Top Ten Day Hikes in the Southwest - Page 2
|The Narrows in Zion National Park (Nathan Borchelt)|
5. Wilson Mountain Trail
11.2-mile circuit in Coconino National Forest, AZ
Numerous New Agers believe that the summit of Wilson Mountain is one of Sedona's nine vortexes, high-energy meditation sites that turbo-boost people's spiritual and psychic abilities. Whether or not you'd agree, one thing isn't up for dispute: The summit qualifies as one of the most scenic spots in the Southwest. To your left as you ascend the 5.6-mile one-way trail, ponderosa pine trees climb a massive sheet of red rock whose ridges look like organ pipes that only an angel could play. To your right, monoliths, mesas, and spires (some as high as 5,000 feet) adjoin the serrated mountain walls. At the top, plop down in the red soil, chant a few oms, and be one with the world. If that doesn't work, at least stretch. You have a long walk down.
Check out our profile of Wilson Mountain Trail—and add to it—in our Trail Finder Wiki
4. Hamburger Rocks Route
9-mile circuit in Capitol Reef National Park, UT
One of five national parks in the state of Utah, Capitol Reef is a little-known gem that receives far fewer visitors than its famous neighbors, Bryce Canyon and Zion. Yet the same soaring spires, massive domes, narrow canyons, and graceful arches that lure hikers to those other well-known parks can be found at Capitol Reef. One of the finest hikes is the nine-mile round-trip route from the Halls Creek Overlook to Hamburger Rocks. The trail descends steeply before leveling off and offering dazzling views of the hamburger-shaped hoodoos sitting atop a table of white sandstone. Bring plenty of water if you take this trail in summer—it can get mighty hot. Camp at Fruita Campground, a true oasis in the Utah desert. The 70 sites are surrounded by peach, apple, pear, plum, mulberry, cherry, and apricot trees, planted by the pioneering Mormon community that settled here in the 1870s.
Check out our profile of Hamburger Rocks Trail—and add to it—in our Trail Finder Wiki
3. Sheep Creek/Swamp Canyon Loop
4.5-mile loop in Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Like the Grand Canyon, Utah's Bryce Canyon is one of the few national parks that inspires you to look down in awe, instead of up at mountains or cliffs. Here, the highlight is the hundreds of hoodoos—colorful standing pinnacles created by decades of wind and rain erosion—that line the Bryce amphitheater. Warm up on the short Queen's Garden Route, a dusty stone path loaded with those “Hoodoo Dudes.” Then leave the masses behind on the 4.5-mile Sheep Creek/Swamp Canyon Loop through the park's seldom-traveled backcountry. Spires of pink rock mix with an evergreen forest filled with tall ponderosa pines, oaks, and maples. Summer is actually a good time to hit Bryce. Unlike other areas of southern Utah that are sweltering in July and August, Bryce's elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet keeps conditions relatively cool.
Check out our profile of Sheep Creek and Swamp Canyon—and add to them—in our Trail Finder Wiki
2. The Narrows
10-miles roundtrip or 16-miles one way in Zion National Park, UT
Hikers in the know head to Zion in the off-season. Come winter, the red and amber canyon walls that form a tower of massive rock are usually blanketed by snow at higher elevations (7,000 to 9,000 feet). Down at the 4,000-foot-high park headquarters, however, all you'll need is a decent pair of boots; flurries rarely make it to these lower elevations. Zion's most impressive hike is in the Narrows, where you follow the Virgin River through a 1,000-foot-deep chasm that's a mere 20 feet wide in places. The river can swell with water even before the first snowfall, so anticipate getting more than your feet wet. You'll need a wetsuit and booties because of the cool water temperatures, but that's a small price to pay to have this monster slot to yourself. The Virgin River is 16 miles long, and you can hike the whole thing from the top down with a permit. Or you can hike from the bottom up, going in five miles before the park requires you to turn back.
1. Kaibab Trail
65-mile out-and-back in Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Drop into the Big Ditch by heading for the canyon's South Rim on this, one of the most revered routes in the park. The descent from the 7,200-foot-high trailhead is the easy part on all things save your knees, with staggering views throughout. About 1.5 miles in, you hit Cedar Ridge, where—the National Park Service warns—you should turn around during the summer due to excessive heat. Three miles later, you reach Skeleton Point, where you first catch a glimpse of the Colorado River. Unless you're making killer time, it's time to turn around and head back up. Remember: It typically takes twice as long to ascend the canyon. Or, if you're tempted by spending the night in the canyon itself, continue down toward and brave Bright Angel Trail, which carves up the North Rim, which is 1,000 feet higher than its counterpart. Either way, play it smart. Kaibab Trail has NO water sources, so pack plenty, and also carry layers, as temperatures can vary by as much as 20 degrees depending on your location in the canyon. Winter naturally sees fewer visitors than summer, so target the shoulder months of fall and spring—before spring break.