1. Sierra High Route, California.
Length: 195 miles.
The Trip: The route cuts south-north through the heart of California’s High Sierra—starting in Kings Canyon National Park and passing through the John Muir Wilderness and Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest and Devils Postpile National Monument, as well as Yosemite National Park, before ending in the Hoover Wilderness—and more than half of it is off-trail, scrambling over peaks and ridgelines and requiring savvy route-finding skills. The High Sierra is the most majestic and rugged mountain range in the Lower 48.
2. Yosemite Grand Traverse, California
Length: 60 miles, 6 to 7 days. Post Peak Pass to Tuolumne Meadows
The Trail: The trailhead logistics (Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides pioneered the route for this trip so can help with the beginning) can be challenging as it starts on obscure trails in the Ansel Adams Wilderness with unexpected views of the Minarets and other landmark Sierra Nevada peaks, this hike soon enters Yosemite National Park. The traverse then joins the iconic John Muir Trail for a spectacular finish among the spires of the Cathedral Range. An unexpected highlight is the jaunt through the extensive drainage of the Merced River, the lifeblood of Yosemite Valley, tracing the headwaters through waterfalls, granite basins, and channels, interspersed with sprawling, sublime sub-alpine meadows and finishing with an ascent of Half Dome via the Cable Route.
This traverse is a cheat sheet of Yosemite backcountry, touching more than a few of the real high points of the Sierra in just a week.
When to Go: Reaching as high as 12,000 feet, this trans-Sierra route is open only from mid-July to mid-September.
3. Pacific Crest Trail, California, Oregon, and Washington
Length: 2,650 miles.
The Trip: Traversing the heights of the Sierra and Cascade ranges, it’s no easy accomplishment to tick off in one attempt, requiring savvy logistics and resupply, good luck with the weather, and fleet feet. Starting at the Mexican border, it is a grand tour of seven national parks and a continent’s worth of national forests, state parks, and wilderness areas ending up in British Columbia’s E.C. Manning Provincial Park.
When to Go: Begin on the Mexican border in April and finish in October. The trick is to miss the spring snow in the Sierra and fall snow in the Cascades.
4. Continental Divide Trail, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico
Length: 2,268 miles of completed trail, 832 unconstructed
The Trip: The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) follows the backbone of the continent, the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to Montana. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, the CDT is still quite rough and incomplete in parts, requiring bushwhacks, hikes down dirt roads, and odd, circuitous rambles. But it’s wilderness cuts through Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.
At some points the divide is breathtaking, as when it crosses the high, trailless crags of Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park. At others, it’s oddly subdued, especially in Wyoming’s Red Desert, where it runs around a basin that doesn’t drain into either the Pacific or the Atlantic. There are endless possibilities to bite off chunks of the CDT for all levels of day hikers and backpackers.
Some of the best lie in Montana, where the trail cuts through little visited wilderness areas like the Centennial Mountains and the Italian Peaks.
When to Go: Timing is the biggest challenge as snows can block trail all season long. Most thru-hikers begin in New Mexico in the spring and hope to reach the Canadian border before the fall storms roll in.
To avoid some of the official trail’s tedious detours, the Continental Divide Trail Society has defined a route that doesn’t follow the official trail as marked by public land managers.
5. Dosewallips to Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park, Washington
Length: 34 miles
The Trip: The trail goes between a beautiful temperate rain forest and rhododendron grove near Hood Canal at sea level, through beautiful alpine meadows to the snowfields of Anderson Pass, and into Enchanted Valley—home to black bears and elk. It continues along rushing Graves Creek, flows into the Quinault River, and then pours into Lake Quinault. Be prepared for wildlife, wildflowers, history, serenity, and a comfortable, three-day backpack
When to Go: High-pressure systems in August and September make for glorious blue-sky days.
6. Oregon Desert Trail
Length: 750 miles
The Trip: The Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) is a brand-new trail designed not so much as a thru-route but as a grand tour of the little visited but grand landscapes of Oregon’s eastern desert. The trail just scratches the surface of the largest desert in the U.S., the cold, sparsely populated sage steppes of the 190,000-square-mile Great Basin Desert that stretches into Idaho, Nevada, California, and Utah. It crosses the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge and winds under the looming mass of 9,733-foot-tall, 50-mile-long Steens Mountain.
But the most dramatic section may be the final miles in the Owyhee Canyonlands, a wilderness of soaring rhyolite canyon walls where the Yellowstone hot spot caldera exploded in a fury of magma 13.8 million to 12 million years ago before it slowly shifted east to its present location under the park. It passes through endless stands of sagebrush that provide habitat for songbirds and sage grouse as well as a riot of springtime wildflowers, Despite stops in outpost towns like Fields and Rome, there are long stretches without water or the chance to resupply. It is not an easy trail to complete.
