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Trails to treasure

Backcountry, birds, solitude, altitude, campsites, and overnights

By Jeffrey Romano
Globe Correspondent / August 29, 2010

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The nation’s long-distance hiking trails have their origins in New England, so it is not surprising that the area enjoys an abundance of backpacking opportunities. The following 10 destinations showcase the region’s landscapes and diversity of overnight options. Each hike features camping sites with varying levels of amenities. In all cases, water is available nearby, but generally it will require purification (boiling, filters, tablets, etc.).

Hope to see you on the trails.

BREAKNECK POND (CONN.)

This pond is a long, narrow, Ice Age remnant flanked by low ridges, shady forests, gnarly boulders, and abundant mountain laurel. The scenic area, a fishing haven, offers intimate opportunities to observe beavers, songbirds, and wildflowers.

HIKE: The 5.8-mile moderate hike begins and ends on the one-mile East Ridge Trail. Follow the Nipmuck and Breakneck Pond View trails to circle the pond; designated camping sites are located on both trails. Longer hikes are available using the adjoining trail network.

TRAILHEAD: Picnic area on Bigelow Pond’s north shore, Bigelow Hollow State Park, Union.

REGULATIONS: Preregister with Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection two weeks in advance.

AMENITIES: Lean-to, tenting areas, fire rings (no outhouses).

RACE BROOK FALLS (MASS.)

One of many backcountry destinations in the southern Berkshires, Race Brook Falls Campsite is a perfect hub for exploring natural features on the Appalachian Trail including Mounts Everett and Race, Guilder Pond, and Sages Ravine.

HIKE: The 3.6-mile round-trip trek to the campsite along the Race Brook Trail includes an aggressive climb past a series of waterfalls (one brook crossing can be difficult during high water). The path moderates near the tenting area, 0.2 mile from the Appalachian Trail.

TRAILHEAD: Route 41, 2.8 miles north of state line, Sheffield.

REGULATIONS: First-come, first-served; limit five people per site.

AMENITIES: Tent platforms, group camping area, fire rings, bear box, outhouse.

MOUNT GREYLOCK (MASS.)

Despite being overrun by automobiles, Mount Greylock is a backpacker’s paradise where inviting trails parallel cas cading streams, explore serene forested slopes, and scale scenic ridgelines.

HIKE: Journeying counterclockwise, use the Hopper, Appalachian, and Money Brook trails to complete a challenging 11.2-mile loop. Along the circuit, a variety of accommodations await, including the Mount Greylock Campground at mile 2.4 and the Wilbur’s Clearing shelter site at mile 7.9 (less adventurous backpackers can opt for the summit’s Bascom Lodge at mile 4.1).

TRAILHEAD: Haley Farm, end of Hopper Road off Route 43 in Williamstown.

REGULATIONS: Campground (advanced reservation and fees); shelter site (first-come, first-served).

AMENITIES: Campground (tent sites, outhouses, fire rings); shelter site (lean-to, tent platforms, outhouse).

STRATTON POND (VT.)

An idyllic spot in the southern Green Mountains, Stratton Pond invites visitors to relax along its shores or spend the day scaling the area’s namesake mountain, where the vision of the state’s Long Trail was born. Those seeking greater solitude can push north and west into the Lye Brook Wilderness to more secluded backcountry campsites.

HIKE: Follow the 3.7-mile Stratton Pond Trail across easy to moderate terrain, including numerous boardwalk sections. Stay at the lean-to just east of the pond or the tenting area on the north shore.

TRAILHEAD: Kelly Stand Road, 4.3 miles west of Stratton.

REGULATIONS: First-come, first-served, fee, fires prohibited at lean-to.

AMENITIES: Lean-to, tent platforms, fire rings (tent area only), outhouses.

BAKER PEAK & GRIFFITH LAKE (VT.)

Baker Peak and Griffith Lake offer pleasant views, especially during autumn when surrounding foliage becomes a fiery mix of orange and red. In summer, the same forests ring with bird calls, as warblers, vireos, and thrushes mark their territories.

HIKE: This moderate 8.3-mile loop follows the Lake, Long, and Baker Peak trails. The Lake Trail ends .3 miles north of the Griffith Lake Tenting Area, which lies nestled near the water’s idyllic east shore. On day two, complete the trek after venturing north to sweeping views atop Baker Peak.

REGULATIONS: First-come, first-served, fee.

AMENITIES: Tent platforms, outhouse.

PEMIGEWASSET WILDERNESS (N.H.)

