America's Top 5-Star Rated Hikes

Steve Brumbach's top 5-star rated hikes in America

Photo: Howie Garber / age fotostock

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Steve Brumbach has rated every wilderness he’s hiked in. Only 22 have received his highest, 5-star rating. One man’s opinion? Sure. But when it comes to comparing one wilderness to another, his opinion counts more than most. Here are his top ★★★★★ spots:

  1. Absaroka-Beartooth, MT/WY Montana’s highest summit, 12,799-foot Granite Peak, anchors this wilderness on the edge of Yellowstone. Find world-class fly-fishing on a 20-mile, off-trail hike to the base of 12,618-foot Mt. Wood. Trip report Info (406) 446-2103
  2. Alpine Lakes, WA More than 700 lakes dot the glacier-carved terrain below the Cascades divide. Hike the PCT to see a vast swath of the wilderness, or turn to page 80 for a short waterfall hike. Info (509) 548-2550
  3. Ansel Adams, CA Explore the Sierras’ Clark, Cathedral, and Ritter Ranges on a 36-mile loop and you’ll soon understand why this wilderness area was named for the famed photographer. Trip report Info (760) 873-2400
  4. Bridger/Fitzpatrick/ Popo Agie, WY Together, these three wilderness gems blanket the Wind River Range, a bucket-list prize for any fan of wild country. See them on an 80-mile route that hugs the crest of the range, mostly hovering above 10,000 feet and passing through an embarrassment of alpine riches (expert navigation required, Trip report Shorter: One of the country’s best alpine views awaits in Titcomb Basin, a 12-mile hike from Elkhart Park trailhead. Trip report Info (307) 367-4326
  5. John Muir, CA Get Yosemite without the crowds. Hike this 32-miler from North Lake to Mosquito Flat. Expert navigation required. Trip report Info (760) 873-2400
  6. Coronation Island, AK The main appeal: Few humans ever make it to this coastal wilderness. Camp on the island’s leeward side if you do, and look for humpback whales and other wildlife. Info (907) 826-3271
  7. Glacier Peak, WA With many of the West’s biggest volcanic peaks (Rainier, Hood, Shasta) you can simply drive to the base and start climbing. Not so with Glacier, tucked away in a half-million-acre wilderness. Sample the area’s best scenery on a 25-mile route that lets ambitious scramblers bag the 10,541-foot, class 4 peak. Trip report Info (509) 664-9200
  8. Goat Rocks, WA Like the Cascades, but short on time? Hike the 13.8-mile Goat Ridge Loop for an easy weekend that delivers ought-to-be-hard scenery, including a huge view of Mt. Rainier, just 26 miles away. Trip report Info (360) 497-1100
  9. Gros Ventre, WY Escape the Teton crowds but score Teton-like scenery with some of the best wildflower displays in Wyoming. Hike it on an 18.9-mile loop connecting the verdant Swift and Shoal Creek drainages. Trip report Info (307) 739-5400
  10. Hoover, CA Think big wilderness isn’t for beginners? Think again. The 20 Lakes Basin, east of Yosemite, harbors soaring granite fins, sparkling lakes, and fields of columbine, all accessible via a novice-friendly, 8-mile loop. Camp at Wasco Lake (mile 3) for a view of morning sun on 12,590-foot Mt. Conness and 12,242-foot North Peak. Trip report Info (760) 873-2400
  11. Misty Fjords, AK The remarkable fjords provide a prime kayaking destination, but come prepared: The 25-foot tidal change can pose a challenge for even the most experienced paddlers. Alternative: The Forest Service maintains backcountry cabins accessible by (often wet) trails. Info (907) 225-2148
  12. Pasayten, WA Find the Lower 48’s largest population of lynx—and the final miles of the PCT—in this remote Northwestern wilderness. Deep immersion: Hike 120 miles on the country’s most overlooked long path, the Pacific Northwest Trail. Trip report Info (509) 996-4003
  13. Sawtooth, ID You’ve likely seen Sawtooth Lake on a poster or calendar—it’s pinup-worthy. See the 8,430-foot looker on a 17-mile loop. Trip report Info (208) 727-5000
  14. South Etolin, AK This isolated wilderness on South Etolin Island boasts incredible diversity—mountain terrain, trout streams, and wild shoreline. Access is by boat or float plane. Info (907) 874-2323
  15. Three Sisters, OR Volcanic terrain meets glacial action in this iconic wilderness. See Broken Top’s yawning crater on a 22.6-mile trek with a sweet camp at Golden Lake. Trip report Info (541) 549-7700
  16. Trinity Alps, CA Hike the Stuart Fork Trail along a lush drainage that leads to Emerald and Sapphire Lakes and the granite heart of the Trinities on a 33.2-mile out-and-back. Trip report Info (530) 623-2121
  17. Uncompahgre, CO Hike a 10.2-mile out-and-back to Navajo Lake, nestled between three Fourteeners. Allow plenty of time for exploring. Trip report Info (970) 641-0471
  18. Washakie, WY How’s this for neighbors? Yellowstone National Park on one side and Teton Wilderness on the other. But you don’t have to worry about company: Vast open spaces make for accessible off-trail hiking. Info (307) 527-6241
  19. West Chichagof-Yakobi, AK Want remote Alaska without a sufferfest? Reserve a backcountry cabin in this coastal wilderness, hire a float plane to deposit you there, and enjoy. Info (907) 945-3631
  20. Jedediah Smith, WY Unique karst limestone features helped earn this spot wilderness designation. But one of the finest views of the Tetons and Schoolroom Glacier, from 10,400-foot Hurricane Pass, is what will fill your camera’s memory card on this 23-mile shuttle hike. Trip report Info (208) 652-7442