One of my favorite family Thanksgiving traditions is a walk in the woods, aside a creek, or even along a tree-lined lane. After a lavish dinner, it’s just the thing to keep me from falling into what my friend likes to call a “food coma” in front of the TV. I have fond childhood memories of footsteps crunching on crisp, frost-covered hay stalks in the fields surrounding my grandparents’ Pennsylvania farm and of mountain-top views sweeping toward the state’s Susquehanna River. One recent Thanksgiving I strolled along the banks of the Union Canal, the first canal surveyed in the United States and today the country’s oldest existing transportation tunnel.
Those walks help remind me through the rest of the year why it’s so important that we, as nation, preserve the wild places that feed our souls and provide refuge for wildlife. It’s a chance to renew hope for the victories ahead, and to give thanks for how far we’ve come from the days when there were no protections for wild animals or even clean air and water.
I often like to think of what legendary conservationist Wallace Stegner once wrote:
“Something will have gone out of us as people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed, if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases, if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction, if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stink of human waste…We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, as part of the geography of hope.”
Have you taken a memorable Thanksgiving Day hike? Share it with us (comment below). Want to start a tradition? Maybe you have a National Park or Wildlife Refuge nearby. Or check out one of these 10 Top Trails, ranked by Trails.com. Click here for the Top 100. Even if you don’t embark on a major hike, enjoy some fresh air. And have a happy Thanksgiving.
1. Breakneck Ridge Trail, Beacon, NY-9.6 miles. In Hudson Highlands State Park, this trail makes a rugged ascent from river-level to roll along a knobby ridge, gathering vistas and reaching a lookout.
2. Glacier Gorge, Estes Park, Co-9.6 miles. A beautiful spot in Rocky Mountain National Park. Spectacular scenery, beautiful wildflowers, cascading waterfalls, and gorgeous alpine lakes.
3. Appalachian Trail: The Pinnacle, Hamburg, PA-8.7 miles. Walk the Appalachian Trail for spectacular views of Hawk Mountain, the Lehigh Valley, and Blue Rocks. Many Appalachian Trail thru-hikers claim the views at the Pinnacle are the best in PA.
4. Mount Whitney: Lone Pine, CA-22 miles. This expedition takes you to the top of the highest peak in the contiguous United States, and to unparalleled views.
5. Conundrum Hot Springs: Aspen, Co-18 miles. A secluded collection of pools in a beautiful wilderness location. Conundrum is one of Colorado’s most exquisite settings.
6. Cear Mountain Loop: Highland Falls, NY-9.7 miles. A demanding all-day or overnight loop rolls through steep wooded terrain, topping Bear and West Mountains, offering views of the lower Hudson River area.
7. Furnace Mountain/Trayfoot Mountain Overnight Loop: Grottoes, VA-20.6 miles. If you like mountaintop views and camping along streams, this loop is for you. Head north on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and turn west toward Austin Mountain, with views galore.
8. Deep Creek: Hesperia, CA-12 miles. A cluster of natural hot springs in an isolated canyon in the high desert. Deep Creek has become a favorite spot for those who like to take a dip au naturel.
9. Appalachian Trail: Sunfish Pond & Mount Mohican: Columbia, NJ-8.8 miles. Sunfish Pond is one of the most popular hiking destinations in New Jersey, with good reason. The rocky shores of this crystal clear glacial lake are postcard perfect.
10. Appalachian Trail: Springer Mountain to Hightower Gap: Suches, GA-9 miles. The summit of Springer Mountain, a broad dome with thin oak woods and a rock outcrop, has excellent northwest views of the Cohutta Mountains.