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Backpacker Magazine – March 2011

Local Hikes: Mountain West

Hike Denver's lost wilderness, a twofer of peaks in Idaho, lava tubes in New Mexico, Zion's sneak route, and Bozeman's trout-filled lake.

by: Ted Alvarez and Sarah L. Stewart

Pyramid and Ball Lakes, near Coeur D'Alene. (Travis Lesicka)
Pyramid and Ball Lakes, near Coeur D'Alene. (Travis Lesicka)

(Print & Go)
Lost Creek Loop
Big peaks are a dime a dozen in Colorado, but Lost Creek’s granite domes, split boulders, and fingerlike spires are only found here. Explore them on a 27.6-mile weekender packed with broad Continental Divide views and killer riverside campsites. Our favorite: mile 13.3, where buried Lost Creek burbles from the rocky hillside. Trip ID 433758

El Malpais National Monument

Big Tubes
Spend hours exploring 2.2 miles of eerie, cavernous lava tubes—some of the longest in North America— in El Malpais National Monument. Bring solid nav skills and a headlamp: Hard-to-see cairns are made from the surrounding piles of black, pockmarked pumice. Trip ID 372408

Zion NP
West Rim Trail
Start above the crowds on a burly, 14.5-mile one-way hike that begins at 7,460-foot Lava Point (the park’s highpoint) and drops 3,150 feet to the Grotto. Tick off Zion’s greatest hits on the way, including the pine-studded sandstone basins of Phantom Valley and dizzying drops on Angel’s Landing at miles six and 12. Camp at Potato Hollow and Cabin Springs along the way. Trip ID 706576

Coeur D'Alene

Pyramid & Ball Lakes
This 5.6-mile out-and-back winds past mossy creeks, thick fir forest, and shoreline views of three translucent blue-green pools. At mile two, stand atop 200-foot cliffs rising from hourglass-shaped Pyramid Lake. Scramble up the ridge north of Upper Ball Lake, says Travis Lesicka  of Sandpoint, Idaho, for  Selkirk panoramas. Trip ID 915441

Crazy Mountains

Cave Lake
With 10,000-foot peaks, 14-inch trout, and few people to share it with, glassy Cave Lake sounds too good to be true. It’s not, but you’ll have to earn it: This nine-mile one-way trek into the Crazy Mountains crosses five miles of steep scree and a cold, knee-deep wade at mile 4.4. At mile 8.9, watch rare golden trout juveniles ripple the surface of their shallow nursery pond. Trip ID 938365

Four Peaks Wilderness, Arizona

Payoff At 7,657 feet, Browns is the tallest of the Four Peaks, a cluster of granite-and-quartzite mountains in the Sonoran Desert. The 360-degree vista from Browns, arguably the best view near Phoenix, offers 100-mile vistas of the Mazatzal and Sierra Estrella Ranges.

Wildflower blooms start on the desert floor and climb the mountains each spring. Look for low-elevation golden poppies on your way to the trailhead in March, and pale-pink, bell-like manzanita flowers in April.

Pick up Brown’s Trail #133 from Lone Pine trailhead 60 miles east of Phoenix on FR 648. Ascend 1,000 feet over two miles through pine-oak forest to Browns Saddle for eastern views of 21,000-acre Roosevelt Lake. Turn left and scramble .5 mile over exposed boulders and up a class 3 scree chute, which typically melts out between March and May. From the summit, gaze far out over the rippled desert floor before returning for a five-mile day.

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May 19, 2011

El Malpais caves are now closed due to concern over white nose syndrome could affect resident bats. Surface trails are still open however.


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