Give me your best 3 hikes...please


Hi, as the title says I'm hoping to work a bit smarter and utilise local knowledge instead of endless reading.

Some back ground,
My wife and I are planning a 6 months tour of Western USA in the future. We will be taking in California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Eastern Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and BC. We are old hikers and have done up 16 days unassisted, and 21 with food drops. But that was in the old days, we now have kids and they will be 10 and 12 when the time comes. They will be reasonable at walking if all goes to plan, so really looking for your thoughts on what you consider the best 2 or 3 walks, two to seven days long. It also doesn't have to be something famous or well marketed, actually quite the opposite suits us. You could list your choice in preferance 1,2,3 if that helps. And it can be a section of a larger walk as well if possible to access. Please PM if you don't want others knowing, instead of not posting.

What I'm trying to do is walk up to a week once a month. Good luck I hear you say, 6 months and 9 states yeh right.
I know it's a tough call, we may even walk more but there is so much natural beauty in western US it's hard to know where to start. No doubt we will have plenty of day walks to various things, and we don't mind a bit of 4x4ing as well. Don't ask me how the MTBing, rafting, and canoeing fits in with all this.

I'm not opposed to a bit of exposure, or elevation, but obviously can't do really specie stuff as the kids will still be kids. Bears I can learn to deal with, but we are not afraid to be alone in the woods either.

Thank you, I hope you can help.
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Best Three Hikes


Here are three hikes we've done in the last couple of years that were inspiring. I won't recommend, nor discourage, these as hikes for your kids - you'd want to do some research on your own to evaluate that. #1 and #3 are summer hikes and #2 is a winter hike.

1. Sierra High Route - variation of part of middle section. Lake Sabrina Trailhead to Moonlight Lake via trail, then cross country to Echo Lake, over the Echo Col between Mount Wallace & Mount Haeckel down to Sapphire Lake. Short section of John Muir trail to NW end of Evolution Lake. Drop packs & climb the Hermit. Cross country passing west of Darwin Bench & east of lake 11092 to cross the crest via Snow Tongue Pass to Wahoo Lakes. Continue cross country across the Humphrey's Basin (you cross the Piute Pass trail here) to highest of the Humphrey's Lakes below Mount Humphreys. Climb Mount Humphreys. Continue cross country east of Forsaken and Desolation Lakes to Steelhead Pass dropping down to L Lake or Steelhead Lake. Continue cross country to Pine Creek Pass where you cross the Pine Creek Trail above French Canyon. Continue cross country to The 4th highest (& largest) of the Royce Lakes. Pass through Royce Pass & drop down a spectacular set of glacier polished slabs to Honeymoon Lake. Pick up the Italy Pass trail there and follow it east to the Pine Creek Trail and take that down to the Pine Creek Trailhead. The Hermit is 3rd / 4th class except for the final summit block (5.8 or 5.6 depending on which side you take). Mount Humphreys is exposed 4th to low 5th class. If you're not secure on that sort of terrain just skip the climbs and find something else around to scramble. The rest of the routes are all 3rd class or less, but do have some long stretches of serious boulder hopping. Here's a link to some photos ( Let me know if you'd like a gps track). Best season? We went in early September and it was great. Might be more crowded in August when on the trail sections. May could have a lot of snow (if it ever snows again in the Sierra...), June and July could have more mosquitos. Portions of this route require Forest Service Wilderness permits.

2. Big Bend National Park, Sierra Quemada. Start at the Blue Creek Ranch Trail Head. Take the Dodson Ranch Trail east to point south of peak 4817. Cross country into unnamed drainage south of the Blue Creek wash. Continue down this drainage east of peak 3902 to cross a branch of the Smoky Springs Trail east of Mule Ear Spring (you're briefly in Smoky Creek wash) and then cross country until you pick up a faint trail to Smoky Spring. Cross country E & ESE up drainage passing north of peak 4302 into the middle of three drainages up and over Jack’s Pass (not named on topos but is obvious pass west of Dominguez Springs and just north of peak 4660) then down to Dominguez Spring. From Dominguez Spring cross country up across the bench just west of Dominguez Mountain then drop down into the drainage that runs E & NE of peaks 4722 and 4310, cross a saddle & drop down past a spring, head east then north in the drainage that skirts just east of peak 4285. Continue up to the head of that drainage & drop into the drainage that intersects the Elephant Tusk trail where the trail starts up across slopes and a ridge to the Dodson Trail. Take the Dodson Trail west back to the Blue Creek Ranch Trail Head. Route finding for this hike is difficult and the country is remote, mostly without water, and getting lost would be serious. We plotted the route with topo maps and Google Earth and then used a GPS to keep us on track. Let me know if you’d like a GPS track. Here is a link to a map and photos ( All of this route requires a back country permit from the Big Bend National Park. This is definitely a winter hike as late spring, summer, and early fall temperatures would be too hot. No serious exposure on this hike, but skirting some pour-offs, lots of rocky ground, boulders, Lechuguilla agave, and thorny brush keeps you on your toes. We saw a lot of mountain lion sign and some bear scat. I’d recommend a rat sack or other means for protecting your food.