When to Go: The side seasons of spring and fall. The sage steppes of the Great Basin Desert can be frigid and snowy in winter, and summer is a tough time to find water.
7. Hayduke Trail, Utah and Arizona
Length: 800-plus miles in 14 sections.
The Trip: The Hayduke traverses six stunning national parks of the Colorado Plateau—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion. It clambers up to around 11,420 feet on Mount Ellen near Capitol Reef and then plunges to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at 1,800 feet. Along the way, it hops down the plateau’s famed Grand Staircase—layers of sandstone and limestone excavated by the region’s rivers that tell a geologic story of ancient oceans and sand dunes buried by time.
A megatrail, the Hayduke is only a “trail” in the roughest sense. Much of it is unsigned and unmarked as it works its way into slot canyons and across slickrock. It’s a celebration of the landscape bringing hikers to wonders too numerous to count. The trail crosses numerous highways and dirt roads, offering ample opportunity to cache food and water. Each of the 14 sections is classic in its own right. If you can only do one, try section two, which covers 47 miles along the Colorado River and in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.
When to Go: Spring and fall are best, since the summer is too hot and water then is too scarce. Snow can be an obstacle in winter.
8. Kings Peak, Utah
Length: 28.8 miles
The Trail: The quiet Uintas in the northeast corner Utah is a100-mile-long range that runs east to west rather than north to south. Like most ranges in the Rockies, it’s home to the state’s highest peaks, formed when colliding tectonic plates pushed up primordial ocean bottom and basins filled with wildflowers and blue alpine lakes.
The tallest mountain in Utah, 13,528-foot Kings Peak is a fairly easy state high point to attain. The hardest part of the climb is the long approach from the Henrys Fork Campground, which includes 5,252 feet of elevation gain. Most hikers spend a night or two camped on the trail; Dollar Lake is the most popular spot to pitch a tent. It is a large, ascending open valley that is littered with lakes and ponds. The landscape couldn’t be more beautiful, with stands of isolated timber, alpine meadows, and an array of Nirvana-like camp spots. It’s not a technical route, however, with a short, short steep scramble up a 1,000-foot chute at Gunsight Pass standing out as the only difficult bit and a long scramble to the summit offering wide-open views of the high peaks.
9. Grand Canyon Hike*, Arizona. Rim to Rim to Rim
Round-Trip length: 44 miles, 4 to 6 days
The trip: Any walk in the Grand Canyon is going to rate pretty high on the Richter scale of hikes, but this route shows you both rims and the river, offers different trails in and out, and gives you enough time within one of the greatest features on Earth to actually savor the majesty of the natural architecture. Time travel through the multicolored layer cake of the Colorado Plateau for two billion years’ worth of geology, from the Kaibab limestone at the rim to the Vishnu complex at the river, all on good “corridor” trails with known water sources and pleasant camps.
Bomb down from the South Rim via the uber-direct South Kaibab Trail to cross the Colorado River on the Black Bridge and camp at Bright Angel camp. Then ascend through the Box, the inner heart of the canyon, up to Cottonwood Camp and the remote North Rim. On the return trek, cross the Colorado on the Silver Bridge and ascend to the South Rim through Indian Garden via the Bright Angel Trail, better suited for uphill travel.
When to Go: Everybody does this hike in September to October or April to May, so go in March or November for a more contemplative experience.
10. Winter Tour, Bozeman, Montana, to Jackson, Wyoming
Length: Roughly 216 miles
The Trip: One of the wildest cores of public land in the continental United States, this route crosses Gallatin National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone is also home to the continent’s most charismatic megafauna—grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and wolverines—alongside herds of elk and mule deer.
Requiring expedition logistics as the route itself is not determined. Careful planning and calorie-and-nutrition counting would be a must. Snow conditions could range from deadly slab avalanches to grueling spring glop, depending on the finicky weather moods of the Northern Rockies. An easier but longer option would be to parallel U.S. 191 and then travel along the closed roads in Yellowstone. A more daring option would be to head into the high country behind Bozeman and make a direct traverse across the park.
Of course, it does not need to be a ski trip, Existing trails, overland travel, bushwhacking, and scrambling could bring an intrepid summer hiker along the same journey. Permits are required to backcountry camp and travel in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
When to Go: Spring, when the avalanche conditions have stabilized and temperatures start to warm up.
