I would like to start a thread that I hope will be interesting to all, and helpful to me.
I have been given a contract to publish a book about "The Best Hikes in America." I have been working for years to identify and hike the best 50 hikes. Many HP'ers have received surveys that I have sent asking for opinions about the best hikes in your region, and I thank you for your help. Of course, which hikes are the "best" hikes are subjective, but my list represents the collective consensus of many hikers, primarily HP'ers.
Now I want to be sure I haven't missed anything. I am therefore inviting anyone with an opinion to nominate the "best" 4 or 5 (or whatever) hikes in America. If there is a consensus for any hike I have missed, I will go to hike it, and may include it in the book.
Ground Rules: A hike must-
1. Be a day-hike (less than 20 miles). No fair nominationg the AT.
2. Be on maintained, or at least well-established trail.
3. Not be technical. No ropes, ice ax, crampons needed.
4. Above all, it must be unique or special... ina word MEMORABLE.
(No geographic fit required - sorry Kansas)
After the thread fades, I will share my current list of "The Best Hikes In America."
Some of my favorites also included State highpointing:
New Hampshire: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
South Dakota: Harney-Sylvan Lake Trail
Utah: Henrys Fork/Highline Trail
California: Mount Whitney Trail
Wyoming: Wind Rivers Glacier Trail
Virginia: Grayson Highlands Park Rhododendron Trail
Arizona: Flagstaff/Snowbowl Humphreys Trail
Colorado: South Mount Elbert Trail
Georgia: Jacks Knob Trail
Vermont: Long Trail
Minnesota: Superior Hiking Trail/ County Road 6 to Silver Bay 18.6 miles
Arizona: Sedona/ Brins Mesa Trail/ Oak Creek Canyon
Arizona: Grand Canyon Down South Kaibab Trail-Up Bright Angel Trail
Michigan: Porcupine Mountains Little Carp River Trail 11 miles or Lake Superior Trail 16 miles
Washington: Anywhere on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park
Arkansas: Ozark National Forest/ Shores Lake to White Rock Mtn. 13.4 miles
Utah: Zion National Park
Montana: Glacier National Park
California: Yosemite National Park
Wisconsin: Mead Wildlife Refuge near Milladore
That list off the internet seems to be a list of the best dayhikes within a two hour drive of New York City.
Breakneck Ridge? the Pinnacle? Bear Mtn NY, Bear Mtn, Ct? These are "nice" dayhikes, but don't belong in a book about the 50 best dayhikes in the US. I wouldn't rate the NY hikes as the best hikes in NY, much less the country. In fact, they are not even the best hikes in the Hudson Highlands -- that goes to the trail up the Timp Face, which has a 1,000 foot verticle gain through cracks in a sheer rock wall, and tops out with an amazing winter view of the NY city skyline 40 miles away (summer haze prevents a view of the city).
The Pinnacle section of the AT is one of the three best dayhikes in PA, along with Mt. Minsi at the water gap and the trail out of Pine Creek Gorge (the grand canyone of PA), but hardly worthy of a best in the USA spot. As an example, the trail up Black Butte, the small mountain between I-5 and Mt Shasta, is a much cooler hike -- amazing views of mountains from the top, and about the same distance, more elevation gain. That hike blows the pinnacle or any hike the hudson highlands away, but its far from the best hike in California.
1. Black Mt Crest trail
2. Canyonlands NP- anything in the Needles district
3. High Sierras (like Cottonwood Lakes)
4. Cape Lookout NS
5. Mt LeConte
6. Cross country in Zion
7. Winds ie) Cirque of Towers
Before i nominate my favorites, i'd like to chime in AGAINST any trail to a summit that is hiked solely because it is the shortest route. For example, it wouldn't make sense to nominate the Marcy Dam route to the top of Marcy, when there are other more beautiful and memorable trails that lead there. Same would hold true for Mt. Elbert, Mt. Whitney, etc etc. I'm sure the main trails will get nominations because people have great memories of reaching the top of something, but i hope that the BEST (most unique, beautiful) trails to summits will get the nod!
