The 7 Best Hikes Backpacker’s Editors Did in 2022
From a section of the Oregon Coast Trail to an Alaskan backcountry adventure, these were our editors' favorite trails this year.
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Our editors had a breakout year in 2022: We went on Covid-postponed vacations, ticked bucket-list trips, moved across the country, had babies, went hiking with said babies—you get the idea. Now, with 2023 around the corner, we’re reflecting on our favorite moments of the year. We asked our editors—as well as a few of our colleagues at Outside and National Park Trips—to pick the single best trail they hiked in 2022. Some picked dayhikes, some selected overnights, and one told us about a full-on, floatplane-accessed Alaskan adventure. Want to hike like them? Here’s where to go.
Oregon Coast Trail, Oregon
Mile for mile, I’m convinced that no trail packs in as much scenery—as many pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moments—as the Oregon Coast Trail, which traces the full length of the state’s seashore for 382 miles from the Washington to California borders. On a family vacation this year, my 3-year-old son and I covered about 20 miles of the OCT together in two daylong pushes, car camping with my wife, Natalie, in between. Every step felt like it could have been part of another trail’s highlight reel: We soaked in soaring ocean views from the clifftops of Cape Perpetua and cooked lunch while we watched surfers catch waves on Short Sand Beach in Oswald West State Park. On our way to the trail’s high point on Neahkahnie Mountain, we climbed through the drizzle and emerged to a forest where sunbeams shone through towering old-growth trees and the thick coastal fog spread out below us like a second ocean. On an early-morning ramble down Tillicum Beach—all of Oregon’s beaches are public, thanks to the 1967 Oregon Beach Bill—we watched sea lions play in the surf and bald eagles swoop overhead.
Thankfully for this dad, the logistics were blissfully easy: The trail parallels U.S. 101 and runs through one of the Oregon coast’s multitude of state parks every few miles, providing a plethora of access points. The OCT may still not be completely continuous—thru-hikers have to deal with a fair bit of roadwalking—but new sections of footpath are opening every year. We’ll be back soon to knock out the rest of it. Maybe next time, he can carry his own pack. —Adam Roy, Executive Editor
Hike It: There are a lot of spectacular hikes on the OCT, but the 13-mile section through Oswald West State Park is one of the best. Starting from a drop-off at U.S. 101 on the park’s northern edge, wend your way south through mossy, dew-dripping clifftop forests and past Cape Falcon, a dramatic spit of rock jutting out into the Pacific. Stop for lunch at Short Sand Beach, then continue on, saving some energy for the steep ascent up Neahkahnie Mountain. Wrap up with the 1.3-mile hike to Manzanita on a new section of trail opened in 2021 by the Lower Nehalem Community Trust before crossing 101 again and picking your way through a residential neighborhood to the beach and your pickup point. Alternatively, continue 2.3 miles down the beach to the campsites at Nehalem Bay State Park ($31/night,), or do like we did and catch a ride an hour south to the Cape Lookout State Park campground, a beachside stop with views of the eponymous spit.
Zealand-Bonds Traverse, New Hampshire
For me, 2022 was a year of exploring new places, from traveling to Greenland with the Backpacker team to packing up my life in Colorado to discover the Pacific Northwest. Yet my most memorable hike this year wasn’t far flung, but a two-day jaunt through the range where I first went hiking as a kid growing up in New England.
The 11-mile Zealand-Bonds Traverse hops along a series of 4,000-footers in some of the most iconic zones of the White Mountain National Forest. I got to experience it in late summer with one of my oldest friends, my boyfriend, and my beloved pup (her first backpacking trip). In addition to the great company, rambling through the terrain that first drew me to the outdoors felt like discovering hiking all over again. I finally laid eyes on scenes I’d been dreaming about since learning of them as a kid. The dramatic granite precipice at Bondcliff, despite the low clouds and drizzle, looked just like my camp counselor had once described it to me. On top of Zeacliff, I could see trails and peaks I’ve hiked over the years from a new perspective. But my favorite moment came while we descended a wide alpine ridgeline toward one of the lesser-known peaks, Mt. Guyot. The late afternoon sun was shining, camp was just ahead, and I felt the elation that comes with being above treeline at golden hour. We passed a bag of gummy bears back and forth while taking in the emerald contours of the Whites in 360 degrees. It was easy to remember why this place had made me fall in love with the trail. —Zoe Gates, Senior Skills Editor
Hike It: Zealand-Bonds covers roughly half of the more popular 31-mile Pemigewasset Loop. You can do it in a day, but for a relaxed overnight, follow in our footsteps from the Zealand trailhead (leave a shuttle car at the Lincoln Woods trailhead) and stay at the Guyot shelter. Since it lies along one of the most popular routes in the Whites, expect the shelter to be busy (more than 80 people were camped there when we visited in late September). You can pitch a tent on one of Guyot’s platforms for $15 per person per night, but expect to share the platform with other campers. On day two, start your day with a short spur trail up West Bond, not to be missed for those checking off all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers. Then, bask in the alpine panoramas of Mt. Bond and Bondcliff before plunging back into the forest for a long, flat walk out of Lincoln Woods. For a true New England experience, don’t forget to stop for ice cream on the way home.
