Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Take a Hike! Best Trails In The U.S.A.

November 08, 2022 Avid hiker Jeff Herman discusses the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the 10 best places to hike near U.S. cities. Season 1 Episode 71
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Take a Hike! Best Trails In The U.S.A.
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The simple pleasures of recreational walks -- hiking -- is our topic.  Jeff Herman, avid hiker, first talks with Lea about the Appalachian Trail and The Pacific Crest Trail.

Lea discusses hiking jargon: "Zero Hike,""Nero Hike" and others.  We also discuss top hikes around the country.  Jeff then talks with Lea about his company's survey of the 10 best places to hike near U.S. cities

We end with Jeff's favorite hiking memory .
Jeff Herman is editor and chief of Lawnstarter, a company which often collates travel statistics.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including the Kirkus Reviews starred travel-memoir Places I Remember. She has contributed to many guidebooks.

Contact Lea! 
@lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on  Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website:

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Lea Lane  0:06  
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. 

Getting out and walking in the great outdoors does wonders for your body and mind. So when you travel, take a hike, and we're defining hiking as long walks for recreation. It could be on flat land or tough terrain, easy, moderate or difficult. Just know your limits, get gear to help, do your research and enjoy. In a bit, we'll be talking with Jeff Herman, editor of Lawn Starter magazine, which surveyed the best US cities for nearby hikes. But first let's talk about some of the most popular hiking trails in the United States. 

The Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States winds through 14 states along the crest and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range, starting in Springer Mountain Georgia, in the south. to Katahdin, Maine in the North. Mount Katahdin is not only one of the most challenging ascents of the trail, but also one of the most spectacular. You can hike part of it. But completing the entire 2190 miles of the Appalachian Trail or as hikers call it AT: in one trip it's called a thru hike; each year 1000s of hikers attempt it, but only about one in four makes it all the way. A typical thru hiker takes five to seven months to hike the entire AT. Where do you sleep along the Appalachian Trail? Well, there's an extensive system of campsites and shelters built and maintained by local volunteers. They usually have a water source and additional campsites nearby. Despite how intimidating the AT may sound, beginners can scale the Appalachian trails, numerous mountains and treat themselves to some of the most gorgeous views on Earth. So Jeff, do you have any experience with the Appalachian Trail?

Jeff Herman  2:07  
I haven't hiked the Appalachian Trail myself but a colleague of mine in Indianapolis, he spent the whole summer. Hiking the trail is a great way for him to recollect his thoughts after he was divorced to sort of replot his life.

Lea Lane  2:18  
Absolutely. Many people just do little bits and it's lots of fun, and they take years and years to complete the experience. It's a wonderful thing to do. How about the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail on the other coast? Do you know anyone that's hiked that one, Jeff?

Jeff Herman  2:32  
Yes, I have. And he did it in strange costumes that got a lot of notoriety. Sometimes he wore like, you know, kilts, and everything, which you don't normally do on a hiking trail. But he photographed this whole journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. It was pretty cool.

Lea Lane  2:45  
Is that typical? Is it kind of a weird trail?

Jeff Herman  2:48  
It's a little odd, but you have people from all over who come there to hike and I guess this was Ron, and he just decided he was going to make it a pictorial adventure.

Lea Lane  2:56  
Wow. I love it. Well, the trail is similar to the Appalachian Trail. The highest portion is the Cascades in the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges which lie 100 to 150 miles east of the US Pacific coast. It's 2650 miles long, and generally takes the entire snow free season to walk. If you do all of it. That's about five months; elite athletes have finished the trail in as little as two months. The few who achieve sub 100 Day Hikes average well over 30 miles per day. Between 50 and 60% of people who attempt to thru hike the PCT fail to complete it. The highest point is 13,153 feet Forester Pass. Now the Appalachian trail takes five to seven months to complete, while the PCT takes four to six. That shows when evaluating the most obvious factor terrain, the AT is without question the more difficult of the two trails. Here's some hiking jargon. Hiker Midnight is said to be 9pm or when it's dark. Hiker Trash is a word used to describe thru hikers, typically characterized by the odor and grungy beard and frequently looking for beer. A zero hike is no mileage gain, and Nero hike little mileage. Do you know any jargon, Jeff? 

Jeff Herman  4:12  
No, these are all new terms to me, but they're very fun.

Lea Lane  4:15  
They're fun. I think hiking can be fun. I think that's part of what a hiker enjoys the fun part, not just the exercise. Now besides the coastal trails, areas all over the US offer trails along former railroads or canals, and of course trails in cities, states and national parks. Some of these include in New Mexico, reaching the sky in the Land of Enchantment by hiking Wheeler Peak, the state's tallest summit or in New York exploring an actual castle in the clouds after reaching the top of Whiteface mountain, one of 46 peaks in the Adirondacks. In Texas, you can stay on the lookout for black bears, mountain lions and skunks If you climb one of four of the Lone Star state's highest peaks of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. In Virginia, Shenandoah National Park has more than 200 miles of woodland trails to explore the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains. In Washington you can trek through rivers, forests and meadows of wildflowers while escalating an active volcano with glaciated peaks at Mount Rainier National Park. And in West Virginia, you can hike the Mountain State and explore more than 20 miles of trails and hundreds of years of American history at Harpers Ferry National Park. Do you have any additional ones outside in a park?