My very favorites, non-technical 20 miles or less:
Vermont: Mt. Mansfield via the Maple Ridge - Sunset Ridge loop. wow.
New Hampshire: Great Gulf, Airline, and Franconia Loop would all be a tie in my book, so i won't pick.
Arizona/Utah: Paria Canyon via Buckskin Gulch, exiting Whitehouse trailhead. This is usually a segment of a longer backpack, but can be done as a long, amazing dayhike.
north of San Francisco: Matt Davis-Steep Ravine-Dipsea loop on Mt. Tamalpais. Ocean, redwoods, great wildlife, and back to the ocean as the sun sets. All uncrowded and within an hour of San Francisco. (I guess if it makes the book it won't be uncrowded anymore.)
Columbia Gorge, OR: Triple Falls trail. More waterfall for your buck within an hour drive + an hour's walk of a big city than i could imagine.
Maui: Haleakala, Sea to Summit, via Kaupo and Sliding Sands trails. Just makes the 20-mile cut off, and it's a big day. But you get the ocean, waterfall cliffs, the massive moonscape crater, and the top of the island.
Oahu: like NH, there's a whole lot that would tie for best hike. Still, i think my favorite is Ka'au Crater, where you climb up along several waterfalls to reach a crater that's hidden from viewing from any other vantage point. Problem is, it's "technically" a closed trail. Everyone hikes it though.
Here are some trails I really liked as dayhikes that are not highpoints:
Iceberg Lake Trail, Glacier National Park
Half Dome trail, Yosemite (yeah its crowded, but that's because its spectacular)
Long's Peak, the Keyhole Route, Rocky Mountain National Park (I think its a trail, its marked the whole way and heavily used)
Gunnison Route, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (easiest trail to the bottom of the canyon, not technical, but a chain is provided due to steepness)
Bryce Canyon, Peakaboo Loop
Zion National Park, Angel's Landing Trail
Acadia National Park, Cadillac Mountain Traverse, bus service makes the one way hike 8 mile hike perfect for a day trip
Grand Teton National Park, Cascade Canyon-Paintbrush Canyon loop
Telescope Peak Trail, Death Valley
One of the two trails to the bottom of the Grand Canyon from the south rim (north is to far to hike to the bottom)
Even if you only go halfway, still a great hike. Forget which one doesn't have the mules, but that's the better one
Big Bend National Park -- dayhike to the south rim. There's a couple of ways to do it, but any of them are great. Side trip up Emory Peak makes it perfect, but also makes for a very long dayhike
I forgot another great one -- the trail up the south sister in oregon. I did it in June in a high snow year, so we needed an ice axe and crampons and, as a result, had the whole place to ourselves (a group without ice axes gave up just as we were heading up the steep stretch to the summit). My understanding is that in a typical year, its just a long dayhike on a well established trail.
This peak is the highpoint for Trinity County, the highest peak west of I-5, and it is a beauty. It's not too long, not too high, and even includes a bit of the PCT, but it's still out of the way. You start out about 6,700', hike between some lovely mountain lakes in an open forest, and then climb several long but fairly easy switchbacks on the western slope of the peak. The big surprise is at the top, at about 9,000': you climb the last few vertical feet to the summit, and there, across the valley of the upper Sacramento River, stands Mt. Shasta in all its glory. It is totally hidden until you pop out on top. (OK, I just spoiled the surprise.) Then you can look around and see the Siskiyous, the Klamaths, the Marble Mountains, Mt. Lassen, Castle Crags, some Oregon peaks, and even the Sutter Buttes far to the south. It is just plain SWEET! Arguably the loveliest of the 38 CA counties I've done so far. JES
Ok, I gotta nominate my eponymous peak, Mt. Ritter. To keep within the rules of being "just a dayhike," I'll offer two alternatives, both starting from Agnew Meadows. The simpler one, an out-and-back to Ediza Lake, would be about 15-20 miles, depending on where you turn around. 20 would take you right to the base of Mt. Ritter, where 15 would stop somewhere by Ediza. The views from Shadow Lake are spectacular and getting up close to Ritter and neighboring Banner Peak just above Ediza Lake are dessert. The alternative (and might be pushing the 20-mile limit) would be to hike up past Ediza then up and over the ridge above Nydiver Lakes and down to Garnet Lake and then back to Agnew Meadows. Has the advantage of less backtracking (just the first/last couple of miles between Agnew Meadows and the San Joaquin River) and seeing a different stretch of countryside on the way back. For shots of the trail, Shadow Lake, Ediza Lake and Ritter/Banner, see the "Mt. Ritter" section of my WWW site.
