Top 10 Favorite Hikes of our Trip

When I went through the hiking log from our trip to come up with our Top 10 Favorite Hikes, I ended up with a list of nearly 40 trails.  Which just goes to show what an amazing adventure we had in 2012! 

What makes for a favorite hike?  The combination of many or all of the following: spectacular views, solitude, quiet, wildlife, wildflowers, heights, and good weather.  After much debate, I managed to whittle the list down to the top 10 truly iconic hikes on our trip.  Listed below each photo are the location of the trail, total round-trip length, total elevation gain, and the time it took us to complete the hike.

 

1. Crow Pass

Theresa, Darby and Shadow admiring the view of the Chugach Mountains

Chugach National Forest, Alaska
8.4 miles, 2080’ elevation gain, 5.8 hours

This trail is so good that it’s the only trail on our trip that we hiked twice.  We found out just how important weather is to enjoying a trail.  On our first Crow Pass hike, it was cold, cloudy and rainy.  We couldn’t see the hanging Raven Glacier, but we did get to watch a juvenile black bear rummaging around across a divide.  Just two days later it was sunny and 70s, so we hiked the trail again.  That time we could see the magnificent glacier and the massive valley below.  The Chugach Mountains are some of the prettiest in the world, especially in early summer when the foothills are green and the mountains are accented with large patches of snow.

   

 


2. Angel’s Landing

Theresa enjoying lunch above Zion Canyon and the Virgin River

Zion National Park, Utah
6.0 miles, 1540’ elevation gain, 6 hours

Roller coaster lovers know that controlled danger can be a great source of excitement.  And danger is a great way to sum up the Angel’s Landing Trail.  On average, one person a year plunges to his or her death off this trail, which snakes its way up a knife-edge cliff with a 1500-foot sheer drop on three sides.  Chains are embedded into the rock to provide hikers with extra security, but make no mistake, one wrong move, and you become an angel.  The payoff at the end of the arduous climb is worth it, as you are treated to stunning views of the Virgin River as it cuts its way down Zion Canyon.  We sat on a ledge just below the very top, and to the hikers who stopped above us, it looked like—as one person told us—that we were on “the edge of the world.”

  

  

3. North Dome Trail

Theresa and Timm sitting on North Dome, with the impressive Half Dome looming in the background

Yosemite National Park, California
9.4 miles, 1980’ elevation gain, 6.2 hours

The mile-high Half Dome stands tall above the Yosemite Valley, but the North Dome Trail treats hikers with an eye-to-eye view of this magnificent granite monolith.  It’s a deceptively tough hike, because once you emerge from the forest and see Half Dome, you are still an hour away from your destination.  But once you reach the top of North Dome, you are rewarded with a spectacular view up and down the length of Yosemite Valley.  And it feels like you could reach out and touch the sheer face of Half Dome, but that would require very long arms.

  

  

4. Peekaboo Loop

Theresa bundled up from the cold in Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
5.4 miles, 1570’ elevation gain, 4 hours

This trail is named “Peekaboo Loop” because around every corner is yet another amazing view that makes you go “Wow!”  Unfortunately this trail was built for its views and not for hikers.  It winds up and down, and up and down… through the amazingly sculpted sandstone hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.

  

    

5. Delicate Arch

Theresa looking up in awe at Delicate Arch

Arches National Park, Utah
4.0 miles, 610’ elevation gain, 2.8 hours

You cannot help but look up in awe at the massive Delicate Arch that rests precariously on the edge of a cliff.  This is a crowded trail, which is not our favorite, but the people are mostly respectful giving everyone a little “arch time” to themselves, like Theresa in the photo above.

  

  

6. Wahweep Hoodoos

Theresa checking out the Wahweep Hoodoos while the dogs rest in their shade

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Arizona
9.4 miles, 440’ elevation gain, 5.3 hours

The Wahweep Hoodoos stand like tall priests in white cloaks worshipping the bright desert sun.  It was a long, 4-mile hike through a mostly dry wash, and we had the place all to ourselves the entire hike.  Confined to the riverbed, the dogs ran free off the leash and had a grand time.  We sat and enjoyed our lunch amongst the hoodoos while Darby rested in the shade of a sandstone pillar.  Just before returning to our car, Darby found a few mudpots and naturally had to “bathe” in them like Pig Pen from Peanuts.

  

   

7. Grand Pass Trail

Theresa contemplating climbing the Olympic Mountains

Olympic National Park, Washington
5.7 miles, 630’ elevation gain, 4.8 hours

See that mountain?  We almost climbed it after a wonderful lunch hour spent admiring it.  With our binoculars we spotted groups of hikers making their way along the top of that ridge.  Normally when hiking we head back after lunch, but this time we pressed forward with the intent to climb to the top.  But a very rocky ridge stood between us and the mountain, and after a while we turned back.  As a consolation prize we were awarded with constant spectacular alpine views of the Olympic Mountains, and fields full of purple alpine lupine wildflowers.  The adventure started even before the hike, with a hair-raising cliff-edge drive to Obstruction Pass.

  

   

8. South Kaibab Trail

Theresa and Timm standing before a smoky Grand Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
6.4 miles, 2050’ elevation gain, 5.7 hours

The Grand Canyon is an impressive sight when you stand on the edge.  But to really appreciate its immensity, you must hike down into it.  Grand Canyon trails are classic “pay me later” hikes, which is also what makes them so dangerous.  You hike down into the canyon almost effortlessly with the aid of gravity.  Then when it comes time to return, you’re tired, the sun is hot, and gravity is no longer your friend.  Hundreds of hikers are rescued from the canyon each year, and many are fit young men who overestimated their ability and underestimated the steepness of the climb out.  The canyon was smoky during our visit due to a prescribed burn on the North Rim, so the rock colors were muted, but the views were still spectacular.

  

  

9. Horseshoe Basin

Theresa hiking beneath the spectacular Mount Galwey in Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
6.7 miles, 870’ elevation gain, 4.4 hours

The first half of this hike was through fields of beautiful wildflowers.  The second half led us deep into the Canadian Rockies, still dotted with snow.  The weather didn’t cooperate with light rain the entire way, so we had to eat our lunch standing up.  But the views were sublime.

  

  

10. Harding Ice Field Trail

Theresa standing in front of Exit Glacier with the Harding Ice Field visible in the background

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
9.6 miles, 3160’ elevation gain, 6.8 hours

This was one of the coldest and most difficult hikes on our trip.  We climbed from the bottom of the Exit Glacier to its source high up in the massive Harding Ice Field.  The higher we climbed, the colder it got and the harder it snowed.  Fortunately there was a rescue cabin at the very top where we huddled together and ate our lunch in relative warmth while a blizzard raged outside.  Exit Glacier’s river of ice was our constant companion, and we saw many marmots along the way.  We also filmed a giant rock that plunged down the mountain toward us, narrowly missing a group of hikers behind us.

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