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15 of the Most Iconic Hikes in the World

The planet is crisscrossed with epic trails, from the Alps to the Andes. There are snowy summit trips for fleet-footed peak-baggers, long and leisurely rambles for wildlife lovers, and everything in between. While the options are almost infinite, here are a few epic hikes to add to that ever-expanding life list.

1. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

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One of the planet’s Seven Summits, 19,341-foot Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain on Earth—and Africa’s loftiest peak. Despite the distinction, the glaciated summit is accessible courtesy of a number of a non-technical routes, leading climbers through five distinctly different climate zones. On the path to Uhuru Peak, trekkers traverse a lowland rainforest inhabited by colobus and blue monkeys, ascend the scrubby montane moorland of the Shira Plateau, cross hulking glaciers, and catch glimpses of the megafauna-loaded grasslands of Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. At basecamp, vividly colored tents dot an unearthly moonscape, and climbers rest in the shadow of toothy 16,893-foot Mawenzi.

2. Table Mountain, South Africa

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While the flat-topped mesa soaring above Cape Town is accessible by cable-car, the climb to the apex of 3,569-foot Table Mountain is one of the planet’s most spectacular treks—and a must-do for a visit to this dynamic city. Routes to the top of the 500 million-year-old massif treat ascending climbers to panoramic vistas of the pointed peaks of the Twelve Apostles, the azure water of Camps Bay, knobby Lion’s Head, and Cape Town’s bustling City Bowl. There are plenty of half-day routes to the mesa’s highest point, Maclear’s Beacon, including the three-hour slog through Skeleton Gorge, allowing hikers to encounter Cape dwarf chameleons, stealthy caracals, and vibrantly colored sunbirds. The climb can also be done as a multi-day trip along the Cape of Good Hope Trail or the Hoerikwaggo Trail, beginning at Cape Point.

3. Te Araroa Trail, New Zealand

Meaning "the long pathway," in Maori, New Zealand’s 1,864-mile Te Araroa Trail is the Kiwi version of America’s Appalachian Trail. Bookended by the Pacific Ocean, between Cape Regina and Bluff, the route runs through the heart of New Zealand, traversing both North and South islands and leading backpackers through a staggering diversity of landscapes: sun-drenched coastlines, subtropical rainforests, snow-dusted alpine passes, and river-braided glacial valleys. The epic trek also showcases many of New Zealand’s geological gems, including the Southern Alps, famed backdrop for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the still-active Tongariro volcano.

4. Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

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Besides Everest, the most idolized Himalayan foray is Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit. The nearly 130-mile route horseshoes the Annapurna range’s sea of glaciated summits, capped by 26,545-foot Annapurna I. The high-altitude tour takes hardy trekkers through highlands terraced with rice paddies, across surging whitewater rivers, through shadowy rhododendron forests, over otherworldly mountain passes, and past Buddhist gompas and Hindu shrines. While backpackers on the circuit must tackle challenges like 17,768-foot Thorung La, the route is dotted with cozy tea houses affording creature comforts like brief but heavenly hot showers and steaming plates of dal bhat, a traditional meal of steamed rice and cooked lentil soup.

5. John Muir Trail, California

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Named for legendary naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, the John Muir Trail strings together two of California’s most spectacular natural wonders: the Yosemite Valley and 14,496-foot Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. Tracing the spine of the High Sierra, the 211-mile route moseys through three national parks and two federally designated wildernesses, leading hikers through a landscape of high peaks and passes, glassy alpine lakes, and sun-drenched mountain meadows. The trail skirts Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, and showcases natural wonders like the Devil’s Postpile National Monument and Evolution Basin in Kings Canyon National Park. Plus, hikers have ample opportunity to encounter black bears, mule deer, and curious marmots along the route.

6. Four Pass Loop, Colorado

The most photographed spot in Colorado, the snow-stripped twin peaks of the Maroon Bells are best celebrated on the epic Four Pass Loop through the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. The aptly amed 26-mile circuit begins at turquoise-toned Maroon Lake, just west of Aspen, and takes backpackers over four alpine passes each higher than 12,000 feet, across airy meadows dusted with wildflowers, through spruce forests and copses of white-barked aspen, and past backcountry waterfalls and peak-framed lakes. Besides the Maroon Bells, the Elk Mountains sampler also provides trekkers the chance to gape at a handful of celestial fourteeners, including Pyramid Peak and Snowmass Mountain.

7. Beara Way, Ireland

Ringing Ireland’s wind-pummeled Beara Peninsula, a 48-mile sliver of land bisected by the Caha and Slieve Miskish mountains, the Beara Way provides a quintessential taste of the Emerald Isle and forms part of Ireland’s longest hiking trail, the Beara-Breifne Way. The 122-mile trek cobbles together bucolic country lanes, highland tracks, and ancient roads, offering a glimpse of the peninsula’s colorful past. Following the path taken by Beara’s last chieftain, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare, as he fled hotly pursuing Elizabethan troops in 1603, the Beara Way takes trekkers past Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, through charming towns, and over craggy highlands. Fortunately, the lung-taxing climbs and knee-grating descents are greeted with panoramic vistas of the rugged coastline, including the shimmering waters of Bantry Bay, staging point for Theobald Wolfe Tone’s infamous but ill-fated 1786 rebellion.

8. Cotopaxi, Ecuador

One of the peaks in Ecuador’s Avenue of Volcanoes, 19,347-foot Cotopaxi soars above the high Andean páramo of Cotopaxi National Park. Although the peak is the second highest in Ecuador—and one of the loftiest active volcanoes on the planet—Cotopaxi is scalable without prior mountaineering experience. Ropes, crampons, and ice axes are required to reach the snow-capped pinnacle, but with the help of local guides (and after a quick hands-on introduction to mountaineering), the crater-pocked peak is reachable for most reasonably fit trekkers. Along the way to the summit, hikers have the chance to spot wild horses, llamas, and spectacled bears (the ursine species credited with inspiring the fictional character Paddington).

9. Inca Trail, Peru

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The most celebrated trek in South America, this Andean excursion takes hikers from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, the stone-hewn urban center crafted by the Incas during the 15th century, a World Heritage site since 1983. Along the way to Machu Picchu, the 24-mile trek follows paths forged by the Incas more than 500 years ago, meandering through cloud forests studded with 300 types of orchids, over three cloud-shrouded mountain passes, and past pre-Columbian ruins. Stashed away at 7,972 feet, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is also a biodiversity hotspot, serving as an ecological corridor linking the Andes, Sacred Valley, and Amazon, and affording trekkers the opportunity to spot 370 different types of bird, including mammoth Andean condors.

10. Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia

Soaring above other peaks in Malaysian Borneo’s Crocker Range, 13,435-foot Mount Kinabalu is the loftiest summit in Southeast Asia. Gunung Kinabalu, as the peak is known in Malay, is also the country’s first World Heritage site, a global hotspot for flora and fauna. The mountain’s ecosystems harbor more than 5,000 types of plants, over 300 species of birds, and 100 different mammals. Along the path to the granite-tipped summit, which typically takes two to three days round-trip, lush lowland rainforests give way to cloud-bathed montane and coniferous forests, providing the chance to spot orangutans, Bornean gibbons, and long-tailed Bornean Treepies. The mountain’s six different vegetation zones also support a thousand different orchids and five endemic species of carnivorous pitcher plants, including the largest on earth, Nepenthes rajah.

11. Tour du Mont Blanc, Western Europe

While scaling 15,781-foot Mont Blanc requires extensive mountaineering knowhow, more casual hikers can still get an eyeful of Western Europe’s loftiest summit from three different countries—France, Italy, and Switzerland—on the Tour du Mont Blanc. The 105-mile route rings the entire snow-frosted massif, traipsing over seven alpine passes, past storybook alpine hamlets, along colossal glaciers, and through wildflower-freckled meadows. Besides the spellbinding scenery, the Tour du Mont Blanc also provides a snapshot of regional culture, taking hikers through historic locales like medieval Courmayeur. Best of all, while physically taxing, the route is scattered with cozy alpine huts, affording plenty of opportunity to swap freeze-dried fare for fondue.

12. Torres del Paine Circuit, Patagonia, Chile

The classic Torres shot #TorresDelPaineCircuit

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Towering above the guanaco-grazed steppes of Chilean Patagonia, the trio of granite pillars dubbed Torres del Paine comprise one of the most iconic massifs on earth. The blue-hued granite cathedral tops out at 10,656 feet and crowns Torres del Paine National Park, a former sheep estancia declared a World Heritage site in 1978. Backpackers can gape at the granite monoliths from every angle imaginable along on a circuit trek on the national park’s non-technical trails. The more heavily trafficked ‘W’ configuration can be done in less than four days, while the more extensive ‘O’ circuit, takes about a week. Despite the rugged landscape of glaciated granite peaks, raging rivers, and iceberg-strewn alpine lakes, the Torres del Paine circuit can be done without forgoing creature comforts by cobbling together a route linking the park’s cozy refugios.

13. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii

Take me to the mountaintop #kalalautrail #napalicoast #kauai

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Showcasing Kauai’s rugged Nā Pali Coast, where fluted mountains meld into the glistening Pacific Ocean, the Kalalau Trail is among the most spectacular coastal treks on earth. But, the 11-mile trek is no walk on the beach. Between Ke’e Beach and Kalalau Beach, the trail winds through five different valleys, across more than a half-dozen streams, and along precipitous cliff sides, including a vertiginous stretch aptly dubbed Crawler’s Ledge, for the hikers duly daunted by the 500-foot drop. Grit and determination are mandatory, but trekkers are rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the Pacific and gems like the 300-foot Hanakapi’ai Waterfall. While the 22-mile out-and-back trip can be done in a day, the route is scattered with stunning camping spots, like the area near 1,400-foot Hanakoa Falls, about halfway through the trek.

14. Mount Fuji, Japan

Located southwest of Tokyo, the solitary summit of 12,388-foot Mount Fuji is one of the planet’s most recognizable peaks. Dormant for just over 300 years, the snow-dusted stratovolcano has served as an artistic muse for centuries, revered as one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains. Religious pilgrims have been scaling the sacred mountain since ancient times, and the climb remains exceedingly popular. Climbing season for Mount Fuji only runs from the beginning of July to the end of August, but more than 300,000 trekkers make the approximately six-hour trip every year. While there are celestial views on the way to the summit, the trek has the distinction of being one of the few climbs on the planet that is more cultural experience than wilderness excursion. Each of the four routes to the top offers mountain huts peddling food and drinks, and there is even a post office at the summit where you can drop a postcard to a lucky recipient.

15. Sunshine Coast Trail, British Columbia

Rambling along the wild Sunshine Coast in southwest British Columbia, the Sunshine Coast Trail is a less-frequented alternative to the West Coast Trail. Built entirely by volunteers and maintained by the non-profit Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, the 112-mile trail ambles from Desolation Sound to Saltery Bay, taking trekkers through old growth rainforests roamed by black bears, grey wolves, and cougars. Wildlife watchers also have the chance to spot the blubbery bodies of Stellar sea lions and harbor seals along coastal stretches of the trail, and the route’s highest point—4,821-foot Mount Troutbridge—is a hotspot for seafaring marbled murrelets. Best of all, the Sunshine Coast Trail is Canada’s only free hut-to-hut track, with no reservations or permits required.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Stig Nygaard

The 10 Best Hikes in Boulder

It’s so secret that Boulder boasts a wealth of top-notch hiking. The foothills and mountains above town represent the eastern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, rising up to elevations more than 8,000 feet—meaning a great workout is almost guaranteed if you’re starting from Boulder, which is roughly 5,400 feet above sea level. Meanwhile, the mesas and plains in east Boulder offer mellow terrain rich in history and ancient geology.

Here, a look at 10 of the best day hikes in Boulder—once you’ve knocked these off the list, there are many others to discover! For detailed maps and directions, check out Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks website.

1. Mount Sanitas

Difficulty: Moderate

Time to Hike: 2 hours

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Mount Sanitas is a favorite among locals for both its views and ability to provide a serious workout.

James Tiffin Jr.

It’s easy to see why Mount Sanitas is Boulder’s most popular mountain. Despite a modest elevation of 6,843 feet, this beloved hike is a real-deal workout with more than 1,300 feet of elevation gain. Spacious views of Boulder, sprawling plains, and Denver to the east are complemented by the dramatic panorama of the Indian Peaks to the west. The 14,255-foot Longs Peak dominates the mountainous skyline from the summit of Mount Sanitas.

The classic Sanitas loop features steep sections mixed with flat, shady, segments. Take the 1.1-mile Mount Sanitas Trail to the top, descend the 0.7-mile East Ridge Trail, and return via the Sanitas Valley Trail for 1 mile. For a more gradual ascent, the Lion’s Lair Trail is a smooth, shady 2.9-mile trail (one-way) to the top, ideal for runners (though be aware dogs aren’t allowed on this trail; they’re allowed on the other Mount Sanitas trails).

2. Green Mountain

Difficulty: Moderate

Time to Hike: 3-4 hours

There are several ways to the top of 8,150-foot Green Mountain. The standard hike begins at Gregory Canyon and ascends roughly 3.2 miles to the top (there is a slight detour for dog traffic at the halfway point that can tack on an extra 0.2 miles). Take the Gregory Canyon Trail to the Ranger Trail for a tour that features remnants of the powerful floods that hit Boulder in 2013. From the top, hikers can link over to neighboring peaks via the Green-Bear trail. There is a fun, easy rock scramble to the summit of Green Mountain. If you’re looking for a unique way up Green, try going up Chapman Drive (a dirt road converted to a non-vehicle hiking/biking path) and connecting to Green by crossing Flagstaff Road at Realization Point. However you reach the summit, be sure to check out a metal disc on the summit shows the names of distant mountains that’s a Boulder icon in its own right.

3. Bear Peak

Difficulty: Moderate-to-hard

Time to Hike: 3.5-4.5 hours

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A brief boulder scramble awaits hikers on the way to the summit of Bear Peak.

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At 8,459 feet, Bear Peak is the second-highest of the trio of the "Guardians of the Flatirons" peaks above Boulder’s famous rock structures, but it has the most exposed summit, complete with unobstructed 360-degree views. The three standard routes up Bear are Fern Canyon, Shadow Canyon, and the West Ridge. All are rugged trails with switchbacks, stone-stairs, steep segments, and passage through recent burn zones. To reach the summit, a brief and easy scramble with excellent hand and footholds awaits along iron-rich, red rock. On a clear day, hikers can see from Pikes Peak to Long Peak and the full range of the Indian Peaks in between. Linking up to nearby South Boulder Peak is a good option, as the hike between the two only takes about 20-30 minutes one-way.

4. Marshall Mesa

Difficulty: Easy

Time to Hike: Whatever You Like

Marshall Mesa in south Boulder has a network of trails that interconnect from the suburbs to the east all the way to the 8,000-foot peaks to the west, so your hiking day can be as long or short as you like. This modest mesa has incredible views of the Flatiron Rock formations, especially from the highpoint on the Greenbelt Plateau Trail. Besides the natural beauty, hikers can check out the towering windmills south of the trails or take in the twinkling lights of Boulder at twilight. There are informational plaques along the way that share the area’s geological and mining history.

Marshall Mesa offers a great family trek, trail run, photography playground, and casual hike, though it can get a bit hot in the summer due to a lack of shade. To connect to the western trails, a tunnel under Highway 93 on the Community Ditch Trail offers safe passage to the open grazing lands leading to the foothills.

5. South Boulder Peak

Difficulty: Moderate-to-hard

Time to Hike: 3.5-4.5 hours

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You just might have South Boulder Peak to yourself, as it’s the least visited summit above the Flatirons.

Bochen Chen

A 8,549 feet, South Boulder Peak is the tallest of the summits above the Flatirons, and yet it’s the least-visited of the three. The standard route takes the Shadow Canyon Trail to the saddle between Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak, where ghostly stands of trees and charred ground remain from recent wildfires. Follow a winding trail through a high forest to the boulder-strewn summit, but note that views to the east will be blocked by pine trees. Many hikers link Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak for a two-fer—or add in Green Mountain for a three-fer, using the Mesa Trail below the Flatirons to loop back to the South Mesa Trailhead, where all the fun began.

6. Sugarloaf Mountain

Difficulty: Moderate

Time to Hike: 1.5 hours

Even though it stands at 8,917 feet, it’s easy to miss Sugarloaf Mountain. Its bare summit blends into the undulating land between Boulder and the Indian Peaks, and it’s just far enough from downtown Boulder (roughly a 20-minute drive) to remain less popular than easier peaks. The large parking area is located at the convergence of the Sugarloaf Mountain Road and the dirt-road Switzerland Trail. The mostly unmarked but obvious trails start to the west of the parking lot and ascend a mile on a rocky but never-too-steep trail that gets better the closer you get to the top, where views are perhaps the best in Boulder County. Sugarloaf’s mountain community resembles a Swiss village, while expansive city views to the east and mountain views to the west highlight Sugarloaf’s station between worlds. This is an excellent winter hike on a bright, blue January day, as the snow adds a lot of character to the landscape. Sunset hikes are encouraged in the summer.

7. Joder Ranch

Difficulty: Easy-to-moderate

Time to Hike: 1-2 hours

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A newer trail system in Boulder, Joder Ranch offers a four-mile out-and-back route and little foot traffic.

