Summer’s the time to get out and get on the trail – but why share a popular hike with the massive crowds when there are more serene paths to follow? For an outdoors experience that truly allows you to appreciate nature in all its glory and in ultimate peace, here’s where you should go:Tennessee Valley Trail: Sausalito, CA
Loved by locals, the 1.7-mile (one-way) Tennessee Valley Trail winds past rolling hills toward Tennessee Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The mostly level trail is perfect for novices, but it’s also just the beginning for those who want to warm up for a more challenging trek on the many trails that spiral out from the valley. Plan to visit at low tide to attempt to spy the engine of the shipwrecked SS Tennessee – or just enjoy the black and green pebble-strewn beach.
Cathedral Lake Trail: Aspen, CO
Lace up your hiking boots before you hit this 5.6-mile (round-trip) trail in the White River National Forest. Along the way, you’ll catch wondrous views of blue columbines and wild sage, but there's good reason to keep going: the alpine landscape at the end of the Cathedral Lake Trail is especially spectacular from 11,866 feet high. Just don’t hit this trail on a day you decide to sleep in, as thunderstorms can roll in during the afternoon.
Dale Ball Trails: Santa Fe, NM
The Dale Ball Trail system consists of more than 22 miles of single-track hiking paths that connect to even more Santa Fe Trails. The number sign system makes it easy to link trails and navigate your path back. Stay among the numbers or connect over to Nature Conservancy, Dorothy Stewart, and Atalaya Trails; you'll be able to pick your favorite of the trails among the dry arroyos and Pinyon-juniper landscape.
Cobalt Lake Trail: Bugaboo Provincial Park, B.C., Canada
This 5.2-mile loop in Bugaboo Provincial Park winds among alpine larch trees to an open ridge with breathtaking views to Cobalt Lake and the Bugaboo Spires. The most daring way to do the hike? Take a heli-hiking trip with Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) and stay at its Bugaboo Lodge near the trailhead. At the end of every hiking day, you’re flown by helicopter back to the lodge for some hot-tub relaxation followed by dinner. And hiking’s always easier when you get a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed.
Black Angel Trail: White Mountain National Forest, NH
In the Northeast’s busiest forest, here’s where more seasoned hikers can find isolation and solitude. There are no painted blazes on the trees to help you, because it’s deep in the backcountry – one of the reasons why less experienced hikers are discouraged from this path. Take your time as you wander among pines, sugar maples, and beech and cherry trees. You’ll likely have the trail to yourself, so savor the peaceful beauty.
Meramec Wilderness Trail: Sullivan, MO
This 8.5-mile loop trail is the longest in Meramec State Park – and it's so quiet that your only company likely will be the squirrels, turkey, and deer you encounter along the way. Part of this trail winds through the most rugged and remote areas of the park, in the heart of the Meramec Upland Forest Natural Area. Make sure you save enough awe for the woodlands that pop up on sun-drenched slopes.