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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: Mt. Eielson, Denali National Park
Get guaranteed mammoth wilderness in America’s wildest national park.
—Gus Axelson

I took one step into the backcountry and felt like I had been set free from a cage. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my first year as a dad, but I needed to reconnect with the man I was before my nights were sleepless, lullaby-infused grudge matches. My wife knew it, too, so she sent me to Denali National Park, with her brother, Brett.

My timeline was naturally tight: only a few days to get my fix. So I asked a park ranger for the quickest route to badass country, and he drew up a 10-mile horseshoe crossing Gorge Creek and angling up Sunrise Creek to the Sunrise Glacier, where we’d pick our way through to a pass and then return via Green Dome to Thorofare Pass.

From the Eielson Visitor Center, we picked our way southwest down a steep ridge toward Gorge Creek. Minutes into the trip, I nearly stepped in a pile of soapberry-filled bear scat the size of horse manure. Bingo—instant wilderness on a larger scale than I’d ever encountered.

At about mile three, we forded a quarter-mile-wide braid of the Thorofare River. Two miles later, I stood beneath a 20-foot-tall wall of blue ice, a dark maw at its base where meltwater surged into Sunrise Creek. We camped upvalley, hemmed in by rock and ice and 7,000-foot peaks.

The next day, the morning sun lit our path: a steep 1,000- foot ridge we’d need to climb to find the pass. Halfway up, rubble trundled from above. A baseball-size rock hit my ankle. Then a volleyball-like rock careened past, exploding upon impact, right where we’d camped. I’d asked for wild, and got it. New priority: making it home safely to my son. We retreated and camped in a small side valley.

The next morning, I got up early to cook breakfast. As I mixed pancake batter, I noticed a boulder in the willows. Then the boulder moved. Bear! We yelled and waved. I was dusted with mix, a human Krispy Kreme. Finally, she turned slowly like a freighter and plodded away.

So when you need a big dose of badass, come to Denali. Maybe you’ll score a permit for Sunrise Creek, maybe not. But it doesn’t matter: Any 10 miles here will do.

PERFECT 10 Sunrise Creek to Sunrise Glacier to Thorofare Pass
Take the park bus to Eielson Visitor Center, then hop off and hike south. Plan on two or three days, minimum.
MAP USGS quad Mt. McKinley B-1 ($8,
PERMIT Backcountry Unit 12 (pick up in person at the Backcountry Information Center 24 hours in advance)
CONTACT (907) 683-9532;

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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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