Glacier Peak, Gallatin National Forest, MT
In Montana's wild northwest corner, an ancient upward thrust of granite created the state's tallest range-a series of 12,000-footers that even look down on nearby Glacier National Park. Trees and trail fade away as you grind up a steep grade to Lower Aero Lake, a mile-long alpine gem perched at 9,995 feet amid the wide-open tundra of the Beartooth Plateau. The top-of-the-world feeling-and views of Pilot Peak's 11,708-foot summit spire-only intensifies as you scramble over boulders near Glacier Peak's 12,351-foot crest. Panoramic views from the peak take in chunks of Wyoming and Montana, and the ominous serrated profile of 12,799-foot Granite Peak, Montana's highest, pierces the sky 2 miles to the east.
By The Numbers: 3,602 feet of vertical, 18 miles round-trip from the Fisher Creek trailhead
Contact: (406) 848-7375; www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin
Baker Peak, Great Basin National Park, NV
Step off the trail west of Pyramid Peak, and the Snake Range's summit ridge opens into a mellow, rocky meadow. Turn north, toward a crest that rises to a series of towers and notches, and the game is on. Nimble hikers can rock-hop a stretch of desk-size talus just below that convoluted ridgetop to reach 12,298-foot Baker Peak's sparse summit log. On a good day, you can make out snowcaps on the Tushar Mountains 100 miles on; Notch Peak's cliffy silhouette, 50 miles east, is a familiar landmark.
By The Numbers: 4,367 feet of vertical, 15 miles round-trip from the Baker Creek trailhead
Contact: (775) 234-7331; www.nps.gov/grba
Catamount Mountain, Adirondack Park, NY
Fires in each of the past two centuries burned the sparse life off the summit of this northern Adirondacks peak, leaving behind a bald head of gneiss that lures summertime scramblers. A playful, loose trail includes a near-vertical granite chimney and a succession of blueberry meadows and open rock ledges that ultimately lead to the exposed 3,162-foot crest. During the final, steep half-mile, Whiteface Mountain's gray summit, 4,867 feet high, appears to the south.
By The Numbers: 1,568 feet of vertical; 4 miles round-trip from the Forestdale Road trailhead
Contact: Adirondack Mountain Club, (518) 668-4447; www.adk.org