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Colorado Trails

Readers' Choice Awards 2009

Discover the best hike in every state, as voted by BACKPACKER readers. Plus: your essential gear, most desirable tentmate, worst-ever adventure movie, and our picks for the best reader-submitted photos.

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


Snowmass Mountain, Colorado (David Muench)


The descent to Hawaii’s Kalalau Beach (Matt Hage)


Mt. Thielsen (Donna Ikenberry)


Big Creek in the Smokies (Jeff Zimmerman)


An alcove in Davis Gulch. (James Kay)

Top State HikesYour VotesReader Photo Winners


We asked you to rank your favorite hikes in all 50 states and you delivered. Here, see the winners and download the hikes for yourself to trail-blaze a new hike or revisit an old one.

Alaska See glaciers on a Harding Icefield Trail eight-miler in Kenai Fjords National Park.

Alabama Cool off in waterfalls on the Land Trust Loop near Monte Sano Mountain.

Arkansas Traverse massive limestone bluffs and deep, secluded hollows on the Ozarks’ Buffalo River Trail.

Arizona Discover Grand Canyon solitude and red-rock splendor in Thunder Canyon.


Pacific Crest Trail

The best hike in the Golden State may just be the best hike in the whole country.

In the 209 miles from Kennedy Meadows in Sequoia National Forest to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, the PCT passes through three national parks, ascends numerous high passes with heavenly views, bisects two stunning wilderness areas–and never crosses a single road. En route you’ll also find countless alpine meadows, granite-lined cirques with life-list campsites, and lake after lake after lake. Not to mention the opportunity to detour up Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the Lower 48 (for beta on climbing the stunning and crowd-free Mountaineer’s Route, see page 32). Farther north, you’ll cross 13,153-foot Forester Pass, the highest point on the entire PCT, and hike by such deep-Sierra icons as the Ritter Range, Evolution Valley, and Yosemite’s Lyell Fork. See more photos and download a map and tracklog at


Snowmass Mountain

Bag an easy fourteener and enjoy a perfect glissade on this weekend hike in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

To call this 20.8-mile loop one of the most spectacular routes in all of the Rockies is not hyperbole. Which is why it’s also one of the most crowded come July. The secret is to go in June, when the campsites at trout-filled Snowmass Lake are readily available and acres of snow still span the east-facing basin between 14,092-foot Snowmass Mountain and 13,841-foot Hagerman Peak. It’s like climbing a big glacier in the Alps–without the crevasse danger. Wait until the morning sun softens the snow and you won’t even need crampons to reach the granite peak. Best part: the glissade. In good conditions, you can slide more than 1.5 miles and nearly 3,000 vertical feet. See photos and download a map and tracklog at

Connecticut Hike 15.9 miles of the rugged Appalachian Trail.

Delaware Sorry, friends, your best hike is in Virginia.

Florida Sublime beaches highlight this three-day hike in the Everglades

Georgia See five waterfalls in 10.8 miles on the Panther Creek Trail.

Top State HikesYour VotesReader Photo Winners


Na Pali Coast

Explore Kauai’s lush jungle–cool off in waterfalls, pick wild mangoes–on the Kalalau Trail.

It’s only 21 miles round-trip, but allow yourself plenty of time to savor this tropical trek. Once you start down the Kalalau Trail from Kee Beach, you’ll be reluctant to turn around. After a rugged descent over roots, rock slabs, and slippery mud, you’ll cross Hanakapiai Beach (use caution crossing the stream here in high water) and hike through one valley paradise after another. Black volcanic rock pinnacles tower overhead, edge-of-the-world views open onto the ocean, and you’ll find tropical treats like a giant mango tree (at Hanakoa camping area). At mile 4.6, don’t miss a detour to Hanakoa Falls, a 1,400-foot waterfall that cascades down smooth, black rock. Before reaching Kalalau Beach, you’ll have to cross a tight-rope section of trail nicknamed Crawler’s Way (for obvious reasons). Resist throwing your gear down the moment you hit the sand: Camp near the waterfall at the end of the beach. Pitch your tent away from the cliffs, where there’s a hazard from falling rocks. Tip: A ranger’s shelter provides free surfboards for campers. See photos and download a map and tracklog at

Iowa Follow the quiet Winnebago River on a 6.3-mile loop.

Idaho Score stunning lake and peak views in the Sawtooth Wilderness on this 8.6-mile path.

Illinois Hike the Starved Rock Trail on a4.3-mile loop through sculpted sandstone canyons.

