Skip to content
America’s Trails

Lose Yourself on a Literary Trail

By: Scott Stark
April 20, 2020

Alex Haley Heritage Square in Knoxville, TN | Photo by Brent Moore
Alex Haley Heritage Square in Knoxville, TN | Photo by Brent Moore

Just as trails physically knit together communities and strengthen bodies, books have the power to connect individuals and strengthen minds. Celebrate World Book Day (March), National Library Week (April) and Book Lovers Day (August) with a trip down these literary-themed trails.



“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Signage to Authors Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery | Photo by Bill Ilott
Signage to Authors Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery | Photo by Bill Ilott

Spanning 4 miles between Bedford and Concord, Massachusetts, the natural dirt path of the Reformatory Branch Trail offers easy access to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. No relation to the other Sleepy Hollow Cemetery made famous by a certain headless horseman, this one is the final resting place of a surprising number of 19th-century authors and philosophers on a hillside known as Authors’ Ridge. Contemporary townsfolk including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne often took walks through this wooded area near the Concord River before it was transformed into a garden-style cemetery in 1855. All are now buried here, along with abolitionist, feminist and author Louisa May Alcott. Votive offerings of pens, poems and notes adorn many of the Authors’ Ridge gravestones.



“By the shore of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea-Water … ”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Song of Hiawatha”
Hiawatha & Minnehaha statue | Photo by Patrick Stewart
Hiawatha & Minnehaha statue | Photo by Patrick Stewart

Among the most popular poets of his day, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used Minnesota as the setting for his magnum opus, an epic poem of the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes. Published in 1855, “The Song of Hiawatha” was an overnight success with a lasting impact on American literature. Today, visitors to the Minnehaha Falls Regional Park will find a bronze statue memorializing the story: Hiawatha holding his lover Minnehaha in his arms. The Minnehaha Creek Trail starts near the statue of Hiawatha and runs 2 miles along the Mississippi River before terminating outside the Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport. Visitors and locals alike flock to this trail to enjoy its limestone bluffs and river overlooks. Hardy types should plan their visit for the winter when the 53-foot Minnehaha Falls majestically ices over.



“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage—to know who we are and where we have come from.”

— Alex Haley
Alex Haley Heritage Square in Knoxville, TN | Photo by Brent Moore
Alex Haley Heritage Square in Knoxville, TN | Photo by Brent Moore

In his best-known book, “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” Alex Haley traces the history of his family across generations to the day his Gambian ancestor Kunta Kinte was forcefully taken by slavers in 1767 and sold in the New World. Subsequently adapted into a popular mini-series in 1977, the book sparked a resurgent interest in genealogy across the nation. The book and author are celebrated in Alex Haley Heritage Square in Knoxville, where a 13-foot bronze statue of the Pulitzer Prize winner sits gazing at his beloved Great Smoky Mountains. In his hands is a copy of “Roots.” The statue serves as a trailhead for the Morningside Greenway, a 2-mile urban trail that offers easy connections to adjacent downtown Knoxville.

This article was originally published in the Spring-Summer 2020 issue of Rails to Trails magazine. It has been reposted here in an edited format.

Scott Stark
Scott Stark

A writer and a rider, Colorado native Scott Stark enjoys combining the two as he explores trails across the country. View more of his work on

Donate today!


Everyone deserves access to safe ways to walk, bike, and be active outdoors.