MUST DO HIKES

The summer is all too short and you are busy. If that sounds familiar, we are looking out for you. Welcome to our list of the six single best hikes, peaks and backpack trips for busy folks. If you only have the time to do just one… we can tell you which one to do. 

The Big DAY HIKE
Scarps Ridge Loop, Crested Butte, Colorado

What You Get: Dramatic alpine scenery, breathtaking vistas, plentiful wildflowers, waterfalls and a respite from mountain bikers and Texans.

Do It: If you’re looking for a relatively fast and accessible escape from the mundane, try this extremely scenic six-mile loop, which gains about 1,250 feet. You’re sure to experience a shift in mindset as you meander up and along the base of the Ruby Range where Ruby Peak and Mount Owen dominate the landscape. Cross a creek and keep an eye out for a few rambling cascades on the rock faces to your left shortly before you reach tree line. Though your hike begins on a 4WD road, once you hit the tundra, a faint trail guides you to the ridgeline where you are greeted with astounding views of rocky cliff bands, Blue Lake, Afley Peak (12,646 feet) and the inspiring Oh-Be-Joyful Valley which stretches out 2,000 feet below. From Scarp Ridge, continue toward Gunsight Pass and follow the trail to loop back to Lake Irwin.

The Epic TRAVERSE

The Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

What You Get: Remarkable scenery, superb campsites, abundant wildlife, tons of options to significantly shorten or lengthen the journey.

Do It:  This 35-40-mile point-to-point route, which links Teton Pass to String Lake visits glimmering alpine lakes, well-known passes including Hurricane and Paintbrush Divide, open meadows bursting with color and craggy mountaintops as it romps along the toothed spine of the Teton Range. Intrepid hikers willing to undertake this five-to-six-day journey, which rarely dips below 8,000 feet, are rewarded with neverending views of Jackson Hole, the Teton Valley, Death Canyon, Battleship Mountain, Cascade Canyon, Mt. Moran and countless other pinnacles. And, of course, when the sentinels of the park—Grand Teton (13,770 feet), Middle Teton (12,804 feet) and South Teton (12,514 feet)—finally come into view, they loom large, adding to the already ubiquitous, mesmerizing mountain scenery.

 

The Wild Ramble

Sweetwater Canyon, Wind River Range, Wyoming

What You Get: Utter solitude and quiet, trail-less terrain, a wilderness study area with little human intrusion, world-class fishing and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.

Do It:  Not far from Lander, vast, rolling plains give way to the high desert refuge of Sweetwater Canyon. Here, the Sweetwater River has carved through blocky granite walls to form rugged 500 foot walls and cliffs dappled with fissures and cracks. Spend two to three days wandering up to 20 miles cross-country through this isolated prairie canyon following your pick of game trails, pushing through brush and hiking across loose rocky slopes. As you drop into the canyon, take note of the southern Wind River Range looming to the east.  The river, which slowly snakes through this magnificent canyon, has excellent rainbow and brown trout fishing.  Take time to cast into the bountiful pools and riffles scattered throughout the crystal clear water and to wander up the many draws—lined with stands up aspen, willow and birch—leading into and out of the canyon. Wildlife including antelope, desert elk, sage grouse, hawks, falcons and prairie dogs call this canyon home, so stay alert and keep your camera handy.

The Thirteener

Mount Meeker, Rocky Mountain National Park, C0lorado

What You Get: Challenging scrambling, no crowds, postcard-perfect vistas.

