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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: The Jewels Route, Grand Canyon NP
Time one of Arizona’s trickiest passages just right, and you’ll mosey from one idyllic, fern-lined grotto to the next.
—Annette McGivney

I am down on my knees pumping from a silty puddle, praying I can get one lousy liter—we’ll need that and more to reach what I’ve heard is the best 10 miles in the entire Grand. The previous night my friend, Jane, and I made a waterless camp at the junction of the South Bass and West Tonto Trails, five miles from the South Bass trailhead. We planned, or more accurately, hoped, to top off here in Serpentine Canyon.

Located in the remote western end of the park and snaking into the deep side canyons of the Tonto Plateau, the Jewels Route is, in total, a 48-mile prize I’d been lusting after for years. These inaccessible spots—each named for a precious gem (Ruby, Turquoise, Sapphire, Agate)—are legendary for their seasonal grottoes and solitude, even though the Park Service does its best to discourage visitors. “There are no permanent springs,” warns the NPS website. “Only unreliable, unpredictable seasonal trickles.” Plus, there are no bailouts, prompting the park to dub the stretch from South Bass to Boucher Trail the most difficult section of the trans-canyon trail system.

At least 10 hikers have died here in the last 50 years by making the same mistake we might be. But we roll the dice—seems a reasonable gamble since we are here after a very wet winter. So with three liters between us, we clamber up the trailless scree slope of Serpentine and search for a cairn on the blinding-bright expanse of the Tonto.

Our boots crunch on a fine pavement of gray-green Bright Angel shale as we weave our way through a sea of blackbrush. The hulking orange Havasupai Point rises against the South Rim while the distant white spine of the Sagitarius Ridge defines the North Rim. Perched halfway between the top of the rim and the river, the Tonto Plateau is a balcony with best-seat-in-the-house views of the canyon. Periodically, we venture to the edge and peer 2,000 feet straight down to the blue-green Colorado.

We arrive at the lip of Ruby Canyon with barely a half-liter. The sun is unrelenting, and my head throbs. We look into the dark, seemingly bottomless drainage. We hear a pattering, like light rockfall, echoing off the canyon walls. Sheep? We cock our heads: water gurgling over slickrock!

Our timing is perfect; the seasonal springs in Ruby are ripe with snowmelt and feeding a lush, riparian oasis. A string of clear pools glint in the sunlight. Damselflies hover and zag. Bright green ferns, moss, and monkey flower pad the canyon walls.

The next day, after lounging in Ruby all morning, we confidently march across the parched Tonto for 5.8 miles to Turquoise Canyon, our next camp, where another perfect oasis awaits. You can continue on the Tonto to Hermit trailhead or turn back and just bag these 10 miles. Or stay another day. No matter what, you win.

PERFECT 10 Tonto Trail from Serpentine Canyon to Turquoise Canyon
DO IT Access the Jewels Route via the South Bass Trail (high clearance, 4WD vehicle required) on the west or from the Hermit and Boucher Trails on the east.
SEASON The only reliable water is Boucher Creek; seasonal flows run in Ruby, Turquoise, Sapphire, and Slate. Best bet for water and reasonable temperatures: February-April.
MAPS USGS quads Grand Canyon, Piute Point, Shiva Temple, and Havasupai Point ($8 each,
PERMIT Required. Book four months in advance.
CONTACT (928) 638-7875;

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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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