Used to be, when necessary, you could turn off the television, lock the doors and pretend that the outside world wasn't real – at least for a few hours. Home was whatever you wanted it to be, even if everything down the end of the garden path was the worst. Hurray for progress: These days, we lie awake at night, reading our newsfeeds and refreshing our social media channels, staying way too up-to-date with all of the things that have gone horribly wrong since, well, the last time we checked, which was probably just a few hours ago. (If that.)
Today, unplugging requires either serious self-discipline, or a detour into someplace where the Internet cannot find you. One is really hard work. The other is, well, fun. It's easy, too – a short drive from many American cities, even New York and especially Los Angeles, can have you in some serious wilderness.
Coverage may be improving (unfortunately), but many of these destinations still offer no reception, no hotspots – just a near-endless supply of great outdoors. Now that temperatures are cooling and the leaves are about to turn, at least in much of the country, it's an even better time to get outside. Here are ten trails to try.
1. Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia
Canyons? In Georgia? This inspiring, 1,000 foot-deep cut through Lookout Mountain, found in the state's very northwestern corner, proves to skeptical, not-from-around-here types that the answer is absolutely yes. Cascading waterfalls, dramatic rim walks and hikes along the thickly-forested banks of Sitton Gulch Creek at the canyon bottom are the draw here. (Hundreds of steps to climb are fun for kids and a great workout for the entire family.) The rustic 9-mile Bear Creek Trail makes for a proper day hike; the park is geared towards longer stays, with sixteen cottages and approximately 100 campsites and shelters available to reserve. Info at gastateparks.org.
2. Slide Mountain, New York
Just a little over two hours from the George Washington Bridge, the tallest peak in the Catskill Mountains – reaching 4,180 feet above sea level – provides anyone who attempts its summit with a serious dose of wilderness (look out for black bears!), along with a solid workout. (Beginners, take note: There are two ways to ascend, one of them much easier than the other.) However you approach the peak, the unspoiled views of the surrounding mountains – not to mention the relative emptiness, considering how many millions of people live so close by – make this a truly worthwhile trek. Info at nynjtc.org.
3. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
It's been called one of the most beautiful places in the United States and if that seems improbable, you most likely have yet to lay eyes on this natural wonder located west of the popular vacation town of Traverse City. With nearly 70 miles of Lake Michigan beachfront and 26 inland lakes (some of them just a sandbar away from the big lake itself), plus miles of hiking trails – and the chance to scramble the towering dunes themselves – Sleeping Bear is, quite simply, a must-see. Info at nps.gov/slbe.
4. Alta, Utah
In-the-know skiers come from all over the world to Little Cottonwood Canyon, just a city bus ride away from downtown Salt Lake, for their annual fix of beautifully dry powder, celebrated at small but spectacular resorts like Alta. Before the season starts up again, check out the handful of beautiful trails here, leading you through alpine meadows, past postcard-ready spots like Cecret Lake and on to more brisk mountain climbs. Hikes begin simply, some even less than a mile all in, but considering you're 9,000 feet above sea level up here, they can leave the unseasoned all but breathless. Start slow and bring plenty of water. Info at discoveralta.com.
5. Gorges State Park, North Carolina
Now is the time to visit one of the newer parks in the state system, before the infrastructure is completed and the crowds show up. Show up they will – Gorges isn't far from Asheville (or Great Smoky Mountains National Park), and features dramatic waterfalls, rugged gorges (hence the name) and a temperate rainforest climate. In short, it's too beautiful and too close to too much to not be famous. The trail network remains a work in progress, sure, but there's still plenty of room for hikers on the park's 7,500 acre spread, not to worry. Info at ncparks.gov.
6. Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota
Sometimes referred to as the Appalachian Trail of the Midwest, this 277-mile gem (topping out at 1,800 feet up) runs parallel to Lake Superior, from the historic port city of Duluth on up to the Canadian border. It's the perfect way – slow and steady – to experience the spectacular North Shore region. While it would take at least a couple of weeks to complete the entire trail, hikers can duck in and out at will, thanks to frequent trail access points along the way. Info at shta.org.
7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Towering above the vast Chihuahuan desert east of El Paso, the centerpiece of this sleeper park (barely a half hour from the famous Carlsbad Caverns) is craggy Guadalupe Peak, which soars to an impressive 8,749 feet, making it the highest point in mighty Lone Star State. It may look fierce – it certainly can be, when the winds whip up – but anyone with common sense, enough water, a hat, sunscreen and good hiking boots can hit the trail for a rewarding day hike of just under 9 miles round-trip. Info at nps.gov/gumo.
8. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Tennessee/Kentucky/Virginia
Before the West could be won, many a pioneer had to journey through this dramatic pass, tucked into a particularly good-looking stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet. From short nature walks to the 21-mile Ridge Trail, the park is perfect for all ages. Don't miss the dramatic tri-state views from the park's Pinnacle Overlook, up at 2,440 feet. More than 80 miles of trail invite overnight stays; campers can book a backcountry cabin for a modest fee. Info at nps.gov/cuga.
9. Olympic National Park, Washington
Within day-tripping distance of downtown Seattle (okay, only just), the Olympic Peninsula is home to some of the wettest, greenest places on earth. At its heart lies this nearly 1 million acre protected zone, boasting three distinct ecosystems and some of the best air left on the planet. While multi-day excursions (or, at the very least, all-day hikes) are ideal, anyone can get to know the park better via a series of shorter trails – the pathways through the lush Hoh Rain Forest, for example, a high-elevation jaunt at Hurricane Ridge or the leisurely, 1.5-mile round-trip stroll from Crescent Lake to Marymere Falls. Oh, also: don't forget the beaches. The beaches are a must. Can you spare a week? You really need a week, maybe more. Info at nps.gov/olym.
10. Block Island, Rhode Island
Endless quiet, sandy beaches, beautiful scenery, rare fauna, a network of pristine, Nature Conservancy-managed land preserves and greenway trails, all on a manageable and friendly island just under ten miles square. Why is everyone not here? Somewhat improbably, Block still isn't jam-packed in the peak months – at least not compared to other nearby islands that you've probably heard of. In the shoulder seasons, it's even more low-key out here, making this a prime destination for those who prefer their hikes on the gentle, charming and quiet side. Info at blockislandinfo.com.
Gorges State Park image via Explore Asheville