By Chuck Scott,
What defines a great hike, really? It has to be memorable, the kind of adventure that sticks with you years later. It should be a challenge; hikes that test your mental and physical toughness can be the most rewarding. And it should have a unique element, something distinctive that makes you say ‘wow.‘
Here are 10 great hikes throughout the United States that have it all: adventure, challenge and the wow factor.
Reaching the summit of this iconic rock on the eastern side of Yosemite Valley is one of those bucket-list adventures.
It's 16 miles round-trip, so start before sunrise if you want to make it a day hike, or plan on camping overnight in Little Yosemite Valley.
The lone downside is it can be crowded during the peak summer months, especially as you leave the valley floor and again near the summit, when you reach the infamous cables set up to help you climb the final 400 feet.
But the experience — the climb through multiple ecosystems, the waterfalls, the view from the top — make it all worth it.http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/halfdome.htm
If you don't mind getting your feet wet, hiking through this spectacular slot canyon is another must-do adventure.
Depending on the frequency of recent rains, you could spend as much as 60 percent of the 16-mile hike wading or swimming through the Virgin River, which carved the canyon. The water is mostly ankle-deep but could reach your waist or higher in spots.
The payoff is some of the most stunning scenery imaginable as you make your way through a hallway of beautiful carved stone cliffs that narrow to 20 feet in spots and reach as high as 2,000 feet.http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
How about bagging eight peaks of at least 4,000 feet, all on one trek? That's what the Presidential Range in New Hampshire's White Mountains offers, all connected by a 20- to 24-mile trail.
The highlight of this great hike, of course, is Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast at 6,288 feet and until recently the location of the highest recorded winds on the planet.
Some actually complete this trail in a day, but it's more enjoyable to do it over two or even three days and spend some time on each summit. Camping is allowed above tree line. The weather can be freakishly unpredictable and downright dangerous, so make sure to prepare for inclement weather and pack well.http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain/
How often do you get to hike past a glacier, visit old mining ruins, cross a mountain pass and ford a glacier-fed river? This spectacular 21-mile through-hike in the Chugach Mountains east of Anchorage offers all that and more.
You can tackle this one in either direction. The more popular approach is to head west from Girdwood, where a steady climb takes you to the top of Crow Pass. As you begin to descend, an incredible view down at Raven Glacier presents itself on the right.
Near the midway point you reach the Eagle River. There isn’t a bridge, so don't look for one. It’s time to hike up the pants, put on the water shoes, and wade into the bone-chilling river that could reach as high as mid-thigh. It's best to ford the river in the morning, before warmer temperatures increase the flow from the glacier.
Enjoy the waterfalls and wildlife for the final 10 miles, following the river as it cuts through a beautiful valley before making the short climb to the Eagle River Nature Center and a return to civilization.
It doesn’t get much more memorable than this. For a classic introduction to hiking in the Grand Canyon, try a 13.7-mile loop using the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails on the South Rim.
Take a shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead, where it’s a 6.5-mile hike and a 4,700-foot descent to the Colorado River and the bottom of the canyon. Cross the river via the Black Bridge, head southwest for almost a third of a mile and cross back using the Silver Bridge.
From there you can pick up the Bright Angel Trail, where it’s “only” a 4,360-foot climb back to the rim.
The hike is doable in a day if you’re in great shape. Better to plan on spending a night or two at one of several campsites at the bottom of the canyon.
“Raw,” “wild” and “rugged” are some common adjectives used to describe this stretch of towering cliffs and lush valleys along the beautiful, windswept Kauai coast.
You’ll want to leave three days for the 22-mile round trip. Better yet, leave three weeks, it’s so achingly picturesque.
Start at Ke’e Beach, where you’ll leave the day hikers behind after a couple miles. You’ll pass tropical jungles, cascading waterfalls and beautiful deserted beaches to reach the end of the trail at Kalalau Beach, where you can set up camp right on the beach.
Parts of the trail run along a cliff and can be steep and slippery, so use caution.
This 4,935-acre park in southwestern Virginia has nine trails, all two miles or shorter. But string them together and you have a spectacular hike that offers something for just about everybody. Scenic vistas, alpine meadows, panoramic waterfalls, rugged mountain outcroppings, spruce forests and a 200-year-old cabin — it’s all here.
You also can connect to the Appalachian Trail and additional hikes in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, where you can climb the 5,729-foot Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia.
There’s also no shortage of plant and animal life, including an abundance of wildflowers and even wild ponies grazing on the range.
What could be better than camping on the beach in Southern California? The recently completed Trans-Catalina trail on this jewel of an island off the coast of Los Angeles is a great hike that provides plenty of opportunities to do just that.
The 37-mile trail takes you from Avalon, the main port on the southeast end of the island, to the isolated terminus on the northwest end. There are five campgrounds along the way — three of which are right on the water — giving you plenty of options to tailor the trek to fit your timeframe and fitness level.
Consider yourself warned, there’s not a lot of level ground on the entire island. The highest point on Catalina is only 2,097 feet, and the trails between campsites are only five to seven miles long, but some of the climbs are pretty steep.
Chuck Scott is a freelance editor and writer with 30 years of experience in sports journalism. He is also an avid backpacker and camper.