3. Wind River Mountains, Cirque of the Towers. Start at the Big Sandy Trail Head skirt Big Sandy Lake on the north shore to the Jack *** Pass Trail and take that trail to Lonesome Lake. From Lonesome Lake follow the western stream up into the Cirque of the Towers. Make a base camp and spend several days scrambling some of the most awesome mountains in the lower 48. We did War Bonnet, Warrior I & II, a traverse of Mitchell Peak, The Camel’s Hump, and several unnamed peaks in the region. Head back the same way you came in. There are lots of technical routes on all of the peaks around the Cirque, but you could spend a week on 3rd class (4th class also if you wanted) scrambles. We did about 23,000 vertical feet in the week were there. Here is a link to some photos ( Let me know if you’d like GPS tracks.

Howard Snell


Howard, You are a champion, thank you. This is exactly what I am after. When I read cross country my interest went through the roof. Gee I love a good cross country route, no trail, big pack, good topo, surrounded by serenity and wilderness is very hard to beat in my view.

I'm certainly keen on the Sierra High Route variation and The Wild River Mountains. Could I get your GPS logs for those please.
Could you also give me the names of the topo used, and perhaps the guid book you would buy to research it further if it's not the web. Also be good to know how many nights you spent on these trails.

I see you had helmets, was that just bit of protection for scrambling. Or did you take harnesses and gear.

I'm sure Big Bend is spectacular but I cant do everything and it is drifting further South than we intended.

thanks again


Hello Jason:

At the end of this message are some resources that I would recommend. All three of the books are very sparse, general descriptions. These are old school authors who thrive on exploration and discovery - thus their style is to provide the absolute minimum in descriptions which allows you to modify and discover on your own. The two websites have tons of posts and information - some of it good, and some of it not worth the electrons necessary to move it through the internet (just like any online posting resource).

I've placed gpx files here: so that you can download them. These are fairly large files as the logging GPS records frequently. If you use the logs to estimate distances you might take that into account and try reducing the number of points. Depending on the terrain the logs can be overestimates. The last day of the Sierra High Route trip descended a narrow canyon where GPS reception was poor. The lower end of that track is pretty poor.

On our Sierra High Route trip we spent 7 days/six nights out. Four of those were pretty big days and you might consider reducing the distance or ancillary activities (climbs) for your kids. The big days were Lake Sabrina to tarn above Echo Lake. Not a lot of distance here, but the elevation gain was stiff. We'd been high for quite a while before this so we were acclimated. Coming from lower elevations and hitting the trail immediately, I wouldn't go past Echo Lake and would probably recommend a first night on the granite slabs below Picture Peak and just below Hungary Packer Lake. Sapphire Lake to the western side of Snow Tongue Pass was a big day because we added a climb of the Hermit into the day. Humphreys Lakes over Steelhead Pass to L Lake was another big one, but that was because we climbed Humphreys in the morning. Our final day out, Royce Lakes to Pine Creek Trail Head via Royce Pass was another big one for us, but that was simply because we started out way too fast and bonked (we'd calculated our daily menu on 2,600 calories a day which was way too low). On this trip we took two helmets - whoever was leading lead without a helmet and two 2nds had helmets for rock fall. We had a 30m piece of lead rope, four cams, and a few nuts. Two harnesses (we switched them so that the 3rd waiting person was without a harness). I'd say all of that was necessary for Humphreys, you could do the Hermit and Picture Peak (among many others) without any gear, as long as you're willing to forego a few of the summit blocks. Don't underestimate the boulder fields below Snow Tongue Pass to the east and on the north side of Steelhead Pass. These involve up to an hour or more on sofa to school bus sized boulders. If you're used to that stuff you can flow across smoothly and quickly - otherwise they can be pretty demoralizing.

