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The High Life: Hiking Utah’s Highline Trail

Watch your step on Utah' Highline Trail. The nonstop views and rampant wildlife are distractingly spectacular. Plus: Gaze away on 9 more elevated hikes.

(Alberta)
Nihahi/Compression Ridge, Kananaskis Country

Discover the wild Canadian Rockies.

Any spot high in the far northern Rockies has a good view. But ascending above treeline often requires an arduous bushwhack. This tundra ridgeline in Elbow-Sheep/Kananaskis Provincial Park avoids that tangled struggle via a well-marked, 1.5-mile trail that switchbacks up 1,280 vertical feet. After you fill your memory card with the stunning centerpieces of Mt. Joffrey, Opal Ridge, and Spray Lakes, follow a faint trail northward along the ridgeline’s narrow top. Mountain-savvy trekkers—who get lucky with the weather—can traverse the entire ridge for a 10-mile, all-day epic. (Not quite ready for the whole thing? Turn back at the first summit.) After passing several moderate cliff bands, you’ll reach Nihahi’s 7,800-foot northern summit at mile seven. The most difficult part of the full traverse: descending steep but nontechnical talus off the ridge’s northeast shoulder, and the cross-country trek to the Prairie Creek trailhead. Hardcores who continue north along squiggle-shaped Compression Ridge will encounter a long class 3-4 scramble with many easy but exposed moves on loose rock.

Map Bragg Creek (free, maps.nrcan.gc.ca)
Info (403) 673-3985; tpr.alberta.ca

(Texas)
Franklin Mountains Traverse, Franklin Mountains State Park

Score a solitary ramble in this rugged range at the edge of El Paso.

Chisels of cactus-draped limestone jut skyward north of town, and this 9.8-miler—with class 2 to 3 scrambles and more than 5,600 feet of climbing—lets you walk across the top. From the end of North Stanton Street, follow the Thousand Steps Trail and turn left (north) along the crest. Intersect the Ron Coleman Trail near McKelligon Canyon saddle at mile 5.6, and scramble (use chain handrail) past The Window, a 40-foot cliff. Continue to Smuggler’s Pass on the Trans-Mountain Road. Pack a gallon of water.

Maps USGS quads Canutillo, North Franklin Mountain, and El Paso ($8 each, store.usgs.gov)
Info (915) 566-6441; tpwd.state.tx.us/franklin

(California)
Mammoth Crest, Inyo NF

Get a summer of views in one weekend.

Don’t let the easy access fool you. This 15-mile loop along pumice-dusted ridgelines on the northern edge of the John Muir Wilderness offers deep-Sierra terrain. The journey requires scrambling and a bit of cross-country routefinding, but rewards the effort with continual views of the Mammoth Basin, Silver Divide, and the brooding Minaret spires. Start from the southeast edge of Coldwater Creek Campground, five miles south of Mammoth’s Main Street via Lake Mary Road. Follow the Duck Pass Trail along Mammoth Creek, and switchback up to 10,797-foot Duck Pass (mile 4.5). At the pass, turn west along the tundra ridge until it opens onto sandy flats south of Point 3,468. Take the social trail west, then descend over pink granite to Deer Lakes (mile seven) and excellent camping. An obvious trail climbs northwest to Mammoth Crest. At a junction (mile 12.5) go east three miles to close the loop at Lake George (one return option). Spicier: Continue north, staying 100 yards west of the divide, plunge-step down a pumice gully at mile 13.4, and go north to intersect the Mammoth Pass Trail, which leads to Horseshoe Lake. From here, it’s 2.2 miles back to the car. Permit required.

Maps USGS quads Bloody Mountain and Crystal Crag ($8 each, store.usgs.gov)
Info (760) 924-5500; fs.usda.us/inyo

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