Looking back at my childhood, I would have to say that I was extremely fortunate to have grown up in a semi-rural area. Though it's more than likely you never heard of Mack, Ohio, you're probably well aware of our largest suburb just to our east - Cincinnati. The dead-end street that we lived on backed-up to a fairly large wooded area covering several hundred acres. No doubt this is where my love for the outdoors was ingrained into my soul. My friends and I spent countless hours in those woods; hiking, riding our Huffy bikes on trails created by us and older groups of kids, building tree camps, and camping around an open fire. After we learned how to drive we discovered the Red River Gorge in central Kentucky where we started taking our first real hikes. We later graduated to the Great Smoky Mountains where we had our first real taste of big mountains and expansive wilderness. Then in 1986, while enjoying a couple of beers in the basement of a friend, three of us came up with the wild-eye idea of taking a grand road trip out west. This trip took us to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, before reaching our ultimate destinations of Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain National Park. The die was cast at that point, and I was forever hooked on the outdoors.
I was also very fortunate to have found a wife that enjoys hiking as much as I do. Together we have explored dozens of national parks, monuments and forests over the years. As a result of the hundreds, probably thousands of miles of hiking I've done over the years, I wanted to put together a list of what I consider to be my favorite hikes. Though I've attempted to rank them in order of best/most favorite, you may not want to assume that this ranking is absolute. I should admit that there may well be a great deal of recency bias, as I have tendency to think that my latest hike was the greatest. Ultimately, I hope that this list will inspire you, or provide you with some new places to explore in the future. Here are my top 30 hikes:
Lake O'Hara (Yoho National Park): Parks Canada limits the number of people that can visit this pristine area. In addition to the epic scenery the area has to offer, Lake O’Hara is also famous for its alpine circuit, a loop hike that traverses precipitous ledges with frightening exposure to steep drop-offs. However, there are many other options that hikers can take to enjoy this truly spectacular landscape.
2) Skyline Loop Trail (Mt. Rainier National Park): "Oh, what a paradise!" was Martha Longmire’s reaction upon seeing the lush meadows and spectacular wildflowers of Mount Rainier’s southern valley for the very first time in 1885. The description would stick, as the most popular area in the park is now known as “Paradise”. Once you set your own eyes upon it you’ll understand why. 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 just never ended!
3) Grinnell Glacier Overlook (Glacier National Park): This hike travels along the world famous Highline Trail for much of its distance. The incredible views, the wildlife, and the wildflowers, all combine to make this a trek you'll remember the rest of your life. Though hikers will have a couple of options for enjoying the Highline Trail, I highly recommend taking the steep side trail that leads up to the spectacular Grinnell Glacier Overlook atop the Garden Wall.
4) Wenkchemna Pass (Banff National Park): The hike to Wenkchemna Pass begins from Moraine Lake, which sits at the foot of the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Both the lake and the valley were featured on the reverse side of the Canadian twenty dollar bill between 1969 and 1979. At the foot of the lake is a large pile of boulders and rocks, leftovers from the glaciers that retreated thousands of years ago. A climb to the top of the rock pile is a popular destination for photographers. The view there of the lake and the valley is considered to be one of the most photographed scenes in Canada, and is now known as the "Twenty Dollar View".
5) Swiftcurrent Pass (Glacier National Park): Although this is one of the toughest hikes in Glacier, it includes tons of spectacular scenery. You'll pass by three lakes and a waterfall while traveling up the Swiftcurrent Valley. Once above the valley floor the trail offers outstanding birds-eye views of six glacial lakes, as well as Swiftcurrent Glacier. At the pass you'll enjoy stunning views of Heavens Peak and Granite Park.
6) Iceline Trail (Yoho National Park): While ascending the avalanche path hikers will enjoy views of Takakkaw Falls across the valley. Once at the top the trail begins crossing over the broken terrain of ancient glacial moraines. From this point forward you’ll enjoy epic alpine scenery, including outstanding views of Emerald Glacier, several small tarns, as well as the spectacular surrounding mountains within Yoho National Park.
7) Mt. Ida (Rocky Mountain National Park): Hands down this is the best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The views from the summit are simply epic. In fact, hikers will enjoy outstanding panoramic views along much of the route. Although the terrain becomes fairly rugged on the final leg to the summit, you'll have very little exposure to steep drop-offs. If this still sounds like this might be a little bit out of your comfort zone, you could simply end your hike atop Peak 12,150, a sub-peak along the ridge approaching the summit.
Siyeh Pass Loop (Glacier National Park): This one-way hike offers visitors the chance to take-in some of the best of what Glacier 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 back down the Baring Creek Valley where you'll have a relatively close-up view of Sexton Glacier.
9) Static Peak Divide (Grand Teton National Park): Cascade Canyon gets all the accolades whenever outdoor media types discuss hiking in the Grand Tetons. However, in my humble opinion, the pundits simply haven't done their homework. I'll admit this is an extremely tough hike, but the alpine scenery is simply epic, and easily makes this the best hike in Grand Teton National Park.
10) Ice Lakes (San Juan National Forest): Ice Lakes just might have the most intense cobalt blue color I’ve ever seen in nature. Combine this extraordinarily beautiful alpine lake with outstanding mountain scenery and several thousand wildflowers, and you have one of the best hikes found just about anywhere.
11) Dragon's Tail (Glacier National Park)
12) Lake Solitude (Grand Teton National Park)
13) Blue Lakes (Uncompahgre National Forest)
14) Mt. Elbert (San Isabel National Forest)
15) Grinnell Glacier (Glacier National Park)
16) Hallet Peak (Rocky Mountain National Park)
17) Chasm Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)
18) Mt. Rogers (Grayson Highlands State Park)
19) Lake Josephine Loop (Glacier National Park)
20) Gregory Bald (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
21) Emerald Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)
22) Grassy Ridge Bald (Roan Mountain - Cherokee National Forest)
23) Rocky Top (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
24) Parker Ridge (Banff National Park)
25) Avalanche Peak (Yellowstone National Park)
26) Panorama Trail (Yosemite National Park)
27) Wheeler Peak (Carson National Forest)
28) Horsethief Trail (San Juan National Forest)
29) Gilpin Lake / Gold Creek Loop (Mt. Zirkel Wilderness)
30) Skyline Trail (Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia)
Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park