The most popular hiking trails are not necessarily the best. In fact, some of the most spectacular trails are so popular that they are a whole lot less enjoyable than they otherwise might be. Most of us head for the hills and backwoods to escape noisy crowds--the last thing we want is to find them on the trail.
Finding the hidden gems can be tricky, but it's well worth it. Every state (and every country) has well-kept, crowd-free secrets if you know where to look. There are a number of ways to go about it. The simplest is to buy a good hiking map of your local area, or the nearest State or National Park, and check out the dotted lines. When deciding on a new trail, take the steepness of the terrain into account as well as the length, and look for features that might make the hike special--lakes, waterfalls, historical remains, woodlands, and mountain summits.
Joining your local outdoor club can also be really helpful. There are sure to be one or two seasoned campaigners who know every square inch of their patch and they'll be able to direct you to a great hike or even take you along with them. If there isn't such a club in your area, try asking at the nearest outdoor store.
Here are a few hidden gem hikes found by following recommendations or just by happy chance:
Nahmakanta Lake, Maine
Part of Maine's imposing 100 mile wilderness, this hike is only about 9 miles long. Along the way you get views of Mt Katahdin as well as the beautiful lake and the dense white pine woods. There are very few facilities in this part of the world so make sure you take everything you need with you, including plenty of food and emergency survival gear. That advice should go double when it's snowy. If you go in fall, watch out for moose at the lakeside!
Rose Canyon, California