10 Must-Do Hikes in the Mountain West

Wyoming Big Sandy Pass Trail Lonesome Lake below the Cirque of the Towers

From Montana’s Livingston Range to the Lechuguilla Desert of southern Arizona, the U.S. region known as the Mountain West is brimming with top-caliber hiking destinations. Narrowing down a list of 10 standouts is no small feat, but we took a stab at it anyway, choosing from the eight states that make up the U.S. Census Bureau’s Mountain West zone.

Take note: These aren’t the 10 best hidden hikes in the Mountain West; none of these routes are particularly obscure. In fact, several rank among the most celebrated trails in the country—and for good reason. A journey into the maw of one of the world’s most sublime canyons, backcountry skylines gloriously rock-torn, adventures in wide-open heights and close-hemmed halls of stone: These destinations highlight the scenic punch and variety characteristic of this outdoor playground and its seemingly infinite opportunities for adventure.

1. The Chinese Wall, Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Montana

As you might expect from a mighty watershed frontier, the Continental Divide in North America comes mantled in some pretty heady scenery along most of its length. And one of its most dramatic expressions comes in the heart of one of the largest roadless areas in the Lower 48, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex of northwestern Montana. Deep within the "Bob"—named for an early champion of the federal wilderness area and a hardcore long-distance hiker—about a dozen miles of the Divide between Larch Hill Pass and Haystack Mountain separates the Flathead and Sun basins in the guise of a slanted, east-facing limestone ledge 1,000 feet high: the famous Chinese Wall.

Hike in the lee of this great pale escarpment via the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail from the Benchmark Trailhead, or climb to its spine at Haystack Mountain. Whichever way you go, be sure to keep an eye out for grizzly bears, a suitably majestic beast to go along with the big terrain.

2. The Thorofare, Greater Yellowstone, Wyoming

You’ll also be walking in the shadow of the grizzly on this legendary backpacking route into the roadless wilds of far southeastern Yellowstone National Park and the adjoining Teton Wilderness. You’ll tramp down the eastern shores of Yellowstone Lake—the largest above 7,000 feet in the U.S.—to its southeast arm and the willow-clad delta of the Yellowstone River, then upstream along the meandering channel between the Two Ocean Plateau and the Absaroka Range. Somewhere on the National Forest land beyond the park’s southeastern boundary is the anonymous chunk of turf farthest from a road in the Lower 48 states. But the entire high-elevation valley is deliciously remote and charged with the presence of the silvertip bear, equally cantankerous moose, and those aforementioned grizzlies.

3. Big Sandy Trail, Wind River Range, Wyoming

This heavily used trail to the iconic Cirque of the Towers in the southern Wind Rivers serves as a classic gateway to Wyoming’s vast uncrowded high-country wilderness. Like the similarly breathtaking Titcomb Basin to the north, the gray battlements of the Cirque—one of the emblematic mountain vistas in the West—are worth seeing even if you’ll likely have company.

Reached by a long-slog blacktop-to-dirt drive from U.S. 191 near Pinedale, the Big Sandy Trail, an old American Indian route, follows the Big Sandy River to Big Sandy Lake, then on a steepening track past North and Arrowhead lakes to 10,800-foot Jackass Pass. Here you’ll gain your introductory prospect of the Cirque of the Towers, which cradles Lonesome Lake (which is not particularly lonesome in summer and fall) in its hard granite embrace. These prongs, spires, and prows—which include Warbonnet, Wolf’s Head, Pylon Peak, Warrior, Shark’s Nose, Lizard Head (at 12,842 feet, the high point of the Cirque of the Towers), and gloriously standoffish Pingora—create some of the most esteemed climbing walls in the Rockies.

Keep soaking in the granite garden by trekking farther to Shadow Lake on the "back side" of the Cirque of the Towers.

4. Alice Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho

The jags, towers, and cliffy brows of the Sawtooths represent a pinnacle (so to speak) of Idaho’s prodigious mountain scenery, and Alice Lake—one of 300-plus tarns chiseled by glaciers into this snarled-up range—makes a fabulous introduction. Set at about 8,600 feet, Alice Lake reflects the west face of 9,902-foot El Capitan and a ripsaw rampart southward.

Reach this rockery tarn via the Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake. The trail muscles some 5.5 miles upslope through mixed conifer woods and high glades, making multiple stream crossings en route. Alice Lake is a popular day hiking or overnighter destination, but can also serve as a springboard for longer adventures in the southeastern Sawtooth high country. You can undertake a memorable 19-mile loop by journeying on to Twin Lakes, up and over a high pass, and dropping down to big Toxaway Lake.

5. Highline Trail, Uinta Mountains, Utah

The Uintas are geographic trivia—one of the only west-east-trending mountain ranges in the Western Hemisphere—and also one of the country’s conterminous grandest alpine expanses, rivaling Colorado’s San Juans, the burliest range in the Southern Rockies, for sheer extent of alpine territory. The Highline Trail shows off the storm-licked splendor of the High Uintas Wilderness on a week-plus, nearly 100-mile trek between Hayden Pass and U.S. Route 191, much of it above the 10,000-foot contour.

