America's Best Day Hikes: West

Tick off these life list hikes in Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska.
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Tick off these life list hikes in Washington, Oregon, California, and Alaska.

WEST | ROCKIES | SOUTH | SOUTHWEST | NORTHEAST | MIDWEST

ALPINE VIEWS

Crystal Peak, WA 7.8 miles (Moderate)

Strange but true: The best views in Mt. Rainier National Park aren't found on the big mountain itself. For that, head to the eastern edge of the park and the summit of 6,615-foot Crystal Peak. This out-and-back delivers the first glimpse of snow-capped Rainier within the first two miles; ascend 3,200 feet and the panorama includes Mt. Adams, Crystal Lakes, and the spires of the Tatoosh Range. Hike in late summer for wildflowers and huckleberries.

Season July-October

Infonps.gov/mora

Tumalo Mountain, OR 3.6 miles (Easy)

Locals call this out-and-back Deschutes National Forest hike the best climb for the time–the trailhead is just 20 minutes from Bend, the path is steep, and in short order you get drop-dead scenery. The trail ascends 1,200 feet through pine and fir to reach a summit with 360-degree views of central Oregon's all-star peaks: Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, and the Three Sisters, plus the jagged pyramids of the southern Oregon Cascades.

Season June-October

Info (541) 383-5300

Granite Peak, CA 8.4 miles (Difficult)

The Trinity Alps Wilderness in northwest California encompasses 517,000 acres of wild alpine terrain–and this 8,091-foot peak is the only mountain here with a maintained summit trail. The 4,000-foot, round-trip climb up this seldom-visited massif requires scrambling scree slopes, but the reward is a panoramic vista of the Trinity Alps, plus Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen.

Season July-October

Info (530) 623-2121

McKinley Bar Trail, AK 10 miles (Difficult)

Earn an up-close glimpse of massive Mt. McKinley on this challenging round-trip trek in Denali National Park. Take the Wonder Lake Trail to the McKinley River, cross to the opposite bank (experience a must), then pick up the McKinley Bar Trail. Look for moose, grizzlies, and caribou en route to the Turtle Hill turnoff. Scramble up the ridge for big views of The Big One.

Season
July-September

Infonps.gov/dena

Best View

Half Dome, CA 15.7 miles (Difficult)


Would you skip the Taj Mahal just because it's popular? No, and the same goes for Half Dome. The perfect plan: Drop a shuttle car at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, and leave early from Glacier Point, linking with the John Muir Trail via the Panorama Trail. You'll see few hikers in the first five miles (go on a weekday to avoid the conga-line wait at the cables). Haul yourself up and savor your moment atop the granite kingdom. Descend to Yosemite Valley via the Mist Trail.

Season June-October

Infonps.gov/yose

WEST | ROCKIES | SOUTH | SOUTHWEST | NORTHEAST | MIDWEST

WATERFALLS

Eagle Creek Trail, OR 12 miles (Moderate)

Check your vertigo at the trailhead: This hewn-from-sheer-cliffs hike in the Columbia River Gorge traverses narrow ledges hundreds of feet above churning Eagle Creek (a cable system provides handholds in key spots). Ascend to the blue-green grotto of Punchbowl Falls (with a swimming hole). Continue another 1.8 miles to the hike's dizzying crescendo: The trail, carved into basalt, dives behind Tunnel Falls. Turn around here, or brave the "Vertical Mile" to Twister Falls.

Season Year-round (upper portion may be impassable in winter)

Info (541) 308-1700

Glen Alpine Trail, CA 12 miles (Difficult)

The best dayhike in Tahoe delivers all of the area's highlights: postcard views of a string of alpine tarns, Mt. Tallac, and brilliant-blue Lake Tahoe, plus a double dose of waterfalls. Strike out into the Desolation Wilderness from Fallen Leaf Lake and catch Big Falls cascading down 70 feet of sheer granite, then hike past Lily Lake and Modjeska Falls, a 30-foot torrent. Turn back at Lake Aloha, in the 8,200-foot glacial basin below Pyramid Peak.

Season
May-October (falls are best in spring)

Info (530) 543-2600

Trail of Ten Falls, OR 8.7 miles (Moderate)

Even without the waterfalls, this loop through Silver Falls State Park serves up a highlights list of Northwest scenery: mossy canyons, lush greenery, creeks, wildflowers, and towering trees. Add no less than 10 cascades–four more than 100 feet high–and you have a paradise for waterfall lovers. The loop traces Silver Creek Canyon through a dense tangle of fern, cedar, fir, and hemlock, skirting precipitous drop-offs near many of the falls.

