From the Field: BACKPACKER Trail Scouts' Top Western Local Hikes

Whether you want an uncrowded hike in Zion National Park or a five-miler through a gypsum dune field in New Mexico, our scouts have paved the way.
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Goat Lake, Mt. Baker NF, WA

Nathan Barnes, Seattle, WA

Late season spells smaller crowds and bigger water on this 10.5-mile loop following a Cascades’ creek to an emerald lake. Steadily climb 1,100 feet alongside Elliot Creek to 266-foot-tall McIntosh Falls, a 75-foot-wide cascade tumbling trailside at mile four. Continue .5 mile to Goat Lake, tucked in a cirque beneath three snow-capped summits (7,835-foot Sloan Peak is the tallest). Return via the cedar-lined upper trail for a less-muddy descent. Trip ID1212981

“The cirque gets closed in with clouds; pick a sunny day.”

Alkali Flat Trail, White Sands NM, NM

Becky Wiles, Alamogordo, NM

Forge into the heart of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield on this five-mile loop with constant 360-degree views across snowy white sand. “The water table is only a foot below the surface,” Wiles says. “It’s the glue that holds the dunes together.” Watch for surprising signs of life as you traverse the 50-foot mounds, including grasses sprouting in the flat interdunal areas, the occasional yellow splash of a cottonwood, and lizard, bird, and beetle tracks snaking across the sand’s surface. Orient yourself with landmarks like 11,973-foot Sierra Blanca, which lies due north. Trip ID1776824

“Start just after sunrise for brilliant yellow-orange light.”

Chinle Trail to Coalpits, Zion NP, UT

Ray O’Neil, Springdale, UT

“Three million people visit Zion Canyon each year, but only a few thousand see the view from the back side,” O’Neil says. Get the unique perspective as you circle the base of 7,285-foot Mt. Kinesava on this 11-mile loop. Camp at mile four, and watch the sunset illuminate 7,810-foot West Temple. Day two, look for chunks of petrified wood littering the head of Scoggins Wash at the halfway point; continue up Coalpits Wash to Main Street and walk east two easy road miles to your car. Trip ID716485

“In late November, the cliffs get a frosting of snow on top.”

Lower Hulls Gulch Loop, Hulls Gulch/Camel's Back Reserve, ID

David Gordon, Boise, ID

Escape into the foothills five minutes from downtown Boise on this local-favorite seven-mile loop. Ascend 600 feet in two miles to a sage- and bitterbrush-covered ridgeline: “You get nice views looking back at the city to the southwest,” Gordon says. Descend along trickling Hulls Creek to close the loop. Tip: Don’t let a freezing late-fall morning dissuade you—the hills are at their prettiest under a layer of frost. (Check for trail conditions.) Trip ID5668

“Also consider going in the late afternoon, when the sunlight casts an orange hue on the autumn-brown hills.”

Bog Springs Loop, Coronado NF, AZ

Zac Ribbing, Douglas, AZ

Journey into a lush mountain oasis surrounded by desert on this 4.5-mile lollipop to three springs shaded by silver-barked sycamore, walnut, and juniper. Ascend 1,500 feet in two miles to Kent Spring; watch for both mule deer and Coues white-tailed deer (about half the size of their eastern brethren). Optional spur: From here, climb another 1,500 feet on the seven-mile out-and-back Four Springs Trail to gaze across the desert 30 miles north to Tucson. Return past Bog Springs for an 11.5-mile loop. Trip ID18417

“Look for black bear prints in the mud at Kent Spring.”