The remotest hiking location in the White Mountains, the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness features dramatic vistas, secluded cascades, endless forests, and wildlife-rich habitats.

HIKE: Combine the Lincoln Woods, Franconia Brook, Twin Brook, Twinway, Bondcliff, and Wilderness trails to complete this 25.2-mile clockwise adventure with three Appalachian Mountain Club overnight facilities. Stay at the Thirteen Falls and Guyot campsites for a three-day trek, or for a more pampered two-day journey, reserve a spot at the Galehead Hut.

TRAILHEAD: Large parking area on the Kancamagus Highway, 5.4 miles east of Interstate 93.

REGULATIONS: First-come, first-served (campsites); advanced reservation (hut); fees.

AMENITIES: Shelter and tent platforms (Guyot); tent sites (Thirteen Falls); meals and bunks (Galehead Hut), outhouses.

MOUNT ADAMS (N.H.)

The highest New England summit only accessible by foot, Mount Adams offers exceptional vistas, numerous trails, and an array of overnight options. A challenging hike, seek its heights with caution and, above all, respect the weather.

HIKE: Ascend the Air Line, Randolph Path, and Spur Trail to the Randolph Mountain Club’s Crag Camp, an enclosed cabin with incredible views of King Ravine. The next day, take the Spur Trail and Lowes Path to the summit and then descend the Air Line to complete an invigorating 9.5-mile loop.

TRAILHEAD: Located on Route 2, 5.4 miles west of Gorham.

REGULATIONS: First-come, first served, no fires, fees.

AMENITIES: Cabin (bring cooking gear), bunks, outhouse.

ISLE AU HAUT (MAINE)

The most rugged and wildest section of Acadia National Park, Isle Au Haut features quiet cobble beaches, refreshing sea breezes, picturesque sunsets, and breathtaking cliff-side vistas.

HIKE: The adventure begins on a 75-minute boat ride from the mainland to the island’s Duck Harbor. Hike up the pier to the Duck Harbor Campground and set up for the evening. There are more than 10 scenic miles of trails to explore, including a 4.8-mile moderately-difficult loop on the Western Head, Cliff, Goat, and Duck Harbor Mountain trails.

TRAILHEAD: Passenger-only, ferry terminal is on Seabreeze Avenue, off Route 15 in Stonington.

REGULATIONS: Advanced registration, fees.

AMENITIES: Shelters, fire rings, picnic table, outhouse.

GRAFTON LOOP (MAINE)

One of the newest trails in New England, the 38.6-mile Grafton Loop, which includes 8 miles of the Appalachian Trail and a 0.6-mile road walk, is a lightly-trampled path to secluded panoramas, bubbling streams, and moose-filled forests.

HIKE: The Grafton Loop is an ideal three-to-five-day destination with nine overnight, backcountry campsites. Much of the trail enjoys moderate grades, but a few steep sections offer friendly challenges. Puzzle, East Baldpate, Old Speck, and Sunday River Whitecap mountains each provide incredible views of northern Maine and the White Mountains.

TRAILHEAD: On Route 26 in Newry, 4.7 miles north of Route 2.

REGULATIONS: First-come, first-served, no fires.

AMENITIES: Tent sites (one shelter), outhouses.

CHIMNEY POND (MAINE)

Surrounded by the rugged, scarred slopes of Maine’s highest point, Chimney Pond is an exquisite overnight backpacking destination. While only 6.6 miles round trip from the start, the pond serves as the perfect base for further explorations to Mount Katahdin’s summit, the famed Knife Edge, and other area ponds.

HIKE: The hike to Chimney Pond is a moderate but steady climb over rocky terrain. From the pond, a number of steep and challenging paths lead to some of New England’s most stunning viewpoints — all within 2 1/2 miles one way.

TRAILHEAD: Roaring Brook Campground, Baxter State Park.

REGULATIONS: Fee, advanced registration, no fires.

AMENITIES: Shelter, bunkhouse, outhouse.

Jeffrey Romano, author of “100 Classic Hikes in New England’’ and “Best Loop Hikes: From New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Maine Coast,’’ can be reached at jeffromano@rocketmail.com.

If You Go

Before beginning a backcountry adventure it is essential to prepare for a safe and responsible journey. Two excellent resources are Hike Safe (www.hikesafe.com), a joint effort of the White Mountain National Forest and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (www.lnt.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and active stewardship of the outdoors. In addition, take advantage of the featured websites to gather complementary information, including all applicable guidelines and regulations.