Hidden beneath dirt trails and covered by lush forests and colorful mosses and lichens lies the infrastructure of the Northeast’s best hiking: massive rock formations. Often this foundation goes unnoticed. But in some special spots, the rocks emerge from the earth and tell the story of how our favorite wild places were formed, a story that goes back millions of years.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
One of the only fjords on the eastern seaboard of the United States, Somes Sound cuts a deep path through Mount Desert Island, sinking to depths of nearly 200 feet. For dramatic views of the mountains rising over the sound, take the Acadia Mountain Trail from the parking area off Route 102 to the Saint Sauveur Trail (0.1 mile). Soon you’ll be climbing over granite ledges and up stone stairs. Connect to the Valley Peak Trail, and then take a right to reach the summit of Saint Sauveur. It’s 1.3 miles back to the parking area from there.
Distance: 3.7 miles
Info: Discover Acadia National Park, 3rd Ed. (AMC Books)
“Monadnock,” derived from an Abenaki word, describes an isolated mountain surrounded by plains. Mount Monadnock rises above southern New Hampshire, and provides views into New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont. The summit (3,159 feet) is bare rock, exposed by decades of fires. Layers of schist and quartzite are visible in outcroppings, and scratches in the bedrock trace glacial paths. Some of the stone is embedded with reddish-purple garnet. Take the steep White Dot Trail up and the more gradual White Cross Trail down.
Distance: 4.1 miles
Info: Southern New Hampshire Trail Guide, 3rd Ed. (AMC Books); www.nhstateparks.org
Paradoxically, the youngest rock in the Tyringham Cobble (Ordovician marble) is at the base, and the oldest (Precambrian gneiss) sits on top. A natural disaster of immense strength likely dislodged the cobble from a nearby mountain, flipping it upside down. The Loop Trail circles Cobble Hill and overlaps with a stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Multiple scenic vistas and a sandstone outcrop provide views of the surrounding valley. The trail can be reached from Main Road in Tyringham, or from the parking area off Jerusalem Road.
Distance: 1.9 miles
Info: Massachusetts Trail Guide, 9th Ed. (AMC Books); www.thetrustees.org
Wolcott Trail and Burr Pond
Burr Pond, dammed in 1851, once powered three sawmills, a tannery, and America’s first condensed milk factory. Now a state park, Burr Pond is a popular hiking and camping spot. Glaciers scoured this corner of Connecticut 400,000 to 13,000 years ago, shaping mountains and dropping large boulders across the region. Gneiss boulder fields stretch through the forest, and a giant 15-foot-tall granite boulder guards the pond’s southern shore. Begin the hike from either of two parking areas off Burr Mountain Road, and proceed around the blue-blazed Wolcott Trail.
Distance: 2.75 miles
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Connecticut (AMC Books); www.ct.gov/dep (search “Burr Pond”)
Sam’s Point Preserve
This 4,600-acre preserve is home to the Badlands, one of the world’s prime dwarf pitch pine barrens, and a series of ice caves. The ice caves are a 1-mile walk from the preserve’s parking area. Formed along fractures in the bedrock and by talus and boulders fallen from the cliffs above, the caves stay cold enough to hold snow into the mid-summer months. A ladder aids your descent into the caves; carrying a flashlight or headlamp is recommended. For an extended hike, 75-foot Verkeerder Kill Falls is 2 miles beyond the caves, and High Point is 2.4 miles past the falls.
Distance: 2 miles
Ringing Rocks Park
Upper Black Eddy, Pa.
Repeated freezing and thawing—from 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago—gradually broke this ground apart,creating a boulder field that covers several acres. On any given day you will find visitors banging rocks together or pounding on them with hammers. The mineral composition of these diabase boulders makes them ring like bells when struck, a phenomenon found in few other places. The boulder field is a quarter-mile walk from the parking area on Ringing Rocks Road.
Distance: 0.5 mile
Info: www.buckscounty.org (search “ringing rocks”)
Calvert Cliffs State Park
During the Miocene epoch, 18 million to 15 million years ago, this area in southern Maryland was covered by a shallow sea. Today, 13 miles of hiking trails offer access to a 1,079-acre park—including dramatic 100-foot-high cliffs that contain fossils from at least 600 species, ranging from pine cones to crocodiles. Follow the Red Trail around the right side of the pond by the parking area and hike 1.8 miles to reach the Chesapeake and the cliffs. Climbing on the fragile cliffs is forbidden; they’re already eroding at a rate of 3 feet per year.
Distance: 3.6 miles out and back
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C. (AMC Books)
Contributors: Emily Carbone, Ariel Goldberg, René Laubach, Stephen Mauro, Jerry and Marcy Monkman, Alex Schab, Charles W.G. Smith, Mark Zakutansky
Correction: This story originally referred to Somes Sound as the only fjord on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. The Hudson River is also considered to be a fjord (May 2012).