires eight to ten days without resupply—which means you’ll need to carry all of your food. Plus, the Presidential Range and New Hampshire’s White Mountains loom in the distance, making the first few weeks a challenge, to say the least.

From the start, this route is only for those of strong will and even stronger bodies. But, once the trial by fire is over, it’s a (relatively) easy hike from there on out.

Credit: Aaron Anderstrom
Credit: Aaron Anderstrom

2. Finding shelter is less of a hassle

Half of the northbound journey’s allure is the social aspect. With so many other hikers headed the same way, it’s easy to find a group to join you. The downside? Finding room in the shelters along the trail becomes a pain.

When traveling southbound, you can worry less about shelters being crowded. At the beginning, there aren’t too many other hikers trying to camp out—they’re all in the Southern areas—and by the time you start running into northbound hikers, a majority of them have either dropped off the trail or have spread out. So, while the solitude might be overwhelming at times, at least you’ll know where to sleep when night rolls around.

A section of the AT through the Smoky Mountains. | Credit: Patrick French
A section of the AT through the Great Smoky Mountains. | Credit: Patrick French

3. No time crunch to the finish

Among the many things that go into planning a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, scheduling around the seasonal closure of Maine’s Baxter State Park is one not to overlook.

For people traveling northbound, timing is more important if they want to finish in one go. If hikers go too late, they may risk getting shut out of the trip’s last leg when Baxter State Park closes in mid-October for the winter. But, southbound backpackers don’t have that problem; once the park opens in May or June, there is no rush to finish, as none of the Southern parks close for the season.

One water crossing in a Maine portion of the AT. | Credit: Adam Joseph
One water crossing in a Maine portion of the AT. | Credit: Adam Joseph

4. Less time in cold weather

Despite leaving several months later than northbound hikers, those heading southbound have to worry more about summer than winter weather. Most hikers going south leave around June or July, once Baxter State Park is open, and are usually traveling through the summer and fall months. Only during the last month or two does the winter weather start to kick in, though, by that point, you’ll be much further south.

On the other hand, backpackers heading north are usually dealing with winter weather in March and April, and still have cold conditions to look forward to in New Hampshire and Maine when they arrive in September or October.

The Pochuck boardwalk on the AT in Vernon, New Jersey. | Credit: Matthew Charpentier
The Pochuck boardwalk on the AT in Vernon, New Jersey. | Credit: Matthew Charpentier

5. Join an even more prestigious group of hikers

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is without a doubt an impressive feat for anyone to accomplish, and being a part of the 2,000-Miler club is something to be proud of, no matter how long it took or what route worked out best. However, out of the thousands of people who have completed the journey, only about 1,250 hikers, as of 2014, have completed the SoBo Appalachian Trail. That means, anyone who joins that list will have a little bit more to brag about at the next thru-hikers’ bar.