Lonesome tarns, rusty Precambrian pyramids and fins, windswept tundra passes, staggered canyons—oh, and did we mention the thunderstorms? This is a Rocky Mountain roof-of-the-world traverse of the highest order.

6. The Maroon Bells, Elk Mountains, Colorado

Geographically speaking, the Elk Mountains lie close to the heart of the Southern Rockies, and two of their half-dozen fourteeners—the Maroon Bells—form arguably that skyscraping region’s scenic culmination. Given the paired loom of 14,156-foot Maroon Peak and 14,014-foot North Maroon, plus the eye-catching red of their capping Maroon Formation sedimentary layers, and it’s no surprise they’re said to be the most photographed summits in Colorado.

They’re also plenty well-loved, so don’t come here seeking solitude; treat it as a pilgrimage to one of the great landmarks of the American Rockies. The hike to Crater Lake puts you at the very foot of the Maroon Bells, but the views just keep expanding if you trek up to Buckskin Pass, which can also be strung together with West Maroon, Frigid Air, and Trailrides passes in a roughly 30-mile backpacking loop.

7. Wheeler Peak, Snake Range, Nevada

The crown of relatively little-visited Great Basin National Park, of the Snake Range and essentially of Nevada (though Boundary Peak in the White Mountains on the California line modestly outranks it), 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak is a special mountain. The Snakes are their own sky-island range, loftiest in the eastern Great Basin, and rising from the sagebrush sea of that cold desert to subalpine aspen forests and wizened bristlecone-pine groves. (In 1964, a bristlecone 4,844 years old was chopped down on a Wheeler Peak moraine.) Wheeler Peak is also known for its small glacier, one of the southernmost in the U.S.

An 8.6-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead above Wheeler Peak Campground takes you to the rubbled summit with its head-spinning Basin-and-Range panorama. It’s not a demanding hike, but well worth doing.

8. The Narrows, Zion Canyon, Utah

North Fork Virgin River’s world-famous gorge and its domeland surrounds are so knock-you-over-the-head scenic that any trail in Zion National Park verges on the unreal. Two, though, attract the lion’s share of attention: Angel’s Rest—the up-top, vista-rich one (strictly for non-acrophobes)—and the Narrows, the shadowy, amphibious, down-low one through the twisty, high-walled slot forming the head of Zion Canyon.

You can join the masses wading upstream into the Narrows from the end of the popular Riverside Trail at the Temple of Sinawava, or drop down from Chamberlain’s Ranch on a more adventurous 16-mile trek. The latter requires a permit; from the Temple of Sinawava, you don’t need one as far upstream as Big Spring.

There are countless quieter slot canyons in the Colorado Plateau, but the Narrows is legitimately wondrous, and if you combine it with remoter adventures (including those farther up its course), you might even enjoy the oohing-and-aahing camaraderie of it all. It’s a communal National Park experience on par with watching Old Faithful erupt or staggering all scenery-drunk around Yosemite Valley.

Accessible and well-visited though the lower portion of the Narrows may be, it’s also dangerous given the potential for flash floods. Check in at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center for the most up-to-date forecast and flood hazard rating, and don’t play the odds.

9. North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona

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Hike from montane woods to hot desert in one 14.2-mile swoop on the North Kaibab Trail, the only maintained route connecting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. It’s popular but not as much as its South Rim counterparts (the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails), and given the "Big Ditch’s" one-of-a-kind topographical breadth, it serves up mega-scale scenery not many hiking trails can match.

The North Kaibab Trail drops from the Kaibab Plateau’s conifers at 8,241 feet to the Colorado nearly 6,000 feet below. From Coconino Overlook less than a mile down-trail, it descends southeastward to Supai Tunnel and Redwall Bridge in Roaring Springs Canyon—named for a weeping limestone cliff reachable by a 0.3-mile spur—then cants southwestward into Bright Angel Canyon (Cottonwood Campground, 6.5 miles and 4,200 feet down from the trailhead, offers a good first-night stopover). A mile past that, a side trail leads to Ribbon Falls. Near its end, the North Kaibab Trail traverses the tight Vishnu Schist confines of the Box before attaining Phantom Ranch and the bridge to Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the canyon.

After a night or three down here, you can retrace your steps back to the North Rim or add a "Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim" feather to your cap by climbing the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim.

10. Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon Loop, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Braving grizzlies at the Chinese Wall, you’re within easy reach of the Canadian border. On the very opposite side of the country, this short but mesmerizing walkabout in the heart of the Sonoran Desert shows off rugged scenery that is, ecologically speaking, more Mexico than the U.S. Remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument lies in an awesome, sparsely settled expanse of the Sonoran that also includes the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Mexico’s desolate Pinacate backlands.

This 3.5-mile loop links the Bull Pasture and Estes Canyon trails on the western flanks of the Ajo Mountains. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to admire the eccentric namesake cactus, which barely makes it north of the border, as well as the Sonoran Desert’s defining species, the monolithic saguaro, plus a whole slew of other desert plants. The impressive stature of both the organ pipe and saguaro cacti complements the burliness of the Ajos’ craggy bosses. And the views from the Bull Pasture leg unfurl far south across the Sonoyta Valley into Sonora, Mexico.

Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by John Strother

The Matterhorns of North America

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The word Matterhorn smacks of the golden days of Alpine mountaineering, and summons up the signature, craggy summit that even today tantalizes climbers. Indeed, it’s the Matterhorn of the Pennine Alps—not Everest, not Mont Blanc, not Mount Fuji—that perhaps best embodies the idealized, majestic mountain, particularly its enshrined east and north faces. This windblown-looking 14,692-foot tooth of rock is the textbook example of a glacial horn: a steep-sided peak whittled by the headward erosion of ringing cirque glaciers. It has a fantastical look to it: a subtly corkscrewed slant, and the sort of fierce posture of the flagpole dorsal fin of a bull orca among whitecaps.

A bit of science here: To qualify as a true glacial horn, a peak generally must have at least three sheer faces. The Matterhorn (big "M") has given its name to a particularly extreme version of the glacial horn: those that come planed on all four faces. In other words, you don’t have to travel to the Alps to feast eyes on a matterhorn (little “m”). In fact, many of these pyramidal peaks can be found in the glaciated (or once-glaciated) heights of North America.

Let’s get acquainted with some of these mythic rock-skyscrapers, deserving counterparts of the "Mother of Mountains" studding the France-Italy border. (And let’s acknowledge as we do that this toothy bunch doesn’t account for all the continent’s matterhorns—here’s looking at you, Wetterhorn—and that a whole slew of peaks that don’t satisfy the strict geomorphic matterhorn definition—from Baffin Island’s Mount Thor to Ed Abbey's "big aching tooth" of Baboquivari in southern Arizona—nonetheless can suggest, from certain angles anyway, the appearance and monolithic presence of the great Alpine fang.)

Mount Assiniboine: Main Ranges, Canadian Rockies

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There’s no mistaking the white tooth of Assiniboine, the signature North American matterhorn.

Jeff P

The 11,870-foot Mount Assiniboine along the Continental Divide border of British Columbia and Alberta—and the boundary between Banff National Park and the roadless Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park—may well be the most spitting of the Matterhorn’s North American spitting images.

Named for an American Indian/First Nations tribe, this Canadian Rockies celebrity shares with the genuine Matterhorn an almost unreal quality, and the appearance of a ferocious rock edifice that—despite both being summitted countless times—looks not only unclimbable but like a mountain that shouldn’t be climbed. (Known ascents of Assiniboine, for what it’s worth, begin with Sir James Outram in 1901.)

Mount Sir Donald: Selkirk Mountains, British Columbia

West of Mount Assiniboine (and visible from its summit) and across the grand gulf of the Rocky Mountain Trench looms a worthy matterhorn analogue in the Selkirk Mountains: 10,774-foot Mount Sir Donald, an important goal of early Canadian mountaineering. This commanding shark’s fin of a mountain—which rises nearly 8,000 feet in a bit more than two miles from the rainforest floor of the Beaver Valley just east—dominates the mighty peaks of British Columbia’s Glacier National Park, which include its lower companion horns of Uto and Eagle.

Mount Thielsen: Southern Cascades, Oregon

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Mount Thielsen may lack the commanding swagger of Rainier or Hood, but it certainly has its own snaggletooth individuality.

Katie Dills

The "Lightning Rod of the Cascades": That’s the tag for this pinnacled volcanic beauty a stone’s throw north of Crater Lake, a spired matterhorn along the lines of Pilot Peak. Indeed, so many electrical bolts kiss Mount Thielsen’s exposed, whittled-down pillar—the highest peak in this ravaged reach of the Cascades—that it’s littered with fulgurites, which are lightning-melded rock bits.

At 9,182 feet, Mount Thielsen is the loftiest and most extreme of a series of dead volcanoes in the central and southern High Cascades of Oregon, honed by ice to sharp-tooth decrepitude. In Fire Mountains of the West, Stephen Harris calls them "Oregon’s Matterhorns," and they also include 7,800-foot Mount Washington and 7,844-foot Three-Fingered Jack. All Cascade stratovolcanoes reflect a war waged between constructive magmatic growth and chiseling glacial ice, and when volcanic energy ceases the icy side of the battle gains the upper hand. Mount Thielsen has been a volcano skeleton for 250,000 years or more, thus its ravaged spire: so much toothier than, say, Mounts Hood or Jefferson.

Kinnerly Peak: Livingston Range, Northern Rocky Mountains, Montana

Pyramidal 9,944-foot Kinnerly Peak is among the most spectacular summits in Glacier National Park. But because it’s tucked away in the park’s roadless and rugged northwest, it’s admired only by hikers and climbers. It makes a one-two punch with Kintla Peak—at 10,101 feet, the Livingston Range’s pinnacle—just south. (According to Summitpost, you can allegedly pick out Mount Assiniboine from the Kinnerly Peak summit under crystal-clear conditions: another matterhorn-to-matterhorn sightline.)

Grand Teton: Teton Range, Middle Rocky Mountains, Wyoming

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Grand Teton crowning the Teton Range crest is one of the world’s signal mountain-scapes.

