Spring hikes: 9 destinations not to be missed for the season
When the weather warms up but the high country is still snow-capped, it can be hard to find a place to scratch that hiking itch. These six trails require no waiting. The plus: Three natural wonders not to be missed this spring and where to find them.
Where to hike
Peak of Mary, Siuslaw National Forest, OR
At 4,097 feet, Peak of Mary is the highest point in Oregon’s Coast Range, but not high enough to be covered by the deep winter snow cover that blankets much of the Pacific Northwest’s high country. This status makes it a prime target at the start of the season. Mary’s Peak is also the most prominent peak west of Corvallis, resulting in 360 degree views: the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Willamette Valley to the east, and the icy peaks of the Oregon waterfalls on the distant horizon. Springtime bonus: Parts of the summit are designated Scenic Botanical Area, and the meadows near the summit fill with a rainbow of wildflowers each spring and summer.
Distance 9.6 miles Elevation gain 2,545 feet
Season All year permit No
First Stream Canyon, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV
Meet the early spring by hike through the Mojave Desert to a hidden waterfall oasis. The route begins on the desert plain, winding through cacti and yuccas to distant red and white striped cliffs. Soon you’ll leave the open plains behind and head into a canyon and into the cliffs themselves. The pines start to appear as you climb the cleft in the rocks next to a creek bed that carries water most of the year. The greenery increases as you approach your destination: a small waterfall and a quiet green pool hidden in a curve of the cliffs. Poplars and willows shade the oasis while tree frogs croak in the water. It’s also one of the best places in the area to see wildlife, including foxes, burros, and mule deer.
Distance 3.4 miles Elevation gain 377 feet
Season All year permit No
delicate arch, Arches National Park, UT
Spring is the perfect time to visit this trail, when the ice is gone but the desert sun hasn’t reached its summer intensity. Go early in the season to avoid the crowds and bask alone in one of Utah’s most iconic landforms. The trail starts with rolling hills before ascending an exposed slickrock slope. Watch for collared lizards here – they like to hunt for insects while running on their hind legs. After the climb, the trail levels out following cairns between huge sandstone domes. A 200-meter ledge is the final barrier before turning a corner to find Delicate Arch in all its glory, perched on the edge of a canyon with the snow-capped La Sal Mountains towering in the distance.
Distance 3 miles Elevation gain 480 feet
Season All year permit Entrance fees required for Arches National Park ($30 per vehicle per week, timed entry reservation required beginning April 3)
Apgar Belvedere, Glacier National Park, Montana
Ascend to one of the best views in this mountain park at Apgar Lookout, a fire tower perched above Lake McDonald at 5,236 feet. The lookout itself is on the register of National Historic Places, but what really stands out is the location and early season access. While the rest of GlacierThe highest peaks are still snow capped, this hike takes you into the Alps for a glimpse of the ridge of the continent. Like all fire lookouts, this one is located for the best panoramic view possible. Nestled in the thick green forest below, Lake McDonald dominates the view; behind him rise the highest peaks of the glacier.
Distance 7.1 miles Elevation gain 1,845 feet
Season Spring, summer, autumn permit Entrance fees required for Glacier National Park ($25 per vehicle per week until April 30, then $35)
Welch and Dickey Loop Trail, White Mountain National Forest, NH
A spring hike that ticks off the peaks in the notoriously stormy White Mountains? Yes it’s possible. This loop trail climbs to the 2,605-foot peaks of Welch Mountain and Dickey Mountain, and begins and ends in hardwood forest. Both peaks end in granite slabs and krummholz, giving the loop an alpine feel that most early season hikes can’t achieve. The views from these open peaks aren’t bad either, encompassing the southern whites and the valley between the two mountains. Spring in the lowland forest is also very charming: deciduous trees sprout bright green new leaves, and painted trillium and dogwood flower bloom on the forest floor below.
Distance 4.4 miles Elevation gain 1,778 feet
Season Spring, summer, autumn permit No
Ouachita National Recreation Trail, Ouachita National Forest, OK and AR
Ready to hike, but the Triple Crown trails are still buried under 10 feet of snow? The Ouachita National Recreation Trail is your answer. This path spans Ouachita Mountains from Talimena State Park in Oklahoma (the western terminus) to Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas (the eastern terminus). The elevation never exceeds 2,600 feet, making for a nearly snow-free spring hike, but the terrain is still very impressive: on its way through the range, the trail winds around rocky hills, ridge views, and of crystal clear streams in a lush forest. valley bottoms over 30,000 feet of elevation change. Well-constructed camping shelters and multiple supply points are a bonus for hikers, but there are also plenty of day and weekend hike sections to try.
Distance 223 miles Elevation gain 32,276 feet
Season All year permit No
What to see
Sandhill crane migration
Each year between February and April, more than 500,000 sandhill cranes descend a 75-mile stretch of the Platte River in southeastern Nebraska. They are on the Platte to rest and feed as they fly from their southern wintering grounds in northern Mexico to nesting sites as far north as Siberia. The spectacle is more than visual (although thousands of cranes thronging a few miles of river are quite a sight): if you time your hike to the migration, the sound will completely envelop you – a cacophony of birds and three-quarters of the world’s population of sandhill cranes congregate in the prairie. These birds – 1.50 meters tall with a wingspan of 2.00 meters – have existed virtually unchanged for 2.5 million years. Cranes perform elaborate courtship dances with flapping wings, leaps and bows, and they mate for life.
Where to catch it: Platte River Valley, NE
The Nature Conservancy Platte River Prairie Nature Trail and Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary are hotspots for huge gatherings of sandhill cranes each year, and the Rowe Sanctuary has blinds in place for avid birdwatchers.
The approximately 200,000 members of the Porcupine caribou herd travel thousands of miles on their winter range in the highlands of far northern Alaska. Part of the journey always remains the same: the path to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to give birth and raise their young. Young caribou are born in May and early June and can already run a few hours after birth. This relatively flat tundra region between the Beaufort Sea and the Brooks Range produces new growth of sedges and grasses early in calving, providing particularly nutritious food during a key part of the caribou’s life cycle. The Gwich’in Nation, for whom the Porcupine caribou herd has long been a food source and cultural foundation, call this place “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit,” meaning “sacred place where life begins.” .
Where to catch it: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, AK
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has no established trails, but you can walk to the reserve from Arctic Village or Atigun Pass or charter a bush plane. Plan your route across the coastal plain to encounter caribou.
Lyrid meteor shower
The Lyrid meteor shower always ends the annual “meteoritic drought”, which runs from January to April, when shooting stars are rare. This year it peaks on April 21-22, though the entire shower lasts from April 15-29. In 2022, the Lyrids fall on a quarter moon, so the best time to catch the show is between sunset and midnight. moonrise to prevent the moonlight from obscuring your view. The meteors themselves are rocky debris or other particles thrown up by the tail of the annual celestial visitor, Comet Thatcher, before burning up (creating the characteristic glow of light) in Earth’s atmosphere. The shower is named after where meteors appear in the night sky, just above the constellation Lyra. A peak of 10-15 meteors per hour is standard, but occasionally bursts of up to 100 per hour can occur.
Where to catch it: White Sands National Park, NM and Canyonlands National Park, UT
When you want an uninterrupted view of the sky, desert parks are the way to go. Obtain an overnight permit for the Canyonlands White Sands or Murphy Point backcountry camping trail.