Spring break is an interesting time of year to escape to the wilderness. On one hand, you can avoid many of the crowds of touristy places. Plus, you have an entire week to explore wherever you like and hike as much as you want. On the other hand, Mother Nature tends to be finicky this time of year in the U.S. New Englanders refer to spring as “mud season”, it's the beginning of the rainy season in the Midwest, and it can still be downright frigid in the northern and mountainous states. With a little bit of research, though, you're sure to find a backpacking trip that will work and be memorable. Check out some of our ideas below to get started!
Featured Photo: East Rim Arch (Photo by Andy D.)
Although located farther north than many of the other trails on our list, this National Rec Trail located near Rockerville, South Dakota has surprisingly decent weather in the spring. If you're looking for something short and easy, but full of interesting history and features, the Flume Trail is waiting for you. The 16-mile path (including a couple of loops) meanders down the former path of a water channel used for mining during the 1880s gold rush. Not only will you be able to see artifacts from this operation along the trail, but you can also walk through some of the old (reinforced) tunnels. Even if that's not your thing, you can still enjoy the unique Black Hills forest, prairies, and rocky outcroppings.
Camping Cumberland Island (Photo by Karrie Banaghan)
How does a week-long island adventure sound? Located off the southern coast of Georgia, you will find the little-known Cumberland Island. If 50 miles of backcountry trails and a sense of hiking through a jungle without having to travel to South America is appealing to you, start packing your bags! Reportedly, the island has never offered trail maps, so you may have to do a bit of research before you get there. No matter where you end up, though, you will find 3 backcountry camping areas to choose from, moss-laden forests, and unbeatable sunrises. The island is also home to plenty of wildlife, including armadillos, alligators, and even wild horses. Speaking of which, be sure to bring and hang a bear bag to keep these curious critters out of your food!
Although still well-traveled for good reason, the Hermit Loop in Grand Canyon National Park will take you to the most scenic areas of the park and away from the crowds of the infamous Bright Angel Trail. This 30-mile trail is rated as difficult, making you work to earn its rewards, which include mesmerizing side canyons, unforgettable views from Plateau Point (spur trail), another side trip to Hermit Rapids, and a rugged hike along the unmaintained Tonto Trail along the Tonto Plateau, which overlooks the Colorado River from 1,000ft above. Even more dizzying is the upper rim rising even higher on your other side!
Check out our Best Backpacking Trips in the Desert Southwest for more arid Spring Break getaway ideas.
Ozark Trail-Current River Section
While it doesn't claim the notoriety of the AT or PCT, the Ozark Trail is special in its own right. While a 400-mile hike isn't feasible for a week, the 30-mile Current River Section is. This moderate trail is arguably the most scenic of the OT, if not the entire region. You'll find yourself meandering next to many creeks and the Current River for a few miles as well near the beginning. Spring is an especially great time to visit to view the open fields full of springtime wildflowers. You'll climb over a saddle on Barnett Mountain, find several shut-in areas, a favorite being between Buzzard and Mill Mountains. Don't miss the spur trail to Rocky Falls either, which has an excellent campsite nearby. The views from atop Stegall Mountain are unrivaled for sweeping vistas of the surrounding Ozarks. It is worth noting that you should check for closures of the Peck Ranch conservation area, which happen fairly frequently.
Florida Trail-Ocala National Forest Section
For another subtropical option, check out the Ocala National Forest Section of the 1,500-mile Florida Trail. This area is particularly interesting because it was designated as the state's first backpacking trail. You'll find tons of springs along the way, so finding water shouldn't be an issue, unique Florida prairie wildflowers in the springtime, sandhills, and sand pine scrub forests unique to the state. Keep an eye out for a menagerie of wildlife, including rare birds, such as the Florida Scrub-Jay. This 70-mile trek can be found in central Florida north of Orlando and offers several campsites along its route, but dispersed camping is allowed as well.
Rattlesnake Arches and Pollock Bench
Yearning to see some of the unique topography of the desert southwest, but want to avoid the crowds of the popular national parks? Head to the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness in western Colorado. This area is home to the largest concentration of natural arches outside of Utah. The best way to see these is by taking the Rattlesnake Canyon Arches Trail. The entire trip is only 16 ½ miles, but don't let that fool you. There is enough elevation gain back to the top of the mesa to give you a good workout and there are no reliable water sources anywhere along the trail, so plan accordingly! You will find the mesa covered in pinion-juniper and wildflowers, depending on the season, and, of course, Rattlesnake Arches is the highlight at the end, along with some smaller arches. If you're experienced with rock climbing, you might opt to continue past the last arch, scrambling through it, and meet part of the trail on the other side. Or, you can simply turn around and head back up the trail a bit and find a good spot to camp under the stars for the night.
Doane's Falls (Lower) (Photo by James Walsh)
Hiking generally consists of short day-hikes in the Bay State, which makes this 22-mile loop in central Massachusetts a one-of-a-kind. The Tully Trail covers a surprisingly diverse amount of terrain, traveling from lakeside to dense forest to hilltop to wetlands. If you love waterfalls (and who doesn't?), this trail will delight you with its numerous cascades, including Doane's Falls, a side trip to Spirit Falls, and 45ft Royalston Falls. You'll eventually make your way to ridgeline walks, affording scenic views of the surrounding forested hills. If that's not enough, there are several outlooks along the way as well, perfect for photo ops. End your hike with a bang by climbing up Tully Mountain before heading back to your vehicle. Make sure your navigational skills are up to par as the trail can be hard to follow.
Dolly Sods Loop
West Virginia is full of hidden backcountry gems. One of these natural gems is the Dolly Sods Wilderness in the eastern part of the state. The best way to capture the essence of this area is the 23-mile Dolly Sods Loop. You'll find grassy meadows full of colorful wildflowers in the spring, amazing mountaintop views, waterfalls aplenty, sphagnum bogs, serene forests, rocky outcroppings, including the very photogenic Lions Head, and lots of water crossings. Be sure to bring quick-drying footwear and extra socks!
Do you have a favorite place to hike in the spring? Tell us about it in the comments below!