National Parks: Best Scenery

The greatest backpacking parks in the United States, chosen for their scenery.

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Scenic Highs

  • Glacier: Among the most scenic hikes in the park is the 56-mile Northern Circle. A counterclockwise circuit starting and ending at Many Glaciers visits Ptarmigan Tunnel, Elizabeth Lake, Dawn Mist Falls, Belly River, Cosley and Glenns Lakes, Stoney Indian Pass, Fifty Mountain environs, Granite Park Chalet, and Swiftcurrent Pass. Contact: (406) 888-7800;
  • Mt. Rainier: Try the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, a classic route encircling the mountain and taking you from primeval forests to timberline snowfields. Any segment of the trail makes a first-rate shorter trip. (See “A Hiker In Wonderland”.) Contact: (360) 569-2211;
  • Rocky Mountain: The 19-mile loop starting on the North Inlet Trail and connecting with the Tonahutu Creek Trail has it all: forests, waterfalls, and expansive views. For the best views of all, be sure to include the short detour up the spur trail leading to the summit of Flattop Mountain. (See “Life’s Great Divide,” June 1998.) Contact: (970) 586-1206;
  • Yosemite: Dissect the high and low country of the park on a 21-mile trip (one way) starting at the Sunrise Lake trailhead (Tuolumne Meadows). Hike to Sunrise Lake, Little Yosemite Valley (take the detour up Half Dome), Nevada and Vernal Falls, and Happy Isles (Yosemite Valley). (See “Yosemite: Treasure Of The Sierra” for more.) Contact: (209) 372-0200;