Season Year-round

Info oregonstateparks.org

Biggest Redwoods

Tall Trees Grove, CA 3.9 miles (Easy)

This round-trip hike is neither long nor steep, but allow plenty of time, as you'll want to look up–a lot–as you hike the Tall Trees Trail through some of the country's most gape-worthy redwoods, including the 367.8-foot Howard A. Libbey Tree. Unlike in some other big-tree groves, where dense upper canopies limit what grows below, this is a true forest of moss-covered maple, sprawling rhododendron bushes, giant ferns, and dense huckleberry patches. Arrive early at the park's Kuchel Visitor Center to pick up one of the 50 free permits issued daily.

Season Year-round

Infonps.gov/redw

WEST | ROCKIES | SOUTH | SOUTHWEST | NORTHEAST | MIDWEST

COAST

Lost Coast Trail, CA 9 miles (Moderate)

The Lost Coast has it all–dramatic sea cliffs and caves, giant redwoods, black-sand beaches–and this roller-coaster one-way hike misses nothing. Start at Little Jackass Cove and hike south. You'll pass under the 226-foot Anderson Cliff, cross Wolf Creek, and alternate between bluff-top grasslands, beaches, and redwood groves. Keep one eye on the hills for black bears and one on the ocean for migrating gray whales in spring and fall.

Season Year-round

Info (707) 986-7711

Olympic Coast, WA 14 miles (Difficult)

It's a long day from Ozette Ranger Station to Shi Shi Beach, and you'll have to check the tide table first, but the reward is commensurate: Olympic National Park's wildest stretch of cliffs, tidepools, and wave-sculpted sea stacks. Start with a three-mile stroll through wetlands on the Cape Alava Trail, then trace the rugged Pacific shore. Extra thrill: The one-way route skirts impassable headlands with short inland forays via ropes and ladders.

Season Year-round

Infonps.gov/olym



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Best Volcano Hike (Moderate)

Mt. St. Helens, WA 7.8 miles


It's been almost three decades since Mt. St. Helens erupted with devastating force. Evidence of the 1980 blast–which flattened millions of trees–still abounds, but you can also see signs of recovery as wildflowers and wildlife return. Start at the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center and climb Harry's Ridge Trail into the heart of it all, where you'll gaze at the mountain's collapsed north face and peer into an active caldera. The round-trip hike gains nearly 1,000 feet; at the top you'll also get balcony views of Coldwater Peak, Mt. Adams, and Spirit Lake.

Season May-November

Info (360) 449-7800

WEST | ROCKIES | SOUTH | SOUTHWEST | NORTHEAST | MIDWEST

RAINFOREST

Hoh River Trail, WA 18 miles (Difficult) Everything is simply bigger in Olympic National Park's Hoh Rainforest. With more than 12 feet of rain annually, the Hoh's Sitka spruce, cedar, and fir reach supersize heights, and even the gardens of moss and fern look like they benefit from Miracle-Gro. The nine-mile hike to the Olympus Guard Station (your turnaround point) is relatively gentle as the trail climbs gradually along its namesake river through a soggy haven that's home to northern spotted owls, giant banana slugs, and Roosevelt elk.

Season April-October

Infonps.gov/olym

Indian River Trail, AK 11 miles (Moderate)

Trees, grizzlies, and even the views in this temperate rainforest are Alaska-scale: Sitka spruce top 200 feet, and yellow cedars and western hemlock are also XXL. Look for killer views of the Sisters Mountains at a grassy bog half of a mile in, then dive into the forest; you'll gain 700 feet in the last mile to reach 70-foot Indian River Falls (turn back here).

Season Year-round

Info (907) 225-3101

WEST | ROCKIES | SOUTH | SOUTHWEST | NORTHEAST | MIDWEST

PLUS

Waihee Ridge, HI

Drop into a jungle thick with tropical blooms and waterfall views on this moderate five-mile round-trip ridgewalk on Maui (rise early for cloud-free valley vistas). Infohawaiitrails.org

Sandstone Peak, CA

Bag the Santa Monica Mountains' 3,111-foot-high point on a three-miler to sweeping views of five coastal islands. Info (805) 370-2301

Otter Falls, WA

Hike 3.5 miles through cedars to this two-tier cascade–which drops first 1,000 and then 700 feet over sheer granite. Info (425) 783-6000

Hobbit Trail, OR

Tunnel through lush vines, ferns, and rhododendron blooms on this four-mile loop to a secluded Pacific cove. Info (541) 547-3416

Palm Canyon, CA

Hike to a fan-palm oasis, complete with a waterfall and cool grotto, on this three-miler in Anza-Borrego. Bonus: Look for desert bighorn sheep. Info (760) 767-5311