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Hiking: Andrew Skurka's
Top Ten Trails - Medium
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Skurka's Top Ten Favorite Hikes
—Medium (Long Weekend)
Text by Andrew Skurka

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Easy: Maah Daah Hey Trail, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota  

This 100-mile (161-kilometer) beauty connects the South and North Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which are separated by the Little Missouri Grasslands. The landscape lacks some of the more vibrant colors of neighboring South Dakota's Badlands National Park, but it features a similarly dissected topography consisting of erosion-prone sedimentary layers of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, and bentonite clay. These layers were deposited by ancient rivers, flowing from the newly formed Rocky Mountains, that carried ash from volcanic eruptions upstream. A closer inspection of these layers often reveals petrified wood and sometimes fossils. When the trail is not traversing the stratified gullies and cliffs, it passes through grassy prairies grazed by bison, elk, and wild horses.

This region of North Dakota only receives 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain annually, but hikers can thankfully rely on water pumps at four designated campsites (which also feature vault toilets and tent pads), as well as the starting and ending points. The hiking is not particularly strenuous, but high summertime temperatures and the shadeless landscape can substantially increase water consumption.

Difficulty: Easy, as long as you carry enough water.

Terrain: Badlands, prairie. 

Distance: 96 miles (154 kilometers). 

Time: 5 to 6 days. 

Staging Ground: Medora, ND, but it may be easier to get a ride to the more remote North Unit and then hike back.

Best Time to Go: Spring and fall (April and May, September and October), when the temperatures are most comfortable for backpacking.  

More Info:

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Intermediate: The Southern Appalachian Balds,
Appalachian Trail

Most of the Appalachian Trail passes through view-inhibiting deciduous forests, which is why this section of the AT is so unique and rewarding. The Grayson and Roan Highlands are home to many of the Southern Appalachian Balds, which are open, grassy, and alpine-like peaks, without the high elevations or northern latitudes.

Starting from the Mount Rogers Recreation Area Visitor Center, head south on the Appalachian Trail up into Grayson Highlands State Park, where the views are expansive. Here you're likely to encounter carrot-loving ponies, which are left there to graze and keep the balds in their "natural" state. A short side-trail leads the summit of viewless Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. Eventually you'll drop down into the hiker-friendly town of Damascus, which hosts the annual Appalachian Trail Days event in mid-May. Resupply there. The trail climbs out of town and soon enters Tennessee, which is home to the climax of the section: the Roan Highlands, consisting of Hump Mountain, Little Hump Mountain, Grassy Ridge, Jane Bald, Round Bald, and finally Roan Mountain, which, at 6,285 (1,916 meters), is the highest elevation of the stretch.

Difficulty: Moderate. The trail consistently climbs and descends, sometimes significantly.

Terrain: Forested, with two groupings of alpine-like balds.

Distance: 150 miles (241 kilometers). 

Time: 6-8 days if you're packing light and in reasonable shape.

Staging Ground: If heading south, Troutdale, VA; if north, Roan Mountain, TN.

Best Time to Go: In early summer (May) the rhododendrons will be reaching their peak and the conditions will be comfortable.

More Info:

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Hard: Wind River Range, Wyoming  

For the experienced backcountry enthusiast, the Wind River Range offers a lifetime of year-round adventure. For the newbie, there are few more inspiring places to first experience the outdoors. The Winds are known for their sleek, granite domes, craggy 13,000-foot (3,962-meter) peaks, abundant alpine lakes, vast plateaus, and for having the highest concentration of glaciers in the American Rocky Mountains. While the Winds are a favorite among backpackers, climbers, mountaineers, and backcountry skiers, solitude is easy to find. Traffic is relatively light (it's difficult to get to) and concentrated in the most accessible parts, such as the Green River Valley and the Big Sandy.

Because there are over 600 miles (966 kilometers) of maintained trails in the Winds, there is a plethora of route options for backpackers. You should plan on hiking at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) in order to climb up into, and then experience, the high country. You may want to consider using a portion of the Continental Divide Trail, which runs about 80 miles from Green River Lake to Sweetwater Guard Station. (The alternate route over Texas Pass into the Cirque of Towers is highly recommended.) If you are looking for a serious adventure, head into the northern Winds, where both the peaks and glaciers are the largest.

Difficulty: Hard. It's high, exposed, and rocky. 

Terrain: Starting from Green River Lakes, climb through ponderosa pine-dotted grassland into spruce and fir forests, which eventually give way to grassy and willowy alpine terrain.

Distance: At least 50 miles (80 kilometers). This place is awesome. Stay as long as you can.

Time: 3 days to several weeks. 

Staging Ground: Jackson, Pinedale, or Lander.

Best Time to Go: The high country is usually melted out by early July. Throughout June it's possible to walk easily on the compacted snowfields. The winter begins to arrive by late September.

More Info:

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