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Backpacker Magazine – January 2011

Trip Finder: West

Your favorite western hikes—from dayhikes to weekenders to multiday trips.

by: Laura Onstot

California's Lost Coast. (Ed Callaert)
California's Lost Coast. (Ed Callaert)
Death valley's Eureka Dunes. (Larry Carver)
Death valley's Eureka Dunes. (Larry Carver)
Reader expert Sara Benson. (courtesy)
Reader expert Sara Benson. (courtesy)

SHORE TRAILS Mattole Creek to Shelter Cove, CA
The Lost Coast stymied road builders, but not readers—not that it’s easy. The 26 miles from Mattole Creek to Shelter Cove “is one of the most difficult flat hikes you’ll ever do in your life,” says Dave Miller. Conquer difficult scrambles, often-fierce weather, and confounding tides, and reap the reward: black-sand beaches, possible whale sightings, and daily surprises, like mist rising off the ocean from Big Creek at sunrise. Ultralighters: Look for driftwood shelters.

Hiking this trail’s scarred lava flows and otherworldly craters is as close to a moonwalk as you’ll get without riding a rocket. “There are places on Mauna Loa where you see nothing but black lava and blue skies,” says Inga McFadden. Skip the tent: The 43-mile out-and-back in Volcanoes National Park has cabins at miles 7.5 and 19 (check availability at the visitor center). Local tip: Hike 2.5 miles beyond the last “Summit Cabin” to reach the true summit and peer down into the yawning, 1.5-mile-wide caldera.

MONSTER FLORA High Sierra Trail, CA
The 72-mile High Sierra Trail offers the most complete tour of Cali’s botanical wonders, starting with the world’s most massive organism (sequoia) in the Giant Forest and ending with tiny purple clusters of ornate skypilots sprouting in between talus above 13,000 feet on Mt. Whitney. You’ll summit the highest point in the Lower 48, but former ranger Sara Benson (above) says the technicolor wildflower vistas at Bearpaw Meadow (mile 11) might be your most vivid memory.

Inga McFadden, 50, lives in Holualoa on Hawaii’s Big Island, where diverse trails mean “today I could climb a peak in a down jacket and snow boots or hike the coast in a swimsuit.”

Ex-Kings Canyon ranger Sara Benson, 35, of San Luis Obispo, California, hikes the High Sierra Trail each year. “Flora and fauna tell a story as you walk,” she says. “It’s an outdoor classroom.”

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