Dan

The Teton Range of northwestern Wyoming eases gently up from a long western slope to an iconic craggy crest with sheer eastern flanks, and lorded over by the 13,770-foot tusk called the Grand Teton. Compared with the unsociable Matterhorn, the Grand comes a bit hemmed in by fellow Teton Range jags—Mount Owen, barely shy of 13,000 feet, is just north across Gunsight Notch—but its classic, picturesque profile gives it as regal of a bearing (and a starring role in countless long sightlines from Greater Yellowstone mountaintops). And it remains one of the signature mountaineering magnets on the continent and a defining landform of one of the world’s most significant protected complexes.

Pilot Peak: Absaroka Range, Middle Rocky Mountains, Wyoming

Rearing west of the valley of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, Pilot Peak and its stubbier companion across the eons, Index Peak, create one of the most striking profiles in the Rockies. Glaciers gnawed 11,708-foot Pilot into a matterhorn spike; an arête blade connects it to castellated Index just northward.

As Tom Turiano notes in his definitive Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, Pilot Peak has a hint of the Grand Teton’s aura, but is less prominent from lowlands and best appreciated from backcountry vantages. "From nearly every major summit in the [Greater Yellowstone] ecosystem—Grand Teton, Gannett Peak, Washakie Needles, Younts Peak, Trout Peak, Granite Peak, Mount Cowen, Gallatin Peak, and Hilgard Peak—Pilot is visible, identifiable, and spectacular," he writes.

Sloan Peak: North Cascades, Washington

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Even the somewhat less dramatic east face of Sloan conveys the Cascade peak’s dominating stature.

Martin Bravenboer

"Picturesque Sloan could be called the ‘Matterhorn of the Cascades’," the late, legendary mountaineer Fred Beckey wrote in his enduring Cascade Alpine Guide. Indeed, this 7,835-foot orthogneiss blade ranks among the most striking and distinctive peaks in a range not exactly lacking in them.

With its long leadup east ridge and aloof, ramrod summit point, Sloan Peak has been compared with a high-riding ocean ship; it also looks a bit like the asymmetrical tooth of a tiger shark. Its misshapen matterhorn makes a North Cascade landmark visible from far off on all sides, and arresting even with the proximity of the giant snowhead of Glacier Peak to its near northeast.

Mount Russell: Alaska Range, Alaska

The Alaska Range may be most famous for behemoth snowpeaks like Denali, Foraker, and Hunter, but its western reaches include some savagely beautiful granite horns and towers. These include the fabled (and storm-whipped) Kichatna Mountains of the western Alaska Range, a gray fortress of rock-fangs and crowns cored by the Kichatna Spires and including the great pyramidal Augustin Peak that has enough standoffishness to suggest the Matterhorn.

But the true Matterhorn of the Alaska Range must be 11,670-foot Mount Russell, which forms a perfect sword above the Dall and Chedotlothna glaciers, as remarkable as higher, burlier peaks to the northeast. Relatively few climbers ascend farflung Mount Russell, the standard route being up its North Ridge; according to experienced Alaska Range photographer Carl Battreall, the gnarly east face has been climbed but once, the just-as-gnarly west face, never.

Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Erik Wolf

Thru-Hiking With Your Significant Other: Tips on Staying Happy (and Together)

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When I first suggested hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to my husband, Adam, it was, if not exactly a joke, at least an off-the-cuff idea. We were on a short section hike at the time, rambling along a 5-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail near New York City. In that environment, with the birds singing and leaves rustling in the wind, hiking for an additional 2,575 miles sounded romantic, a shared adventure that we would remember for the rest of our lives.

But it didn't take long for that off-the-cuff remark to turn into a shared reality. For nearly five months in 2014, we embarked on the intense emotional and physical journey of thru-hiking the PCT, travelling from the desert of southern California, through the high reaches of the Sierra Nevada, and along the volcano corridor of the Pacific Northwest before ending in the remote wilderness of the North Cascades at the Canadian border. Along the way, we shared more than we had planned: tears, sweat, base layers, and even toothbrushes. But we were in love, so no problem, right?

It’s easy to let the romantic and adventurous appeal of a thru-hike cloud out the reality of its emotional and mental challenges—and that goes double for couples hiking together. On a thru-hike, your partner will see everything: the good (you’re likely in the best shape of your life), the bad (bonking after your first 25-mile day), and the ugly (who knew you could get a blister inside of another blister?).

There was a lot from that first thru-hike that we learned about each other: our strengths and weaknesses, how to lean on one another when the going got tough, and what foods we didn’t want our partner to eat before climbing into the tent. Here’s what we learned along the way.

Sharing Gear

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That look you get when you ask to use your partner’s toothbrush.

Eric Schmuttenmaer

This one’s a no-brainer when you’re travelling as a team, right? Not exactly…

Laura: You’d think it would go without saying that couples would share everything they can on-trail to save weight. But we knew couples who carried their own stoves, separate food stores, and even separate tents. And some of them thought we were crazy for sharing as much as we did—we eventually got a two-person sleeping bag (turns out I don’t kick as much in my sleep as a certain someone was worried I would) and stopped carrying separate toothbrushes (hey, everything weighs something, right?. Although it wasn’t really a conscious decision—we just realized at one point that we had forgotten whose was whose.)