OK Commuter

Joder Ranch is one of Boulder’s newer trail systems, and its eponymous hike is a simple, 4-mile out-and-back that ascends a ridge and descends into a formerly "secret" portion of Boulder Open Space that connects with Olde Stage Road. It’s this second half of the trail that is worth the visit, though the initial views from Joder Ranch will likely provide a vantage of Boulder most have not seen before. The west side of the ridge is a peaceful, shady, pine forest with a few open meadows and plenty of solitude. Wildlife sightings are common, including black bear and deer. Mountain bikes are allowed on the trail, though traffic is fairly light by both two-wheel and foot traffic. To get there, access the interim trailhead off Highway 36 that has parking for about a dozen vehicles.

8. Flatirons Vista

Difficulty: Easy

Time to Hike: At Your Leisure

Another family-friendly destination with excellent views, Flatirons Vista is the sister-mesa to Marshall Mesa. Both can be connected either by crossing the tunnel under Highway 93 at Marshall Mesa or the road crossing that connects the Greenbelt Plateau Trailhead and Flatirons Vista. There are lots of loop options, though it’s worth taking the 1.5-mile Flatirons Vista-North Trail to the wooded Dowdy Draw Trail. This trail switchbacks down a hillside with impressive views of Boulder to the north. Hike back up, loop through the still forest of the Flatirons Vista-South Trail for an excellent one- or two-hour walk in the woods and over the plains.

9. Walker Ranch

Difficulty: Moderate

Time to Hike: 3-4 hours

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Walker Ranch offers hikers a 7.6-mile loop through meadows and forests.

Scott McLeod

Walker Ranch’s full loop is 7.6 miles and starts just near the highest point of the ranch. Hikers descend roughly 600 feet to South Boulder Creek, where the rushing water can be particularly powerful in the spring. Passing through meadows and forests, the loop eventually reaches a rocky outcrop where a steep, sustained staircase accesses the second half of the loop (watching mountain bikers haul their bikes up these steps is quite interesting). There’s no better direction to go most of the time, though on hotter summer days it makes sense to descend to the right (counterclockwise) so you aren’t hiking on the sunny, exposed hillside as much. Be careful with afternoon lightning storms in the summer and autumn, as the start and finish of the loop is fairly exposed.

10. Betasso Preserve

Difficulty: Moderate

Time to Hike: 1-2 hours

Betasso Preserve is a popular mountain biking destination, but on Saturdays and Wednesdays it’s closed to bikes—so if prefer your hikes without getting buzzed by hard-charging riders, aim to go on one of those days. The Canyon Loop Trail explores a portion of the old Betasso Ranch, with open meadows, shady pine forests, and small creeks running through the property. Hikers who want a longer day can tack on the 3-mile Benjamin Loop (and the 0.75-mile connector, one-way, between the two) to explore more deep forests, dotted with the occasional open view. Many species of wildlife call this area home, including fox, black bear, coyote, and skunk. Dogs are welcome but must be on leash at all times.

Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Bochen Chen

Mountain Biking at Joshua Tree? Exploring the Desert View Conservation Area

I’m not a fan of the phrase “hidden gem.” Beyond its rampant overuse, it’s not often all that accurate; most trails, peaks, or swimming holes either aren’t really that hidden or aren’t really gems. There’s no shortage of hyperbole on the internet these days, it would seem.

But hidden in plain sight, just outside Joshua Tree National Park, is a small cluster of mountain bike trails with no signs, no parking lot, no crowds, no trailhead kiosk with a map, almost no trace that they exist at all. Pedal into the rocks and sand here, though, and you’ll stumble upon a place that truly qualifies for that tired old saying.

Lurking just off-trail are pointy things that want to hurt you. Trust me, I checked.
    Jeff Bartlett
Lurking just off-trail are pointy things that want to hurt you. Trust me, I checked.
Jeff Bartlett

Like most U.S. National Parks, Joshua Tree doesn’t allow mountain biking on singletrack (IMBA maintains a list of exceptions). Neither does the nearby Sand to Snow National Monument, nor the Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness, nor the Sheephorn Valley Wilderness, nor… well, you get the idea. Mountain bikers who find themselves at this fascinating transition between the Mojave and Colorado deserts also find a notable lack of locations to mountain bike.

Enter Jima Reed and the Joshua Tree Bike Shop, who have invested their time to maintain and improve an existing network of faint trails in a place the local BLM office calls “Section 6,” or (perhaps more poetically) the Desert View Conservation Area.

Just two miles from the town of Joshua Tree and literally adjoining the national park itself, Desert View features a network of dusty roads popular with off-roaders, a smattering of dispersed campsites, and the aforementioned offering of nearly-indiscernible MTB trails.

I showed up at the bike shop on a Wednesday afternoon, introduced myself and asked where to go ride. I didn’t expect much of an answer; many folks would rather their backyard trails stay secret, and I don’t blame them. Unexpectedly, not only was Jima happy to talk about which I’d likely enjoy, he had a map for me to take along.

These trails feel natural and suit the landscape well. 
    Jeff Bartlett
These trails feel natural and suit the landscape well.
Jeff Bartlett

The first time I tried to follow that map, my 2.3” tires bogged down in a series of sand traps, I hiked back to the road across a sand wash and managed to step directly on a cactus. I loved it immediately. There are only 5 or 6 miles of singletrack here, but most of the trails ride well in both directions, and the doubletrack criss-crossing throughout the area creates plenty of opportunities for different loops and link-ups.

It’s rare to find this much adventure in a trail system with so little total mileage. Mountain bike trails are often confined to sterile-feeling “bike parks” full of sculpted berms and roller coaster trails churned out by machine, but Desert View is a tiny slice of raw, backcountry riding.

Intermediate trails like Bad Manor, Southridge, and Long May You Run serve up a surprising amount of flow while snaking pleasantly through rocky outcrops. But the advanced trails, including Sidewinder and the blissfully-jagged Django, deliver a kind of gritty, occasionally-awkward technical riding that rewards precise front wheel placement and the ability to bend your bike around corners. I bonked my way around on a steel hardtail and felt right at home.

Most of the riding here is rocky, but not overly technical. 
    Jeff Bartlett
Most of the riding here is rocky, but not overly technical.
Jeff Bartlett

Most of the beginner trails, including the enticing-sounding Luge Trail, and many of the roads (especially on the north side), are too sandy to attempt unless you have a fatbike or 27.5+ tires. I don’t, and I found the intermittent sand traps to be the most challenging part of riding here, so I tried to stick with the rockier options.

Likewise, in lieu of signage of any kind, don’t ride here unless you’re comfortable with navigation. MTB Project and Trailforks are a good start, but many of these trails are easy to ride right past without even seeing them.

I spent a month working remotely from Indian Cove while trying to prepare for a 60-mile mountain bike race, which means I had the chance to log quite a few miles at Section 6. I came away with a genuine affection for the place, despite having the tip of a hedgehog cactus spine still lodged in the arch of my right foot. It’s a unique style of riding amid a unique landscape.

You can't ride trails in the National Park, but Desert View features similar landscapes. 
    Jeff Bartlett
You can't ride trails in the National Park, but Desert View features similar landscapes.
Jeff Bartlett

I’d love to see the California BLM work with local mountain bikers to develop this system further, giving area cyclists somewhere to ride in what’s otherwise a blank spot on the map. As Jima told me, “those trails keep on giving as you ride.”

Editor’s Note

Joshua Tree National Park’s official site says the following in regard to mountain biking: “The park’s Backcountry and Wilderness Management Plan designates approximately 29 miles of trails for non-motorized bike use, however, the new trails cannot be used until Congress gives its approval.” This article is NOT about riding mountain bikes in the National Park. RootsRated Media does NOT condone illegal riding on trails which are not open to bikes!

Written by Jeff Bartlett for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Jeff Bartlett

The Desert Adventure Bucket List: 9 Challenges in the 9 Cities of Greater Palm Springs

When it comes to planning outdoor adventures, often times the desert gets overlooked. Contrary to the dry and desolate perception, deserts can offer a plethora of diverse landscapes and wildlife, especially in the Greater Palm Springs area. To the east, you have the large boulders and strange-looking palms of Joshua Tree National Park; to the west, the looming Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain Ranges; and to the south, the Salton Sea, one of the world’s largest inland seas that sits atop the San Andreas Fault. No matter your adventure, we’ve listed the top nine trails, oases, and preserves to explore surrounding this desert valley.

1. Palm Springs: Skyline Trail (Cactus to Clouds)

The Skyline Trail, which begins in Palm Springs, features some amazing sunrise views.
    Craig Pulsipher
The Skyline Trail, which begins in Palm Springs, features some amazing sunrise views.
Craig Pulsipher

There’s a reason Backpacker Magazine ranked this trail the fifth hardest hike in the U.S. This roughly 17.5-mile trail starts at the desert floor near the Palm Springs Art Museum’s parking lot, and from there gains 8,000 feet within the first 12 miles and another almost 3,000 feet in the last 5.5 miles to San Jacinto Peak—hence its other given name “Cactus to Clouds.” Once you’ve reached the summit, you’ll have an incredible 360-degree view of the valley and parts of Southern California. A tramway at the ranger’s station at Mile 12 can be taken for a $12 ride back down. Since this is considered a difficult hike, it’s highly recommended to start as early as 3 a.m. to avoid the desert heat and to bring plenty of water.