Jeff Herman  5:30  
Well, I know that here in Texas, Big Sky, I think is the big park, and you can see all of the stars and everything in the constellations above. It's a beautiful place to be at night.

Lea Lane  5:39  
I think when you're hiking, that's one of the best parts, the stars. Now if you travel to cities, but also enjoy hiking, where are the best places near them to slow down and enjoy a scenic route to add to your experience? Tell us about the 13 hiker friendly factors you use to choose your best hiking cities,

Jeff Herman  5:57  
We want to make sure that there are plenty of hiking supplies there. So you had water, you had boots you had everything you need for a hike, and then also the trails, the number of trails, the difficulty of those trails, and whether they're available for everybody along the way. I think next year, we're going to include like whether they're accessible for disabled people, because we're always trying to improve these things along the way. But we wanted to make sure. Oh, and climate is a factor too. In the south, it's really hot and sweltering to be hiking. So we tried to factor in the climate in these too.

Lea Lane  6:26  
Well, we'll have links to the whole study in our show notes. But let's go through the top US cities that offer hiking nearby. We'll start with number 10. and end with number one. And we'll talk a little about what makes these cities ranked so high and available, hiking, and we'll add a few things about the cities themselves as we go along since we're travelers. So number 10 is San Diego: tell us why it ranks number 10.

Jeff Herman  6:51  
San Diego was number four and supplies and number 13 in hiking access. And some of the really cool things that you can do there. Some of the best parks are Mount Woodson. It's kind of one that people go for the potato chip rock. It's a great Instagrammable moment, but also there's Eagle Rock where you can hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in warmer springs. And the one that I would personally like to do is Father Junipero Serra trail. The pay off is an old mission dam. It's a national historic landmark in the oldest dam west of the Mississippi. 

Lea Lane  7:25  
Well, I think for walkers, Balboa Park is immense. And there's the San Diego Zoo there so you can have a lovely walk, visit galleries. And in Episode Six, we talked about not only the animals but conservation, which is a big part of San Diego. Okay, what about Las Vegas, number nine?

Jeff Herman  7:42  
Las Vegas is one of those places that I tend to go to an awful lot, but I don't tend to go hiking out there so much unless I'm walking like around the tourist attractions, everything. For Las Vegas, it was number six and hiking access and number eight in supplies. One of the cool things to do is you can walk along Fremont Street, that's not necessarily, it's an urban hike. There's also just walking up and down the strip. And there's really cool places, neighborhoods down south; we stay at Southpoint. That's a quaint place where you can get all your steps, and just walking around the building because it's so huge. So there's really cool things to do there. They're Lost Creek Falls in Rock Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, that would be my favorite place. Because it's one of those things where you wind up walking. It's the rare desert waterfall depending on the season. So you hike and you see a rare desert waterfall. How cool is that?

Lea Lane  8:29  
Wow, that's really cool. You can also walk along the top of Hoover Dam, which is very close by; it's a very interesting walk. And Red Rocks I think is just great. The Red Rock area. How about Boise, Idaho? Number eight,

Jeff Herman  8:43  
Boise Idaho was one of those places that seems to be on the top list for people who are moving all over the country because people are moving there because the cost of living is a little bit less than other places. That was number eight in hiking access. And the coolest thing about Boise is the Greenbelt is 25 miles that connects downtown Boise with more than 850 acres of parks and natural areas along the Boise River.

Lea Lane  9:04  
Sounds great. I've been there at the old Idaho penitentiary which contains 19th century prison cells and gallows if you like that kind of thing. Number seven is Los Angeles, California. Why is it rated so high?

Jeff Herman  9:18  
Los Angeles is number 10 in hiking access and some of the cool places there are the Griffith Observatory trail, and it's Los Angeles. So if you want to hike and see some celebrities, you might try the Runyon Canyon Park or the Franklin Park, which is another one so you want to make sure you can see some celebrities while you're hiking. You're gonna see him basically at Runyon Canyon Park, which is described as an exerciser's paradise.

Lea Lane  9:42  
Well I think Beverly Hills is also apparent as we talked about that on episode 41. Lots of glam, lots of celebrity sightings there. You can take a nice hike around the stars homes I guess. If you're allowed. How about number six, Salt Lake City?

Jeff Herman  9:59  
Number six Salt Lake City, it's number four in hiking access in some of those really cool things there is it has mountains, it's surrounded by the Wasatch Mountains. It's got sparkling waterfalls, it's got stunning forests. And according to Salt Lake magazine, one of the coolest places to see is Donut Falls, which is a falls that's in the middle of the Big Cottonwood Canyon. Another thing that's in Big Cottonwood Canyon is Lake Mary, Martha and Catherine, which are three lakes you can walk around within this area of Cottonwood basin.

Lea Lane  10:29  
A trinity of lakes. One sad thing, the Great Salt Lake is shrinking. And I just want to remind you, that it's partly because of climate change. So as a traveler, we always want to be aware of doing what we can to try to keep that from happening. It's very sad. But you can swim there and it's very dense with salt, you'll float with very little effort if you get on that lake. Okay, Oakland, number five. 

