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Empty White Mountain summits. Tourist-free Yellowstone geysers. Rarely hiked Yosemite ridges. Rangers, guidebook writers, outfitters, and ultra-hikers dish their favorite routes for the first time.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MT
Your guide:Ultra-hiker Jake Bramante, who hiked a total of 1,200 miles within Glacier’s boundaries during the summer of 2011.

Day: Pitamakan-Dawson Passes Loop
Get expedition-caliber views in one challenging day.

Bramante struggles for the words to describe the 360-degree panorama from Pitamakan Overlook, between Pitamakan Pass and Dawson Pass, which juts out over a sea of jagged peaks buried in snow and ice. “It’s…it’s just…mind-blowing,” he says. You could also call it quad-blowing. This 17.6-mile loop (with 7,000 feet of relief) on Pitamakan Pass, Dawson Pass, and North Shore Trails from Two Medicine Campground delivers sheer-walled peaks and alpine lakes filling deep glacial cirques. The skyline ridge connecting Pitamakan and Dawson Passes offers “views into four separate drainages giving you a top-of-the-planet feeling.” Plus, you can count on bighorn sheep and bald eagle sightings. Hike counterclockwise to complete the hardest climb, gaining about 2,400 feet over 7.7 miles, on fresh legs. Shorten the hike by three miles by catching the boat across Two Medicine Lake instead of walking the flat shoreline at the end. PRO Map to order a custom topo map of this trip printed on waterproof expedition paper.

Weekend: Redgap Pass
Reap big rewards for relatively little effort.

“I’d be happy hiking this 26.4-mile loop on repeat all season,” says Bramante. “It packs a variety of terrain, epic views, a redrock pass, two gorgeous lakes, and solid chances of seeing mountain goats and bears.” You’ll also see the Belly River area from both the Ptarmigan Tunnel and Redgap Pass, and camp at a pair of five-star backcountry lakes, Poia and Elizabeth. Bramante recommends hiking (with a bit of scrambling) up 8,917-foot Seward Mountain from Redgap Pass for a taste of a remote, little-visited summit overlooking the northern Rockies. And he highly advises stopping for a swim in Poia Lake: “Most of Glacier’s water is deep and icy, but this one is shallower, so it’s warmer.” From Many Glacier, walk counterclockwise on the Redgap Pass and Ptarmigan Tunnel Trails. Go in August for drier conditions and wildflowers (and fewer mosquitoes); the only busy section is the last couple of miles, which are crowded with dayhikers headed to Iceberg Lake.

Week: Northern Circle
See a lifetime of Glacier’s bucket-list sights in one journey.

This 51-mile loop is like an all-you-can-eat buffet of Glacier highlights. “You won’t leave hungry,” Bramante quips. “Feast on lakes and dense forests in U-shaped valleys, waterfalls and alpine meadows, rocky peaks as far as the eye can see, plus raptors, wildflowers, and life-list megafauna.” Tap some of Bramante’s most cherished views from spots like Ptarmigan Tunnel and Stoney Indian Pass. And if you have his luck, you’ll snap shots of moose in the Mokowanis Valley and mountain goats and bighorn sheep along the Highline Trail. He even saw a grizzly sow and cubs foraging near his favorite backcountry campground, Fifty Mountain at mile 32.8. Swiftcurrent Pass, reached on the loop’s last day, is locally known as “Bear Alley.” From Many Glacier, link the Ptarmigan Tunnel, Stoney Indian Pass, Waterton Valley, Highline, and Swiftcurrent Pass Trails; top campsites are Elizabeth Lake, Upper Glenns Lake, Fifty Mountain, and Granite Park. Make the half-mile spur trips to Sue Lake Overlook and Ahern Pass for views of lake-speckled valleys. Go in August; start day one by 7 a.m. to avoid day trippers.
 
Trip Planner
Map Glacier/Waterton ($12, natgeomaps.com)
Permit Required ($30 plus $5/person/night); reserve by April 16, or get first-come one day prior.
Contact (406) 888-7800, nps.gov/glac

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