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 of resources.
A handful of trails right here in Maine and around New England offer trips ranging from a few days to a solid month.
Here’s a look to help whet your planning whistle for the summer hiking season.
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 backpacking excursion. The heights on Sunday River Whitecap and Old Speck are highlights on the western half, while Puzzle Mountain, Lightning Ledge, and East and West Baldpate offer great views on the eastern part. Eight tent sites and an AT shelter offer camping options. Info: outdoors.org.
HILLS TO SEA TRAIL
This new trail, opened in 2016, stretches 47 miles through the hills of eastern Waldo County from Unity to Belfast, through Montville, Knox and Waldo. There is no camping along the route, however, so it’s day-use only. You’ll have to arrange your own transportation (car shuttles, bikes, taxi) and lodging for each segment. The trail traverses 7,000 acres of state and private conservation land, and some 60 landowners have generously allowed access. Info: waldotrails.org.
The Sentiers Frontaliers (Frontier Trail in English) traces an interesting if somewhat unlikely route along the U.S.-Canada border swath, where at various points you could be standing in Quebec, Maine or New Hampshire (you’re supposed to remain north of the border 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. Info: sentiersfrontaliers.qc.ca.
MONADNOCK-SUNAPEE GREENWAY TRAIL
This 48-mile footpath winds through the hills of southwestern New Hampshire, from the 3,165-foot summit of Mt. Monadnock to the ski lodge atop Mt. 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 en route. The historic village of Washington makes a great wayside halfway along. Info: msgtc.org.
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 Mt. Watatic (1,812 feet) en route. 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. Info: midstatetrail.org, wapack.org.
This beautiful trail through the wilds 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 in popularity in the years hence, solitude still reigns supreme along the remote 170-mile route from Notchland in Crawford Notch to the Canadian border at Fourth Connecticut Lake. Allow two full weeks. 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. Info: newenglandtrail.org.
The longest long trail entirely within the bounds of New England is aptly named the Long Trail, which extends 272 miles through Vermont through the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada. The AT and Long Trail share the first 100 miles until Sherburne Pass. From this point north, the trail earns its reputation as the “Long and Hard Trail,” with tough hiking on steep trails. Allow the better part of a month. Info: greenmountainclub.org.