Go Forest Bathing! 8 National Forest Hikes

May 29, 2018
national forest hikes
ASHOK BOGHANI/AMC PHOTO CONTESTHikers trace Franconia Ridge’s epic backbone. Find 7 more national forest hikes, including some for beginners, below.

National forests are like the multitool of the public land system, open to a wide, if carefully monitored, array of uses: hiking, fishing, timber harvesting, and conservation among them. And then there’s forest bathing—the new trend of immersing yourself in nature as a remedy for the stress and anxiety of everyday life. Whether you dip a toe into New England’s beloved White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), which celebrates its centennial in 2018, or choose a serene woods submersion farther afield, you’ll see some of our nation’s most versatile and picturesque public land on these day hikes.

1. Caribou Mountain, WMNF | Bethel, Maine
Did you know the WMNF crosses the Maine border? (Whether you answered yes or no, check out “The Longest Mile.”) A great intro to the Maine side is Caribou–Speckled Mountain Wilderness Area. At a humble 2,850 feet, Caribou Mountain is the second highest peak in the area, providing views in all directions.

To reach the trailhead, take Route 113 north from Bethel. Parking comes up just after Bull Brook Road shoots off to the left, with Caribou Trail leaving from the north side of the lot. In 2 miles, you’ll pass Kees Falls, a tumbling, 60-foot cascade. In another 1.6 miles, hang a right on Mud Brook Trail to reach Caribou’s bald summit. Soak up the scenery then follow Mud Brook Trail the remaining 3.3 miles, brook-hopping en route.
DISTANCE: 6.9 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, 3rd ed. (AMC Books); WMNF

2. Franconia Ridge, WMNF | Franconia, N.H.
This exhilarating hike starts and ends in Franconia Notch State Park, but its heart traverses the WMNF’s iconic Franconia Ridge. Starting at the Old Bridle Path (OBP) trailhead, across I-93 from Lafayette Place Campground, follow OBP 0.2 mile before making a sharp turn to the north. At the junction, head east on Falling Waters Trail to ascend the steep summit of Little Haystack Mountain.

From there, follow the Appalachian Trail (AT) north along Franconia Ridge. The next 1.5 miles offer zero cover, so be prepared for any weather. After traversing mounts Lincoln and Lafayette, turn west on Greenleaf Trail. Stop for a snack or a snooze at AMC’s Greenleaf Hut then take OBP 2.5 miles back to the parking area.
DISTANCE: 8 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, 3rd ed.; White Mountain Guide, 30th ed. (AMC BOOKS); WMNF

3. Diana’s Baths, WMNF | Bartlett, N.H.
This spot is one of the most beloved—and busy—in the White Mountains for good reason. It’s family-friendly, it’s ADA-accessible, and it leads to a stellar attraction: a beautiful collection of pools and waterfalls, fed by Lucy Brook. The large parking lot ($3 fee) has accessible restrooms and is maintained year-round; find it 0.5 mile north of where West Side Road crosses the brook. From there, it’s 0.8 mile to the falls via Moat Mountain Trail, with benches lining the way. Although the trail isn’t ADA-accessible beyond Diana’s Baths, it does continue on, with greater solitude ahead.
DISTANCE: 1.6 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, 3rd ed.; White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.; WMNF

4. Ludlow Mountain, GMNF | Ludlow, Vt.
In winter, Ludlow Mountain’s eastern face is swarmed by the skiing guests of Okemo Mountain Resort. But in warmer months, a trip up Ludlow’s northern face in the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) provides hikers with 360-degree views. Park across the railroad tracks from the mountain, off Route 103 on Station Road, then follow blue-blazed Healdville Trail 3 miles uphill, gaining nearly 2,000 feet in elevation as you go. The old fire tower up top is worth the extra climb. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, it offers stellar vistas of the Green Mountains and some of the Adirondacks, too.
DISTANCE: 6 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont, 2nd ed. (AMC BOOKS); Green Mountain National Forest

5. Lye Brook Falls, GMNF | Manchester, Vt.
The rushing sound of Lye Brook and the sight of its 125-foot cascades make this trek in the GMNF unforgettable—but you’ll still want to take photos. Lye Brook Trail, located at the end of Glen Road, winds about 2.2 miles at a gradual incline, following the brook for most of its length. Come prepared with a second pair of socks or sandals for several water crossings and don’t forget your camera. These beauties are some of the highest waterfalls in Vermont.
DISTANCE: 4.4 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont, 2nd ed.; Green Mountain National Forest

6. Dragon’s Tooth, JNF | Catawba, Va.
For a short challenge with a big reward, consider Dragon’s Tooth: the first stop in what hikers affectionately call Virginia’s Triple Crown, alongside Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob. You can combine the three sites—all within Jefferson National Forest, or JNF—for a 35-mile loop or visit them one at a time as day hikes.

Look for a brown sign identifying the parking area on the south side of Catawba Valley Drive, 0.5 mile north of Newport Road. The first mile on Dragon’s Tooth Trail is a bit of a haul—good preparation for what comes next. At a junction with the AT, stay southwest to follow the white blazes. In an eventual clearing, you’ll see Dragon’s Tooth, a 35-foot quartzite structure shooting into the air. Climb the tooth at your own risk and make sure someone else is present; the rocks can be extremely slippery when wet, even for experienced boulderers. (The views from the base are so spectacular, you won’t miss anything if you skip the scramble.)
DISTANCE: 4.6 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Shenandoah Valley (AMC Books); Jefferson National Forest

7. McAfee Knob, JNF | Catawba, Va.
The third and final point in the Triple Crown is also one of the AT’s most famous landmarks. Taking in the precipitous view from “the Knob”—a narrow, protruding cliff—is a rite of passage for AT thru-hikers and day visitors alike. Just do so with caution; the drop is as dangerous as it looks.

A parking area is located on the south side of Catawba Valley Drive, with the trailhead on the north side. You’ll start and stay on the AT for most of this trip, excluding the short spur to the Knob itself. The trail occasionally crosses an old fire road, but following the white blazes will get you where you want to go. As with Virginia’s other gems, be prepared to spend some time at your destination. Early birds can schedule their hikes for sunrise, intensified by the Knob’s clear eastern exposure. Follow the trail back out the way you came.
DISTANCE: 7.7 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Shenandoah Valley (AMC Books); Jefferson National Forest

8. Tinker Cliffs, JNF | Troutville, Va.
The destination is legendary, but you’ll also score plenty of sweeping overlooks en route to this second jewel in Virginia’s crown. Andy Layne Trail begins at a parking area off Catawba Road and, in 3 miles, reaches a three-way intersection with the AT. Take a right onto the AT and follow 0.6 mile of switchbacks to Tinker Cliffs. Give yourself some time to relax and take in the Catawba Valley views at the top; maybe even pack a lunch. Return the way you came, taking a left onto Andy Layne Trail from the AT.
DISTANCE: 7.2 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Shenandoah Valley (AMC Books); Jefferson National Forest



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Katie Hill

Katie Hill is a 2018 graduate of Boston's Emerson College, where she majored in journalism and minored in environmental studies. She interned for AMC Outdoors in spring 2018 and will spend the summer working for a guest ranch in central Wyoming.

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