Closer to home, the elevation is neither so high nor the gains so great but even the Ozarks have some nice trails. Three favorites include:
The Taum Sauk stretch of the Ozark Trail. Goes from Johnson Shutins to the top of Taum Sauk Mountain (1772.68' and the highpoint of MO). About 15 of the toughest Ozark miles you'll ever put in. Rocky ridges, sumac glades, creek valleys. You pass by Mina Sauk Falls, the tallest waterfall in MO (see my VR pan of the falls) and on up to the summit of Taum Sauk. Strictly a point-to-point trail, so you have to spot a vehicle at each end, but it's a great training hike for taller stuff out west, given the obvious limitations in absolute altitude.
The Bell Mountain Wilderness Trail. Not that far from Taum Sauk and also along the Ozark Trail, you can hike Bell Mountain either as a point-to-point or a nice 10-mile loop. Bell Mountain is 1702', so nearly as tall as Taum Sauk. The glades along the ridge are exemplary and the trail takes you over the top of Bell Mountain, down into the neighboring valley and back up to the trailhead. A very nice fall hike when the leaves are changing.
The Whispering Pines Trail at Hawn State Park. Just about an hour south of St. Louis, this 10-mile loop meanders through some of the most varied topography and forests you'll find in the midwest. Alternately hardwoods and native short-leaf pines, up and over ridges, meandering along creek beds (with beaver-gnawed trees), and up to the top of Evans Knob for great views of the surrounding hills, this trail is a real favorite in the spring when the dogwood and redbud are flowering. There are a couple of back-country campgrounds along the trail, so you can also use it for a short two-day backpacking trip if you so desire. I've probably hiked this trail 10 times over the years and I still love it...it's my favorite day hike in MO, partly because it is a loop, so I can easily solo it but also because it includes about 2,000' of gross vertical, so you get a pretty fair workout by midwest standards, as well.
Mt Whitney was my first highpoint, done 7 years ago and I thought it was spectacular...Long's Peak in Colorado was another favorite, one I did 4 years ago, non-technical during a two-month summer window through the Keyhole route.
It just gets in at under 20 miles, but hiking into the Grand Canyon via Halaupai Hilltop, to Havasu Falls is one of the most amazing hikes I have ever been on. The combination of classic Grand Canyon scenery and waterfalls over 200 ft high in a lush almost tropical valley than goes on for over 10 miles before reaching the Colorado river is simply a wonderland. There are 5 main falls and literally hundreds of small travertine falls along the spring fed creek. There are valleys along the creek that are covered side to side in grape vines and other lush vegatation 5-6 feet high. It is surreal.
Another nomination has to go to North Cascades Nat'l park. I forget the name of the trail, but you start in a valley among some of the most beautiful mountains on this continent (yes I have visited all the major ranges in North America). Then you hike up towards a glacier, on the opposite side of the valley as the trail ascends there is a hanging glacier that freely calves icebergs into the air where they fall hundreds of feet to the ground. It is a breath taking sight and the sounds of the ice calving and then hitting the valley floor is stunning. When you reach the top of the hike you are surrounded by some of the most classic mountaineering routes in the lower 48. After spending 2 years living and guiding in Alaska, and Colorado before that, I almost moved to Washington just to be close to these amazing mountains.
Also on the list, The Fiery Furnace in Arches Nat'l park. A simply mind blowing maze of rock fins that requires either a guide or a big sense of adventure and super solid route finding skills. The trail goes through caves and improbably small rock gaps that are easily missed even for experienced back country hikers. But the rock scenery and geology is simply stunning.
Those are some of my favorites. Good luck and please send out your list, I would love to discover more of Americas best hikes.