Get the best of three of America’s best wild areas on these tours de force.
Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park, Utah
Here’s a secret: There’s more to Arches than, well, arches. The park hosts other types of rock formations, like bridges and towers, as well as slot canyons and squeezy redrock passages. You can get them all—plus, you know, arches—on a trip into the trailless Fiery Furnace. From the parking area, venture into this mile-long maze (bring a map and compass, and know how to use them) and head north. Climb over boulders and duck beneath small arches as you work your way through the redrock wonderland. Pay attention to spots where the sandstone is eroding away: arches in the making. Near mile 1, slip through a shoulder-width crack to enter a huge amphitheater below 53-foot Surprise Arch, the turnaround point. Permit Required ($6/person); obtain from the visitor center. (There are also options to go on ranger-guided trips.) Contact
Old Settlers Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Discover a tale of two parks in the Smokies on this 17-mile shuttle hike. Where settlers once battled to clear land for farms, Mother Nature has won the war. But look closely and you can still find ruins among the hemlocks. Start your journey on the Maddron Bald Trail, heading 1.2 miles south to the Old Settlers Trail, just past the 19th-century Baxter cabin. At mile 3.2, take a short detour to see the barn and smokehouse of the old McCarter place before continuing along creeks that supplied water for homesteaders. To turn it into an overnight, tent near the midway point at 33 Settlers Camp (permit required), then reach Snakefeeder Creek at mile 12.6. There, look for an unmarked trail to a small cemetery. Final surprise: The stone pilings at mile 16.6 mark the Parton homestead—Dolly’s ancestors. Contact
Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas
According to legend, Spanish conquistadors kept the location of their gold secret by blindfolding workers en route to a hidden mine in the Chisos Mountains. After the Spanish were killed and the entrance was sealed, the riches could only be found by seeing where the first light of dawn touched the range. Today, the scenic secrets of Lost Mine Peak are a bit easier to find on this 4.8-mile out-and-back. From the trailhead, climb 1 mile beneath pinyon pines, red-tinged Texas madrones, and weeping junipers to a saddle below Casa Grande Peak, a 7,326-foot volcanic fortress. Continue switchbacking to the trail’s end at a lookout that offers up the park’s best view, including 7,550-foot Lost Mine Peak to the northeast, Mexico’s 8,920-foot Sierra del Carmen to the east, and Juniper Canyon to the south. Retrace your steps on the return. Contact