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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
>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
>The 10 miles surrounding Cataract Pass in the Canadian Rockies

Dana Watts
Executive Director, Leave No Trace
> Mesa Trail, Boulder, CO

Perfect 10: Pilgrim Creek Trail, Bridger-Teton National Forest, WY
Trek into the emptiest, most grizzly-packed meadows, all within sight of the Grand Teton.
—Tracy Ross

As a freshman in college, I found enlightenment in the faces of a trail crew on a Student Conservation Association flyer. I could see it in their tired, happy expressions: Trail crews had the summer job thing figured out.

So in the spring of 1991, I signed up to work on a crew in the Buffalo Ranger District of the Teton Wilderness, on the southeastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. My home for the summer was the Pilgrim Creek Valley, which fans between Wildcat Ridge and Bobcat Ridge and throbs with one of the densest grizzly populations in the West. Back then, the wilderness still smarted from the 1988 wildfires that burned 794,000 acres. But the entire place coursed with water, and lush pocket meadows thrived amid swaths of charred timber. Now the forest is recovered, with oxbowed streams and groves of flickering aspens. The hike in from the Pilgrim Creek trailhead to Wildcat Peak (where we worked) is arduous. You cross Pilgrim Creek 15 times in the first three miles, before diving into a neck-high willowed jungle. Then you pitch up a steep, sun-baked hillside, then back down into the willows for another 2.5 miles. When you reach the first creek you can cross without wading, you’re nearing the Wildcat Peak junction. Go north, climbing 1,000 feet over 3.5 miles to a wide divide separating the Rodent Creek drainage and Wildcat Peak. Here, the trail peters out, but keep a bearing on Wildcat’s summit and bushwack toward it, picking up the Wildcat Peak Trail .5 mile from the top.

Rewards? Absolutely. Dead ahead is the supremely toothy Grand Teton, snapping at the clouds. Look back, and see the 10-mile trail that turned me into a lifelong wilderness lover. We camped in meadows exploding with blue columbine, Indian paintbrush, and purple monkshood. We saw no other footprints, no fire rings, no tent sites—a backpacker’s Eden. We measured our hands against countless grizzly tracks with claw marks the lengths of our fingers—and I cycled from screaming with fear at unknown sounds to popping the safety on my bear spray to singing with joy after a solo encounter with one big female. According to the Hiking Wyoming guidebook, even the personnel at the Blackrock Ranger Station call Pilgrim Creek a primitive area within the wilderness, and few know what’s back there.

I, however, grew to know exactly what was back there. For 27 days over three nine-day hitches, we crosscut and chopped a six-mile tread into Wildcat Peak. The work beat me down and built me up, so that by the end of the summer, when I looked in the mirror, I saw the same tired-but-happy expression as the kids on the SCA flyer.

PERFECT 10 Pilgrim Creek trailhead to Wildcat Peak
From Jackson, take US 191 37.6 miles to Pilgrim Creek Rd. Turn right, and reach the trailhead in 2.1 miles.
MAP USGS quads Two Ocean Lake and Huckleberry Mountain ($8 each, gov; Bridger-Teton National Forest Jackson Hole and Buffalo Ranger District maps
GUIDEBOOK Hiking Wyoming: 110 of the State’s Best Hiking Adventures, by Bill Hunger ($17,
CONTACT (307) 543-3700;

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
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.

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.

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.

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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