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  Six Stellar Hikes
New, Unheralded Trails—From Hells Backbone to Hole-in-the-Wall

(From the print edition)

1. 
Death Hollow to Escalante River
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

It takes creativity to explore this new national monument—in all of its 1.9 million acres [7.7 million hectares], there's only one marked hiking trail. One of the best find-it-yourself routes is a five-day, 30-mile [48-kilometer] trek beginning near Hells Backbone, 19 miles [31 kilometers] northwest of the town of Boulder, Utah.

Dropping into Death Hollow, the hike winds through a forest of ponderosa pine and manzanita. After nine miles [15 kilometers] the canyon constricts to a four-foot-wide [1.2-meter-wide] passage through the Upper Narrows. You'll have to wade or swim here, as well as through the Lower Narrows seven miles [11 kilometers] below.

During hot, dry sections of the hike, cool off in one of the sandstone water holes and soak up the view of maize-colored rock formations that brilliantly contrast the blue sky above. When Death Hollow reaches the gray Escalante, look for Anasazi petroglyphs of bighorn sheep on the walls of the north side of the canyon. The ruins of thousand-year-old granaries are downriver; the hike ends seven miles [11 kilometers] after the petroglyphs, at Highway 12.

Visitor Info: Escalante Interagency Visitor Center, +1 435 826 5499, http://www.ut.blm.gov/monument; or Escalante Canyon Outfitters, 888 326 4453, www.ecohike.com. Check with park rangers regarding the risk of flash floods.

—Julie Cederborg

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2. 
Cohos Trail
New Hampshire

Traversing the entirety of remote Coos County, the Granite State's new Cohos Trail wriggles northwest from the Saco River, crosses the Presidential Range over 3,119-foot [951-meter] Mount Crawford, and, when it's completed in 2001, will terminate at the Canadian border. To date, 110 miles [177 kilometers] of the 159-mile [256-kilometer] route are open.

You can conquer 30 peaks along the trail, and see tundra, numerous bodies of water (such as the 3,000-acre [1,215-hectare] First Connecticut Lake), a year-round ice gulch, a huge wildflower meadow, and more than a few imposing but docile moose. It's a lot of country, and a looking-glass vision of New England's primal past.

Visitor Info: Cohos Trail Association, +1 603 363 8902, http://www.cohostrail.org

—Ben Hewitt

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3. 
The Florida National Scenic Trail
Florida Panhandle

When finished, this trail will ramble a whopping 1,300 miles [2,090 kilometers] from Big Cypress National Preserve near Miami to the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola. In the meantime, you can sample one of the coolest completed stretches, a three-day, 31-mile [50-kilometer] route in the Panhandle's Apalachicola National Forest and Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area.

This long trek begins 17 miles [27 kilometers] south of Bloxham on Route 375, with a five-mile [eight-kilometer] cypress-swamp slog. As the land rises, you'll hike through gnarled titi thickets, palmetto trees, and some of Florida's last remaining old-growth forest, including 200-year-old loblolly pines up to four feet [1.2 meters] wide.

Watch for black bear, wild turkey, and the rare red-cockaded woodpecker. Before the trek ends at U.S. 319, you'll skirt the meandering Sopchoppy River. Tea-red but perfectly clean, it's ideal for a cool dip on a hot afternoon.

Visitor Info: U.S. Forest Service, +1 850 942 9300; or the Florida Trail Association, 800 343 1882, http://www.florida-trail.org

—Logan Ward

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4. 
River-to-River Trail
Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

This rarely hiked, 175-mile [282-kilometer] route—recently designated as the Illinois portion of the nationwide American Discovery Trail—crosses five wilderness areas.

The trail begins at Battery Rock on the Ohio River (a six-hour drive south of Chicago), and snakes westward to Devil's Backbone Park on the Mississippi. Along the way it drops into clefts and climbs abrupt rises through cypress, pin oak, and pine. Pileated woodpeckers bang overhead, and water moccasins laze in fetid swamps.

The 20-mile [32-kilometer] trip from the High Knob trailhead to Lusk Creek is the best of the Shawnee, and includes the lunar fields of the Garden of the Gods Wilderness.

Visitor Info: Shawnee National Forest, 800 699 6637, http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/shawnee; River-to-River Trail Society, +1 618 252 6789.

—Gretchen Reynolds

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5. 
Hole-in-the-Wall Route
Mojave National Preserve, California

The 16-mile [26-kilometer] round-trip from Hole-in-the-Wall Campground to Mid Hills Campground connects two of the few campsites and water sources in this new parkland. The trail has an unusual start: a steep slope interrupted by two ten-foot [three-meter] cliffs, which you descend using steel hand rings and forged footholds.

The descent ends in an actual hole in the wall—a slot canyon—which leads to the floor of Banshee Canyon (named for the ghostly "screams" that are created by wind blowing through holes in the rock). The route eventually climbs over a saddle that yields stunning views of Wild Horse Mesa and the Hackberry Mountains.

Visitor Info: The preserve's Baker Information Center, +1 760 733 4040; or Needles Information Center, +1 760 326 6322, http://www.nps.gov/moja

—John McKinney

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6. 
Juan de Fuca Marine Trail
Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Named for a 16th-century explorer, this new 30-mile [48-kilometer] trail follows the southwestern shore of Vancouver Island between China Beach and Botanical Beach along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The moderately challenging route—numerous bridges will assist you with passage over creeks and ravines—plunges through forests of hemlock, cedar, and spruce, and occasionally emerges from the woods onto deserted beaches separated by jumbled headlands. Expect lots of ups and downs but no major elevation changes en route.

When you trek along the shoreline you'll see considerable aquatic traffic, both commercial (vessels carrying cargo around the Pacific Rim) and cetacean (migrating gray whales February through May and September through November, as well as resident orcas pursuing salmon).

Neither the trail nor the half dozen primitive beachside camps require reservations. Prepare to endure the thick fog and sudden squalls that have earned the waters offshore the nasty nickname "Graveyard of the Pacific." If you only have a day, try the 12-mile [19-kilometer] round-trip between Botanical Beach and Parkinson Creek; it's one of North America's most engaging coastal hikes.

Visitor Info: BC Parks, South Vancouver Island District, +1 250 391 2300, http://www.elp.gov.bc.ca/bcparks

—John McKinney

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May/June 2000:  Previews | Q&A | Photos | Ask the Expert | Wild Animal Forum | 6 Hikes
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