Indiana Explore the state’s lone wilderness area on the 6.1-mile Sycamore Loop.

Kansas Mix prairie and sandstone hoodoos on Horsethief Canyon’s 4.4-miler.

Kentucky A 6.6-miler on the Turnhole Bend Trail offers exceptional views of the state’s last remaining old-growth forests.

Louisiana Birders love the 6.6 miles on the coastal Boy Scout Road.

Massachusetts Bag Mt. Greylock on a dayhike via Stony Ledge.

Maryland Walk 5.6 miles and 155 years back in time on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal tow path.

Maine Linger over panoramic ocean views on the four-miler up Acadia’s Sargent Mountain.

Michigan See wolves, moose, and a pristine island wilderness on this 61.1-mile traverse of Isle Royale.

Minnesota Skirt the airy ledges of Superior Hiking Trail on a weekender.

Mississippi Go 12.9 miles along the steep banks of Black Creek.

Missouri Trace emerald creeks in the Ozark Highlands on the Big Piney Trail

Montana Explore Glacier National Park’s alpine zone on this 54.8-mile loop.

Big Creek Climb Mt. Sterling and hike through history on this 16.9-mile loop through the eastern Smokies.

In a park known for abundant and beautiful creeks, they don’t get any better than the one called Big. And the first part of the route follows an old railroad grade–used to transport trees during the logging boom at the start of the 20th century–making for a gentle entry into the deceptively steep Smokies. Allow plenty of time for frequent stops at swimming holes and a waterfall in the first few miles of the hike: Midnight Hole is a deep blue gem just 1.4 miles in; Mouse Creek Falls is a 45-foot cascade just a bit farther. (Tip: Camp along the Big Creek Trail just beyond the old logging camp at Walnut Bottom.) Spend the second night atop 5,760-foot Mt. Sterling, where there’s a small glade with prime tent sites and a lookout tower with magical views. See more photos and download a map and tracklog at

North Dakota Lose yourself in the Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Nebraska Hike 3.3 scenic miles through Platte River State Park.

New Hampshire Climb Mt. Washington on a day trip via the life-list Tuckerman Ravine.

New Jersey Hike Kittatinny Ridge (and take the detour to Buttermilk Falls) on the AT.

New Mexico See the tallest peaks in the Pecos Wilderness on a high-country dayhike of the Hamilton Mesa Trail.

Nevada This easy three-miler affords spectacular views in Great Basin National Park.

New York Tag Mt. Marcy, New York’s highpoint, on a 14.2-mile trek in the Adirondacks.

Ohio Roam wild hollows on a 15.2-mile loop in Wayne National Forest.

Oklahoma Spend a day amid towering pines on Horse Thief Springs Loop.


Mt. Thielsen

A climb up this Cascades volcano mixes crowd-free trails and a heart-pumping scramble. Mt. Thielsen is a stratovolcano like many other Cascade peaks, but unlike most, Thielsen’s 9,184-foot summit has been fractured and eroded into a pointy horn of rock–with no crater–that makes for an exciting class 3-4 climb. It’s only 8.8 miles round-trip, but start early: You’ll climb 3,700 feet, and the peak’s not nicknamed “the lightning rod of the Cascades” for nothing. You’ll also need to do a bit of routefinding on the way to the summit: The Mt. Thielsen Trail fades after you cross the Pacific Crest Trail and you’ll pick your way up a talus slope by linking cairns. The last 100-plus feet is a non-technical scramble, but the most cautious hikers pack slings and climbing rope. On top, enjoy views of Diamond Lake, Mt. Bailey, and Mt. Mazama. See more photos and download a map and tracklog at

Pennsylvania See 21 cascades in 7.2 miles on the Falls Trail Loop in Ricketts Glen State Park.

Rhode Island Okay, it’s a driveway. But it’s also the state’s highpoint!.

South CarolinaHike 7.7 miles on the Raven Cliff Falls Loop.

South Dakota See bison roaming a rare swath of pristine prairie in Badlands National Park on this 4.2-miler.


Hike 5.2 miles to the highest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Texas Experience the vastness of Big Bend National Park on this weekender in the High Chisos Mountains.


Davis Gulch

Explore arches, rock art, and mind-blowing Southwest canyons along the Escalante River.

