Produced in partnership with Founders Brewing Co.
We’re all for multi-week, life-changing forays into the wild, but there’s plenty to be said for the Big Day—the self-contained adventure that doesn’t dominate the calendar but sticks with you for days after it’s done. These five hikes do just that: provide just enough challenge to make you feel a sense of accomplishment while overdelivering on scenery, vibes, and general epic-ness. Put a few on your bucket list and bag one on your next personal day.
1. Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop, NH
The best hikes are memorable—and if you can’t find an inspiring memory from hiking this New England classic, featuring plenty of ridgeline traverses—well, we can’t help you. On the 8.6-mile loop you’ll touch the sky via the summits of Mount Lincoln, Haystack Mountain, and Mount Lafayette—at 5,242 feet, the highest peak in New Hampshire apart from the Presidential Range. The loop is an all-day affair, and few would call it easy, but the payoffs—mainly, those 360-degree panoramas—are worth the effort. Grab a few minutes rest at one of numerous waterfalls—or at the the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut, which overlooks Eagle Lake and is near the Franconia Ridgeline.
2. Three Dunes Challenge, Indiana Dunes National Park, IN
Sure you might have knocked out a few 14,000-footers in your time, but how about summiting three peaks in the sub-200-foot range? That’s the task at hand on the “Three Dunes Challenge” at Indiana Dunes. Along with 15 mies of pristine shoreline, the recently-minted national park (ca. 2019) features an array of biodiverse areas and vegetated dunes studded with black oak groves. The Challenge is a 1.5-mile path that summits Mount Holden, Mount Jackson, and Mount Tom, the tallest of the three, at 192 feet. On a clear day you’ll see the Chicago skyline. Even if you’re not trying to crush a Strava record, completing this hike won’t take you all day—but after you’ve completed the mission you can spend the rest of the day hanging out on the beach. There’s a path down near Mount Tom.
3. Lost Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park, CA
There are plenty of highlights on this 7.4-mile out-and-back jaunt through the southern part of Joshua Tree National Park—ocotillo cacti, yucca, the changing desert panorama—but the payoff comes midway, when you arrive at an oasis. (A real one, not in a cartoon.) There you’ll find a strand of California Fan Palm trees—the only palm native to California. Since the elevation gain over the trail is modest at 649 feet, you could choose to make quick work of the gently rolling terrain, but we recommend taking it slow, so you can soak in the slow-changing desert light.
4. Breakneck Ridge, NY
Breakneck Ridge—a classic New York hike if there ever was one—is definitely worth the 80-minute drive from midtown. But one of the best features of this outing is that you don’t have to drive: the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line stops here on weekends and holidays. But be prepared: Once that train stops, you’re in for some work. The Taurus Loop gains 2,500 feet in its six reasonably difficult miles, with plenty of scrambling over and around boulders. The payoff at the top is a windswept vista where you’ll take in the full panorama: hawks above, the swirling Hudson below.
5. Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain Loop, NC
Here’s a high alpine experience that will stick with you long after your head has left the clouds: This loop traverses roughly five miles in the sky atop grassy balds, with infinite 360-degree views of the time-softened peaks all around. Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the loop combines the Art Loeb and Ivestor Gap trails to summit both Black Balsam Knob (6,214-foot) and Tennent Mountain (6,040-foot) with plenty of blueberries, blackberries, and balsam in between. If you don’t have time for the longer trek (or want to pair it with another adventure), Black Balsam Knob can be reached directly via the Art Loeb trail, making for a short 1.5-miler.
Gear to go the distance
A classic boot, reborn
Vasque’s vaunted Clarion hiking boots go back to 1988—when Rick Astley was not yet ironic. A couple of decades later, they’re back as the Clarion ’88 GTX—and you’re never gonna wanna give them up (sorry) since they feature in-town, kick-around flexibility with a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane and a tough Vibram sole. At 2 pounds, 12 ounces, the lightweight boots won’t weight you down after your hiking day is done, either. [$160; vasque.com]
A beer built for adventure
Listen, we can down heady, high ABV IPAs with the best of them. But when we’re going from morning ’til night on the best adventures of the year, we’ll bring Founders All Day IPA. At only 4.7 percent ABV, All Day IPA provides a complex array of malt, grain, and crisp hop flavor with pine and citrus aromatics generally found in higher alcohol beers—making it the perfect trail companion. Better yet: It’s widely available in an array of formats, so you can easily stash some in your pack before the heading for the trail. [foundersbrewing.com]
A pack that boogies
With the Talon 22, Osprey has designed a pack with a structure that moves with you, thanks to a flexible, breathable injection-molded back panel. Aside from lending comfort, the frame keeps the load stable even when you’re scrambling. The 22-liter pack feels svelte on the body but can hold up to 20 pounds of gear—more than enough for even hardcore day-hikes. [$130; osprey.com]
A hardcore, lightweight rain shell
The best rain shells can face a deluge when needed, then disappear when they’re not. The 12-ounce Patagonia Torrentshell can keep you dry during a downpour, then hide away in its own pocket when the sun comes out. Like an athlete slowly getting better over time, it improves as it ages: Recent upgrades to the waterproof, breathable three-layer fabric have made it more eco-friendly. [$149; patagonia.com]
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