Redwood State Park, California
Strolling in the shadows of 300-foot redwoods is always awe-inspiring; doing so with hardly anyone else around is truly enlightening. Your best shot at achieving this state of bliss lies inside California's Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (www.parks.ca.gov), a UNESCO World Heritage site and international biosphere reserve 320 miles north of San Francisco. While countless travelers pass through the park on U.S. 101, a mere fraction stop and get out into one of California's most ecologically diverse natural areas. Our James Irvine Trail showcases a variety of ecosystems, from redwood forests to Pacific shoreline, says Marilyn Murphy, California State Parks superintendent of the Redwood National and State Parks. From the visitors center, the 11-mile loop trail travels through old-growth stands of Sitka spruce, coast redwood and Douglas fir before descending into Fern Canyon, a dripping gorge with walls covered in creeping ferns. The trail turns around at Gold Bluffs Beach, where ten miles of protected coast boast one of Murphys favorite things about the park: Its one of the only coastlines in California that roaming Roosevelt elk have decided to call home.
Camp in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
THE ADIRONDACKS UNHERALDED LOW COUNTRY
Adirondack Park, New York
Its not easy to select a single hike inside the six-million-acre Adirondack Park (www.adk.com), especially with 2,000 miles of trails to choose from. But if you're seeking alone time, the High Falls Loop, inside the Adirondack lowlands Five Ponds Wilderness Area, is a standout. The wilderness' 107,230 acres are so secluded that many of them remain trailless, and they contain something the often crowded highlands don't: a large, contiguous virgin forest. On the 15-mile High Falls Loop, you'll gawk at never harvested groves of hundred-foot-tall spruce, pine, maple and fir trees. The loop begins near the tiny hamlet of Wanakena and winds along the brook troutpacked Oswegatchie River, so make sure to pack your fly rod. High Falls itself, a stepping 21-foot waterfall, is the turnaround point and a fantastic spot for a picnic lunch.
ZIONS OTHER NARROWS
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion, which translates as refuge, doesn't feel like much of a haven in the late summer, when crowded trails such as Angels Landing swell with eager parkgoers. But with a pioneering spirit and a topographic map from the Park Service, you can still find sanctuary in Zions Lower Telephone Canyon (www.nps.gov/zion). This moderate hike, an unofficial diversion off the popular West Rim Trail, sees so little foot traffic that it officially classifies as park backcountry. Starting at the Grotto trailhead, the route traces the breathtaking West Rim for two miles to Scouts Lookout. Then, crossing a small bridge, it leaves the main trail, traveling another two miles into Lower Telephone. Once in the canyon, you'll feel like the only being on Earth except for surprised herds of deer, the occasional spotted owl and the elusive cougars whose tracks dot the canyon floor. The finest moment of the trek is when you gaze 1,500 feet down toward the Narrows of Virgin River and note that hikers on that popular route appear pea-size and very, very far away.
Stay in the Watchman Campground, a short walk away from the park's main visitor center.