Journeys in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area should be measured by jaw-dropping moments, not quad-busting elevation–which is to say this 16-mile trek will keep your mouth hanging open for days. The trail descends through Navajo sandstone domes and open slickrock before entering Davis Gulch proper and following a wash filled with sagebrush, yucca, and snakeweed. You’ll camp in stunning alcoves that were once at the heart of a thriving Native American civilization (they abandoned the area about 700 years ago), fill a memory card with pictures of LaGorce and Bement Arches, and get a taste of one the Southwest’s most intriguing mysteries: the last known camp of Everett Ruess, an enigmatic writer and painter who disappeared here in 1934. See more photos and download a map and tracklog at

Virginia Climb Shenandoah’s Old Rag Mountain on a bouldery 8.6-mile loop.

Vermont Explore alpine tundra on a 4.8-mile dayhike up Mt. Mansfield.

Washington Score solitude and sweet views of Mt. Rainier on an 8.2-mile trek in the Tatoosh Range.

Wisconsin Cruise 10.6 miles of Lake Superior’s sandy beaches and sandstone cliffs on Apostle Island National Lakeshore’s mainland trail.

West Virginia You’ll swear you’re in Canada on this 16.2-mile overnighter in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.

Wyoming Take an 80-mile life-list hike on the crest of the Wind River Range.

Top State HikesYour VotesReader Photo Winners


What’s your dream trail? The worst adventure movie of all time? Would you cut the rope? See how BACKPACKER readers weighed in on, well, just about everything.

You’d rather have more …

Time to hike 61%

Stamina 20%

Hiking companions 16%

Gear 3%

You must leave one of the following items behind. Which do you drop?

Stove 37%

Tent 20%

Compass/GPS 15%

Rainshell 14%

Knife 11%

Sleeping bag 3%

The international trek you most want to hike is …

#1) Milford Track, New Zealand

#2) Inca Trail, Peru

#3) Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

The worst adventure movie of all time is …


(Vertical Limit, despite–or because of?–an Ed Viesturs cameo, is a distant second with 18% of the votes.)

Your favorite U.S. mountain is …

Rainier (with 200 more votes than McKinley!). Read “Thunder on the Mountain” for an exclusive story on how climate change is transforming this iconic peak–and making it more dangerous. 

You want to go ultralight and you’re within 6 ounces of getting your load under 15 pounds. Which tradeoff do you make?

None, thanks. I’m cool with 16 pounds: 40%

Swap full-length pad for 3/4-length: 27%

No desserts: 19%

Tent for tarp: 7%

Canister stove for alcohol stove: 4%

No long john bottoms: 3%

Under Your Hiking Shorts

11% Commando

Briefs 46%

Boxers 40%

Thong 3%

Top State HikesYour VotesReader Photo Winners

Your partner is hanging from a cliff with no way to go up or down. You’ll both likely die if you don’t cut the rope. You …

Cut the Rope 50%

Don’t Cut the Rope 50%

The strangest item in your pack is …

Teddy bear

Superman cape

Pirate flag

United States Constitution*

*A random selection of the unusual stuff you carry

The most miles you’ve ever hiked in a single day …

12% Less than 10

35% 15

28% 20

17% 25

8% More than 30

You’d rather hike in …

The snow 36% (Read “How to Navigate in the Snow” for tips on winter navigation.)

The rain 29%

30-mph wind 17%

Stay in my tent, thanks 10%

100°F heat 8%

If you could have a job as a full-time hiker, your minimum salary requirement would be …

Minimum wage 24%

$50,000 %50

$75,000 16%

$100,000 10%

In the wilderness, strangers once came upon you …

#1) Using a cathole

#2) Skinny-dipping

#3) Having sex

At what age did you go on your first backpacking trip?

5 or younger 4%

6-10 15%

11-15 31%

16-20 19%

21 or older 30%

Never been on a backpacking trip 1%

Go to for a guide to hiking basics.

The worst way to die in the backcountry is …

Bear attack 19%

Swarmed by bees 15%

Drowning 15%

Dehydration 14%

Freezing 10%

Fall 7%

Avalanche 7%

Mountain lion attack 6%

Snake or spider bite 6%

Lightning strike 1%

Which creature would you least want to find in your tent?

Skunk 47%

Black widow 26%

Porcupine 15%

Scorpion 12%

Who would you most like to share a tent with?

Here are your top 4 picks:

1. John Muir

2. Kristin Hostetter

3. Edmund Hillary

4. Ernest Shackleton

You can take only one of the following on your next backpacking trip. Which do you choose?

Book 29%

Chocolate 27%

Camp chair 14%

Cocktail 11%

iPod 11%

I’ll give up nothing 8%

The all-time best adventure book isA Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson

The best state for backpackers to live in is… Colorado


1 in 4 readers say the best national park for backpackers is …Yosemite

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