Our Wind River trip was nine days long, but it only takes one day to get in and one day to get out, so you can stay as long or as little as you like. We had a big group on that one and 2/3ds of the folks were pursuing multi-pitch trad routes so we had full racks and 60m ropes available. My partner and I only did one technical climb (East Ledges on Pingora) and the rest was scrambling.

Sierra High Route Resources:

Roper, Steve. 1997. The Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country, 2nd ed. The Mountaineers, Seattle.

Secor, R. J. 2009. The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes, & Trails, 3rd ed. (?). The Mountaineers, Seattle.

Topos: 1:24k quads – Mount Hilgard, Mount Tom, Mount Darwin, Mount Thompson.

Wind River Mountains / Cirque of the Towers Resources:

Kelsey, J. 2013. Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains, 3rd ed. Falcon Guides.

Topos: 1:24k quads – Lizard Head Peak, Temple Peak, Dickson Park, Big Sandy Opening.

Common Resources:

SummitPost (

Mountain Project (

Have a great trip!



Howard thank you again, I appreciate your time very much.

I guess it depends to some degree how these kids evolve. My son is a great climber and good on rocks as you'd expect, my daughter is not so willing but loves the outdoors. And we are more walkers than climbers ourselves. We have done some lower grade stuff but I'll leave the real technical to the ones who are committed to get the best from it. I bug out early and aren't strong enough in body or mind, the wife is worse.

We don't have boulder fields here in Aus really, certainly not couch and buss size so will be interesting to move through something like that. I have had experience with scree slops and long river beds full of TV sized rocks in Tasmania and New Zealand, so can relate very much to gliding verse pounding a rock field. A good heads up Howard and something for the family to work on so we get it right.

Even if we only do half of what is suggested I'm sure we will have a ball. We can always try and fit in some rapelling as an activity instead of peak bagging. Its great to be just out there.

Thanks again for your time. Don't be surprised if you get a PM at some time in the future.

Happy trails


Sure does look nice Scott. So you recon that's Colorado's best, why.

EDIT: actually I think out out why.....
Central Colorado - The Sawatch and Elk Mountain ranges around Aspen, Leadville and Marble offer the quintessential Rocky Mountain hiking experience with glacial valleys leading to vast alpine expanses sprinkled with glistening lakes amid soaring peaks. Three national forests and six wilderness areas protect this amazing landscape.

If I can amuse myself in there for 4 days and make up some little side trip I'm not a walker.
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Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
One of the most amazing wilderness landscapes we have, and one of the most amazing on earth, is the Grand Canyon. The main trail systems swarm with tourists, by design, but other areas of the park are so well regulated, you can hike some areas never seeinng another soul for days. It is very arduous hiking, but it reaps major rewards. It's also one of those places that, the more you learn about its natural and human history, the more incredible it is. The scale of it is...mind boggling.

I have hiked more than 275 nights in the canyon since the age of 5 covering virtually every trail and route, and can offer specific ideas if you like. It offers unbelievable opportunities to be astounded. On our last trip we found prehistoric spider tracks that indicated a spider of almost a meter in size. Like a king crab on dry land. I've also found old indian artifacts, wild bighorn sheep, you name it. From the top, it's a giant, relatively uninteresting hole. Once in it, it is other worldly.


Chris, don't hold back, give me your best or two best. I had a mate who lived in California for a while and always said 98% stop at the trail's end. Step past that and it's yours for the taking. We have that here in Aus as well. I was looking at Olympic NP today, my mind just goes mushy trying to pick the eyes out of things due to time restraints. All of it is worth doing in my book but life and time won't allow for it. So PM me or chuck it up here for others as well.
Give me your pic of what really appealed to you. 1 to 4 days, don't mind hard or carrying water, but a keep in mind a 10 year old is not going to scramble a low grade cliff face with 500M under him either.
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Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
If you want to hike the canyon, you will have to get in front of the permit process at the appropriate time. It's complicated, but I can help with it. The Grand Canyon is really arduous hiking. The bottom is a full 5,000 feet 1.4 km DOWN. So crawling out can be tough. I know of a few off the beaten path trips in the 4 day range that are possitiely amazing. I can give specifics via PM if you like. You have to get your permits a few months in advance, but no sooner that four months out.

I would also advocate trips in the Sierras in Callifornia. Yosemite is stunning as are the trails in Sequoia Kings.

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