2. Cathedral City: Dunn Road Trail

You'll find several popular mountain biking trails in the desert landscape around Cathedral City
You'll find several popular mountain biking trails in the desert landscape around Cathedral City

Orin Zebest

The Dunn Road Trail is a popular mountain biking route that connects to several other trails within the Santa Rosa Mountain Range such as the Hahns Buena Vista Trail, Fern Canyon Trail, and Art Smith Trail. The easiest access point to Dunn Road trailhead, though, is at the southwest corner of Cathedral City at the intersection of Channel Drive and Carroll Drive. Much of the trail consists of hard-packed dirt with some loose crushed granite ideal for mountain biking. However, be prepared to tire slide as this trail meanders up and down through some small sand washes.

3. Rancho Mirage: Chuckwalla Loop

The Chuckwalla Trail is a good option for a trail run.
The Chuckwalla Trail is a good option for a trail run.

Brian

If you’re looking for a mild trail run through the desert, the Chuckwalla Loop in Rancho Mirage is a good place to start. It’s a 1.2-mile loop that offers scenic views of the surrounding town and connects to the Roadrunner Trail that will loop you toward Cathedral City, and back around the Mirada Villas ending on the east side of Frank Sinatra Drive.

4. Palm Desert: Art Smith Trail

You may spot bighorn sheep grazing while out on the 8-mile Art Smith Trail.
You may spot bighorn sheep grazing while out on the 8-mile Art Smith Trail.

Michael Dorausch

The Art Smith Trail is an 8-mile out-and-back trail that goes through several palm oases. Although it’s only accessible from March to October, that’s also the most beautiful time to hike when an abundance of wildflowers are in bloom—you may even spot bighorn sheep grazing among the plant life. About 5 miles in the trail intersects with Hahn Buena Vista Trail near Dunn Road, where picnic tables sit overlooking the valley below. If traversing the trail on foot isn’t your style, it’s also open to horseback riders.

5. Indian Wells: Eisenhower Mountain

Eisenhower Mountain is a strenuous climb, but not as long as Cactus to Clouds.
Eisenhower Mountain is a strenuous climb, but not as long as Cactus to Clouds.

Eric

Nestled where the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountain ranges meet, Eisenhower Mountain overlooks both Palm Desert and Indian Wells. In order to access this trail, you’ll have to go through The Living Desert Zoo where a 4-mile trail covered in thick desert brush at the back of the preserve will lead you along the rocky edge of the mountain. At the top, you’ll be able to spot San Jacinto Peak in the west. Plus, it’ll be a much shorter and less strenuous summit climb than Cactus to Clouds.

6. Indio: Coachella Valley Preserve

The Coachella Valley is home to the Thousand Palm Oasis, and impressive display of green in the desert.
The Coachella Valley is home to the Thousand Palm Oasis, and impressive display of green in the desert.

Brian

About 20 minutes north of Indio, near Indio Hills, sits a 3,709-acre protected area called the Coachella Valley Preserve, home to the Thousand Palm Oasis, which is sustained by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault. Lush desert palms and oases are abundant in this protected area, along with more than 25 miles of hiking trails. Trails include: McCallum, Hidden Palms, Moon Country, Pushwalla Palms and Willis Palms trails.

7. La Quinta: La Quinta Cove to Lake Cahuilla Trail

The Lake Cahuilla Trail offers some stunning landscapes.
The Lake Cahuilla Trail offers some stunning landscapes.

Joe Decruyenaere

Instead of driving to Lake Cahuilla, located at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains, take a 2.5-mile hike through the desert wilderness from the La Quinta Cove to Lake Cahuilla. With 91 individual and group campsites at the lake, you could even make a mini backpacking adventure out of it, or make a detour onto the Boo Hoff Trail, a 7.5-mile loop around the lake that eventually makes its way back to the cove. Pack a swimsuit and some fishing poles too, for some leisurely lakeside fun.

8. Coachella: Painted Canyon

If you’ve ever driven east to Coachella for its famous date shakes, then you most likely didn’t realize you were passing by this desert gem near Mecca. About 40-minutes south of Coachella you’ll find the Painted Canyon, a high-walled, narrow gorge with pink, red, brown, and green canyon walls and unique geological formations. But what makes this canyon especially worthy of exploration is the Ladder Canyon Hike. Ladders are placed throughout the slot canyon to enable hikers to climb up and down into the canyon. The 4.3-mile loop gives hikers a unique view of colorful mineral deposits and views of the Salton Sea.

9. Desert Hot Springs: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is another desert oasis worth visiting.
The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is another desert oasis worth visiting.

Bob Wick, BLM

Another desert oasis, the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian habitats in California. Located among the San Bernardino Mountains, it's about a 30-minute drive north of Desert Hot Springs. At 31,000 acres, elevation ranges from 600 feet on the canyon floor to 3,000 feet along the ridge. It combines two desert ecosystems: the Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert. The canyon is surprisingly lush with marshes and contains six main trails, each less than a mile, that run through the core of it. It also forms the most northwestern tip of Joshua Tree National Park.

Written by Emily Polachek for RootsRated in partnership with Greater Palm Springs CVB.

Featured image provided by BLM

How to Spring Clean Your Outdoor Gear

After getting home from spending time in the great outdoors, whether it’s a day hike or weeklong camping trip, the last thing anyone feels like doing is cleaning their gear. All too often, exhaustion and procrastination win out, and people tend to stuff their dirty, grimy gear in the far corner of a garage only to discover that, come spring, their tent or backpack has become a Petri dish of nasty stuff. To make matters worse, people often store gear in places where heat and humidity, rodents, and cold temperatures can degrade or even destroy fabrics, stitching, glue, and other components.

If that scenario sounds familiar, fear not: With a little know-how and elbow grease, you can save your trusty tent and hiking boots from a similar fate. Here’s what to know about spring cleaning your outdoor gear, plus insider tips on how to give your backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and footwear a little TLC before you hit the trail this season. You might want to use your Turtle Shell 3.0 waterproof Bluetooth speaker to help the time fly by.

Backpack Care

Cleaning

So, your backpack smells like a locker room trash can. The odor is likely due to sweat, dirt, and that food bag you forgot to empty—all of which not only stink, but can shorten the life of your pack. Another damaging element? Salt from sweat, which can corrode the metal in zippers and breaks down nylon fabrics.

But cleaning your backpack involves a bit more than just tossing it into the washing machine. In fact, don’t even think about doing that: The agitation from a machine can break down fabrics as well as foam in hip belts, shoulder straps, and back panels. Also, straps can get twisted in the components of a top-loading washer.

Instead, first vacuum out dirt and debris. Then, add a delicate detergent to warm water and use a sponge or cloth to wipe the pack down. Some pack manufacturers also recommending avoiding hot water or spot removers, as these can damage the fabric.

As you clean your pack, examine the zippers, which can fail if they’re jammed with dirt and debris. You can vacuum out the dirt, or scrub zippers with a soft nylon brush (like a toothbrush) and cold water.

After you wash the bag, don’t put it in the dryer, either: The heat levels are too intense and can break down fabrics and foams. A good way to dry your pack is to stuff it with newspapers and hang it in the shade.

Storing

Once you’ve cleaned your pack, store it in a cool, dry place, and hang it if possible. Don’t leave your pack on the garage floor, because standing water or other liquids like engine oil could seep into the pack and damage it. Also, if your pack is on the floor, mice can chew through the fabric while searching for crumbs.

Tent Care

Check your tent zipper for holes in the fabric from abrasion or snags, and be sure to clean the teeth of gunk or dirt build up.
Check your tent zipper for holes in the fabric from abrasion or snags, and be sure to clean the teeth of gunk or dirt build up.

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Cleaning

When you return from camping in the rain, it’s critical to dry your tent to prevent mildew and fungus from forming. The primary problem is that these elements will damage coatings on tent fabrics. Plus, they’ll make the tent stink.

If you do get mildew, it’s very difficult to remove it completely, but you can treat it with a mixture that includes non-detergent soap and one cup each of salt and lemon juice, plus one gallon of hot water. Use this solution and a soft nylon brush to scrub the interior and exterior of the tent as well as the fly. Next, dry the tent in the sun. As with packs, you shouldn’t put your tent in a dryer because excessive heat will damage the fabric and coatings.

Storing

It’s fine to store your tent in its stuff sack. The primary concern is to prevent the tent fabric from being exposed to heat and sunlight over a long period of time. If you pitch your tent in the backyard for a campout with the kids, for example, don’t leave it up for weeks at a time. As with your pack, it’s best to store the tent in a cool, dry place off the floor.

