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Our Favorite Hikes

Posted by davidrosslevy , 24 April 2017 · 542 views

rocky mountain national park mount rainier national park aspen colorado marin county point reyes national seashore capitol reef national park holy cross wilderness vail
ProTrails is so focused on providing objective, GPS and scientifically-based trail descriptions that we seldom discuss our opinions of a trail, and certainly never our personal favorites. Well, here we're going to do just that! 
 
Of course this list can't begin to cover all of our favorites, and it's sure to omit a few that deserve mention. To keep it interesting we'll skip some of the nation's best known trails like the Narrows in Zion, which is cited just about every year as one of America's top adventures (deservingly so).
 
We'll take a pass on ones like the High Divide Loop in Olympic, 4 Pass Loop in Aspen, and The Enchantments in the Cascades - all very well know in their respective regions - to highlight ones under the mass-appeal radar.
 
These may not achieve universal 'epic' status by a committee of voters, but they're special to us for a combination of aesthetics, natural features and, most importantly, just one heckofa memorable day!:
 
Let us know what you think of our list, and share some of your personal favorites here on the Forum!
 
*****
Lonesome Lake, Holy Cross Wilderness CO
 
In Colorado if you say 'Holy Cross Wilderness' people think of 2 things: Mount of the Holy Cross (a 14er) and the Missouri Lakes Loop. Fair enough. Lonesome Lake hardly gets mentioned, and perhaps for the best.
 
Lonesome Lake embodies that special Je Ne Sais Quoi. It's not the biggest but has all the attributes you want in an alpine lake. Open rolling meadows dotted with tree-topped knolls ring the lake and give it that 'Beetlejuice' feel if you know what I mean - so perfect it almost looks fake.
 
The trail passes through big sloping meadows before reaching the lake, and once there terrain is gentle and easy to explore. Those handy with a map can peel off the main trail and navigate to Isolation Lake in a side valley - something I'm eager to do.  
 
It's not difficult to scale the Lonesome Lake headwall and peer down at Timberline Lake in the adjacent drainage. Look for elk, moose, bear, bighorn sheep and mountain goats - they're all here. And who could blame them for wanting a piece of this special valley. Read More...
 
Eureka Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park
 
The Eureka Sand Dunes are the tallest dunes in Death Valley and all of California. The superlatives are noteworthy, but pale to seeing them in person. The drive out to these remote dunes - and I mean remote(!) - is an experience in itself. 
 
Your sense of space and scale will be tested as you drop into this absolutely massive and desolate valley to see the 3-square mile dune field tucked against the Last Chance Mountains. You can easily walk around the dunes, or head right in and up (which is not so easy). 
 
There are certainly more accessible and expansive dunes in Death Valley, but none with quite the other-worldly feel of Eureka.  Read More...
 
Pleasant Creek, Capitol Reef National Park
 
"What's that other National Park in Utah again?" Oh right, Capitol Reef. 
 
Don't worry, Capitol Reef gets that a lot...
 
Capitol Reef is crazy cool, but disadvantageously located in the heart of the middle of nowhere. You have to really want to go. And we really love CR.
 
One of our favorite backcountry routes follows Pleasant Creek through the Waterpocket Fold. It holds numerous petroglyph panels (almost all unmarked and left for discovery), striking geological features and an intriguing desert riparian ecosystem. Any one of these attributes would be a draw, but Pleasant Creek has them all in abundance. Every step along Pleasant Creek is meaningful, especially if you're interested in geology and anthropology. Read More...
 
Stone Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness CO
 
The Indian Peaks are bustling with visitors as the Colorado Front Range grows at a blistering pace. Can't blame all these avid hikers though - it's close to home, dogs are allowed and there are dozens of National Park-worthy lakes and peaks.
 
Stone Lake is located on the west side of the IPW, which sees considerably lighter traffic (yep, it's a hassle to get to). You don't hear about it much because there are 15-20 destinations people will mention before Stone Lake ever comes up. And if it does it'll probably be, 'I've heard of that, but never been'. 
 
It's a tough hike, no doubt. It's a grind up to the pass, and a knee-jarring descent on a barely-there trail into Hell Canyon. Then another climb to the lake. And of course you have to do it all over again to get back! 
 
While Stone Lake is great, Upper Stone Lake is the real prize. You'll have to improvise to it (there's no trail), but easy enough for experienced hikers. The Stone Lakes are legit, and completing this challenging hike to one of the IPW's more remote corners is a nice accomplishment. Read More...
 