Adam: The biggest reason not to share your gear is if you think you won’t always be hiking together, which is something you’ll want to talk about in advance. Sometimes people want the opportunity to hike alone, or maybe one of you is a morning person who likes getting an early start and the other is a night owl who tends to sleep later. Another reason is that some people prefer to be responsible for their own stuff, like water and food. If you prefer to make decisions about what you’re going to be eating or how much water you’re going to be drinking without any spousal wrangling, it may make sense to keep track of your own nutrition essentials. But most couples prefer to make those kinds of decisions jointly.* *

Divvying Up Who Does What

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Couples that treat blisters together, stay together.

Dangerous…Dan

Splitting up chores might be as much of a pain in the backcountry as it is in the frontcountry, but, hey, at least there are fewer of them.

Laura: It can take longer to do chores at first because the routines you had in the frontcountry kind of go out the door on a thru-hike—there’s no trash to take out or bed to make, and the lawn doesn’t need mowing. But when you get to camp at the end of a 20-mile day, putting up the tent can seem surprisingly overwhelming for what a small task it is. Basically, the more you can communicate about what you’re doing, what still needs to be done, and what you need help with at the beginning of your hike, the faster you’ll fall into an automatic routine where you get to camp and start getting set up without needing to talk at all.

Adam : I agree that frontcountry routines don’t always apply in the backcountry, but it can help to try to split up chores by what you are both most apt do. For example, if you’re the one who makes coffee in the morning, make coffee on the trail. If you make the bed at home, be the one to set up the inside of the tent. That being said, it’s also important on a thru-hike to stretch yourself from time to time and switch it up. Don’t let your partner be the only one to handle a particular chore. At the very least, this will help you to appreciate the person who is making the coffee all the more.

It’s also helpful to remember that splitting chores is just as important in-town as it is on the trail. Maybe more so, as the faster you can get through town chores like laundry, the sooner you’ll be able to relax and enjoy a beer with your new trail friends.

Hiking Together

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If you look very, very closely, you can see an eye roll of epic proportions.

Dangerous…Dan

The couple that hikes together, stays together. (Or you can just enjoy your together time when you meet up later).

Adam: I’m not a fast hiker, so I’m rarely hiking far out in front of other people. I think it’s a good safety precaution to keep your hiking partner in your line of sight. If I’m the slow one in a group, I try to make sure I can still see the person if we’re not actively having a conversation. If I’m the fast one, I try to look over my shoulder every so often to make sure the other person is in sight.

Laura: We’re pretty lucky, in that Adam and I match pace pretty effortlessly and tend to want breaks around the same time. And that was something we knew beforehand, from years of hiking and running together. I think it does help to have a background of shared backcountry travel experience or even just training together.

Since we know that our tendency is to match one another’s pace, if we see that one of us dragging, we’ll have that person hike at the rear. We find that usually helps release that person from the not-insignificant mental load of trying to set their own pace. If one of us is really dragging, we’ll slow down and reevaluate our plan for that day or section.

I think it’s fine for a couple to hike separately during the day and meet up at camp. It just requires an extra layer of communication (such as picking out a campsite in advance for the next day), and knowing it will be tougher to stop early or hike longer. And you’ll have to double up on some gear like a water filter or maps, which can increase the weight you’re carrying. But, in the end, your pace is your pace and there is only so much you’re going to be able to do to adjust it to the other person.

Fighting

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One of the great truths of life on a long distance trail (and everywhere else): You will get in fights with your partner.

Dangerous…Dan

Every so often you meet a couple who swears they never fight on trail. Don’t believe them.

Adam: It will happen—you are going to fight at some point. Sure, thru-hiking is about digging deep into yourself (and maybe your relationship), but it’s also about addressing elemental bodily needs. If you aren’t fighting over something that’s actually wrong in your relationship, you’re going to fight for less significant but still pressing reasons: You’re hungry, or you’re tired, or because you need to use the bathroom. So before you start a fight, try to ask yourself: Am I angry because I’m hungry? Am I angry because I’m tired? And know that you need to ask your partner those questions too, and to not take offense when they ask you. The simple act of asking your partner if she needs a snack could mean the difference between a pleasant stroll and a rage hike.

Laura: Thru-hiking is sometimes really hard, and exhaustion can bring out the worst in people. You aren’t always going to be as supportive or understanding of what your partner is going through as you would want to be. Try to remember that if you feel like you’re on your last legs, your partner might be too, and cut them some slack if you can.

Something that also worked for us was to get really attuned to our partner’s cues and behavior, so that we could prevent bonking whenever possible. I now know all the different ways my husband can say "I’m OK" and which ones mean he is not OK, and it’s time to adjust accordingly.

Finding Your Trail Family

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Trail families are great, but don’t forget to carve out some one-on-one time with your partner.

Dangerous…Dan

This will be one of the best parts of your thru-hike. For your relationship? Not so much.

