America's Great Hiking Trails is a hardcover Mac Daddy of hiking books, loaded with 336 pages of drop dead gorgeous photographs and a glimpse into eleven of the country's most iconic hiking trails. Author Karen Berger is a well seasoned hiker and she invites us to explore, discover and delight in trails that will take you through practically any terrain the country can offer. Photographer Bart Smith was the first person to hike all eleven of these scenic trails and he has the photographs that will make your jaw drop. Together they have created a gem that will inspire you to embark on a journey of discovery.
After reading this book I dare you to tell me that at some point you didn't imagine yourself hiking at least a small section of one of these scenic trails. Each of the eleven chapters is dedicated to showing what is unique to that particular trail. Each trail receives star treatment as the author supplies pertinent information about its route, shares interesting historical tidbits and highlights particular spots of beauty. Each trail offers something unique to its region and Ms. Berger offers up a host of factors such as communities, landscapes, environment and land use. Every chapter gets a thorough description of history, a map, trail information, and extensive, glorious photos. Each chapter concludes with special points of interest. Are you strapping on your hiking boots yet?
- Chapter One - The Appalachian Trail - Community in the Wilderness
Perhaps one of the most widely known and iconic trails in the world, the AT consists of 2,200 miles of forested paths that wind along ridges and rivers, farms and grasslands and was one of the initial trails to be officially designated a national scenic trail. Each year hundreds of hikers declare their heartfelt intentions to thru-hike the length of the AT but in the end, a mere 30% actually complete the task. Highlights include Clingmans Dome in Smokey Mountains National Park, the treeless summit of Roan Mountain, the jutting shelf of McAfee's Knob, 100 miles views from The Presidential Range, and scrambling to the top of Katahdin by means of cables bolted into the rock. Believe it or not, the Appalachian Trail is within a one day drive of more than 2/3 the population of the country. States along the trail include: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine.
- Chapter Two - The Pacific Crest Trail - Soul of American Wilderness
The PCT was the second trail designated a National Scenic Trail. On the PCT it's possible to walk for 2 weeks without ever seeing a road or cell tower, and shelters are few and far between. However, elevation gain is seldom more than 526 feet per mile and rarely does a hiker need to use his hands to climb up an incline. Areas of interest on this 2,700 mile jaunt include the wind stunted Limber pines of the San Gabriels, the rock formations at Castle Crags State Park, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and the beauty of volcanoes and glaciers in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. States along the trail include: California, Oregon, Washington.
- Chapter Three - The Continental Divide - The Wild Child
The Continental Divide is the trail that divides the continent, the area of our country where men have tried for centuries to cross the wall of mountains and haven't always succeeded. Our nations history is embedded on its trails in the form of wheel ruts from wagons on The Oregon Trail, ancient mines, crumbling settlements, and age old paths. The Continental Divide is 3,100 miles of American history waiting to be explored, such as the red rocks of Abiquiu where Georgia O'Keeffe painted the buttes, test your mettle on the five 13,000 ft. peaks of the Front Range, watch for grizzlies in Yellowstone Park, and check out the Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park. States along the trail include: New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana.
- Chapter Four - The North Country Trail - Hiking the Red Plaid Nation
The NCT weighs in as the nations longest trail at 4,600 miles and stretches from New York through the Midwest to North Dakota. I had no idea this extensive trail even existed. A highlight of this trail is that it celebrates small-town America as it meanders across the heartland, taking you through rural towns with history dating to the Revolutionary War. Along this trail you will delight in American relics such as the ruins of early settlements near Watkins Glen, covered bridges and gristmills near Hells Hollow, enjoy the shorelines of Lake Superior, follow old logging roads and railroad beds along the Itasca Moraine Chain of Lakes and finally feast your eyes on a horizon of tallgrass prairies in the Sheyenne National Grasslands. States along the trail include: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota.
