When we need a break, our minds often wander to faraway beaches and remote destinations. But often the simplest way to escape the hustle and bustle of a big city is to venture into our own backyards — or at the very least, scenic hiking spots easily accessible from a big city. During Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, he established The National Trails System Act, which doubled the number of trails on American soil. In 2017, 42 million Americans hiked across 193,500 miles of trails, according to The Outdoor Foundation. Exploring your state on foot has never been easier.
Next weekend, pack your bags, pick up your friends, roll down the window and say “Get in loser, we’re going hiking.” If you’re on the east coast, here are two weekend hikes you might want to
Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
The mountainside town of Gatlinburg, home of the Smoky Mountains, has a small-town feel that manages to welcome over 10 million tourists per year. Less than an hour drive from Knoxville, Tennessee and 3.5 hours from Nashville, the 2.6-mile Grotto Falls Trail is what Instagram dreams are made of. According to David Angotti, co-founder of SmokyMountains.com, it’s one of the more unique hikes in the Smoky Mountains area since you can walk directly behind a cascading waterfall. The hike toward the waterfall is on the steep side, but the scenery at the top — in all its lush glory — is well worth the huffing and puffing. On hot days, the hike is particularly refreshing since you’ll get lightly covered in waterfall mist.
For the more daring set, Angotti recommended the 5.2-mile Abrams Falls Trail. Though he said it’s claimed the lives of dozens of hikers and has been ranked the ninth most dangerous trail in the U.S., it continues to stand out for its river crossings, ridge ascents, wildflowers and lush vegetation. At the summit, you’ll be treated to a view of a 20-foot waterfall that descends into a seemingly idyllic pool. “Remember, [it] has strong undertows and it is strongly advised that you do not enter the water,” said Angotti.
Lodging options are numerous: rent a room in a bed and breakfast, a rustic cabin or BYOT (bring your own tent). Just be sure to pay for and print out your camping permit beforehand. Wherever your adventurous spirit takes you, you can fuel your hike at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp for a delicious, filling meal, and celebrate your mileage accomplishments at Cherokee Grill Gatlinburg over shrimp and steak.
Kaaterskill Falls, New York
Drive a couple hours north of New York City, and it’ll feel like you’re entering a whole new country. Upstate New York is rife with scenic hiking gems, but one stands out in particular. The 260-foot Kaaterskill Falls can be dangerous if you aren’t careful, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking in the breathtaking scenery: the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently updated the trail’s safety regulations, and invested $1.25 million into improving the trails’ accessibility. According to Olivia Quintana, marketing associate at cabin rental company Getaway, the hike isn’t too strenuous, and in places that are steep, you can easily use the stairs.
There’s no need to wait for that perfect bright and sunny summer morning to hike the falls, either. In fact, it’s recommended to visit late in the afternoon particularly after a rainfall (be sure to take extra precautions on slippery trails by wearing proper hiking boots).
“It has beautiful views of the surrounding area and the waterfall itself is always a beautiful sight to see,” said Quintana. “It can be a great place to cool off in the summer too, and makes for a great day hike.”
If you plan on making a weekend out of it, you can set up your tent at one of the region’s designated campgrounds. To get in on the minimalist micro-living trend, book a nearby Getaway cabin in the Catskills (you’ll get the exact address upon booking). And for roomier digs, you can book a room at The Clark House Bed and Breakfast, a 13-minute drive away in the nearby town of Palenville. The shabby-chic décor is so charming, you might want to remove those muddy boots the second you enter the property.