Larch Mountain Trail to Sherrard Point, Columbia River Gorge OR
 
Literally millions of people stop by Multnomah Falls each year, and many of them (which means hundreds of thousands) continue above the falls and connect with the Wahkeena Trail to form a 5.1 mile loop. Totally fun, crowds and all. I've done it and will happily do it again.
 
Many fewer people remain on the Larch Mountain Trail and take it all the way to Sherrard Point, which arguably has the best views in the CRG (yes, better than Defiance!). Larch Mountain is one of those rare trails whose very first step is as amazing as the last.
 
Sure you can drive all the way up Larch Mountain and walk .25 miles to Sherrard, but if you do this or only hike the aforementioned loop you'll miss (in my opinion) one of the nicest stretches of trail in the CRG. 
 
The Larch Mountain Trail veers off the loop and traces Multnomah Creek through archetypal old growth. There are many places like it, but this stretch just has the 'it' factor. The view from Sherrard Point on a clear day is special - and much more so if you earn it by hiking the entire trail. Read More...
 
Painted Desert Unit X-Country Hike, Petrified Forest National Park
 
Petrified Forest National Park seems to be one which people just 'check off the list'. I-40 cuts right through it, so it's easy enough to pull off, take a few snaps and carry on with your road trip. And now you can say you've been there!
 
If that's all you do you'll have missed one of the most surreal and colorful places on this planet.
 
It's a supremely gorgeous place, but you have to get off the highway and drive out of your way in opposite directions to see both districts. You also need to walk a number of trails in each and bury your nose in a book for while to really understand and appreciate what you're looking at.
 
The Painted and Petrified units are visually distinct, and their origins are equally and uniquely fascinating.
 
I've been lucky enough to camp deep in the backcountry of both. The Painted Desert Unit was particularly special. Visitors will wander down from Kachina Point to the desert floor, but few wander as aimlessly (or far) as we did. Once over a few terrestrial folds we vanished from sight and entered another planet. You need to be prepared - there's no water or shade - but I've never before or since camped in a place like this.
 
Rather than pass through Petrified Forest National Park, make it your primary destination. Read More...
 
Paradise Glacier Trail to Cowlitz Rocks, Mount Rainier National Park
 
The Paradise area of Rainier is amazing - this isn't news! Just ask the Manhattan-like crowds streaming though it's carefully plotted, paved and cordoned trail network. The assembly line of tourists all but disappears on the Paradise Glacier Trail, which splits off the main loop and fades as you transition onto the glacier. 
 
After spending hours weaving through Paradise and up to the base of Muir Snowfield it was time to head down. I wasn't prepared or inclined to reach Muir Camp that day, but still had a lot of leg in me and wanted to do more. Paradise-Stevens Glacier was not really on the agenda, but I figured it was easy enough to at least hike the maintained spur up to the base.
 
Once I reached the 'End of Maintained Trail' sign and saw that I would soon be on the glacier, it was a no-brainer. Keep going. Yes there are some very real potential hazards when traversing snowfields and glacial extremities without proper equipment, but this is generally a non-technical stretch that runs all the way to a saddle under the Cowlitz Rocks. It had to be done. The views are amazing (particularly south to Adams), and you can really see evidence of glacial scouring and retreat in this area. Paradise deserves every accolade, this extra excursion bumps it even further up the ranks. Also saw a bear and cub on the way back for good measure :). Read More...
 
Tabor Creek Trail, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness CO
 
Aspen sits at the juxtaposition of three amazing wilderness areas with easy access to some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Colorado. This goes beyond my subjective experiences living there - it's a scientific fact.
 
One hike that stands out on a pretty competitive list of trails is Tabor Creek off Lincoln Creek Road. It's kind of like the 'Capitol Reef' of Aspen-area hiking - people know it's there, but just kind of forget about it or can't remember the name.
 
If you hike it on a nice day, you'll never forget it. Just click the link here and check out the photo gallery - you'll see why. 
 
There are countless passes in the Aspen area in the 12,500' range, but the approach to Tabor Pass is a little different and special. The trail pretty much fades above treeline, and you'll have to improvise a bit through and above a cluster of larger-than-average tarns before the terrain funnels you on a direct line to the pass.
 
It's one of the prettiest valleys I've traversed in the Collegiates, and the only thing more stunning than the scenery was the absence of people - didn't see a soul on one of the nicest weekends in peak summer! Read More...

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