Sleeping Bag Care

Front-loading machines are better for washing down products, especially your sleeping bag. Marcus Woolf
Front-loading machines are better for washing down products, especially your sleeping bag.
Marcus Woolf

Cleaning

During an extended camping trip, a sleeping bag can get pretty ripe. When you get home, use non-detergent soap, water, and a soft brush to clean dirty spots on the shell. Don’t forget to clean the interior of the hood and collar where oil from your body can collect.

If your bag is really grimy, it’s best to wash it at a laundromat, because front-loading machines there won’t agitate the bag as much as your home machine. Also, commercial machines are larger and clean the bag more thoroughly than smaller home machines. It’s important to never wash a bag in a top-loading machine with an agitator, because it could rip the bag and stress fabrics and seams. Also, don’t dry clean a down bag, because the process can break down natural oils in the insulation.

At the laundromat, use cold water, a gentle cycle, and either mild soap or a special cleaning solution designed specifically for down insulation or synthetic insulation. While cleaning the bag, you can also use a special spray to restore its DWR (durable water repellent) coating. You can usually find the cleaning solutions and DWR spray at an outdoor gear store.

Storing

You shouldn’t store your bag in its small stuff sack, because over time compressed insulation will lose its loft and its ability to keep you warm. Many bag manufacturers supply a larger net bag for long-term storage, or you can hang the bag in a large cotton sack or even a large pillowcase.

Footwear Care

Somes shoes are beyond repair, but cleaning and drying footwear properly can extend the life of your gear. Marcus Woolf
Somes shoes are beyond repair, but cleaning and drying footwear properly can extend the life of your gear.
Marcus Woolf

Cleaning

Over time, dirt, mud, and sand can deteriorate the leather in boots and shoes and cause wear and tear on the fabrics and stitching in synthetic footwear. So, to properly care for your boots and shoes, within a day or so of returning from a trip, clean them with a brush and water or a cleaner that the manufacturer recommends. Avoid using detergents and bar soap, because they can harm leather and waterproof membranes in footwear.

Drying and Storing

When drying footwear, remove the outsoles and let them air out. It’s best to dry footwear in the house, because you want a cool, dry place that’s not especially humid (especially important in the hotter months in Alabama). If you want shoes or boots to dry faster, put them in front of a fan and stuff them with newspaper. Avoid drying them next to a heater, which can harm the glue and leather in footwear. Also, shoes or boots can break down more quickly if you store them in a place with extreme temperatures or poor ventilation, such as a garage, attic, or the trunk of a car.

If you plan to hike with fairly old shoes or boots, examine them and take them for a test run before you embark on a big trip. Over several years, the glue used to secure the outsole of shoes can simply break down, especially if you’ve kept them in a garage or unconditioned storage facility. We’ve seen outsoles peel off a pair of old boots while a hiking partner was ascending a pass deep in the Sierra Mountains. Though it might make for a good story later, it’s no fun to hike with blown-out boots wrapped in duct tape.

Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.

Featured image provided by Doug Letterman

5 Ways to Trek Through Time in Death Valley

Death Valley became a national park on October 31,1994 as a result of the passage of the California Desert Protection Act. But its history goes back much further: The 3.4-million acre park is a land of wonder for fans of both geological and human history.

Here in this stark desert in Southern California, the passage of time is etched into the landscape itself. It’s evident in the seemingly endless stretches of white salt flats that hint at a time when the desert was covered in water. It’s written in the petroglyphs on the golden walls of canyons. It’s whispered through the gaping mouths of long-abandoned mine shafts perched high on mountainsides.

For outdoor adventurers, Death Valley presents an opportunity to hike and camp among some of the most fascinating history in California—and the West. From the Pliocene Epoch to the modern age, here are five ways to travel through time in this unforgettable destination.

Hike to a Paleontological Wonder

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Death Valley’s famous “sailing stones” may get most of the attention, but elsewhere in the park, ancient fossils can be found.

John Fowler

Geologists tout Death Valley as a dream come true, and their enthusiasm is definitely not an understatement. The mysterious sailing stones of The Racetrack may get all the hype in Death Valley, but the real wonder exists in a place few people will ever go.

In a canyon along Badwater Road (the National Park Service does not publicly disclose the name or exact location), an incredible array of fossils from the Pliocene Epoch lies untouched. Tracks from mastodons, camels, horses, cats, and ancient birds are spread across five square miles. These relics were left in the mud approximately five million years ago when Death Valley was more verdant. The mud hardened into rock and the tracks were preserved.

Individual travel into the canyon is prohibited, but once a year the park holds a paleontology tour where a ranger will lead groups of 15 on a seven-mile round-trip hike to the site. To be considered for a spot on the tour, you can enter the lottery, which typically opens in December.

Learn About Native American History

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Native Americans were the first to make their way through the region, dating to 900 A.D.

Dan

Death Valley’s history is often closely linked with the daring men and women who crossed the valley in 1849 in search of gold. But long before white pioneers discovered the area, the Timbisha Shoshone, who continue to live in the park today, were already thriving in Death Valley, with a history that dates to 900 A.D. They lived along the low valley floor during the cooler winter months and migrated up to the high country during the hot summer. They sought out underground springs, hunted mule deer with bows and arrows, and harvested native vegetation.

During the Gold Rush in 1849, however, pioneers disturbed their peaceful way of life, cutting through the desert, damaging water and food supplies, and essentially pushing the Timbisha Shoshone out of their homeland. Though the U.S. would later declare peace between invading pioneers and the natives, they did not relinquish land to the tribe until 1936, when the park service gave them 40 acres of desert at Furnace Creek. Today, there are about 50 people living at the site, including elders who teach younger members of the tribe the native language.

To experience the history of the Timbisha Shoshone, you can look for petroglyphs in places like Titus Canyon or pictographs in sites like Panamint City. Keep in mind that the location of many petroglyphs is kept secret, so if you come across petroglyphs in the backcountry, do not publicize their location.

You can also learn more about the Timbisha Shoshone by visiting the village in person. For just a few dollars, the Timbisha Shoshone Taco Shack will serve you a heaping plate of ground beef, beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese on top of traditional frybread.

Walk in the Footsteps of a Pioneer

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Manly Beacon is a testament to William L. Manly, a Gold Rush pioneer who crossed the valley in 1850.

Tom Babich

Zabriskie Point is possibly the most photographed site in Death Valley, but it was catching a certain pioneer’s eye long before it was showing up on Instagram. Manly Beacon, the jagged, shark-tooth shaped rock formation that anchors the badlands, was named for William L. Manly, a Gold Rush pioneer who crossed the valley in 1850. He used the sharp peak as a waypoint on his numerous trips through the vast desert.

In addition to visiting the site that guided Manly, you can hike to the spot where Death Valley supposedly got its grim name. High above Zabriskie Point, on the other side of the valley, the Arcane Meadows sit on a ridgeline at 9,642 feet along the trail to Telescope Peak. It was in this windswept spot that a group of pioneers, having suffered death and illness on their journey across the land, looked back at the desert and said, “Goodbye, Death Valley.”

Visit a Mine

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Relics that illustrate the area’s mining history, old mines are a common site throughout Death Valley.

Alisha Vargas

As a result of Death Valley not becoming a national park until 1994, mining was allowed for more than 140 years. If you’re hiking through a canyon or driving along a backcountry road in the park, it’s not uncommon to see relics from this time.

Mining began in Death Valley in 1848 with the discovery of gold, but the park’s most famous export is far less glamorous. Borax was first mined in 1883 and continued to be mined until 2005, when the Billie Mine, located on the road to Dante’s View, was closed.

Mining ruins are located throughout the park, but the easiest place to see them is at Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek. Harmony Borax Works was famous for using 20 mule teams to haul approximately three tons of borax a day from 1883 to 1888. If you’d like to hike among the ruins of a gold mine, visit the newly reopened Keane Wonder Mine. The remarkably well-preserved site dates back to 1907 and features an aerial tramway that once moved 70 tons of gold per day down the steep mountains.

Explore the Macabre Side of Death Valley

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Death Valley is a treasure trove of historic spots and landmarks, some creepier than others (like this rusted Dodge truck that once belonged to Charles Manson).

Adam Haydock

The foreboding name, ominous ravens circling the valley, and deadly summer temperatures aren’t the only macabre things about Death Valley. For a brief period in the late 1960’s, Charles Manson and his so-called family called the park home.

Located deep within the western Panamint Mountains, the ruins of the Barker Ranch still remain. You’ll need a seriously rugged 4×4 high clearance vehicle if you want to drive to the site, but the journey can also be made on foot by way of a rough dirt road that cuts through the Goler Wash. Originally, the Barker Ranch was owned by ranchers who built the stone cabin in the 1930’s and sourced water from a nearby spring. They later sold the ranch to the Barker family, who rented it to Charles Manson in 1968. His cult moved in, believing that there was a secret underground cave beneath the mountains that he and his followers would hide out in after the world descended into chaos as a result of their murders.

