Almost three decades have passed since I first succumbed to the irresistible appeal of wilderness. An early hike took me to a windswept ridge in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Range. From camp, I looked south across September slopes golden with autumn aspen and ridge-tops painted blood red by a setting sun. It was a transforming vision. At that moment I made a promise to myself to see more of these pristine places, to experience as many of the highlights of the natural world as possible--while they remain still wild and beautiful.
So far, I've managed to keep that promise, but it's been a long road with a steep learning curve. In the beginning, my first backcountry forays were made to places close to home. Into the mountains of Shenandoah National Park, the hills of western Massachusetts, and finally into the bigger wilderness of the Rockies and the Sierra, I trudged in too-heavy hiking boots under the backbreaking load of my bulging external frame pack. I loved backcountry from the beginning, despite the self-inflicted agonies resulting from my rookie decisions on what to carry and how to go.
But the more you do something, the better you get. After an adult lifetime spent loving wilderness travel, I’m pretty good at it by now. I can move through the backcountry with lighter loads but greater comfort. If there is a surprise, it's this: I enjoy backcountry travel now more than ever. And, more importantly, I’ve gotten better at figuring out where to go. That's the critical skill. When I realized early on that there were more great wilderness places than one could see in a lifetime, I understood the need to prioritize. The urgency I felt was to find the places and the routes that bring the greatest return on time and effort and expense applied.
That was the idea behind Classic Hikes of North America, a book that reflects thirty years of searching for the best routes to the most enchanting places on the continent. The hikes contained here are some of my favorites--at least so far. I'm still looking, and hope I always will be.
People ask me: what are your favorite hikes? I used to struggle with a reply until I realized the truth: they are all my favorites. How does one compare, say, flying to Las Vegas, driving for four hours to the Grand Canyon, and spending four days in the embrace of that wonder with, say, driving to Mount Rainier to spend four days on the wild north side? Can one rate a trip to Newfoundland’s pristine Long Range Traverse ahead, or behind , a journey to the incomparable Coyote Gulch tucked away in southern Utah’s Escalante Canyon system? I don’t see how.
What I can see, however, is that getting out in any of these wild places, whether close to home or far away, is one of the best things we can do with the time we are given. I’m no wilderness snob, either. If you can’t do one of these hikes, do one of the local favorites near your place. Because my desire is to see people get off the couch and “get out,” I have worked to make this book not just a collection of appealing destinations, but a utilitarian one. Inspiration is great, but I’ve learned from long experience that good information can make any wilderness excursion easier, and more fun.
What follows is a sample of the routes included in Classic Hikes of North America.
See the excerpts from Classic Hikes of North America:
The Classic Hikes of North America Photo Gallery
For more, see ClassicHikes.com.