- Chapter Five - The Ice Age Trail - Water, Gravity, Cold and Time
I have to say that it was exciting for me to actually find myself standing at a point along the Ice Age Trail. It made me hunger for more. Observe layers of silt, clay, sand and forest at Two Creeks Buried Forest, stand next to Balanced Rock at Devils Lake, view stunning sandstone bluffs at Mill Bluff State Park, and climb the observation tower at Timms Hill. States along the trail include: Wisconsin.
- Chapter Six - The Potomac Heritage Trail - Exploring Americana
States along the trail include: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania.
- Chapter Seven -The Florida Trail - Water, Water, Everywhere
- Chapter Eight - The Natchez Trace - Footsteps in History
- Chapter Nine - The Arizona Trail - It's a Dry Heat
The heat, the sun and lack of water are only a few of your concerns as you test your will on a trail that takes you through the Superstition Mountains and leads you on an 800 mile journey through saguaro covered hills, pine forests, red rock formations and sweeping views. You can experience temperatures that swing from freezing to 100 degrees in the course of 24 hours and the equivalent of several different climate zones to boot. You will delight in seeing the cliffs, canyons and migratory birds at Miller Peak in the Huachuca Mountains, rattlesnakes and desert hares at Kentucky Camp in the Santa Rita Mountains, giant cacti in Saguaro National Park, challenge yourself in the toughest area of the trail which is located in the Superstition and Four Peaks Wilderness areas, and feast your eyes on the sweeping grandeur of the Grand Canyon. States along the trail include: Arizona.
- Chapter Ten - The Pacific Northwest Trail - Story Lines
Everything here is large and impressive from the volcanoes and mountains to the towering redcedars and the gigantic Douglas firs, to the tall tales of gold miners, prospectors, criminals and renegades. For 1,200 miles, the Pacific Northwest Trail takes you along the northern edges of Montana and Washington and down to the Pacific Ocean. You will begin near the international border of the US and Canada at Glacier National Park, cross through several National Forests such as Kootenai, Colville, Okanogan, and end up at Olympic National Park which is known as a former whale hunting area and where you can expect to see whales, otters, seals and sea lions. States along the trail include: Montana, Idaho, Washington.
- Chapter Eleven - The New England Trail - Faith in a Seed
The New England trail is the shortest of the long distance trails at 215 miles and has neither a national park nor a national forest along its length. Yet the strongest feature of this trail is its quiet beauty as it sits among some of the oldest settlements in America. Basically, this trail is located where the people are as it runs through or past 41 communities and this fact makes it an easier trail to manage by the corps of volunteers who do so. The trail starts near Guilford, Connecticut, an area first settled in 1639. From there it winds through a host of microclimates that support mountain laurel highlands, white pine forests, river habitats, open valleys and swampy floodplains. Some of the highlights include the Boardwalk at Chittenden Park, the 976 ft. Castle Craig observation tower, and the Mount Holyoke Summit House. States along the trail include: Connecticut, Massachusetts.
So there you have it - the 11 National Scenic Trails in a nutshell. I haven't even shaved the tip of the iceberg on this gem of a book. Also included is a 12th chapter that provides an extensive list of trails that crisscross the country and they will supply you with excellent hiking experiences for years to come.
Noteworthy on their own are the hundreds of marvelous photographs by Bart Smith that were taken along each trail - photographs that have become a hallmark of Rizzoli Publishing and each one is worth a thousand words. Pictures of dappled forests, glistening lakes and streams, roaring waterfalls, hazy mountaintops, colorful autumn leaves spread across the forest floor, wide vistas, wind swept ledges, moon lit skies, towering mountains, flower drenched prairies, snow capped peaks, tall cacti, red boulders, and sandy beaches. Plus scores of wildlife such a squirrels, bears, birds, deer, moose, mountain goats, butterflies, turtles, seals, fox and porcupine. My personal favorite photos are the trails - always the trails, leading forward around a bend with the promise of a waiting adventure and new discoveries, not only about the trail, but also about yourself.
(I was given an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Images are the property of the publisher and cannot be reproduced without consent.)