To the early settlers of North America, the notion of “hiking” would have been redundant with the idea of “walking to where you need to go.” Their experience of natural beauty, unlike ours, was largely incidental to daily affairs. But as contemporary Americans, we can enjoy the outdoors without any obligation to chop or shoot anything.
While the landscapes around the colonies have seen some radical changes since the Pilgrims' brass-buckled boots first tromped across them, much of their original character is still intact. Taking one of the hikes described below will give you a taste of what the Mayflower crowd experienced before America was America.
The Myles Standish State Forest – Near Plymouth, Massachusetts
While Jamestown was founded thirteen years earlier, Plymouth stands out more boldly in the American imagination. Established by the Pilgrims in 1620, Plymouth was the location of the original Thanksgiving feast. It is still a well-populated municipality.
There are a number of possible hikes you can take through the nearby Myles Standish State Forest, but to see the most, take the 11-mile loop. Popular with mountain bikers, this hike abounds with beautiful forest views and pristine lakes.
Check out a map of the trail here
The York River State Park – Near Williamsburg, Virginia
Just East of Williamsburg, this estuary is scenic and full of wildlife, aquatic and otherwise. There are a number of great trails, both for hiking and biking, available. Because the terrain is mostly flat, there's something here for people of all mobility levels. And since there's 2,250 acres of park to explore, it will take you a while to get bored of the sights.
When the capitol building in Jamestown burned down in 1698, the colonists decided to move the capitol to Williamsburg, then called “the middle plantation.” Now, as then, Williamsburg boasts a minimum of Malaria-bearing mosquitoes.
For more information and a map of the trail go here.
Whitley Farms Trail – Near Wilmington, Delaware
Wilmington was originally settled by the Lenape tribe, before being gentrified by the Swedes in 1638. It did not become a highly populated area until the Civil War, when its manufacturing industry boomed.
This moderately difficult trail runs for six miles through corn fields, meadows and forest. A popular biking destination, it is six miles long and takes about three hours to hike. If you want to shave a couple miles off the route, go straight at the junction instead of taking the David English Trail loop.
Here are details and photos of the trail
Bonticou Crag Hike – Near Kingston, NY
Want to see some incredible views and rub elbows (wings) with vultures? This 3.5 mile loop is easy or moderately difficult, depending on whether or not you want to climb an optional rock scramble or stick to the trail. When you reach the top, drink in the views of the Catskill Mountains and Wallkill Valley.
Kingston was settled in 1651 and became New York's state capital in 1777. Later that year, it was razed by British troops. Thankfully, it has recovered nicely from its shaky start.
Directions and pics can be found here
Skyline Trail, Blue Hills – Near Weymouth, MA
Weymouth was originally a failed colony. When Thomas Weston, the British merchant who was the primary financial backer of Plymouth, sent sixty greenhorn settlers from London to found a new colony, they were thwarted by bad planning and bad behavior. But by 1635, Weymouth had been recolonized.
The most challenging hike on this list, the Skyline Trail offers a seven-mile point-to-point hike through hills, valleys and pine forest. The panoramic views of the Boston landscape will make the exercise worth it, if you're not the perspiring type. Occasional rock scrambles pose a challenge to lower-mobility hikers.
A more complete description of the hike can be found here
If you have any other hikes to recommend, or know any interesting historical trivia about these colonies, please leave a comment below. And while you're out there, remember to keep an eye out for Redcoats.