Her: We met some amazing people during our 2014 PCT thru-hike, and I wouldn’t take back a single mile we hiked with them. But we didn’t end up hiking with anyone but one another during our Colorado Trail, and we enjoyed that experience too, in different ways. One reality of thru-hiking is that, for the most part, the herd is following the same two-foot wide path, at the same time. It can be surprisingly difficult to find a few minutes alone together, and if you’re hiking with a trail family, it can be impossible. But it’s important to carve out that time together, even if it means missing a section of trail with your new friends.

Him: It’s pretty incredible how you can meet someone on trail and, within a week of knowing them, feel as if you’ve known them for years. That can also make it hard to have a private conversation with your partner, who you have actually known for years. Your trail family, just like a real family, won’t always know when you need space, so you need to do what you need to in order to keep your relationship a priority.

Trail Talk

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“So, how ‘bout this weather?”

Dangerous…Dan

Months on end of backpacking with your favorite human makes for the best conversations.

Laura: One of the best things about thru-hiking is that it eliminates so much of the background noise of the real world, and leaves you alone for days and weeks on end with nothing but your own thoughts. You’d think that would mean you end up having a lot of really deep insights about the direction of your life, for example or how to be a good person. Sometimes that does happen, but for us, we found ourselves paying attention to all the weird memories, ideas, and emotions rambling around in our minds and sharing them.

During our first thru-hike, we made up songs for the trail towns we hiked through, named our future children, tried to imagine what our cat was up to without us, and dissected fights that had happened years prior. And sometimes we didn’t talk at all—one of the key lessons we learned was how to be mere feet away from one another and still give that person space when they need it.

Adam: Maintaining an open mind about conversation is key. Start with the day-to-day, then do a deep dive, and end by talking about your innermost thoughts or dreams. In between you will probably talk about things that are objectively boring, or gross, and that’s fine as long as it’s interesting to you. You’ll develop theories about everyday events you know nothing about, like how water comes out of the ground, and talk for two hours about it.

Looking Good

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Nothing says sexy like smelly undies and a nice pair of Crocs.

Dangerous…Dan

You don’t need a shower or clean clothes every day, but making an effort is an important way to show your partner that you still care about your appearance (and, just as importantly, not repelling them).

Laura: Your idea of what clean means will change over the course of a thru-hike. Sometimes that’s a good thing, other times it’s not. I try to do the best I can with what I’ve got and to encourage Adam to do the same, even if he doesn’t always listen. If there is a stream, use your bandana to wipe some of the dirt off your legs. If there is a lake, jump in it. But there are going to be times when you get pretty gross, and there isn’t going to be much you can do to clean up all that dirt and sweat and grime. You just have to go with the flow (and the B.O.) and embrace this part of the adventure. * *

Adam: It’s important in a relationship to be look good for the other person, and that doesn’t just go away on the trail. I really strive to be cleaner than I think I need to be on trail. I try to wash up a little bit more than I would ordinarily. For instance, I wouldn’t normally care about how clean my feet are at the end of the day, but I know it’s important to Laura, so I try to clean them up for her—even if she is less than thrilled at the job I do. I was also pleased to see that my insistence on carrying extra wet wipes "just in case" meant that we had another way to keep clean when water resources were scarce.

It’s Just You and Me, Baby

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If you’re able to get through this together, then you can get through anything.

Dangerous…Dan

One of our biggest lessons from our first thru-hike is that there is a big difference between hiking together for five miles and hiking together for 2,600 miles. The easy rapport we had during that initial conversation was helped by the familiarity of our surroundings: being close to civilization, with hot showers and comfortable beds waiting back at our apartment. Once we were out in it, there were some rough waters to navigate before we got into a groove with another.

Laura: It can be tempting to see how you fare on a thru-hike as a microcosm for your whole relationship—if you’re able to get through this together, then you can get through anything, and if you can’t, well, maybe it’s better to cut your losses now, right? While there may be some truth to this, thru-hiking is only loosely related to the "real" world. Some couples with strong relationships find that they are incompatible hiking partners, and some couples who meet on trail find that they are incompatible in the real world.

One of the best things you can do for your relationship before an adventure like a thru-hike is promising to take the good with the bad. And to be flexible. If hiking with your trail family isn’t working, set out from the next town without them. If splitting your pack weights evenly is slowing one of you down, let the other person take a larger share of the load. There isn’t a right way to thru-hike as a couple—there is just the way that works for you.

Adam: Yeah, and I was right that what works for us is to always carry extra wet wipes.

Laura: If nothing else, at least that way we’re always able to wash our feet at night.

Written by Laura Lancaster for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Dangerous…Dan

How to Experience the Best Trails and Ales Near Philpott Lake

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Southwest Virginia's Philpott Lake is a hidden gem for outdoor lovers. The 3,000-acre lake spreads into Franklin, Henry, and Patrick counties, backlit by the mountains of the Blue Ridge and surrounded by nearly 20,000 acres of mixed hardwood forest. A landscape left largely wild and undeveloped, the area around the lake is peppered with recreation areas, nature preserves, and the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway, providing a smorgasbord of trails for hikers, bikers, runners, and paddlers.

Even better, the region surrounding the lake is also sprinkled with wineries, breweries, and distilleries, offering an abundance of après adventure libations. Here are eight great ways to explore them both.

