Not everyone has the time, energy or money to tackle a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail or one of the other big-name long-distance trails in the U.S.
That’s OK because there are plenty of other trails of a relatively bite-size nature that offer much the same experience without the enormous commitment. A handful of trails right here in New England offer backpacking trips ranging from less than a week to a solid month.
Here’s a look to help whet your appetite for the hiking season ahead.
Grafton Loop Trail
This 39-mile circuit through the rough-and-tumble mountain country on both sides of Route 26 through Grafton Notch makes a terrific four- to five-day backpacking excursion. The sights from Sunday River Whitecap and Old Speck are highlights on the western half of the trail, while Puzzle Mountain, Lightning Ledge, and East and West Baldpate offer great views on the eastern section. Eight tent sites – four on each half – plus an AT shelter provide plenty of camping options. More info: outdoors.org.
Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail
For 48 scenic miles, this footpath winds through the hills of southwestern New Hampshire, from the 3,165-foot summit of Mount Monadnock to the ski lodge atop Mount Sunapee at 2,743 feet. Approach trails to both peaks add a few miles to the total distance. Five days and four nights are just right for this hike, with five shelters and one campsite on the route.
The historic village of Washington with its store/snack bar makes a great side trip halfway along. More info: msgtc.org.
Although not technically in New England, the Sentiers Frontaliers (Frontier Trail in English) traces an interesting if somewhat unlikely route along the U.S.-Canada border, where at various points you could be standing in Quebec, New Hampshire or Maine (you’re supposed to remain north of the boundary but the actual footpath wanders some). This tough but enjoyable six-day, 55-mile trek crosses a series of 3,000-foot peaks, including Mont Gosford, Mont Saddle, Mont Marble, Mont d’Urban and Mont Megantic. More info: sentiersfrontaliers.qc.ca.
Midstate Trail and Wapack Trail
The Midstate Trail crosses the hills of central Massachusetts on its 93-mile route from the Rhode Island border to the New Hampshire border, topping out on Wachusett Mountain (2,006 feet) and Mount Watatic (1,832 feet). Given that it’s just 45 miles west of Boston, the trail is remarkably wild and scenic. Continue north on the adjoining Wapack Trail for two days and 21 miles to end on Pack Monadnock Mountain (2,290 feet) in southern New Hampshire. Plan on 10 days for both. More info: midstatetrail.org, wapack.org.
This wild and beautiful trail through the woods and mountains of Coos County in northern New Hampshire was little known when I walked its length in August 2007. Moose outnumbered people then, and even though the Cohos Trail has gained popularity since, solitude still reigns along the remote 170-mile route from Notchland in southern Crawford Notch to the Canadian border at Fourth Connecticut Lake. Two full weeks should get you through. More info: cohostrail.org.
New England National Scenic Trail
Large sections of the historic Mattabesett, Metacomet and Monadnock trail systems were combined and branded as the New England Trail and designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009. This surprisingly rugged 215-mile route extends from Long Island Sound over a series of mountain ridges, and through the rural landscapes of Connecticut and Massachusetts to the New Hampshire border. Allow three weeks for the trek. More info: newenglandtrail.org.
The longest long trail entirely within the bounds of New England is aptly named the Long Trail, which also happens to be the oldest long distance trail in the U.S. Completed in 1930, the Long Trail predates the Appalachian Trail by seven years. The trail extends 272 miles through Vermont along the spine of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada. The AT and Long Trail share the route for the first 100 miles until Sherburne Pass. From this point north is where the trail earns its reputation as the “Long and Hard Trail,” with tough hiking on steep trails. Allow the better part of a month. More info: greenmountainclub.org.