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Backpacker Magazine – October 2011

Perfect 10: North America's 10 Most Memorable Hikes

Ten trails. Ten unmatched miles each. Get maximum bang for each boot step on hikes that our most-traveled contributors call their all-time favorites.

by: BACKPACKER Contributors and Editors

The Lost Coast, Sinkyone Wilderness SP
Photo by BP1011PERFECT_Callaert_S75ElkLostCoast_445x260.jpg
The Lost Coast, Sinkyone Wilderness SP
Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta
Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta
The Jewels Route, Grand Canyon NP
The Jewels Route, Grand Canyon NP
Mt. Eielson, Denali National Park
Mt. Eielson, Denali National Park
Titcomb Basin Trail, Wind River Range, WY
Titcomb Basin Trail, Wind River Range, WY

Take it With You
>>Download a printable PDF for every Perfect 10 Trip

MY 10
BACKPACKER asked some of the top personalities in the outdoor industry about their favorite slice of wilderness. Below are their picks.

Andrew Skurka
Ultra-hiker
>Ten Mile Range in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains

Joe Horiskey
Longtime guide on Mt. Rainier
> East Fork Quinault River Trail to Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park

Brett Dennen
Rock star, camp counselor
> Pacific Crest Trail running 10 miles south from Sonora Pass

Jon Jarvis
Director of the National Park Service
> The Pacific Crest Trail from Rainy Pass, over McAlester Pass, and into Stehekin Valley. “You can hear Julie Andrews. These are the American Alps.”

Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford
Married co-CEOs of Clif Bar & Company
> Lyell Canyon Trail out of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite

Tyler Stableford
Adventure photographer
> Franconia Ridge Trail loop in NH, up Falling Waters and down the Bridle Path

John Gans
Executive Director, NOLS
> Ice Lakes, Deep Creek Lakes, and Echo Lakes in the Wind River Range, WY

Les Stroud
Filmmaker and survivalist
> West Coast Trail in Vancouver, from Pachena Bay to Valencia Bluffs

Wayne Gregory
Founder of Gregory Packs
> North from Agnew Meadows, past 1000 Island Lake and over toward Lyell in the High Sierra

David Startzell
Executive Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
> The AT from TN 143 to US 19E: “It’s 15 miles, but it’s so much fun, it feels like 10.”

Justin Lichter
Ultra-hiker
>The 10 miles surrounding Cataract Pass in the Canadian Rockies

Dana Watts
Executive Director, Leave No Trace
> Mesa Trail, Boulder, CO
Perfect 10: The Lost Coast, Sinkyone Wilderness SP
Find yourself among the redwoods and isolated coves of California's wildest shoreline.
—Dennis Lewon

The first time I hiked the Lost Coast, I was in college and it was spring, the sky was bright and clear, the irises blooming, and the beach campsites utterly deserted. Perfect conditions, at a perfect time in life. So when I heard other hikers have found the trail too wet, too cold, too hard, or all three, and vowed never to return, I wondered: Is my memory unreliable, corrupted by a golden moment I can't repeat? To find out, I returned again and again over the years, and have experienced the notorious summer fog that erases everything but your buddy a few feet away, and rain so hard that I had to coax my friend to even get out of the car. On my most recent hike there, last July, the poison oak grew so robustly it crossed the trail in places. I remain smitten.

Starting from the Usal trailhead and heading north, the Lost Coast Trail climbs through a grove of skyscraper redwoods infused with fairy-tale light; the red-green glow filters softly through the canopy and settles on emerald ferns that shine as if lit from within. By itself, the half-mile walk through the ancient trees is a life-list experience. Then you eject onto an open bluff, more than a thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, with a whale-spotting vista that's sure to stall your progress.

Next, you plunge into another redwood grove. Then you'll push through waist-high red and pink and white wildflowers that pop in early summer. And you're still just 30 minutes from the trailhead. Which, in short, is what puts the southern section of the Lost Coast in a class by itself. It's perfect from the very first mile, and never lets up for the next 15 (the dozen miles north from Usal harbor my favorite views and beaches).

True to the trail's name, the coast itself remains alluringly out of reach, protected by a no-go zone of steep cliffs. The rugged terrain--which famously defeated road engineers constructing the Pacific Coast Highway--forces the trail to bounce between fern grottoes and ridge-hugging overlooks. By the time you reach Little Jackass Creek, at mile 7.3, you'll have gained and lost a combined 5,503 feet of elevation. Now follow the creek down to a private beach, with pace for one idyllic campsite. Wash the trail sweat off in the icy surf, build a little driftwood fire, and dig your tired feet into the cool sand. You're far from lost.

PERFECT 10 Usal trailhead to Wheeler Beach Camp (mile 11) or continue to the northern trailhead at Orchard Camp (mile 16).
>>
DO IT
From Legget on US 101, go 15 miles west on CA 1 and turn right on Usal Rd. at mile marker 90.91 (warning: the unmarked dirt road may be impassable after heavy rains). Shuttle: Use lostcoastshuttle.com or leave a car at Orchard Camp (see Contact).
PERMIT Required ($5/person per night, at trailhead)
MAP Lost Coast Trail map ($10, see Contact)
CONTACT (707) 986-7711; parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=25201




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Conak
Jun 12, 2014

YES! I sadly live on the east coast now, and I always say the exact thing: too many trees! But no one ever agrees with me. Trees are nice, but there needs to be a changes to the scenery. Trees here, meadow there, rocks here, snow there. Variety. West is best. I've yet to make it out to Wyoming, but sounds like the place to be.

Bob
Nov 27, 2011

I just hikes it in Aug, awesome trail, but the Elliot river crossing is officialy closed, the high route mentioned is doable but hazardous, and at the White river the trail ends at a dropoff, you need to bushwack down hill about 150 feet, but the trail is not flagged. Still: awesome campsites, awesome views, and few hikers. definate 10.

Mike
Nov 17, 2011

Maybe a little dated. Along the east side of Mt. Hood the trail was wrecked by an avalanche several years ago and you will have to drop down very low or risk a high route to bypass it. Then, last summer, there was a large fire on the NNW side that burned a lot of the route.
This is not to say that it's still not a great trail, because it is. Just wanted to pass this on. Although the NNW side was closed as of the fall of 2011 and I don't know the plans for 2012.

Joe
Nov 17, 2011

I hiked through here a couple years ago and had an great time. We parked at Scales which is down a long bumpy dirt road. My pontiac Vibe barely made it through some parts. Got there at Midnight and hiked for hours under a full moon with no flashlight. The balds make for spectacular views. We only ran into people on the AT.

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