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The 235-mile [378-kilometer] Lake Superior Trail feels nothing if not remote as it tunnels through dark groves of hardwoods and emerges on balds a thousand feet [305 meters] above the northern shores of Lake Superior.
Actually, the trail is quite accessible: Most of its 29 trailheads are near major roads or towns and many of them are within a four-hour drive of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The availability of a commercial shuttle service allows you to engineer a hike of any length.
One of the best sections for a weekend backpacking trip begins in the town of Silver Bay, near the south end of the trail, and emerges in the Baptism River Valley, 27 miles [43 kilometers] to the north. En route you'll traverse the spine of the rugged Sawtooth Mountains, hiking through birch and aspen, a section of old-growth maple, and redolent stands of spruce and balsam.
The trail also passes by several lakes, reaches a band of cliffs, and crosses a 400-foot [122-meter] boardwalk over the Hoover of beaver dams.
Superior Hiking Trail Association (+1 218 834 2700; www.shta.org ). Superior Shuttle ($10 and up; +1 218 834 5511; www.superiorshuttle.com).
If you've ever swatted flotillas of mosquitoes off your profusely perspiring epidermis during an Upper Midwest summer, you'll rejoice in a fall visit, when there are significantly less flying around. Clear autumn air makes the northern-hardwoods color show that much more enjoyablebut bring the bug dope just in case.
Stretching across two thirds of central Arizona and marking the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, the thousand-foot-high [305-meter-high] Mogollon Rim seems like the sort of gargantuan geography best appreciated via satellite photos.
Not so. On the 51-mile [82-kilometer] Highline National Recreation Trailtwo hours from Phoenix, accessible via six trailheads, and suited for trips from one day to one weekhikers and bikers can trace the base of the rim through a cool and high (5,000 to 6,500 feet [1,520 to 1,980 kilometers]) realm of crumbly cliffs, rock towers, and the world's largest stand of ponderosa pine.
In rocky, open areas, dotted with juniper and oak, side trails lead up to the rim, where, among the yellowing aspen, there are incredible views of the sprawling Arizona desertvistas that inspired Western novelist Zane Grey.
Back on the Highline Trail, you'll also see creek beds flanked by glens of wild strawberries, burbling springs, and groves of smooth-bark cypress. The Highline begins at the Pine Trailhead, 15 miles [24 kilometers] north of Payson on State Route 87.
Tonto National Forest (+1 928 474 7900; www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto/districts/payson/payson.htm). Manzanita Cyclery rents front and dual-suspension bikes ($25-$50/day; +1 928 474 0744).
Now that fall is here, you'll experience none of the summer's monsoon rains, dangerous lightning storms, or extreme heatplus, the Rocky Mountain elk, mountain lions, and black bears are especially active at this time of year. You might even hear a big bull elk bugling for potential mates.
Thirty years ago, park planners surveyed the Gulf Coast from Mississippi to Florida and picked Cat Island to be the crown jewel of the new Gulf Islands National Seashore. But it wasn't until last spring that the island's owners agreed to sell a large portion of the coveted ground: roughly half of the 2,200 acres [890 hectares] on this unique, T-shaped isle.
Hikers and campers can reach Cat by shuttle boat; for experienced paddles, it's an eight-mile [13-kilometer] paddle by sea kayak across the Mississippi Sound from the mainland. Paddlers are often escorted by jumping mullet and schools of bottlenose dolphins; the sound also harbors throngs of up to 500 dinner-plate-size stingrays.
Ashore, visitors can pitch tents on pristine, white-sand beaches, explore inland marshes patrolled by alligators, and hike through forests of pines, palmettos, and live oaks festooned with garlands of Spanish moss. The access points to Cat are about an hour from New Orleans.
Gulf Islands National Seashore (+1 228 875 9057; www.nps.gov/guis). Boat rentals: Wolf River Canoe & Kayak ($35/night; +1 228 452 7666; www.wolfrivercanoes.com). Shuttle service and guided trips begin at $55 per person at Gulf Islands Kayaking (+1 228 348 1674; www.gulfislandskayaking.com).
Normally after Labor Day, the Gulf Coast waters become clearer and calmer, but hurricane season runs through November, so check weather predictions before heading out. Also, the stifling southern humidity is down, and island blooms reach their peak, with red cardinal, marsh pink, and fluffy white groundsel brightening the isle.
Robert Earle Howells
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