While putting together our newest website, Discover the West, I couldn’t help realize how fortunate Kathy and I have been to be able to hike in so many beautiful places over the years. Over this past summer and fall, while I was piecing the website together, I started thinking about which of those hikes have been the most memorable, and which ones I would consider to be among my favorites. As a result of this thought process, I thought I would put together a list of my top 10 hikes.
The criteria I used in developing the list is based on what I enjoy seeing the most: expansive panoramic views, rugged peaks, lush alpine meadows, pristine wilderness, and the opportunity to see wildlife and wildflowers. Generally speaking, the more of those qualities included on a hike, the more I’m likely to enjoy it.
So, here’s my list. Maybe it will inspire you to discover new hiking destinations:
1) Highline Trail - This world famous hike in the heart of Glacier National Park should be on the bucket list of any self-respecting hiker. The absolutely incredible views along the entire route, the wildlife and the wildflowers, all combine to make this a hike you'll remember the rest of your life.
Swiftcurrent Pass - Although this is one of the toughest hikes in Glacier National Park, it includes tons of spectacular scenery. You'll pass by three gorgeous lakes and a waterfall while traveling up the Swiftcurrent Valley. Once above the valley floor the trail offers outstanding birds-eye views of six lakes, as well as Swiftcurrent Glacier. Then, at the pass, you'll have stunning views of Heavens Peak and Granite Park.
3) Skyline Trail Loop - John Muir once said that Mt. Rainier’s Paradise valley was "the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings." I dare say you might have the same reaction yourself. The best way to explore the Paradise valley is to hike the Skyline Trail loop. This hike was so incredibly beautiful that it was the first time that I ever kept my camera in my hand for the entire trip. The amazing scenery never ended!
4) Blue Lakes - The Blue Lakes Trail travels to an extremely scenic glacial basin within the 16,566-acre Mt. Sneffels Wilderness area. Although not a national park, the San Juan Mountains near Ouray, Colorado are as spectacular as some of America’s most famous national parks. You could also make a strong argument that the Blue Lakes hike is as good as any of the best hikes in our national park system.
5) Hallet Peak - For those that feel that Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park is just a little too difficult, or maybe too dangerous, Hallett Peak just might be the perfect mountain to satisfy your big mountain, “summit fever”. Reaching a height of 12,713 feet, the mountain provides the perfect opportunity to feel like you’re on top of the Rockies, without being exposed to dangerous drop-offs.
6) Huron Peak - At 14,003 feet, Huron Peak just barely qualifies as a “fourteener”. However, that doesn’t mean the views are any less stunning than peaks that are hundreds of feet higher. The summit still offers mind-blowing views of Colorado’s Sawatch Range, including the Three Apostles.
7) Siyeh Pass Loop - This one-way hike offers visitors the chance to take-in some of the best of what Glacier National Park has to offer. Hikers will pass through the incredibly beautiful Preston Park, climb up to one of the highest maintained trails in Glacier, and then travel back down through the Baring Creek Valley where you'll have a relatively close-up view of Sexton Glacier.
Piegan Pass - Okay, so this is the 4th hike from Glacier National Park to make the list. You may think I’m a little biased, but I’ll make no bones about it, Glacier is definitely my favorite park. When compared to the other three Glacier hikes listed above, Piegan Pass is probably only a notch or two below those on the “awesome meter,” but is far less crowded. Big panoramic views await hikers along most of this hike.
9) Chasm Lake - Hands down this is the best lake hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to the outstanding panoramic views you'll have on the way up, you’ll also have a front row view of the famous “Diamond”, the impressive east-facing wall of Longs Peak which rises more than 2,400 feet above this incredibly beautiful alpine lake.
10) Four Mile & Panorama Trail - Did you know that you can do one hike that encompasses nearly all of Yosemite’s iconic sights? This epic 12.6-mile hike includes a full view of Yosemite Falls from the only place in the park to see both the upper and lower falls in their full glory. Along the way you’ll also see El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Illilouette Fall and Nevada Fall. The one-way hike begins from the Yosemite Valley, climbs up to Glacier Point via the Four Mile Trail, and then travels back down to the valley via the Panorama Trail and the famous Mist Trail.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order):
Gregory Bald and Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains, Bear Lake to Odessa Lake, Emerald Lake and the Old Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Gilpin Lake Loop in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, Mt. Elbert near Leadville, Ptarmigan Tunnel, Pitamakan Pass, Gable Pass, Iceberg Lake and Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park, Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone National Park, Cascade Canyon Trail in Grand Teton National Park, Mt. Rogers in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, Grassy Ridge Bald in the Pisgah National Forest, and Observation Point in Zion National Park.