Walk the Longest National Scenic Trail

Of the 11 National Scenic Trails, which is the longest? The Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail?

The answer (Neither) may be a surprise, unless you are a fan of the North Country Trail, which stretches 4,700 miles from Vermont to North Dakota. We walked two spectacular sections of the path in Wisconsin today within Copper Falls State Park. Hikers in the northern Wisconsin park can view Copper Falls, Brownstone Falls (pictured above) and Red Granite Falls from the trail’s viewpoints, which are accessed via several bridges.

Make Tracks on the Best Rail Trails in America

Begin the bicycle journey of a lifetime (or perhaps several lifetimes) on the rail trails of America, all 24,000 miles of them. If that sounds beyond your pedaling endurance, a book, the Rail Trail Hall of Fame, will show you the 33 premier paths spread across the country.

Setting off from our campsite at Rafter J Bar Ranch in South Dakota’s Black Hills earlier in May, we rode south on the 109-mile George S Mickelson path that begins in Deadwood and ends in Edgemont. First, Sue deposited our payments of $4 each per day at the self-pay station, which offered trail brochures, including an elevation chart.

It was all uphill from there. Until our turnaround point, that is. After six miles of battling the crushed rock surface rutted with tire tracks and horse-hoof divots, we ran out of power, stopping for lunch at a shady bench on our downhill return.

It was a beautiful trail, but we prefer smoother, flatter surfaces, and our second trail from the book was perfect. Beginning in the charming village of Nisswa, Minnesota, we pedaled north on the 119-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail. Paved, mostly flat, with weather to match the beauty of several of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. We turned around after 11 enjoyable miles, pausing for lunch at a trailside park in the inviting village of Pequot Lakes.

The guidebook includes maps, directions, and a summary of each trail. If the book is not enough for you, there is a TrailLink App and so much more available online. AllTrails also has biking information on some of its hiking trails.

Lifetimes of rail-trail bicycling await.

Black Hills: Can You Top This?

If you are scouring the atlas for adventure and beauty, the Black Hills of South Dakota may end your search. The 4.6-mile Lover’s Leap loop trail climbs nearly 700 feet to this view of Custer State Park and beyond.

Many more trails, lakes, a wildlife drive, and four presidents at Mount Rushmore invite exploration. Bring your hybrid or mountain bike and plenty of pedaling power for the 110-mile Mickelson rail trail.

Pitch your tent or park your RV at one of a seemingly unlimited number of campsites. Our favorite is the Rafter J Bar Resort, with more green space than any park we have visited. In May, we almost had the place to ourselves, with views of forested hills and pristine (except for clusters of deer poop) green fields.

Finally, you will be close enough to explore Badlands National Park, another one of our favorite hiking destinations.

The Biggest Dune: Where Is It?

Where is the tallest sand dune in North America? A hint: it is the state with 58 fourteeners, mountains higher than 14,000 feet. The Great Sand Dunes National Park has a sandy peak 755 feet tall. Sue and I passed on the climb, which would have taken the better part of a day in the squishy surface. Star Dune is the name of the big pile of granules. Where is it? Colorado!
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains rise behind the great sand dunes range.