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Sep 4 / Dave Schumaker

My Favorite Hiking Trips

I posted this on my personal blog, but thought it fit the criteria for this site as well. As a geologist, I find myself outdoors a lot, both for work and play. One of the things I thoroughly enjoy is putting on a trusty pair of hiking boots (or Chacos!) and hitting the trail.

After hiking up Mt. Lassen this past weekend (awesome trip as well!), it got me to thinking about some of my favorite hikes that I’ve ever done. Here are my five favorites. The list is pretty fluid and subject to change without notice. ;)

Some of the hikes were more difficult than others, but I have them ranked by how great I think they were (in terms of scenery, location and how accomplished I felt afterwards).

1.) Tongariro Crossing – North Island, New Zealand

Ketetahi Hot Springs on Tongariro

From Wikipedia:

The entire length of the walk (except for the final descent through native forest) is through raw volcanic terrain. The three volcanoes in the area are all highly active and the terrain reflects this. Solidified lava flows, loose scree, scoria, and solidifed volcanic lava bombs abound. Large amounts of minerals are brought to the surface and are highly visible in the colours of rocks and ridges. Active steam vents abound on several sections of the walk, constantly emitting steam and sulfur dioxide gas into the air and depositing yellow sulfur specks around their edges. The famous lakes and pools on the walk are deeply coloured by the volcanic minerals dissolved in them. Some areas feature large springs emitting near-boiling water and torrents of steam. The terrain underfoot for most of the walk is either sharp edged new volcanic rock or loose and shifting scree. In some crater areas it is finer sediment that has become moist and compacted.

2.) Kalalau Trail – Kauai


From Wikipedia:

The Kalalau Trail is a trail along the Nā Pali Coast of the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii. The trail is very strenuous and runs approximately 11 miles along the island’s north shore from KeÊ»e Beach to the Kalalau Valley. An experienced, very fit hiker can complete the trail in about a single day, but most people require two days and will camp along the trail.

The trail is located in the Nā Pali Coast State Park and access is controlled in the cause of conservation. A limited number of permits are issued for camping in Kalalau Valley every year. In spite of the efforts of the state of Hawaiʻi, many people illegally hike the trail and even live in Kalalau Valley. These long-term campers are suspected, by some, to cause serious harm to the ecological balance of the valley by their waste and propagation of introduced species.

3.) Stuart Fork Trail – Trinity Alps, Northern California

Scenic Valley

From California Conservation Corps:

We hiked the Caribou Scramble, a ninety-plus switchback menace that drops 2,700 feet down into havens like the Emerald and Sapphire Lakes and Morris Meadow.

4.) Sykes Hot Springs – Big Sur, California


From NY Times:

If you talk to any California hiker about hot springs, chances are Big Sur will come up in the conversation. And there’s no more quintessential California hot springs hike than the trail to the fern-banked soak called Sykes, through groves of 300-foot-tall redwoods and the steep chaparral-covered slopes of the Ventana Wilderness, south of Monterey.

Almost every trekker in the area makes a pilgrimage to Sykes Hot Springs at some point, and for good reason. The springs are relatively accessible — 10 miles each way from a ranger station off Highway 1 — and doable as a weekend trip, with an overnight at the Sykes campground, run by the National Forest Service. At the same time, the terrain is challenging, with plenty of up and down, and rich in variety. Because Big Sur country straddles the border between northern and southern California, it is characterized by quick changes over short distances — from the north’s trademark redwoods and oaks to the yucca and dry scrub typical of the south.

At the end of the trek the hiker finds the cool waters of the Big Sur River running alongside the 100-degree pool of Sykes Hot Springs, boulder-lined and large enough to fit about six people. Depending on the water flow, other smaller pools can sometimes be found between it and the river, marked by cairns that previous visitors have left behind.

“There’s nothing quite like sitting in a natural hot pool next to a cold brook or river,” said Michael Elliott, 30, of Half Moon Bay, Calif., a biochemist and a seasoned hiker who has made the trip up to Sykes.

5.) Bishop Pass – Bishop, California

View From Bishop Pass

From Hiking over Bishop Pass:

Permits for Bishop Pass are dreadfully limited, unless you’re with a commercial outfit with a pack of animals. Somehow they’re not considered to cause impact. In any event, we were a group of 6 able to head up and over to Dusi Basin. The trailhead is at South Lake, a popular fishing destination with boat ramps and lots of infrastructure. The route is a string of lakes with remarkably clear water. I wish I had known to bring a pair of swim goggles. Even without I could see clear detail below. As we pass 11,000 we’re above the timberline and going up a talus slope with a moderate excuse for a trail. Bishop Pass lies right about 12,000 and from there we drop down the other side to Dusi Basin at about 11,400. Here we have many more lakes, separated by small dropoffs and rock slabs. I managed to swim in almost every lake possible. I get so much dust on me climbing about in the scree and talus – a nice cold swim feels great. I couldn’t quite place the water temp – sometimes it felt like 60, other times the high 40s. I suspect somewhere in the middle, say 55, is about right.

This list is by no means complete. There are a lot of other awesome hiking and backpacking trips I’ve left off here. Perhaps I should eventually expand it to my 10 favorite trails, but I doubt that is even enough.

What are some of your favorite hiking trails?

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