Dubbed the “Demon of Death Valley,” by Time magazine, Manson explored the park by dune buggy and was eventually arrested for auto theft. When the police raided the Barker Ranch, he was found tucked inside a bathroom vanity on the property.

In 2009, the Barker Ranch mysteriously burned down, but ruins are still visible to those willing to make the trek. If you visit, swing by the ghost town of Ballarat on your way into the canyon, where the eerie specter of Charles Manson’s 1942 Dodge Power Wagon remains, rusting in the desert sun.

Written by Krista Diamond for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Adam Haydock

6 Days, 80 Miles: Backpacking a Wild Section of the Pacific Northwest Trail

“Has it ever snowed on your birthday before?”

My husband’s question broke the tension. We were camped near Cathedral Lake on September 1, at mile 26 of the Boundary Trail, an 80-mile, 6-day section of the larger Pacific Northwest Trail that stretches 1,200-miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Olympic Coast in Washington State.

Having both hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014, we’d experienced a heavy wanderlust beginning to creep back into our day-to-days, so we decided to try out a section of one of the lesser known National Scenic Routes.

The section we chose is nestled in Washington's Pasayten Wilderness, just on the other side of the Cascade Range’s rainshadow and east of North Cascades National Park. We started from the official beginning of the Boundary Trail at the Iron Gate Trailhead, 20 miles northwest from Loomis, WA, before meeting up with the Pacific Northwest Trail near Horseshoe Meadow, 6.5 miles away. Over the next four days, the two trails overlapped, and we hugged the border between Washington State and Canada, often only a half mile to the north, before turning south at the Pasayten River for the final two days and 25 miles to reach our pickup location at Hart’s Pass.

Snow accumulating outside the tent.
    Laura Lancaster
Snow accumulating outside the tent.
Laura Lancaster

But Hart’s Pass was still a long way away on that second night, and with the snow coming down hard, we wondered if we had bitten off more than we could chew. We were also nervous because while the first leg of the trail had been well-maintained and clearly signed, an eastbound PNT hiker had told us earlier in the day that the route would significantly deteriorate after Cathedral Lakes.

We rigged our sleeping pads and quilts together into a makeshift double bag and huddled together while looking at the maps, taking stock of our options in case we needed to bail out midway on the hike. As soon as it was dark we fell asleep to the barely perceptible sounds of snow accumulating on top of our tent.

The snow line visible above the trees along the Boundary Trail.
    Laura Lancaster
The snow line visible above the trees along the Boundary Trail.
Laura Lancaster

We got lucky on this trip: the next morning revealed that we had camped only 300 feet above the snow level. We were careful after that to plan our remaining days to end at lower elevation, and eventually finished our section hike on schedule at Hart’s Pass.

But that second night had set the tone for the rest of the trip. Basic expectations about backcountry travel were pushed to their limits on this section of the Pacific Northwest Trail: The path on the ground will match the map in my hand (spoiler: it didn’t). We aren’t the only ones out here hiking this trail (we went two full days at one point without seeing another person). September 1st is still summer (not necessarily in the North Cascades).

A trail sign along the Boundary Trail.
    Laura Lancaster
A trail sign along the Boundary Trail.
Laura Lancaster

Part of what makes this trail a special experience is how vividly it demonstrates the tug of war between man and nature to keep routes like this open at all. Sections of the Boundary Trail are freshly maintained and easy to follow while others have been almost completely swallowed back into the earth by fire, erosion, and time. We could see where blowdowns had been cut back from the trail over the years, but there were still hundreds and hundreds of fresh logs to scramble around and over during 20+ miles of trail during the third and fourth days of our hike.

Bridges were blown out at every major crossing, and others just concrete supports.

What used to be a bridge is now a gnarled carcass of wood.
    Laura Lancaster
What used to be a bridge is now a gnarled carcass of wood.
Laura Lancaster

At times, the trail became a faint shadow that we followed by feel as much as sight, with an occasional cairn to keep our spirits up.

At others, it would abruptly disappear.

A burned out section of the Boundary Trail.
    Laura Lancaster
A burned out section of the Boundary Trail.
Laura Lancaster

For some, the challenges of this hike will outweigh the rewards. But if you’re looking for something wilder, far from the grid and away from the crowds of the Olympics or Alpine Lake Wilderness area, then this might just be the trail for you.

Hike this trail for its wide open spaces, winding mountain ridges, expansive vistas, and remote stands of trees. Standing on Bunker Hill on the fourth day, the high point of the trail and the midway point of our hike, my husband and I watched a landscape that had bright blue skies and storm clouds and rain and sun and snow all at once. Fortunately for us, the clouds broke when we reached the top and the sun shone brightly down. We knew we were staring out at Canada, but this deep in the backcountry those manmade distinctions shifted to the background and we felt that we were staring out at endless, untouched wilderness. Then the weather shifted again and in a matter of minutes it was snowing. Time again to get to lower elevation.

Heading onto a 'trail-less' section of trail.
    Laura Lancaster
Heading onto a 'trail-less' section of trail.
Laura Lancaster

For my husband and I, even after hiking thousands of miles together, this was also a trail that taught us about our limits. How good our route-finding skills were. How fast we could travel in rougher terrain. Our capacity for having non-stop wet shoes and socks.

Toasting one another with hot buttered rums after we reached Hart’s Pass never felt more earned.

Plan Your Hike

  • Mileage: 80 miles
  • Permits: Self-register at the trailhead.
  • Daily average: My husband and I comfortably average 20 miles a day over average terrain, but managed only 15 miles a day on the Boundary Trail. Plan for slower days than you would normally to account for the rougher conditions.
  • Gear: This is not the trail to test out your new ultralight tent. You may go days without seeing another person on this trail, even during the high season. Bring gear you trust, and be ready for any and all weather. You will likely do some damage to your shell layer while scrambling over blowdowns in the rain (or snow), so I recommend carrying lightweight, inexpensive Frogg Toggs.
  • Maps: Maps are a must. Get Green Trails Maps 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 50. That being said, it appears to have been some years since these maps were last updated, so be aware that some manmade landmarks are no longer there. This includes the cabins along the Pasayten River, as well as a short section of trail leading south on the west side of the river, which has disappeared entirely. After the crossing, check at your maps and travel south beneath the embankment a couple hundred yards from the river and you’ll find it again within a half mile. The five miles of trail leading to the Ashnola River also appear to have been rerouted since these maps were last updated.
  • Navigation: Unless you are very comfortable with cross-country navigation, I highly recommended that you bring a GPS with you. It is possible to hike the trail without it, but this will provide considerable peace of mind.
  • Transportation: Travelling east to west seems to be most common, so as to avoid ending (and possibly having to hitch) out of the more remote Iron Gate trailhead. This means that getting to the Iron Gate trailhead will be the toughest logistical challenge of your hike. I recommend that you start currying favor with your friends and family several months in advance. Despite it’s remote location, the Hart’s Pass trailhead and campground is fairly popular, and it’s a safe bet that you’ll be able to hitch out, especially if you time your hike to end on a summer weekend. Alternately, an extra 25+ miles of relatively straightforward hiking south on the Pacific Crest Trail would allow you to exit at Rainy Pass.
  • Exit strategy: We followed the conventional wisdom on this hike and left the Boundary Trail just after the Soda Creek crossing and headed south to the medley of trails that intersect near the ranger cabins at the abandoned Pasayten Airstrip, foregoing the section of the trail that has a long history of disrepair out to Ross Lake. Another option would be to follow the Boundary Trail out to Castle Pass where it connects with the Pacific Crest Trail, which would also give you an opportunity to take a short detour (3.7 miles one-way) to the remote northern terminus of the trail.
  • Pacific Northwest Trail hikers: PNT thru-hikers are like rare birds—seeing one out in the wild is a real treat. And unlike the more popular Pacific Crest Trail, there isn’t a strong trail magic culture along the PNT. If you can, bring along a small treat to share in the event you meet a thru-hiker along the trail.

Written by Laura Lancaster for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Laura Lancaster

4 Southern California Hot Springs for Backpackers Only

Southern California is a hotbed of geothermal activity and plate tectonics, which can have the effect of creating an ever-creeping dread of the inevitable earthquake. But instead of living in perpetual fear of the “Big One”, outdoor-loving types in SoCal can take advantage of the plus side of an active geothermal region—proximity to an abundance of hot springs.

And—bonus for backpackers—several of these magical spots are only accessible via hardy hikes, which is a great way to weed out hordes of tourists, not to mention beckon a worthy reward for miles on the trail and the resulting achy muscles.

So, for a resplendent escape from the sprawl and bustle of the Los Angeles area, grab your backpack and bathing suit and hit the trail to explore these four incredible hot springs in Southern California—Mother Nature’s best day spas.

1. Sespe Hot Springs

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Just two hours from Los Angeles, the Sespe Hot Springs feel worlds away.