Do It: Looking for a peak climb sans crowds? Then head to Mt. Meeker (13,911 feet), one of the state’s finest centennial thirteeners. This hike gently ascends through pine forest, crosses a babbling brook multiple times and spends most of its time above tree line. At 11,580, feet, you can rest at Chasm Meadows, a lush green magical spot bursting with wildflowers, with Meeker and its sister summit, 14,259-foot Longs Peak, towering overhead. The Loft Route—the classic way up this majestic mountain—is an exhilarating class 3 scramble that ascends a broad trough between a prominent rock band called the Ships Prow and the mountain itself. The final push to the summit—which stares straight at the top of Longs and serves up a big view of peaks and plains—requires route finding, traversing a narrow ledge, walking a thin ridge and climbing an exposed summit block to attain the pinnacle.  Though this mountain will push the limits of your lungs and legs, traveling amidst giant boulders, shifting earth and towering rock spires, feeds the soul.  While you’re alone, on a high between two great peaks, maybe you’ll agree that the fact that so many people dismiss Meeker “because it’s not a Fourteener” is both a blessing and a shame.

The Fourteener

Kit Carson Peak (and Challenger Point), Crestone, Colorado

What You Get: Breathtaking vistas; challenging (but fun), non-technical climbing and scrambling; enough exposure to scare you and inspire you.

Do It: The jagged high peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rise abruptly from the valley floor. These sentinels, including Crestone Peak and Needle stand out and rule the skyline from miles away making even the approach an awe-inspiring experience. The equally splendid, but less-often climbed Kit Carson consists of a giant and intricate massif containing Kit Carson Peak (14,165 feet), Challenger Point to the west (14,081 feet) and Kat Carson to the east (13,980 feet). The picturesque Willow Lake Approach brings you to their base via a spectacular, steady climb up a forested valley dappled with waterfalls. Below the headwall, you reach Willow Lake, a huge body of water nestled in a cliff-ringed rocky basin. The lake boasts serene, secluded camping spots and an exquisite cascade that plunges into its east end. Here the Crestones rise mightily overhead and views back down the valley improve with each step. The standard and exciting route to Challenger Point climbs a long steep rocky slope complete with enjoyable Class 2-3 scrambling. From Challenger, the route traverses across “Kit Carson Avenue,” a wide, adrenaline-inducing ledge around the south side of the mountain that leads to a tiny 13,940 saddle between Kit’s upper cliffs and its south ridge (called the Prow). From here, you scramble up a gully full of hand holds and grippy rock to reach the top where you’ll be greeted with rewards in every direction—take in Blanca Peak, the Sand Dunes, Pikes Peak and of course the Crestones themselves.

The Big Backpacking Adventure

The Elk Park-Needleton Loop, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado

What You Get:  Alpine lakes, endless vistas, 8,500 of elevation gain and a deep wilderness experience.

Do It: This strenuous, but outstanding 40-plus mile journey through the Weminuche, Colorado’s largest Wilderness Area, brings you through the heart of the rugged San Juan Mountains. This adventure—which we consider one of the best backpacking loops in North America—begins with a unique ride aboard the restored coal-powered Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to reach the Elk Park trailhead. From here, you’ll spend the next week pushing your legs and lungs and feeding your heart and soul on a well-defined trail that rambles along creeks, climbs through open flower-filled meadows, crosses the Divide (12,840 feet), Hunchback Pass (12,493 feet) and Columbine Pass (12,720 feet) and offers impressive views of Vestal Basin, the Vallecito Valley, Chicago Basin and countless peaks. You’ll pass radiant turquoise lakes, including Eldorado and Kite, which are great spots for fishing or lounging. Though you won’t share the trail with too many other folks, be prepared for a change once you reach Chicago Basin, since peak baggers gather here to tackle numerous fourteeners. If the spirit moves you, join them and spend a day or two climbing Sunlight (14,059 feet), Windom (14,082 feet) and Mt. Eolus (14,083 feet).  Once you’ve had your fill, enjoy the 7.5 miles downhill to reach the Animas River and Needleton, where the train comes to whisk you back to “civilization.”

Photos by Fredrik Marmsater.

WANT MORE? Head to this story on ElevationOutdoors.com where we feature four more Must-Do Hikes, including Capitol Peak (pictured above), Blue Lake, the Gore Range Trail and Wyoming’s Cloud Peak Wilderness.

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