Trails You Should Try In 2021

Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together

-Marilyn Monroe


Many of our hiking plans have changed recently, which isn’t something anyone who survived 2020 will be surprised by unless you’ve been living under the ice in Antarctica.

I’ve embraced the unexpected opportunity to explore small sections of longer trails along with a few shorter hikes after my 2021 A.T. thru-hike fell apart. I feel that’s better than serenading myself with tiny violins as I ululate and weep profusely over the A.T. for a second time.  Once was enough.

The hard part hasn’t been accepting the loss of the A.T… again, but more, which trails to choose instead, because there is still solitude to find, even when having to dance to a new tune down a different winding trail.

It’s always darkest before the dawn…

There was a storm on the horizon in northern Utah. It was mid-December, and we were a month behind schedule because of a blown head gasket in the truck. The original plan had been to drive south to Arizona the first weekend in November before connecting with I-10 all the way into Florida. I had spent months planning hikes along the way, but now it was more of a race to get there before Christmas, and we put most exploration along the way on hold.

Hiking the backcountry of Zions Ntl. Park the end of 2020. He melted by sunset; LNT. RIP Hendersen.

After a year of false starts and change in directions, the delay didn’t worry me. My concern lay more in the challenge of driving a 41 foot RV dubbed “The Kraken” through mountain passes covered in snow, and the likelihood that Covid would again sideline the whole reason for doing it.


In mid-January, after a month on the Florida-Georgia line anticipating my 2021 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, the A.T. was put on hold another year. It is now February and I’ve found myself in Alabama on an island with white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. 

With winter still pounding the Rocky Mountains, we have about a month or two to burn before we drive back. That’s a lot of limbo time, and sitting idle has a habit of plucking the strings of my depression. But the best thing about a change of plans and no schedule is that unexpected opportunities open up.

Bayou la Batre, Alabama. Home to Bubba of Forrest Gump fame. Who knew I would ever find myself here?


Rather than hiking the A.T., I will put my feet on the Pinhoti; a trail I’ve heard so much about, yet never thought I’d find myself in Alabama with the time to hike it.

Disclaimer: I could have started already but I’ll be honest, I’m unmotivated to tromp through slushy snow and cold. Hiking my own hike, yadda, yadda, blah, blah..

Change has given me several weeks to explore this beautiful state, and there are no regrets. The mild weather and beach days are like the whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles that have made it even more special. The beauty of the Gulf Coast wasn’t on my radar when we left Utah, but here I am. It has been a gift I didn’t realize I needed.

Old Gregg and I Island hopping along the Gulf of Mexico. Oh, the places we have found! (And the food!)

I can see clearly now…

After my adventure ends on the Pinhoti, I will start my meandering journey west, hiking week-long sections of some shorter trails.

First is Tennessee and parts of the Cumberland Trail (300 miles), then Kentucky and the Sheltowee Trace Trail (323 miles).

The thought here is, as my hiking partner has to work Monday – Friday, we’ll drive weekends from trail to trail, and I’ll spend weekdays hiking. Whatever distance I can cover in those five days will be my time on each trail.

I realize this mindset may trigger an OCD siren inside some of our heads; “But you can’t hike just part of the trail! Must! Hike! All! Danger Will Robinson! Danger!

But here’s the thing, I don’t care. I now get to have a taste of each of these trails, and I will award ones I connect with a place in my “Trails to fully hike before I die/the world ends” list.  The following list contains a few of the hikes I’ll be trying instead.

A.T. Alternative Hikes

  • Hennepin Canal Parkway Trail, Illinois – 155 miles

  • Ice Age Trail, Wisconsin – 1,200 miles

  • Centennial Trail, So. Dakota – 111 miles

  • Cirque of the Towers loop, Wyoming – 30 miles

  • Uinta Highline Trail, Utah – 107 miles


Smoked out on the Wonderland Trail in 2020. Will 2021 give me a second chance?

Once we hit our home base in northern Wyoming, we can plan the rest of the year. And as of now, we will apply for another shot at the Wonderland Trail  and a Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim excursion. I’m hopeful we get at least one of those, but should the fates decide otherwise, I’ll be plenty busy with sections of the C.D.T. and the P.C.T.

I know.. I have stated before that I would rather hike the A.T. before I touched the P.C.T. or the C.D.T. and its grizzlies, but I’m eating those words.

Humble pie and crow…. Best. Meal. Ever! 

Life has its own plans, I’m just along for the ride folks.

It’s looking to be a lot of bouncing around Utah, Wyoming, and Washington this year, but as my home is mobile, and my son *Dirty Pete recently moved to Seattle, it’ll be more difficult to choose which hikes to skip, as opposed to which ones we will be doing.

To hope.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day…

 Meanwhile, I’ll keep logging barefoot beach miles to strengthen my feet and chase pelicans.

It’ll be hard, and it’s about all I can do to endure, what with the above freezing temperatures and sunsets on island time…. How ever will I survive? ~le sigh~

I’ve also been gradually adding weight to my new pack as I beach walk, which has earned me a few curious looks and garnered some harsh side-eye for the pack-less *Old Gregg as he keeps me company and attempts to keep Ozzy from swimming to Cuba.

Salty dog Ozzy. It’s not enough to put your feet in the ocean, one must also roll in the sand to really get a feel for island life.

Old Gregg may join on a section or two of the Pinhoti, but that would require stuffing the two beasties into a three-man tent every night, which sounds doable, but I assure you, reality and physics have proven otherwise, and not just because Ozzy is a non-stoppable body in motion even whilst sleeping.

More than likely Old Gregg and the monsters will slip in the occasional in-&-back day hike as I pass a trailhead on my weekly journey, so all is well.

I’m gonna go, go, go…

Will you be exploring unexpected trails this year? Which ones? Do you know of any hidden gems that deserve more attention? Let us know!

Sunset off Dauphin Island, Alabama. This change of plans has taken me places I never knew existed!

* Trail names.


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Comments 6

  • pearwood : Feb 23rd

    I’ll be staying in New York State this year. Thankfully we have no end of beautiful places to hike.

    • J.D./ La Loon : Feb 23rd

      Very true – I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  • Daddy Longlegs : Feb 24th

    Post Pinhoti consider a cruise over to the Foothills Trail. Roughly 80 miles of SC>NC>GA borderlands that is very much like the southern AT section. Wonderfully maintained, easy to access/recon, this trail is a true gem.
    Happy Trails,

    • J.D./ La Loon : Feb 24th

      I will absolutely look into that one – haven’t heard of it before, so thank you!
      Happy Trails!

  • Sassy Spider : Feb 24th

    Great attitude! We did Centennial Trail last year in SD and it was AMAZING!. Totally different than my 500+ miles on the AT. So grateful to be heading back for 300-400 miles on the AT.

    I’m in IL and would only recommend the canal trail if you were biking (I’ve biked it all). It’s not terrible, just redundant. I’d bump over to Indiana and do the Tecumseh Trail for backpacking (it’s in northernish IN). It’s 43 miles long and very midwestern. I’d also consider the River to River trail in Shawnee National Forest in Southern IL. If you’re looking for day hikes near central IL–I’d try Starved Rock and Matthiesen and also bump over to Turkey Run in Indiana.

    • J.D./ La Loon : Feb 25th

      Thank you! I don’t know much about IN / IL and will be in the area at some point, so this information has been extremely helpful! I’ve been looking into the hikes you mentioned and will be doing at least one of them before heading west.


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