In the upcoming film “Wild,” Reese Witherspoon straps on hiking boots to portray Cheryl Strayed, a woman who traversed over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself. It’s a break from the rom-com darling’s characteristic roles but, according to hiking experts, getting back to nature is really the best way to find yourself.
Fortunately for wilderness junkies and nature novices around the country, there are plenty of ways to experience the outdoors.
“People think you have to go to Yellowstone to really find a great hiking experience but I’ve hiked all over the U.S. and there are beautiful trails everywhere,” Craig Romano, an avid hiker who has penned nine wilderness guidebooks, told FoxNews.com. “There are a lot of resources available, even for people just starting out.”
For less experienced hikers, Romano recommends joining a local hiking association or club to get acquainted with the territory and start off with professionals. Having a map or updated guidebook is always essential. Even if you’re familiar with a certain region of the country, hiking in unfamiliar terrain can be dangerous.
“One area where a lot of people get in trouble is not knowing the area. You might be a great runner in a city park but in challenging terrain or difficult climate, the weather can change so rapidly it may get dangerous,” said Romano.
“If you’re new to an area, stick to the well-maintained, clearly marked, popular trails and heed any park ranger warnings.”
Though the getting-back-to-nature storyline may seem cliché by now, Romano maintains that there is a lot of truth to the inner peace that hiking can bring. He thinks movies like “Wild” can encourage a deeper appreciation for wildlife from people who ordinarily wouldn’t think twice about going into nature.
“I love breathing in the fresh air and having the time to really soul search…There’s a lot of truth to that,” he says. “You get into this zen state when you’re out exploring the trails and you notice things that usually seem mundane.”
So if you’re looking to reconnect with nature—and with yourself—consider taking a hike on one of these fabulous North American trails.
1. The John Muir Trail - Pacific Crest Loop
This 211 mile long section of Pacific Coast Trail features stunning cliffs, lakes, granite peaks and canyons. The trails pass through some of America's most stunning backdrops, including Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Hikers can take the trail going North or South but travel during the winter months is not advised.
2. Old Rag Mountain - Shenandoah National Park
Described as one of the most beautiful and "most dangerous" hikes in the country by the National Park Service, this nine-mile loop contains many rocky paths and a significant change in elevation. For this reason, the park discourages young children and shorter adults from attempting the seven to eight hour trek. Despite the difficult terrain, this trail can be very crowded on weekends so if you have some free time during the week, head over the Shenandoah and be the king or queen or your own mountain for the day.
3. Lincoln Woods Trail - New Hampshire
White Mountain National Forest is home to over 1,200 miles of non-motorized trails for all levels of hikers. But for novice hikers, Lincoln Woods Trail affords great views on a popular route with relatively stable terrain. Summer hikers can take bait and tackle gar along to fish in the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River. In the Fall, enjoy spectacular Northeastern leaf foliage colors, a favorite time of year for Romano.
4. Devils Garden Primitive Loop - Arches National Park
This difficult trek traverses over seven miles of rocky terrain but hikers are sure to witness some of the most breathtaking views Arches has to offer. The National Park Service estimates this hike will take between three to five hours to bring plenty of water. Not recommended when rock is wet or snowy.
5. Florida National Scenic Trail
While hiking usually brings to mind mountainous terrain, Romano says there are great hikes to be find anywhere nature exists. "The Florida Trail is almost 1,400 miles and it has great sections for long distance hikers." If you're just starting, it might be better to stay out of the Everglades unless you're with an experienced hiker. Whether you're looking for wildlife, interesting marine species or a better understanding of the Florida ecosystem, the Florida Trail has something for everyone.
6. Forest Park - Portland
"People living in urban area have great hiking networks right in their backyards. Especially Portland," says Romano. He recommends Forest Park with its more than 80 miles of scenic Northwest wildlife. For hikers young and old, Forest Park Conservancy even has its own app with maps of hiking trails, weather updates and other details.
7. Mount Rainier National Park - Washington
"I've hiked all over the U.S. but some of my all time favorite trails are in Washington-- I just love the diversity of mountains, wildlife, forested scenery and even wildflowers," says Romano. Among his favorites in the Pacific Northwest: Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades. All National Parks are popular tourist destinations. Rainier is the smallest of three making it a great destination for new hikers; Olympic is the largest and features more diverse terrain.
8. Porcupine Mountain State Park - Michigan
While most hikers tend to gravitate to the East or West Coasts, great trails can be found everywhere. On Michigan's Upper Peninsula, take a walk along Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountain State Park. This scenic trail has high peaks, sparkling rivers, waterfalls and more. Campers will also find a fully loaded RV amenities area for over night adventures.
9. Appalachian Trail - Fitzgerald Falls near Greenwood Lake, NY
This scenic section of the Appalachian Trail is a perfect spot for city-dwellers. Just an hour and a half from New York City, Greenwood Lake is known for its pristine waters and summer aquatic activities. This 4.6 mile loop involves moderate climbing ability to reach the summit of Mombasha High Point. History buffs will enjoy exploring an abandoned settlement along the trail and on a clear day, views of New York City can be seen on the Southern horizon.