Readers' Choice 2012: Top 3 – Mountain West Hikes

This region's top contestant in our Be a Mapper contest reveals his favorite off-the-beaten-path routes through canyon country and mountain refuges.

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Travis Lesicka

Sandpoint, ID

“On the Hannah Hot Spring route, I encountered 11 bears in five miles.”


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Zion National Park, UT

Get red rock without the crowds.

Lesicka recommends Double Arch Alcove, a kid-friendly, 5.2-mile out-and-back in Zion’s off-the-radar Kolob Canyons area. He likes the mellow elevation change, creek-splashing opportunities, 1930s-era cabins, and colorful sandstone. From the Taylor Creek trailhead, descend over packed red sand and reach the creek in .1 mile. Head right (east) along the meandering trickle, which you’ll cross periodically. The log Larson Cabin at mile 1.1 marks the confluence with North Fork Taylor Creek; stay on the main trail. Hillsides dotted with sagebrush give way to steep, iron-striped walls around mile 1.5. Fife Cabin, another historic building, sits at mile 2.1. The maintained trail ends .6 mile later at Double Arch Alcove, a Navajo sandstone atrium featuring hanging gardens, a black-, white- and green-streaked grotto, and two modest arches. ID1359165

The way From Cedar City, go 16 miles south on I-15. Take exit 40, turn left on Kolob Canyons Rd., and head east two miles.

{ Weekend }

Kaniksu National Forest, ID

Explore a refuge for rare wildlife.

Only about 35 caribou remain in the Lower 48, and this 8.6-mile out-and-back to trout-filled Two Mouth Lakes takes you into part of their habitat. Lesicka loves the solitude of this Panhandle jaunt into the lichen-rich forests caribou require. From a pullout off FR 663, pick up Two Mouth Lakes Trail #268 as it heads north on an old logging road. Next, traverse boardwalks over boggy seeps, then head south to top the 6,000-foot Selkirk Crest at mile 3.4; the range’s 7,000-foot, glacier-carved peaks tower to the north. Drop east into marshlands strewn with erratic boulders up to six feet across before forking right toward a prime campsite at the south edge of Lower Two Mouth Lake. Relax and explore: Head southeast to the upper lake, or hit the summit of Kent Peak to the north via a 2.5-mile, Class 2 scramble. ID989914

The way
From Bonners Ferry, head west on CR 18 for 5.6 miles. Turn left onto FR 663 (Myrtle Creek Rd.) and go 12.3 miles.

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Apache National Forest, AZ

Soak in a backcountry hot spring.

Remote Hannah Hot Spring (133°F at the source) is the ultimate basecamp: Hike off-trail 8.3 miles up a tricky canyon system to camp near top-tier dayhikes and nightly soaks. Lesicka says you’ll regret spending anything less than three nights. From the trailhead, head up the wide Blue River canyon, occasionally crossing the stream (up to thigh-high in spring). Be ready to backtrack: User paths often dead-end. In 4.2 miles, turn right (east) up Little Blue Creek, then turn right up Hannah Springs Creek in 2.3 miles. Brave several waist-deep wades on your way to the hot spring’s 18-inch-deep stone-and-mortar catch basins, .3 mile up the slot. Camp on a leveled site above the springs, then soak and dayhike up Hannah Springs Creek and Little Blue Creek, both featuring narrow slots with wades. ID 1373461

The way From Clifton, go 30 miles north on US 191. Turn right onto FR 475. In 12.1 miles, turn left onto FR 475C. Reach the trailhead in three miles (4WD required).

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