Notebook: Literary Trails

These hikes offer spectacular scenery—and a glimpse of well–written history.

SOMETIMES A HIKE IS MORE THAN A HIKE. Especially in New England, where you can walk on the very trails that inspired Thoreau, Frost, Melville and many more classic and current writers. For a dose of literary lore with your outdoor excursion, try one of these contemplative jaunts.

Walden Pond
Henry David Thoreau famously chose this idyllic Concord spot as a setting in which “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.” In a tiny cabin on the pond’s shores, he wrote extensively and welcomed visitors such as Bronson Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Today, Walden attracts big crowds, but even on sunny summer days, those seeking solitude can find it on parts of the rolling 1.7-mile trail that circles the water. Every so often a little path leads off the trail and down to the shore, beckoning walkers to take a dip in the crisp, clear water—so don’t forget to bring your bathing suit as you pack for this easy hike. Route 126, Concord, MA,

Robert Frost Interpretive Trail
The 1.2-mile loop not far from Middlebury College celebrates the poet who opted for the road less traveled—and who summered in Ripton for 40 years and was named Poet Laureate of Vermont in 1961. Look for excerpts from Frost’s poems on signs along the trail. Though located in the Green Mountain National Forest, this is more of an amble than a rugged hike, and the trail can get crowded. But it’s a pretty walk, passing over a beaver pond and by fields of blueberry bushes, and one that’s sure to inspire, even if you don’t have miles to go before you sleep. Route 125, Ripton, VT,

Monument Mountain Trail
The list of writers who’ve frequented this 1,642-foot peak reads like a who’s who of literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and William Cullen Bryant were all entranced by its sweeping views of the Berkshires. (Bryant’s poem “Monument Mountain” tells the sad story of a young Mahican woman who jumped to her death from the peak when she was forbidden to marry her cousin.) Three miles of trail here, at some points strenuous, lead to the summit through woods filled with white pine and mountain laurel. Route 7, Great Barrington, MA,

Mount Greylock State Reservation
Hawthorne, Bryant, Melville and Thoreau—along with Berkshires doyenne Edith Wharton—all spent time at the top of Massachusetts’ tallest peak, which soars 3,491 feet above the Berkshires region and offers views of five states on a clear day. (Melville actually dedicated his novel Pierre: or, The Ambiguities to “the majestic mountain, Greylock.”) There are more than 70 miles of trails—including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail—in Mount Greylock State Reservation, and you can find everything from easy-going treks to long stretches of tougher trails, such as the Cheshire Harbor Trail, to the summit. Williamstown, Lanesborough, Cheshire, New Ashford and Adams, MA,

Appalachian Trail
Writers of yesteryear aren’t the only ones who like to hike. Bill Bryson’s national bestseller A Walk in the Woods (Broadway, 1999) chronicles his training for (and attempt to complete) a hike of the Appalachian Trail. The 2,175-mile trail runs from Maine to Georgia and passes through five New England states. Adventurers can conquer sections of it in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness or the White Mountains of New Hampshire; those looking for something less hard-core should check out rolling segments in southern Vermont, Massachusetts or Connecticut.