San Leonard Lakes Trail, New Mexico
Last fall, my husband and I took our then seven-month-old on his first backpacking trip on the trail my husband proposed to me on a few years earlier. San Leonardo Lakes Trail in Peñasco, New Mexico, is a steep eight-mile trek (closer to six if you start from the southern trailhead), in which you gain nearly 2,500 feet on your way to two alpine lakes. But the suffering is well worth the payoff. Most of the mileage traces a small river, which you cross six times as you meander through the Pecos Wilderness. Dramatic rock monoliths surround the larger of the two lakes and the handful of campsites scattered around it. Since it’s far less crowded than the more popular Trampas Lake Trail in the area, you often have your pick of places to pitch your tent. —Abigail Wise, Digital Managing Director, Outside
Hike It: Drive about a mile past the official trailhead and Trampas Campground until you come to a small turnout along Forest Road 639. Start your trail here to avoid hiking on the road. Follow the clearly-defined trail uphill for the next three miles until you reach the switchbacks at the end, then continue on until you reach the duo lakes. The one to your left is scenic and quiet, but the larger body of water straight ahead is the most striking. Set up basecamp at one of the fire rings and kick back. In the morning, take a dayhike up the steep rock on the south side of the lake. From there, you can scramble up to the ridge and North and West Truchas Peaks. Once you’re at the top, an entire trail system opens up, but best to hike early to avoid afternoon mountain storms. When you’ve had your fill, grab your gear and retrace your steps to the car. Swing by local favorite Sugar Nymphs on your way home. Order the pumpkin spice waffle with caramelized apples or the green chile burger—and a glass of refreshing gingerade.
Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming
At nearly 60, my father-in-law had never been backpacking before. We planned a 25-mile loop in Wyoming’s Wind River Range to give him a taste of the high alpine my husband and I spend most weekends immersed in. When we pulled up to the Big Sandy Trailhead bright and early on Friday morning, there must’ve been 150 cars in the lot and lining the roads; I immediately began to wonder if I’d made a mistake, but after discussing it, we decided to brave the crowds and forge on. As it turned out, we only encountered a few other groups as we hiked past sparkling mountain lakes with bald eagles guarding them and across alpine meadows dotted with late-season wildflowers. At the end of the first day, we easily found a campsite near Washakie Creek where a few flicks of my father-in-law’s fly rod brought in several brook trout under the towering peaks. Somehow, we had managed to find the solitude we were craving.
We still had two mountain passes to tackle and while my father-in-law threatened to sell all of his new gear the moment we returned home as we huffed and puffed our way to the first summit, being with a first-timer reminded me of why I love to do this so much. We ate lunch serenaded by pika calls, taking in the expansive views of the trail we had just tackled and the lake-filled basin we were heading for. I felt pretty darn lucky to be there and to be sharing my love of the mountains. —Mikaela Ruland: Associate Content Director, National Park Trips
Hike It: From Big Sandy Trailhead south of Pinedale, Wyoming, make a counter-clockwise 23-27-mile loop, depending on your detours. Climb over Texas Pass into the Cirque, a well-known rock climbing destination, and spend a day enjoying Lonesome Lake before exiting via Jackass Pass and returning to the trailhead. By the last weekend in August, we’d managed to escape the Wind River Range’s famous mosquitoes and black flies and still encountered excellent weather.
Pacific Crest Trail, Cleveland National Forest, California
This August, I braved my first solo backpacking trip. Lately I’ve been wanting to challenge myself, test my backcountry knowledge, and see how I’d handle 24 hours alone with my thoughts, so I created a manageable 6-mile-per-day itinerary partially along a well-traveled, well-marked section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
As I parked at Mt. Laguna’s Desert View Picnic Area and got my gear together, I chatted with a crew that was shooting a short film. On the trail throughout the day, I hiked among views of the alpine above and the desert below. I spent a long lunch break gazing out over the deep canyon vista, picking out Mt. San Jacinto to the west and the Salton Sea to the east, and spent a sunscreen-and-snack break admiring the mountains from Foster Point. A couple miles later, around dinnertime, I got some trail magic as I passed through a campsite to resupply my water and a very nice family asked if I was a thru-hiker. When I said I’m just a measly weekend backpacker, they offered me an extra hamburger anyway.
