Fifty years after the passage of the federal Wilderness Act, officials have designated more than 109 million acres nationwide as Wilderness Areas. Nature takes its course in these areas, signs of human impact are few, and visitors can enjoy a uniquely remote experience. Here are hikes in seven of the more pristine landscapes in the Northeast. Read more about the Wilderness Act in “50 Years in the Wild” (September/October 2014).
Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness | Stow, Maine
Speckled Mountain is named for the scattered hardwood trees that dot the mountainside with color in the fall. For a strenuous hike, take the Speckled Mountain Loop, beginning at Bickford Brook Trail behind the Brickett Place. Bickford Brook Trail begins as a service road, enters the Wilderness at 0.7 mile, and grows steep as it ascends to the main west ridge of Speckled Mountain and then the summit at 4.3 miles. From the summit, backtrack 0.5 mile to Blueberry Ridge Trail, which has ledges with excellent views, small side loops, a stream crossing and a spring. Blueberry Ridge Trail rejoins the Bickford Brook Trail 0.7 mile from the trailhead.
Wild River Wilderness | White Mountain National Forest, N.H.
Wild River Wilderness was formerly the site of bustling logging camps and railways, an era that ended when the forest burned to the ground in 1903. In the regenerated forest, hikers can find traces of the area’s history: old logging roads, railways, and occasional artifacts. Ascend the Basin Trail to Rim Junction, passing a cascade and an impressive cliff. A side trip of 0.2 mile along the Basin Rim Trail to the south leads to a great view of Basin Pond. Return to Rim Junction and descend Black Angel Trail into the Wild River Valley along pleasant old logging roads. The route turns right onto the Wild River Trail, following an old logging railroad grade along the river back to the trailhead.
Sandwich Range Wilderness | North Sandwich, N.H.
The Sandwich Range Wilderness spans 55 square miles in the southeastern White Mountains. From Whiteface Intervale Road, take the Flat Mountain Pond Trail to the beginning of the McCrillis Trail, on the right at 1.7 miles. River crossings may be difficult at high water. Located entirely in Wilderness, the McCrillis Trail ascends the southwest ridges of Mount Whiteface, and ends at a junction. The summit is just 0.3 mile north on Rollins Trail. Or, for a longer hike, follow the Flat Mountain Pond Trail along the Whiteface River to Flat Mountain Pond and Flat Mountain Pond Shelter.
Distance: 9.8 miles round-trip to the summit
Info: White Mountain Guide, 29th ed. (AMC Books);
Breadloaf Wilderness | Lincoln, Vt.
At almost 40 square miles, Breadloaf Wilderness is the largest Wilderness in the Green Mountain National Forest. For a hike with beautiful views and rocky scrambles, begin at the trailhead on Lincoln Gap Road and follow the Long Trail between Mount Grant (3,623 ft.) and Lincoln Gap (2,424 ft.). A brief, steep climb leads to a more gradual sidehill climb to Sunset Ledge, which has a westward view of the Bristol Cliffs Wilderness, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks. Painted and red trillium grow along the path. Be careful with kids and pets along ledges.
Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness | Fire Island, N.Y.
Fire Island, a National Seashore, is a 32-mile-long barrier beach with 7 miles of Wilderness to explore on its western end. You will find salt marsh, tidal flats, and pine forest on the bay side, and sand dunes on the ocean side. Walk the length of the Wilderness on the Fire Island Wilderness Trail (also known as Burma Road). Deer are common, and migratory waterfowl shelter along the bay side in the spring. The Wilderness Area is accessible by foot only; park at Suffolk County Park, take the Watch Hill ferry, or anchor a private boat in Great South Bay and wade ashore.
Distance: Up to 14 miles round-trip
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness | Meyersville, N.J.
In 1959, area residents defended Great Swamp against proposed plans for an airport and persuaded Congress to purchase 12 square miles of land for a wildlife refuge. Easy trails into the Wilderness start at the eastern end of White Bridge Road and pass through a mosaic of wetland habitats, including young forest and open areas. Moistureloving mosses are abundant, as are deer and a diverse mix of forest and wetland birds. It is best to visit in late spring or early fall; though beautiful in summer, the swamp is thick with insects.
Shenandoah Wilderness | Robertson, Va.
The site of Shenandoah National Park was almost entirely cleared by farming and logging before being protected. To get to the Big Devils Stairs Trail, a steep gorge hike with beautiful cascades, take the Appalachian Trail on the east side of Skyline Drive. The Bluff Trail branching to the left will take you past Gravel Springs Hut and Range View Overlook to Big Devils Stairs Trail on the right. Hike downhill along the gorge, passing two great ledge overlooks, to the trail’s end at the park boundary. Hike back the way you came. Be careful of ledges, copperhead snakes, and timber rattlesnakes.
CONTRIBUTORS: Daniel Case, Mike Dickerman, Susan Kieffer, Jennifer Lamphere Roberts, Steve Smith