11. Yellowstone National Park*, Wyoming
There are many wonderful day hikes to the many geyser fields, volcanic features and along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
12. Fallingwater, near Ohiopyle in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.
Frank Lloyd Wright house with many trails in Bear Run Nature Conservancy. Reservations recommend – book with the Western Pennsylvania conservancy.
13. Freedom Trail*, Boston
14. Solomon Gulch Trail, Valdez, Alaska
Length: 3.8 miles
The Trip: Tucked into a majestic fjord, Alaska’s port town of Valdez is the base outdoor adventures in the surrounding Chugach Mountains, which get pounded with some of the heaviest snowfall on the North American continent. The Salomon Gulch Trail packs a lot into a short 2.5 hour walk. It begins at the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery on a steep ascent trail, weaving through the north-facing coastal spruce forest. The lush canopy is packed with a huge variety of wildlife. It ends at Solomon Lake with breathtaking views over the Port of Valdez and a panorama taking in the Chugach’s glaciers and the steep peaks surrounding the fjord.
When to Go: Summer, when long, warm days give you the opportunity to hike at your leisure
15. Caribou Tracks, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
Length: The caribou migrate 120 to 400 miles
The Trip: The northernmost park in the U.S., Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve covers 8.4 million acres in the Brooks Range just above the Arctic Circle. Consisting of mountains, tundra, and coastline with few visitors, no trails, and a menagerie of Arctic wildlife, it protects the habitat and migration routes essential to the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which has been declining but still numbers approximately 325,000.
In spring, the Porcupine caribou come together to make their great migration to calving grounds hundreds of miles away on the coastal plain. The Porcupine herd leaves the coastal plain by mid-July, mostly to avoid hatching mosquitos, and begins to head into the foothills. In fall, they move en masse again, heading south into the Brooks Range and Yukon Territory. The Central Arctic Herd follows a slightly different route.
When to Go: Spring and fall, when the caribou undertake their great migrations.
16. Shipwreck Coast/Shi Shi Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Length: 20 miles from Rialto Beach to the Lake Ozette Ranger Station. Add another 15 miles to Shi Shi Beach.
The Trip: This is an easy trip in good weather since the “trail” is beach walking in most places. This is wild coast with no signs of civilization. There are two memorials: The Norwegian Memorial, erected in honor of the 18 young men who perished and were buried here in the 1903 wreck of the Prince Arthur and the Chilean Memorial, burial site of a dozen others who perished in the 1920 sinking of the WJ Pirrie. Low tides expose tide pools filled with orange and purple stars, urchins, sea anemones, and other intercoastal life. Black bears and Roosevelt elk sometimes range onto the beach. Sea lions and seals bark from the offshore sea stacks. You can spot whales on the horizon. The raccoons are relentless so hang your food at night.
To shorten the hike, start at one of the trailheads – Rialto, Ozette, or Shi Shi and take as long or short of a walk as you would like on the beach.
When to Go: You can expect bad weather any time here (the annual rainfall averages up to a hundred inches), but, in general, August and September are when high pressure systems make for blue skies.
17. Benton MacKaye Trail, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina
Length: 300 miles on the Benton MacKaye Trail. As the BMT starts and ends at the Appalachian Trail and crosses it just before it enters Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it forms a massive, bottom-heavy figure eight allowing a variety of loops. The southern loop (combining BMT and AT) is 364 miles and the upper loop covers 158 miles in the park. Tracing the entire figure eight racks up over 500 miles. It’s also possible to intersect with other long-distance trails for options such as the Georgia Loop (a steep, rugged 55-mile hike that follows the BMT), the Duncan Ridge Trail, and the AT.
The Trip: Opened in 2005, this lonely, steep, sometimes nebulous route starts along with the AT at Georgia’s Springer Mountain and ends back on the AT after crossing Great Smoky Mountains National Park, rambling through eight Wilderness and Study Areas along the way. This is best for long distance hikers who want to avoid the crowds.
A 20-mile shortcut from Beech Gap on the Cherohala Skyway to the Slickrock Trailhead on U.S. 129, including the Citico Creek and Slickrock/Joyce Kilmer Wilderness Areas in North Carolina and Tennessee, takes in old-growth forest and steep trails.
When to Go: Beat the heat by hiking in spring and fall.
- January 2018
- December 2017
- November 2017
- October 2017
- September 2017
- August 2017
- July 2017
- June 2017
- May 2017
- April 2017
- March 2017
- February 2017
- January 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- October 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- July 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- March 2016
- February 2016
- January 2016
- December 2015
- November 2015
- October 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- January 2015
- December 2014
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- June 2012