When researching new trails, you often find results for hikes that, while beautiful, are sure to draw a crowd. You may find yourself sharing trails with too many hikers or fighting for parking spaces at trailheads—annoyances in the best of times, let alone an era of physical distancing. Thankfully, alternatives to these popular trails exist that still offer spectacular views, but maybe with a little more solitude. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites.
Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these trails may be closed to the public. Be sure to check the park websites before your hike, and adhere to all local physical distancing protocols.
BERNARD AND MANSELL MOUNTAINS INSTEAD OF CADILLAC MOUNTAIN | Acadia National Park, Maine
Cadillac Mountain is one of Acadia National Park’s most popular hikes, in part for its spectacular sunrises. Instead, hike the loop around Bernard and Mansell mountains, starting at the Bernard Mountain Trail, located off the parking area next to Mill Field. Hike 1 mile and turn right at the first junction— the summit of Bernard Mountain is 1.5 miles away. Bernard Mountain Trail then passes through a series of notches for 2.2 miles until you intersect with Razorback Trail; take that spur out and back for 0.2 mile to summit Mansell Mountain Trail. Back at the intersection, take Mansell Mountain Trail back to your car.
MOUNT CARDIGAN INSTEAD OF MOUNT MONADNOCK | Cardigan State Park, N.H.
Both mountains are classified as “bald,” where their rocky, windy summits prevent trees from growing too high, offering hikers 360-degree views. Avoid the crowds of Monadnock by hiking to the summit of Mount Cardigan. Start at the parking lot at Cardigan Mountain State Park and follow the West Ridge Trail for 2.7 miles to the summit. Take a leisurely break for photos and a snack before returning the way you came.
Distance: 3 miles out and back
Info: New Hampshire State Parks
RACE BROOK FALLS INSTEAD OF BASH BISH FALLS | Mount Everett State Reservation, Mass.
The three-tier Race Brook Falls is a great alternative to visit versus popular Bash Bish Falls. From the parking area, head down the blue-blazed Race Brook Trail, immediately crossing a small stream and into the hemlock woods. At 0.6 mile the path splits; to the left, a spur trail takes you to an overlook at the top of the falls, and the trail to the right will bring you to the base. Take some time to explore both routes, then retrace your steps to your car.
BLUE AND VIOLET LOOP INSTEAD OF BEAR MOUNTAIN | Sleeping Giant State Park, Conn.
Sleeping Giant Mountain, with the features of a head, chest, and feet, resembles a large man in slumber. Start at the trailhead for the Blue Trail, just past the picnic area at the park entrance. Trails are well marked, so follow the blue blazes for 1.4 miles until you reach the stone lookout tower with views of the surrounding valley. Continue on the Blue Trail for 0.4 mile until you intersect with the Red Circle Trail—turn left and hike for 0.1 mile until you reach the Violet Trail, then turn left again to follow the purple blazes back to your starting point.
BARE ROCK LOOP INSTEAD OF BREAKNECK RIDGE | Sterling Forest State Park, N.Y.
Start at the parking area next to Sterling Lake and take the Sterling Lake Loop Trail for 0.3 mile, where you will turn right onto Sterling Lake Road to get to the Bare Rock Trail. Turn right onto Bare Rock Trail for 0.7 mile until you reach a four-way junction. Turn left onto Sterling Ridge and hike for another 0.8 mile, then turn left again onto the red-blazed Fire Tower Trail. Hike 0.9 mile, and turn right onto Fire Rock Connector Trail—Sterling Lake Road is another 0.4 mile away, and will take you back to your car.
Distance: 4-mile loop
Info: New York State Parks
VAN CAMPENS GLEN INSTEAD OF STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN TRAIL | Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, N.J.
Avoid the popular Stairway to Heaven Trail and opt for the longer Van Campens Glen Loop, a scenic woodland hike with waterfalls. Start at the trailhead for the orange-blazed Orchid Trail off Old Mine Road. At 1.3 miles, turn left onto the also orange-blazed Pioneer Trail. After 3.7 miles, continue straight onto the blue-blazed Hamilton Ridge Trail. Turn left onto the two-lane Old Mine Road and walk about 100 feet before turning right onto yellow-blazed Van Campens Glen Trail. Stop at the flat boulders across from the waterfall for lunch, then retrace your route back to your car.
LEHIGH PARKWAY INSTEAD OF GLEN ONOKO FALLS | Allentown, Pa.
Tour Allentown on this easy-going hike through Lehigh Parkway. Start at Klein’s Bridge and follow the Dr. Ernest F. Andrews Memorial Planet Walk, which provides information about each of the planets in the solar system, for 0.8 mile. Cross under Bogert’s Bridge, following the trail uphill, then steeply downhill, until it passes under Interstate 78. Continue for another 0.6 mile, past Fireman’s Bridge, reaching a Y junction. Bear left, toward a garden and the Museum of Indian Culture, followed by Fish Hatchery Road. Turn right, crossing the creek and taking a sharp right turn to take the grassy path next to the creek toward Lil’-Le-Hi Trout Nursery fish hatchery. From here, follow a paved path for 0.4 mile back toward Fireman’s Bridge and retrace your steps back to your car.
CEDAR RUN INSTEAD OF OLD RAG CIRCUIT | Shenandoah National Park, Va.
Avoid the crowds of Old Rag and head to the Cedar Run–White Oak hike to see spectacular waterfalls measuring more than 50 feet. Start at the Hawksbill Gap lot, and take Cedar Run Trail until you reach a junction at 2.2 miles. Turn left onto Link Trail, following blue blazes for 0.8 mile. At the junction, take the left path onto blue-blazed Whiteoak Canyon Trail, past a set of waterfalls, then turn left down the yellow-blazed Whiteoak Canyon Fire Road/Horse Trail and back to the start.
Distance: 7.3 miles round-trip
Info: National Park Service