The next morning, I stepped off the PCT to hike south on through the Laguna Meadow, passing through rolling wildflower-filled grasses and grazing cows. As I reached the trailhead, the same filmmakers were wrapping up their final scene and cheered as I approached the cars. On a weekend I was expecting to be all on my own on the trail, supportive strangers showed me that I really wasn’t. —Emma Veidt, Assistant Skills Editor
Hike It: Before you hike, don’t forget to leave an Adventure Pass (or an America the Beautiful Pass) hanging in your car and acquire a permit to hike in the Cleveland National Forest, available on the Forest Service’s website. It’s about a 3-mile trek north from Desert View Picnic Area to Foster Point. Turn around at the lookout point, or hike farther to reach lush alpine grasslands and towering pines. Bring plenty of water in the summer; this trail is largely exposed and dry. In the fall, bring layers; this area gets windy and chilly, at least by Southern California’s standards.
Mount Hunger, Vermont
As a recent New England transplant, I have a bad habit of underestimating the local high points. With the tallest peak in Vermont sitting at just over 4,000 feet, how hard can the climb possibly be? Very hard, as I discovered on a day hike to the closest trail to my home in the Northern part of the state. Mount Hunger sits in the Worchester Range, a rocky spine due east of Stowe. Owing to its relatively small peaks and distance from the Long Trail, it’s quieter and more wild-feeling than the state’s more westerly mountains.
From the Middlesex trailhead, I hiked a leisurely 1.6 miles through sun-dappled, boulder-choked oak and maple forest before turning right to remain on the Middlesex Trail. From here, things took a shockingly steep turn. The next mile to the peak of Mount Hunger was a mix of class 3 and 4 scrambling, with the occasional metal staircase to aid hikers unaccustomed to the switchback-less approaches of the Northeast. Birches and spruces popped up as I entered Vermont’s alpine zone, eventually topping out at 3,540 feet.
Still, the suffering was worth it. At the gently sloping top, the panoramic views stretched from the White Mountains of New Hampshire to New York’s Adirondacks, with the distinctive curve of Camel’s Hump and Waterbury Reservoir glittering in the foreground. I savored the views—and nursed my bruised Cascadian ego—before closing the lollipop loop through mossy, mushroom-studded forest down the Bob Kemp Trail to my car. —Benjamin Tepler, Gear Editor
Hike It: The 5.5-mile Mount Hunger lollipop loop is best later in the summer season, when the steep grade is less affected by slick runoff. Hiking it counter-clockwise is recommended, as the Middlesex Trail approach is much easier to climb up than down. Mount Hunger is also accessible from the 7.4-mile round-trip Waterbury Trail.
Katmai National Park, Alaska
In August I joined Outside’s travel partner, Modern Adventure, for a six-day guided backpacking trip in Katmai National Park. Our group of 10 had no set itinerary—there are only 5 miles of established trails inside a park that is roughly the size of New Jersey—but after the float plane dropped us off at Mirror Lake in the park’s far northwest corner on day one, we still experienced everything you’d want from the Alaska backcountry. On day two we hiked 10 miles along the banks of Funnel Creek, spotting thousands of bright pink spawning salmon and at least thirty grizzly bears wading in to feast upon them.
Our remaining days were spent circumnavigating an unnamed peak north of Mirror Lake in shifting weather that ranged from 60 degrees and sunny (perfect conditions for spotting small herds of caribou) to 30-mph winds and sideways rain (perfect conditions for spotting nothing but the hiker in front of you). Along the way there were dozens of creek crossings, stops for snacks beside stunning lakes, and a few views that stretched all the way north to the peaks of Lake Clark National Park. Best of all: the wind eliminated the mosquitoes and we never had to pull the safety on our bear spray. —Christopher Keyes, Editorial Director, Outdoor Group
Hike it: Mirror Lake is an hour flight south of Port Allsworth, where you can charter a floatplane drop-off and pick-up through Lake Clark Air. For salmon and bear spotting (July – August), just follow Funnel Creek, which flows right out of the lake. The rest of your itinerary is up to you. Permits not required for independent groups under five. For guided trips, book through Modern Adventure.