Crystal Peak, WA 7.8 miles (Moderate)
Strange but true: The best views in Mt. Rainier National Park aren’t found on the big mountain itself. For that, head to the eastern edge of the park and the summit of 6,615-foot Crystal Peak. This out-and-back delivers the first glimpse of snow-capped Rainier within the first two miles; ascend 3,200 feet and the panorama includes Mt. Adams, Crystal Lakes, and the spires of the Tatoosh Range. Hike in late summer for wildflowers and huckleberries.
Tumalo Mountain, OR 3.6 miles (Easy)
Locals call this out-and-back Deschutes National Forest hike the best climb for the time–the trailhead is just 20 minutes from Bend, the path is steep, and in short order you get drop-dead scenery. The trail ascends 1,200 feet through pine and fir to reach a summit with 360-degree views of central Oregon’s all-star peaks: Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, and the Three Sisters, plus the jagged pyramids of the southern Oregon Cascades.
Info (541) 383-5300
Granite Peak, CA 8.4 miles (Difficult)
The Trinity Alps Wilderness in northwest California encompasses 517,000 acres of wild alpine terrain–and this 8,091-foot peak is the only mountain here with a maintained summit trail. The 4,000-foot, round-trip climb up this seldom-visited massif requires scrambling scree slopes, but the reward is a panoramic vista of the Trinity Alps, plus Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen.
Info (530) 623-2121
McKinley Bar Trail, AK 10 miles (Difficult)
Earn an up-close glimpse of massive Mt. McKinley on this challenging round-trip trek in Denali National Park. Take the Wonder Lake Trail to the McKinley River, cross to the opposite bank (experience a must), then pick up the McKinley Bar Trail. Look for moose, grizzlies, and caribou en route to the Turtle Hill turnoff. Scramble up the ridge for big views of The Big One.
Half Dome, CA 15.7 miles (Difficult)
Would you skip the Taj Mahal just because it’s popular? No, and the same goes for Half Dome. The perfect plan: Drop a shuttle car at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, and leave early from Glacier Point, linking with the John Muir Trail via the Panorama Trail. You’ll see few hikers in the first five miles (go on a weekday to avoid the conga-line wait at the cables). Haul yourself up and savor your moment atop the granite kingdom. Descend to Yosemite Valley via the Mist Trail.