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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.

Perfect 10 Titcomb Basin Trail, Wind River Range
Head to Wyoming to trek beneath North America’s most beautiful alpine ridge.
—Mark Jenkins

MAYBE I SHOULDN’T ADMIT THIS, but … I don’t like trees. After hiking a few fabled sections of the Appalachian Trail and not once getting a decent panorama—just buggy, in-your-face leaves—I gave up green tunnels. Give me rock, ice, and skies as big and fickle as my imagination—brilliant blue in the morning, billowing black by afternoon.

If you want to see earth like this, buck naked but for the skimpiest bikini of alpine flowers, there’s no better place than the Titcomb Basin Trail in the Wind River Range of north-central Wyoming. But you’re going to have to pay for it. It’s a 12-mile slog uphill to reach Titcomb Basin. Starting at the 8,800-foot Elkhart Park trailhead just above Fremont Lake on the west side of the range, you march through scraggly pine forests and humpy rock outcrops for 11 miles to reach the south end of Island Lake, hook onto the Indian Pass Trail for one mile, then camp at any of the three major Titcomb Lakes. I’ve skied it and hiked it and postholed it, and it’s a bloody long day any way you split it. But once you’re there—as long as you’ve had the good sense to go before or after July, when the hypertrophic mosquitoes plunder the place—the 10,500-foot Titcomb Basin is peerless.

Titcomb Basin (pronounced tit-come and named after brothers Charles and Harold, who explored the area in 1901) is a classic U-shaped, glacierbulldozed valley. Hiking north from the southernmost Titcomb Lake, you pass through teal-green tundra with one of the most stunning ridge crests in the United States high above you. I’ve hiked trails from Tibet to Timbuktu and found nothing more gorgeous. Fremont Peak, with its multiple faces and gendarmes, is a Picasso of an attractive but dangerous woman; then Mt. Sacagawea, with her long, dark, sadly beautiful face; then the punk-rock coiffure of Mt. Helen. To the west are the Titcomb Needles, the Great Needle, The Buttress. After four miles, the official trail ends and you’re on your own. The balance of your 10 miles comes in above-treeline, off-trail striding and scrambling that will spoil you forever. Hop boulders and skip through flowering meadows for a few more miles until you find yourself encircled by granite and glaciers, an orgy of mountains. Now climb one of the peaks. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a technical ascent or a hike. You’ll get the view of a lifetime. What’s more perfect than that?

PERFECT 10 Titcomb Lakes Trail past Titcomb Lakes into Titcomb Basin
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DO IT From US 191 in Pinedale, head east on Fremont Lake Rd. to Skyline Dr. which leads 11.6 miles to the trailhead. Then link Pole Creek, Seneca Lake, Indian Pass, and Titcomb Lake Trails.
MAP Bridger Teton National Forest: Pinedale Ranger District ($17, grandtetonpark.org)
GUIDEBOOK Bridger Teton National Forest: Pinedale Ranger District ($17, grandtetonpark.org) CONTACT (307) 367-4326; fs.usda.gov/btnf

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1 Comment

  1. lagunahiker

    If you’re planning on hiking Mt Whitney from Kearsarge Pass, study a map carefully before you go. The hike includes a climb over Forester Pass (13,200 ft), the highest pass on the John Muir Trail, as well as the climb over Kearsarge Pass, a 12,000 ft pass. It’s a great hike, with great views (I’ve done it three times), but it is significantly more difficult than backpacking the Portal Trail.

    Avatar of lagunahiker

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