At the end of March most years, hiking trails are no place to be unless you are willing to get really muddy. Good hiking ethics require that you walk through, rather than around, the inevitable puddles and mudholes that show up on trails as the snow melts. Otherwise, you are just contributing to trail erosion -- every step you take at the edge of a trail just prepares more soil for erosion and makes the muddy spots bigger and the trail that much wider.
But little snow pack, no major rain and just a lot of high winds, which act like nature’s blowdryer, mean most hiking trails are already in great shape.
The highest hills of the Green and White Mountains are still getting snow, so let’s talk about some warm-up hikes that will start getting your feet accustomed to hiking boots and reward you with a great spot to have lunch and enjoy the view. These are a few of my favorites for spring.
Great Island Trail, Wellfleet
Cape Cod is pretty much deserted at this time of year, and we love it. The Great Island Trail in Wellfleet is a wonderful spring hike.
Go to http://www.nps.gov/caco/
planyourvisit/outdooractivities.htm before your trek and download the brochure. The basic hike is six to seven miles, round trip. You can go farther, to Jeremy Point, if you time your hike with the falling tide.
Though the main trail winds over the top of Great Island and Great Beach Hill, there really isn’t much altitude gained or lost. The challenge is simply the distance and hiking on soft sand, which is definitely a workout. You’ll feel your glutes and hamstrings by the end.
Skinner State Park in Hadley (www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/skinner) is set on a ridge of high ground very visible from I-91 near Northampton. You can drive to the top Summit House, but what fun is that?
The Metacomet-Monadnock trail (amcberkshire.org/mm-trail) passes over the summit here on its winding way from Connecticut to New Hampshire, so you can head north or south, as you prefer.
The woods here are lovely, especially when the mountain laurel is in bloom, and the views of the Connecticut River Valley below are stunning. You are can see four states from the top, but that takes a clear day.
Most of the foot traffic on Mount Ascutney (www.ascutney
trails.org/trails.html) in Weathers field, Vt., is on the trails from the state park on the north side. But in the spring, the Weathersfield Trail is a beauty, especially when Crystal Cascade Fall is running strong. This trail has several overlooks partway up, so you don’t have to climb all three miles if you don’t want to.
Old Toll Road/White Arrow Trail
Of all the trails on Mount Monadnock (www.nhstateparks.org), the Old Toll Road/White Arrow trail in Jaffrey, N.H., provides the best views for the least effort and the best spring hiking conditions. If you’ve never climbed Monadnock, this is a good time to check that off your bucket list. You’ll never have any trail to yourself on weekends, but spring is a lot less crowded than summer and fall.
Indian Head Trail
(This trail and the next two are in the AMC White Mountain Guide.)
Indian Head on Pemigewasset Mountain is a familiar tourist spot in Lincoln, N.H., but that noble forehead is also a worthy hiking destination with a great view. The Mount Pemigewasset Trail, which starts at the Flume Visitor’s center, is more popular, but I like the Indian Head Trail, which starts at a nondescript turnout on Route 3 -- if you weren’t looking, and didn’t know it was nearby, it would be easy to miss.
The trail’s beginning isn’t very auspicious: you hike a quarter mile beside and eventually pass under the busy Franconia Notch Parkway (I-93). But after that, you stroll through a forest of maples and birches. At this time of year, the trilliums (both the painted and the red "stinking Benjamin") are blooming in profusion, along with the hobble bush, trout lily and others.
At the end of the 1.9-mile trail, an open granite ledge provides a magnificent view. To your far left, you can see the trails at the Loon Mountain still covered with snow that nobody is skiing on. Straight ahead, I-93 and Route 3 coil south into the distance. To your right is almost-uninterrupted wilderness. It is a perfect place to sit awhile and enjoy a snack, a drink of water and some quiet time.
Mount Willard Trail
Though this trail in Crawford Notch, N.H., tends to be wet in the spring, the views are well worth muddy boots.
This has been called the best view for the least hiking effort in the White Mountains. It could be.
This trail starts right at the old railroad depot just east of The Highland Center in Crawford Notch and follows an eroded old carriage road for awhile. It gains 900 feet over 1.6 miles, then winds through the woods, until it suddenly breaks out on a ledge looking away toward the east. Try it.
Arethusa Falls Trail
I saved the best for last. Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, N.H., is at its most spectacular in the spring (though this year you may want to wait for a good rain storm) and well worth the effort it takes to get there. The trail is 1.5 miles, well marked and actually pretty easy.
If the basic hike to Arethusa and back isn’t enough for you, you can take the Bemis Brook Trail to start for a look at a couple of lively little falls, then Catch the Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail, which takes you another 2.8 miles past Ripley falls to the Wiley House site on Route 302.
Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.