1. Philpott Lake Blueway and Twin Creeks Distillery

One of Philpott Lake’s premier trails is on the water. A collaboration between the Army Corps of Engineers and the non-profit Dan River Basin Association, the 25-mile Philpott Lake Blueway rings the entire lake, connecting beaches, boat launches, and natural wonders along an extensive flatwater paddling trail. Brian Williams, project manager for the Dan River Basin Association, recommends excursions like the short-but-sweet trip to the color-banded Calico Rocks, or the day-long paddle to Fairy Stone Falls, a flume created by the tumbling waters of Fairy Stone Lake.

Post-paddle, go from water to whiskey at Twin Creeks Distillery, just 10 minutes away in Henry. Owner Chris Prillaman has deep roots in Franklin County, a place dubbed the “Moonshine Capital of the World,” during the dry days of Prohibition. Sip spirits steeped in local lore, like the no-longer illicit 1st Sugar Moonshine or the smooth blackberry brandy.

2. Smart View Recreation Area and 5 Mile Distillery

Spread along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Smart View Recreation Area offers several leisurely, leg-stretcher hikes on the Smart View Trail. Keep an eye out for cerulean warblers, white-tailed deer, and red fox while traipsing beneath towering pines on the 2.6-mile loop. Pause at the 18th- century cabin built by the aptly named Trail family. The cottage’s location was chosen, in part, for the Piedmont vistas afforded by the panoramic perch.

Post-hike, make the 15-minute trip into Floyd to continue exploring the region’s history with a moonshine tasting at Five Mile Mountain Distillery. Housed in a restored public works building from the 1940s, the distillery produces small-batch spirits using timeless methods, relying on age-old recipes and copper stills. Sample the distillery’s quintessential Sweet Mountain Moonshine or sip offerings like the vanilla plum moonshine.

3. Mountain Laurel Trails and Mountain Valley Brewing

Local landowner Bob Norris has spent over a half-decade creating a leafy paradise for mountain bikers in Henry County, resulting in one of the region’s most expansive singletrack systems: Mountain Laurel Trails. Pedal the series of stacked loops providing off-road enthusiasts nearly 12 miles to explore, with trails for riders of all skill levels.

After a day of rolling through rock gardens and along ridgelines, relax in one of the locally made hammocks at Mountain Valley Brewing, about 25 minutes away in Axton. The region’s only farm brewery, owners Peggy Donivan and Herb Atwell employ a “dirt-to-glass” concept, using local ingredients and seasonal fruits and herbs to craft small-batch beers. The pup-friendly brewery pours seasonals like the Summer Sweet Raspberry Wheat and the Fireflies in the Valley, a pale ale crafted with Citra hops for a refreshing grapefruit finish. However, the beer of the moment is the Kooky Rooster, a cream ale infused with toasted coconut. The brewery regularly hosts live music, food trucks, and arts and cultural events in partnership with the library, Piedmont Arts, VMNH, and other local organizations.

4. Fairy Stone State Park, Stanburn Winery

Was actually scared to climb the waterfall

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Named for the ancient, staurolite crystals hidden in the hills of Patrick County—dubbed Fairy Stones—Fairy Stone State Park is steeped in local legend. The lake-studded park is among the oldest in Virginia, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the midst of the Great Depression. Wander woodlands once tasked with hiding illicit moonshine stills on the 4 miles of trails braiding Stuart’s Knob, or explore the 10-mile Little Mountain Trail system with a trek to Little Mountain Falls.

Plan a relaxing Saturday evening at Stanburn Winery in Patrick Springs during “Stanburn Stompin Saturdays.” Listen to a band and sip delightful award-winning wines under the stars. Some of their offerings include the Big A Red, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin, the name of which comes from the winery being in the Big A section of the county. Bull’s Blush is a semi-sweet wine containing Chambourcin rosé, Cabernet Franc rosé, and Vidal Blanc, and its name is a reference to Bull Mountain that’s visible from the vineyard. The Highfly is a semi-sweet blend of Vidal Blanc and Traminette, named for one of Civil War General J.E.B. Stuart’s battlefield horses.

5. Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve and Hammer & Forge Brewing

Spread over a forest-tufted ridgeline overlooking Rocky Mount, the Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve is braided with 6.6 miles of trails, ideal for hikers and runners. The footpaths wind through mixed forests of oak and hickory, showcasing a landscape once peppered with prairie-like meadows, possibly the result of wildfires. Established as a protected area nearly two decades ago, the preserve’s magnesium-rich soil also harbors a host of rare plant communities and a handful of old-growth trees.

After a ridgetop trail run, head over to Hammer & Forge Brewing, just 15 minutes away in Boones Mill. Savor traditional ales like the Elder Mountain IPA or funky, fruit-forward sours like the Lupulin Comrade Apricot. The brewery also hosts weekly events, including trivia on Thursdays and live music on Fridays.

6. Jamison Mill and Chaos Mountain Brewing

Nestled along the northeast corner of Philpott Lake, Jamison Mill Recreation Area features 6 miles of singletrack crafted specifically with mountain bikers in mind. Link the recreation area’s interconnected trails to create a circuit featuring leafy forest track, stretches of lakeshore, and subtle traces of the historic homesites once located around the mill.

