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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: Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta
Go to hiker heaven on Canada’s finest high-country path.
—Jonathan Dorn

Little shovel pass made me a backpacker. Not the occasional-weekend- in-the-woods type, but the guzzled-the-Kool-Aid-and-asked-for-a-bigger-cup variety who daydreams in meetings and haunts the discount racks at REI and who, in 1997, accepted a 25-percent pay cut—with a baby on the way—to take an assistant editor job at this magazine.

I’d hiked plenty of miles before tackling Jasper’s Skyline Trail. With my wife, I’d explored New England’s forests, bumped into bears in the Olympics, and sweated out sections of the Appalachian Trail. But the panorama that unfolded at 7,347 feet atop the switchbacks of Little Shovel Pass—and the way-abovetreeline views that slackened our jaws all the way to Centre Lakes—were a eureka moment. Before, I’d seen backpacking as a pleasant, wallet-friendly escape from the rat race. After hiking that 10.8-mile stretch—and realizing just how soul-stirring a grand landscape can be—the pursuit of mountain scenery became a way of life.

The Skyline today has tight quotas— the price of fame and a fragile alpine environment—but it rivals a Grand Canyon rafting permit in worth-thewait payoff. Tracing ridges strewn with cinquefoil, pulsatilla, and lupine, the 27.6-mile Maligne Range traverse dips into fragrant spruce and lodgepole forest haunted by caribou and black bears for a few miles at start and finish, and at five backcountry campsites.

Smack in the middle—on those 10.8 miles—you’ll ramble across the most sustained stretch of tundra this side of Denali, serenaded all the way by pikas and marmots. Watch for bear activity; we saw a grizzly-excavated hole that looked like the work of a backhoe.

Keep your eyes to the horizon, too: From Little Shovel Pass to the Snowbowl to Shovel Pass to The Notch to Amber Mountain’s descent to Centre Lakes, the ever-improving vistas take in everything that draws photographers to the Canadian Rockies. Maligne Lake’s glacier-blue waters—so brilliantly azure they transcend every cliché. Thousands of acres of icefields flowing through notches in the massifs that tower above the Athabasca Valley to the west. The shark-toothed Queen Elizabeth Ranges to the east. And—from The Notch—the hulking giants of Mts. Edith Cavell (11,033 feet) and Robson (at 12,927 feet, British Columbia’s highest peak).

Whatever you do, budget three days for the Skyline. The middle might be the slowest 10 miles you ever hike.

PERFECT 10 Skyline Trail from Little Shovel Pass to Centre Lakes
DO IT Allot 3-4 days so you can linger up high. Reserve campsites at least three months ahead. Leave a car at the Signal Mountain trailhead and hitchhike or shuttle to your start at Maligne Lake’s north shore. MAPS Gem Trek Jasper and Maligne Lake ($10,
PERMITS Required. ($9.80 CDN per person per day plus reservation fee and park pass, see Contact)
CONTACT (780) 852-6177;

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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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