Narrowing down my favorite hikes in North America’s National Parks is a Herculean task. The more I hike, the longer the list grows! Here's an attempt at a top five, but don't stop there. Check out more in my book, The World's Best National Parks in 500 Walks.
Walcott Quarry in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park
Since childhood, I’ve been obsessed with fossils. A few years ago, my dad and I made a pilgrimage to one of the most famous fossil localities on Earth: the Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park. Located on a ridge high in the Canadian Rockies, the Walcott Quarry continues to produce some of the oldest and most exquisitely preserved fossils of the earliest complex life forms on Earth. The 12.5 mile hike to the quarry is spectacular, with sprawling views of the dramatically glaciated Presidential Mountains and aptly named Emerald Lake.
Cloud’s Rest in California’s Yosemite National Park
Two summers ago, I hiked 300 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail from south of Mount Whitney to Yosemite over 27 days. The day before we finished our trek, we summited Cloud’s Rest, a jagged knife-edge ridge with 360 degree views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, the 5,000-foot drop into Tenaya Canyon, and a lifetime’s worth of lakes and peaks in every direction, a fitting climax to the most scenic month of my life.
Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park
Angel’s Landing is one of the most infamous trails in the national park system. The 5-mile long round trip route starts with 21 switchbacks and then tiptoes along a shockingly narrow ridge guarded by a series of chains bolted to the rock to an astounding viewpoint of the Virgin River. I’ve hiked Angels Landing a half dozen times but my favorite experience was summiting at night under the full moon, no headlamps necessary.
The Hermit-Boucher Loop in Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park
Whenever people ask me to name my favorite national park, I always say the Grand Canyon. I’ve backpacked into the canyon a half-dozen times, including a five day Rim to Rim to Rim for my 40th birthday. My favorite route is the Hermit-Boucher loop, a 20-mile adventure from Hermit's Rest, down to the Colorado River and back up the Boucher “trail”, a class 2-3 scramble through 5,800 vertical feet of geologic history back up to the South Rim.
Old Rag Loop in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park
My first backpacking trip ever was in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and it’s still one of my favorite parks. The 10-mile loop to the craggy granite summit of Old Rag is an East Coast classic with its uniquely bald boulder summit standing out in a sea of mostly forested peaks. Old Rag looks different than the surrounding mountains because it is different: Old Rag’s granite was formed over a billion years ago and once underlied a vast mountain range, longer and higher than the Rockies.