Best Places To Hike Protected Lands
Forty-seven years ago Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to help federal, state, and local governments directly acquire land or fund conservation easements. Nearly 7 million acres of land have been conserved, using $9 billion—funded primarily from royalties on offshore oil and gas drilling. Each year, the Appalachian Mountain Club [AMC] and its Conservation Action Network members advocate for full funding of the LWCF program. Here is a sampling of recreational gems that have benefited from the LWCF.
Grafton Loop Trail
Grafton Notch State Park was an early beneficiary of the LWCF, receiving funding in 1967. The park represents the northern end of the Mahoosucs and, in 2007, became the centerpiece of the 39-mile Grafton Loop Trail, thanks to AMC and several partners. Follow the Appalachian Trail north from Route 26 for 3.8 miles, to the summit of East Peak. Go right on the Grafton Loop Trail and follow it for as long as you like. Four campsites are located between East Peak and the park’s edge 7 miles to the east.
Info: Grafton Loop Trail
Success Township, N.H.
Adjacent to the northern edge of the AT corridor in Success Township, in the Mahoosuc Range, is a newly-protected swath of 4,772 acres. Access the Appalachian Trail by cutting through this land along the Success Trail from Success Pond Road. At 1.6 miles, follow a 0.3-mile loop path to an outlook on the right for a spectacular view of the Presidentials. Continue up to the Mahoosuc Trail (also the AT), turn right, and continue 0.6 mile to the summit of Mount Success.
Distance: 6.3 miles, out-and-back
Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge
This 7.2 million-acre refuge, established in 1997, encompasses the watershed of the Connecticut River in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and features three cooperative education centers, including the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt. Several short trails wind through the Montshire property, including the Ridge Trail, which loops the property and features a series of educational exhibits about the North Woods. These trails are limited to paying visitors to the museum. Hikers can also connect to the AT or to a greenway that links Norwich to nearby Wilder, Vt.
Distance: 1.1 mile, round trip
Info: Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge; Montshire Museum of Science
South Cape Beach State Park
Part of the 2,700-acre Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, South Cape Beach State Park is a diverse peninsula featuring dunes, salt marshes, woodlands, and kettle ponds—all of which can be explored within a single hike. Begin your hike near the park entrance off Great Oak Road and follow trails and roadways out to the western tip of the park, or cover the same ground via two out-and-back hikes from one of the parking lots near the beach in the center of the park.
Distance: 4 miles, round trip
Info: South Cape Beach State Park; Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
Ragged Mountain Park
Ragged Mountain Park, a 56-acre climbing destination with dramatic exposed cliffs, is also a great access point for hikers in central Connecticut. The Ragged Mountain Preserve Trail can be accessed from West Lane in Berlin, where roadside parking is available at the trailhead. Enter the woods and turn left when the trail splits. At 1.7 miles, the trail gives way to the blue-blazed Metacomet Trail for 2.7 miles, taking you over the summit of Ragged Mountain. At 4.4 miles, bear right when the trails split and follow the Ragged Mountain Preserve Trail back toward West Lane.
Distance: 6-mile loop
Info: Ragged Mountain Foundation
Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area
Rockaway Township, N.J.
Formerly home to a large iron mine, Wildcat Ridge is now a protected area known for migrating hawks. Even outside of the migration seasons, the hawk viewing platform offers views of the Highlands and, on clear days, the Manhattan skyline. From the parking area on Upper Hibernia Road the orange-blazed Flyway Spur Trail leads to the platform (1 mile). To extend the hike, turn right on the white-blazed Four Birds Trail on your return trip. This 19-mile trail connects Wildcat Ridge to nearby Farny State Park.
Info: New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife: Wildlife Management Areas; New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
Hibernia County Park
Formerly part of the booming iron industry, Hibernia County Park now offers 7 miles of trails over 990 acres, including the gently sloping 1.4-mile Forest Hill Trail. From the parking lot nearest the back entrance, take this route to its southern end and climb a steep hill to reach the historic Forge Trail, where charcoal dust from the Iron Forge era is still visible. To extend the hike, make a left at the end of Forge Trail onto Lake Trail in the direction of Chambers Lake.
Info: Hike the Highlands