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National Parks Special
2007: Trekking
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The Best of the National Parks: Trekking
Fifty easy-to-execute plans that put you in the wild heart of America's national parks, whether you love hiking, paddling, climbing, wildlife viewing, or sublime lodges.   By Robert Earle Howells   Illustration by Jesse Lefkowitz

Illustration: Backpacking

National Parks 2007:

Best Hikes  |  Best Paddling  |  Best Wildlife  |  Best Treks 

Best Drives  |  Best Climbs  |  Best Lodges  |  See All National Parks

Best Trip: Rafting the Grand Canyon

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Teton Crest Trail
It's perhaps America's most storied landscape: the sawtooth pinnacles of the Tetons rising like a granite crown above rolling meadows and into a cloudless sky. That a hiking route snakes along its spine seems almost too good to be true, but such is the 38-mile (61-kilometer) Teton Crest Trail. Think carpets of lupines and streams choked with mountain bluebells. Think five days of high divides, mind-bending views, and crystalline alpine lakes. Within the national parks, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more impressive mountain trek.

The hike is best from mid-July to mid-September, and even during these months lingering snowfields might require the occasional use of an ice ax. Camping is plentiful in the park's well-signed "camp zones," but for the first night plan to set up by Marion Lake at 9,250 feet (2,819 meters). This is the gateway to the high country, and two miles (three kilometers) up the trail, at Fox Creek Pass, you'll find the first of many heady lookouts—Jackson Hole to the east and Teton Valley, Idaho, to the west. From there it's 11 miles (18 kilometers) of alpine glory, all wildflower-filled meadows, serrated ridges, and burbling streams. Then you'll hit another stunner of a lookout at Hurricane Pass, where the three Tetons, South, Middle, and the 13,770-foot (4,197-meter) Grand, loom so close you can practically touch them. Plan on lingering here for a bit; it's almost impossible not to. The final push is a doozy, up to the steep 10,720-foot (3,267-meter) Paintbrush Divide, but then it's all downhill to trail's end at the Leigh Lake parking lot. By the time you reach your car (which, ahem, you should have had transported by shuttle before your hike) you'll feel like you just stepped from the pages of a coffee-table book.

Inside Word: If time permits, take two side trips: west into Alaska Basin, a cirque sprinkled with basin lakes, and east to Snowdrift Lake, one of the largest tarns in the range and set beneath a 500-foot (152-meter) sandstone cliff called the Wall.

Vitals: The Shuttle Service will deliver you to the trailhead and your car to Leigh Lake ($35; 307-690-9390). Backcountry permits are required (free;

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Outer Mountain Loop
The Lone Star State's gold-standard mountain-and-desert trek, this three-day, 30-mile (48-kilometer) loop starts at the cactus-and-agave-strewn Chisos Basin, ascends the 7,000-foot (2,134-meter) Chisos Mountains for hundred-mile (161-kilometer) vistas, and drops into red-rock terrain just past Juniper and Blue Creek Canyons before heading back.

Vitals: The hike is best in late fall. For more information, go to           

North Cascades National Park, Washington
Sahale Arm Trail
Europeans say the North Cascades remind them of the Alps. Do this 14-mile (23-kilometer) out-and-back hike, and you'll reckon it's the other way around. Begin from Cascade River Road and follow the Cascade Pass Trail 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) to the Sahale Arm Trail, which culminates at the icy wonder of the Sahale Glacier. Camp there and scramble up Sahale Peak (8,680 feet [2,646 meters]) the next day for top-of-the-world views all the way to Mount Rainier.

Sahale Peak is Class 4 in sections, so you may want a rope. Permit required (free;

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
North Manitou Island
Island solitude in the Midwest? Just look to North Manitou in the middle of Lake Michigan. Known for its 20 miles (32 kilometers) of sugary beaches, the 15,000-acre (6,070-hectare) isle is rife with must-dos: hiking through hardwood forest, jumping into hidden Lake Manitou, and falling asleep to the lapping rhythm of an inland sea.

Ferry access is from Leland ($29 round-trip; Camping is permitted almost anywhere ($5 a night;

Denali National Park, Alaska

Glacier Creek
That "Denali" often translates from the Athabascan Indian language as "the great one" is no coincidence. The mountain harbors some of the most stunning scenery in all of Alaska. For a ten-mile (16-kilometer) trek, take the park bus to mile 68 (kilometer 109) on Denali Park Road, then trace open tundra along the northeast side of the mountain. Follow Glacier Creek 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) beside the hulking Muldrow Glacier to an unnamed pass at 4,700 feet (1,433 meters), then switchback 4.5 miles (7 kilometers) down to the Eilson Visitors Center, where you can flag a bus for a ride back.

This is a true backcountry route with no trails. Hikers need rudimentary map-and-compass skills. At the Backcountry Information Center, pick up a free permit and bear canister, then purchase a ticket ($29 round-trip) for the park bus. For more information, visit

National Parks 2007:

Best Hikes  Best Paddling  |  Best Wildlife  |  Best Treks 

Best Drives  |  Best Climbs  |  Best Lodges  |  See All National Parks

Best Trip: Rafting the Grand Canyon

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