Jeff Herman  10:55  
Oakland, California is number seven and hiking access in the coolest place. I would think that I would want to go with Sequoia Bayview trail, you can walk along, walk among the sequoias and also get glimpses of the bay.

Lea Lane  11:07  
Beautiful, you know, it's been called San Francisco's Brooklyn because it has some of that same vibe with history and water views stunning bridge and lots of food and wine. It's an underrated area of the San Francisco Bay. How about Colorado Springs, Colorado? Number four.

Jeff Herman  11:24  
Colorado Springs, Colorado, number three in hiking access and number nine in supplies access. The cool place there that you've always heard of I'm sure is Garden of the Gods -- that's rated number one for TripAdvisor in terms of hikes, and a Red Rock Canyon open space; it gives you great views of Garden of the Gods. 

Lea Lane  11:42  
Well, there's also Pikes Peak right there. It's a national forest with hiking trails and a cog railway. So there's lots to do. It's it's an excellent hiking area. Number three, Phoenix, Arizona.

Jeff Herman  11:54  
Phoenix is number one, and hiking access and number eight in hiking quality, and my personal really cool story of South Mountain Park where I wound up going all the way to the top of the mountain. And then it turns out that only five people I knew in the all of Phoenix coincidentally happened to be there in different places on the top of the mountain; I didn't coordinate this. So I kind of took it as a sign that this was a really beautiful place and a really amazing place too. 

Lea Lane  12:19  
That's a Oo-ooh moment. It's also the Desert Botanical Garden, which is 50,000 Desert cacti and numerous native plants. Tucson, Arizona is number two now you've got two in Arizona, and with the heat and all it's interesting. How does climate affect your choice on that?

Jeff Herman  12:39  
You try and make sure that you're prepared if you're hiking. So you try and do it during the wintertime. Or if you do that you got plenty of water, you get plenty of food, you get plenty of Gorp, which is one of those hiking terms I wasn't familiar with. That's the trail mix, you want to make sure to get plenty of things, so that you're all taken care of in your hike early in the day whenever possible too. And number two is Tuscson: it's number two in hiking access and Bear Canyon to Seven Falls trails would be one of the very cool places to see. Then Subpoena Canyon to Seven Falls. Something to remember is some of these parks, they're great for families the great free to walk and run. But this one, you really can't have dogs with it. So it's not a dog friendly hiking area. But it's 8.5 miles, 3.5 hours. And some other cool things about Tucson; I've been there. The Desert Museum, the Biosphere, the Old West Movie Studio, they're just not far from there's where all the old planes go. And they're stored on some big areas. So you can see all these old planes just like the graveyard of old planes.

Lea Lane  13:38  
Interesting. There's also Saguaro National Park; those stately giants are an icon of the American West, those great tall cacti. So it's really old west, really lots of cowboys and a feeling of the West. So our number one city is one that we've discussed recently on episode 58 --it's Portland, Oregon. And what makes it number one?

Jeff Herman  14:01  
Portland, Oregon is number five for hiking access, but number one for supplies access. It has the largest urban forest in the country. That's Forest Park, that's 80 plus miles of trails in the park. And a really cool thing to do is maybe go the spring water trail, just because you can see water. It's just beautiful nature. And one thing I like about Portland is that it reminds me of Indianapolis where I worked previously, and you have the cultural trail. It connects all of the arts museums, everything downtown. It's beautiful landscape is such a cool thing when you have these urban parks downtown that connect everything.

Lea Lane  14:37  
Absolutely. And you have wonderful farm to table cuisine. You can eat wonderful things wherever you go, from a cart or a truck wherever. It's a wonderful city. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember, so Jeff, please share a memory of hiking that you've done.

Jeff Herman  14:54  
My most memorable hiking was spent every Saturday and Sunday in St. Louis when I'm my mom was battling both diabetes and then colon cancer. We would walk across the bridge, which is an urban park. It's a hiking biking area. We'd walk across the Chain of Rocks Bridge together. And some days I will do in a wheelchair. But it was my time with mom in the chain Rocks Bridge. Hiking with someone is just a beautiful thing because you walk and talk, and it's a special time for me with my mom. And at the same time, that's where we buried some, that's where we spread some of her ashes. It was such a special place for us.

Lea Lane  15:28  
Wow. Well, that's a memory. Obviously that is meaningful to you for different reasons. I think when you walk and you, we call it hiking, but really walking, you get to connect with the earth you get to meditate, you get exercise, you get pleasure. And it's a basic aspect of travel. So thank you very much for sharing with us today. Jeff Berman. And everybody keep keep walking. Thanks so much. My book Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries is available in print, Kindle, and I read the audio version. You can follow me on where I write five travel posts a month. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. And I'd love to hear from you on any of my links in the episodes show notes or on my website Until next time, make some travel memories.

Appalachian Trail
Pacific Crest Trail
Hiking Jargon
How best trails were judged in the survey
Top 10 U.S. cities for hiking
Jeff's favorite memory of hiking