Kara Kieffer

Located just two hours from Los Angeles, north of the vineyard town of Ojai, Sespe Hot Springs are tucked deep into the Sespe Wilderness. Despite their proximity to a major metropolitan area, these hot springs feel indefinitely wild. The Sespe Wilderness area features soaring white sandstone cliffs, long bare bluffs, and Sespe Creek cutting through the center. This area is also home to bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and some of the last remaining condors in California.

The springs themselves bubble from the rock face at several points along the valley floor. The farther you walk up valley, the hotter the springs will be—until you reach the top spring, which boasts some of the hottest water in California. (It’s been measured at 194 degrees Fahrenheit, so be sure to dip in a toe beforehand to avoid a serious scalding.) The tubs at Sespe are built into the creek with natural stones that form small pools. Find your ideal soaking spot by scouting down creek until the temperature is just right. Set up camp along the sandy valley floor near the water.

Getting into Sespe Hot Springs provides its own fun challenge. The most straightforward way is to hike 19.5 miles from the Piedra Blanca trailhead on the western side of the wilderness. This route passes by the disappointing Willet Hot Spring—a rubber cistern in the ground that’s filled with algae—as it follows the Sespe Creek. While this route is by far the longest, it has minimal elevation gain and access to water almost constantly.

An alternate (and more fun) route is to follow the Johnson Ridge Trail from the northern trailhead. This route follows an exposed ridge 9.5 miles down to the hot springs, giving hikers a commanding view of the Sepse area, a downhill approach to the springs, and nearly half the distance. However, the Johnson Ridge Trailhead must be reached by the unpaved Grade Road, which may cause some sedans to struggle (an SUV or all-wheel-drive vehicle is a better choice.). Plan your visit during the fall through spring, as the summer months can be brutally hot.

2. Iva Bell Hot Springs

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A moderate hike will lead you to six pools of the Iva Belle Hot Springs, located near Mammoth Lakes.

Kara Kieffer

Sprinkled outside of Mammoth Lakes, these are perhaps some of the most well-developed backcountry hot springs, with everything needed for a great weekend retreat. Six pools are scattered around numerous flat camping areas complete with their own fire pits; a year-round creek tumbles through camp, too.

The Iva Bell springs are delightfully free of any eggy sulfuric smell, with clear water, and temperatures in the low 100s. The springs cascade down a hill in disjointed pods with the upper springs the smallest and least developed but hottes. The three lower pools are large enough to fit eight people each, with water that comes to about mid-thigh.

Plan your trip for the summer months as the road the Red’s Meadow is closed during the winter. Remember that permits are required, but there are also a handful of walkup day permits you can snag at the Mammoth Visitors Center.

From Mammoth Lakes, take the $7 Red’s Meadow shuttle and get off at the last (#10) stop at Red’s Meadow. Leaving Red’s, you will follow the Carter Creek Trail 11 miles as it first winds its way along granite hills, before dropping almost 1,000 feet into deep forest as you descend toward Fish Creek Valley. Once you’ve reached the creek, follow the trail left up the valley to reach the springs after another three miles. These springs are accessible year round, though they are easiest to access during the spring through early fall months.

3. Jordan Hot Springs

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Jordan Hot Springs is serene nowadays, despite being a developed resort prior to 1990.

Kara Kieffer

Jordan Hot Springs stands unique among its backpacker-only brethren for being the only hot spring on this list that was once a developed resort. Prior to 1990 and the creation of the Golden Trout Wilderness, visitors could pay to have themselves and their stuff shuttled down to the hot springs via horseback.

But now the only way in is hiking. To access Jordan Hot Springs, start at the Black Rock ranger station on the southern end of the Golden Trout Wilderness. From the ranger station, follow signs six miles and 3,000 feet down, through pine forest that meanders along a creek. Once the trail begins to mellow you’ll come out into a clearing that has a large fire pit and several dilapidated buildings from the time the spring was a commercial venture.

From the campground, the springs are just a few hundred feet down the trail. They are made up of a seven-person pool, a warmer single-person pool, and a trough that’s perfect for washing your feet in. Spring and fall are the best times to visit, with a small crowd likely on busy weekends.

4. Kern River Hot Spring

The Kern River Hot Spring is an outdoor paradise: a single spring flowing into three pools along the shores of the Kern River, below massive towering cliffs surrounded by a thick forest of pine trees, with waters ranging from 100-115 degrees, situated along the shores of the Kern River. But it also requires some serious effort to get to. Furthermore, in researching these springs online you’ll find many people pointing to the Remington Hot Springs, which—aside from being the wrong springs—are often crowded, situated right along a road, and can attract some less-than-savory characters.

The most popular way to get to the Kern River Hot Springs is by hiking the High Sierra Trail hitting the springs along the halfway point of your trek around mile 36. However, if doing a 72-mile thru hike of the HST isn’t feasible, there is another way to approach the springs.

The shortest means of getting into the Kern River Hot Springs is via a 20-mile hike—with close to 6,00 feet of gain—departing from Mineral King Ranger station, heading over Franklyn Pass, and then descending along Rattlesnake Creek toward the Kern River and following the river to the hot springs. While getting to the Kern River Hot Springs is by no means an easy feat, the scenery alone, especially around Mineral King, is an enticing way to explore some of the lesser explored sections of Sequoia National Park.

This hike requires a permit, which can be reserved online through the National Park Service, or can be obtained as a walk-up permit. The best window for attempting this hike is late spring through early fall, when you can take advantage of the warmer temperatures and the snow-free trail.

Written by Kara Kieffer for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Tobin

4 Reasons to Hike North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell in the Winter

Thousands of years ago, when extreme cold gripped the North American continent, flora and fauna most suited to northern latitudes migrated south, covering what is now North Carolina. As the cold retreated and temperatures climbed, the trees and animals more suited to warm weather returned. Except, that is, for those living on the highest peaks in the state.

Like islands of alpine forest in a sea of temperate climate, the rounded precipices of North Carolina’s loftiest mountains still have look and feel of their Canadian counterparts—none more so than Mount Mitchell, standing 6,684 feet above sea level.

Coated in crystalline frost even while surrounding valleys are bathed in relative warmth, Mount Mitchell is among the best places in North Carolina to experience a real winter wonderland. Here we offer four reasons to brave the fickle conditions on the East’s loftiest peak during its harshest months.

1. You’ll earn serious bragging rights.

Bent trees and horizontal ice formations tell the tale of powerful winds that frequently sweep across the top of the mountain.
    North Carolina State Parks
Bent trees and horizontal ice formations tell the tale of powerful winds that frequently sweep across the top of the mountain.
North Carolina State Parks

Hiking to the top of the highest peak east of the Mississippi is a formidable goal any time of year. But in winter, when the Frasier fir trees are dusted with snow and a brutal wind forms sideways icicles, hearty hikers gaining Mitchell’s summit become part of a special club.

The Mount Mitchell Trail is the most popular summit route in the state park. This 6-mile, one-way trail begins at the Black Mountain Campground and wanders through several distinct biomes on the way up. Mountain laurel and rhododendron line lower elevation creek beds. Mountain maple, spruce, and birch trees crowd for sunlight midway up, while the last remnants of an alpine fir forest cap the final stretch.

The Black Mountain Range, a 15-mile stretch of peaks anchored by Mount Mitchell, stands high enough to affect the weather. Temperatures have dropped to minus 34 degrees while wind gusts of more than 170 mph have been recorded at the peak—and it’s important not to take a winter day here lightly. These conditions certainly add to the challenge, but also to the accomplishment.

2. It’s a different world in winter.

“Post-holing” through a heaping layer of snow can make the already challenging hike to the top of Mount Mitchell a real beast.
    North Carolina State Parks
“Post-holing” through a heaping layer of snow can make the already challenging hike to the top of Mount Mitchell a real beast.
North Carolina State Parks

During spring, multi-hued flowering bushes line babbling creeks on the mountainside. Songbirds fill the trees and lush vegetation buffers the trail in an expansive green carpet.

But winter brings an entirely different mood to Mount Mitchell. There are no songs from the forest now; just the crunch of your footsteps on frozen trail reverberating off weathered tree trunks. On a rare, still day, there is no other sound. On a typical day, however, the whistle and howl of wind overhead surrounds you.

Down low, at the beginning of your hike, branches are coated in a heavy snow. Nearer to the peak, horizontal ice formations and bowed trees are static reminders of punishing winds. Where a blue haze might limit views in the summer, clear winter days provide vistas of frosted peaks up to 80 miles away. It’s a special kind of serenity that only a winter hike affords.

3. You’ll savor plenty of solitude.

The challenge of climbing some 3,600 feet to the top of Mt. Mitchell may be substantial, but in good weather it’s a common undertaking. No surprise, then, that the Mount Mitchell trail can be heavily trafficked in summer. And at the top, where a large parking lot sits adjacent to the snack bar and museum, families and groups of motorcyclists can crowd the view.

In winter, however, the snack bar and museum are closed for business. Difficult road conditions, school schedules, and the tough climate keep many visitors at bay. The quiet of the trail continues all the way to the top. It’s a memorable outdoor adventure not possible on busy summer days, making the wind-burnt skin and cold toes well worth it.

4. You’ll find plenty of post-hike happiness nearby.

An 800-degree stone oven provides the tell-tale char on the crust at Fresh Pizza and Pasta. Don’t want it? Just let them know when you order. 
    Rob Glover
An 800-degree stone oven provides the tell-tale char on the crust at Fresh Pizza and Pasta. Don’t want it? Just let them know when you order.
Rob Glover

A winter exploration of Mount Mitchell will chill your bones and burn some serious calories. These days are made for hearty craft beer and huge, wood-fired pizza.

This perfect one-two punch awaits in the quaint town of Black Mountain, due south of Mount Mitchell. Begin with a stop at Lookout Brewing. This nano-sized brewery crafts the full range of flavors, from a crisp IPA to a soul-warming stout. There’s nothing fancy about the place, just true-to-style brews and a comfortable atmosphere to knock them back in.

When you step out of the taproom, follow your nose across the road to Fresh Wood Fired Pizza and Pasta. Settle into this cozy restaurant and watch while bubbly-crusted pizzas are pulled from an 800-degree stone oven. (The typical pie comes with a charred crust which creates a wonderful flavor, but you can ask them to leave it un-charred if you prefer.) The calzones are the size of a small RV and the beer selection is admirable. Leaving hungry, even considering your incredible effort earlier in the day, is unlikely.

If You Go:

  • Check the weather report before setting out. It changes quickly here, and being caught in a blizzard with howling winds is no joke.

  • Bring your hiking poles for this trek. They can provide a lot of support on an icy trail.

  • Check the park website for closures. The park staff works hard to clear roads, but they may shut down for a day or two after a heavy snow.

Originally written by RootsRated for OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by North Carolina State Parks

3 Amazing Weekend Backpacking Loops in the Smokies

Across Great Smoky Mountains National Park, miles of interconnected trails meander through lush, green valleys, hug the banks of moss-laden, rocky creeks, and climb through thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron to the blue-tinged mountain peaks.

You could spend weeks backpacking through this rich landscape, but a weekend trip will also allow you to experience the best of the Smokies. To help you plan your visit, we’ve highlighted three backpacking loops that give you the Appalachian Trail, streamside and ridgeline campsites, killer views, and enough distance and elevation to satisfy your inner weekend warrior. Don’t forget your Turtle Shell 3.0  waterproof Bluetooth speaker.

Big Creek Loop

Combining the best of frontcountry and backcountry camping, the Big Creek area on the northeastern tip of the park off I-40 offers something for every level of hiker. Tackle a 21.5-mile loop over big peaks or lower your mileage and elevation with a night at one of the sweetest creekside campsites in the park. Either way, you’ll hike the AT through some of the most scenic terrain in the Smokies.

You will be in constant awe of the beauty on Big Creek Loop.
You will be in constant awe of the beauty on Big Creek Loop.

Rock/Creek

Roll into Big Creek Friday night to enjoy campground amenities like restrooms, dinner at a picnic table, and campsites with fire rings. You’ll be up early on Saturday to climb the Chestnut Branch Trail 2 miles to the Appalachian Trail. One of the shortest AT access points, the trail passes the remains of homesteads that pre-date the national park.

Turn south on the AT and continue climbing 3.3 miles to the 0.6-mile Mt. Cammerer fire tower spur trail. At 4,928 feet, the tower overlooks the Pigeon River Gorge to the north and Mt. Sterling to the south. From the fire tower, it’s a moderate descent 2.1 miles to the Low Gap Trail. Take Low Gap 2.5 miles to campsite #37 at the Big Creek Trail junction. Right on the banks of Big Creek, you’d be hard pressed to find a more spacious backcountry site in the park.

On Sunday, you can go big or go home, as they say. Going big means a hike up the Swallow Falls Trail 4 miles to the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail. It’s another 1.4 miles and more climbing to an elevation of 5,842 feet on Mt. Sterling. Climb Sterling’s 60-foot steel fire tower for panoramic views of Cataloochee Valley, the Black Mountains, and the Southern Appalachians. Now, the downhill endurance test begins, with a 4,000-foot elevation loss over 6 miles on the Baxter Creek Trail. If you opt to go home, you can sleep in, savor your coffee by the campfire, and still have plenty of time to hike the moderate, 5-mile descent along Big Creek back to the campground, passing two stunning waterfalls and plenty of swimming holes along the way.

Big Creek loop ends with a 4,000-foot elevation loss over 6 miles on the Baxter Creek Trail.
Big Creek loop ends with a 4,000-foot elevation loss over 6 miles on the Baxter Creek Trail.

virgntn2011

Big Creek Campground is open from April through October and makes a great base camp for groups by serving a wide variety of abilities and interests. On your way home, make sure you leave enough time to refuel at Carver’s Apple Orchard in Cosby, Tenn. At Carver’s you can shop for fresh produce at the farmers market, nab awesome treats at an old-time candy shop, and feast at a homestyle restaurant, where the apple fritters are not to be missed.

Twentymile Loop

In the southwest corner of the Smokies you’ll find a lesser-used trailhead that leads to the AT and one of the most scenic balds in the park. From this trailhead, you’ll log 17.6 miles on the way to Gregory Bald, sleeping one night on the AT and camping the other night on the bald.

Start off Friday afternoon at the Twentymile Ranger Station off Highway 28 near the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. A non-technical climb takes you 4.5 miles to meet the AT at Sassafras Gap. Campsite #113, at Birch Spring Gap, is less than 1 mile north of the trail junction. If time allows late Friday or early Saturday morning, head south on the AT for 360-degree views at sunset or sunrise from the top of Shuckstack Fire Tower. The historic lookout isn’t regularly maintained, so watch your step on the 200-foot climb to the top.

In the southwest corner of the Smokies you’ll find the lesser-used Twentymile Loop trailhead.
In the southwest corner of the Smokies you’ll find the lesser-used Twentymile Loop trailhead.

Chris M Morris

You’ll resume your northward journey on the AT, traveling 2 miles over Doe Knob to the next trail junction. Next, take Gregory Bald Trail west a little more than 3 miles to campsite #13 on the bald. Known for spectacular flame azalea blooms each year in mid to late June, the grassy high-elevation meadow offers stunning views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, and Clingmans Dome.

On Sunday, make the final 6.3-mile descent to the trailhead on the wide, non-technical Wolf Ridge Trail. Refuel at Fontana Village, just over 6 miles down Highway 28, before heading home. Burgers and brews will hit the spot at Wildwood Grill, while the Mountainview Restaurant highlights seasonal produce, along with fresh, local rainbow trout.

Deep Creek Loop

Along Deep Creek loop you’ll pass Indian Creek Falls.
Along Deep Creek loop you’ll pass Indian Creek Falls.

Alan Cressler

Enjoy the streams and waterfalls of the Deep Creek area in the south-central region of the Smokies on this 28.2-mile loop. You’ll also spend a night in an AT shelter and exit on one of the longest continuously descending trails in the Smokies.

You’ve barely left the Deep Creek Ranger Station before you come across Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls. Once you pass these Instagram-worthy stops, it’s a slight uphill grade for 4 miles along the moderately rocky Deep Creek Trail to campsites 54-59. Claim a site for Friday evening (all but one are non-reservable) to enjoy the refreshing waters of Deep Creek and thickly wooded campsites.

Creek crossings and easy bushwacking are on the agenda Saturday, as you hike another 4 miles to the Fork Ridge Trail. Fork Ridge ascends 5 miles to Clingmans Dome Road and the AT. A short hike north takes you to the Mount Collins shelter, where you’ll spend the night in a high-elevation spruce-fir forest and dramatically cooler, drier conditions. Enjoy the shelter amenities, like cozy bunks and a fireplace inside.

Hike down from Clingmans Dome Road to start your final 11.4-mile descent.
Hike down from Clingmans Dome Road to start your final 11.4-mile descent.

Kevin Stewart Photography

The pre-dawn hike south to Clingmans Dome is highly recommended for 360 degrees of sunrise from the highest point in the Smokies. Hike 2 miles down Clingmans Dome Road to the Noland Divide Trailhead to start your final 11.4-mile descent. The trail slopes gently for the first 5 miles before making a steeper drop into Deep Creek, but there are few roots and rocks to slow you down. Make sure you stop to enjoy the views at Lonesome Pine Overlook along the way.

After logging all those miles, nothing’s going to taste more satisfying than a meal and craft beer at The Warehouse at Nantahala Brewing Co. Wrap up your Smokies adventure on the outdoor patio in downtown Bryson City with specialties like the slow-cooked brisket noodle bowl, apple bourbon pork chops, or Bryson City Brown Ale chicken along with a flagship or seasonal draft.

Originally written by RootsRated for OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Kevin Stewart Photography