Go from singletrack to suds at Chaos Mountain Brewing, perched beside Cahas Mountain, about 30 minutes away in Callaway. Choose from a tap list including everything from easy-sipping Belgian blondes like the Cheeky Monkey to robust brews like the 4 Mad Chefs, a Belgian Quadrupel with hints of caramel. The brewery also features live music and food trucks every weekend during the summer, and it hosts events like pool tournaments and trivia nights.

7. Rock Castle Gorge and Villa Appalaccia Winery

Stashed away in the Rocky Knob Recreation Area, the Rock Castle Gorge Trail is the quintessential Blue Ridge sampler, declared a National Scenic Trail in 1984. Hike the 10.8-mile loop showcasing the quartz-studded gorge, which meanders through rhododendron groves, along ridgelines, through mountain meadows, and past former homesteads. The challenging route features 1,872 feet of elevation gain, topping out at the 3,572-foot Rocky Knob, but shorter loops can be crafted using the Black Ridge Trail.

Post-hike, spend the afternoon sipping wine on the terrace at Villa Appalaccia Winery in Patrick County, just 6 miles from the trailhead. This winery, located close to Floyd and Stuart, Virginia, has been a staple of the region for 27 years. You’ll find stunning views of of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a relaxing environment, and wines that feature predominantly Italian grape varietals, including Sangiovese, Primitivo, Pinot Grigio, Malvasia, Cabernet Franc, Aglianico and Corvina. The vineyard is one of the only ones in the state that has planted its grapes on shale (not clay), providing them with a truer link to their Italian heritage.

8. Smith River Blueway and Hamlet Vineyards

Slicing through Franklin and Henry counties on the way to North Carolina, the Smith River provides some of the best trout waters in Virginia. But, the waterway also has plenty to offer both flatwater and whitewater paddlers. In Henry County, the Smith River Trail System feature both terrestrial and aquatic trails, including a blueway for paddlers, scattered with 10 access points. Brian Williams, owner Smith River Outfitters and author of An Insider’s Guide to the Smith River in Virginia and North Carolina, admits his favorite run is the 7-mile stretch between the Philpott Dam and the town of Bassett. “Near the dam you feel like you are in a remote gorge,” Williams says. “Hills are steep and rocky but covered in mountain laurel and rhododendron.” Morning and evening paddlers are also treated to what Williams calls the “Smith River fog banks,” providing paddlers the exhilarating sensation of hearing approaching rapids before seeing them.

Follow whitewater with wine at Hamlet Vineyards, in nearby Bassett. Snack on fresh bread and gourmet spreads while sampling offerings like the Old Virginia Red or the crisply refreshing 2016 Pinot Gris (which medaled in the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup). In fact, the vineyard hosts Wine and Water Wednesdays throughout the summer, which feature a 90-minute float down the Smith River followed by a casual dinner with wine. Guests meet at the vineyard and then are transported to the launch site.

Then, be sure explore the historic property of Eltham Manor, built in the 1930s. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. It was commissioned by W.M. Bassett, who would head the family business, Bassett Furniture Industries, which became the largest wood furniture producer in the world. The company was instrumental in the growth of both futurinture and textile industry in the region. Architect Roy Wallace designed Eltham Manor as a classic Virginia river house, with the home overlooking the Smith River. It’s an impressive sight—especially when enjoying the vineyard’s offerings.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Patrick County.

Featured image provided by Franklin County Tourism/Matt Ross

How to Have an Authentic Culinary Tour of Kentucky (and Why You Should)

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Benedictine, Goetta, Burgoo—they sound like the names of award-winning thoroughbreds. But, they’re actually some of the most beloved local foods in Kentucky. These sweet and savory favorites are not only delicious, but they also have rich histories, dating back dozens or even hundreds of years, and they provide a deeper understanding of the Bluegrass State and its people. Anyone planning to explore Kentucky should definitely include a culinary tour in the itinerary.

Of course, this trifecta of traditional foods is just a sampling of the state’s culinary delights, so grab a fork and follow this circuit to eat like a born-and-bred Kentuckian.

Goetta in Covington

A legacy of the German immigrants that settled south of the Ohio River in the 1700s, goetta is a mixture of pork, beef, oats, spices, and water or broth that is boiled until it’s thick as molasses. It’s then shaped into a loaf, chilled, sliced, and fried until crisp. Traditionally made at home as a hearty farmer’s breakfast, goetta is now commercially available from Glier’s Goetta. Right across the street from Glier’s, hungry travelers will find the Anchor Grill, a retro 24-hour diner known as the place in town to get a late-night or sunrise goetta fix.

Benedictine, Hot Browns & Henry Bain Sauce in Louisville

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Try Hot Browns, an open-faced turkey, bacon, and cheesy Mornay sauce delight.

Jeff Scott

As a renowned culinary destination, Louisville has its share of iconic treasures. One of the lesser known to outsiders is the festively bright benedictine spread. Invented by Jennie Benedict in the 1900s, this sandwich spread is made from cream cheese, cucumber juice, onion juice, seasonings, and a couple of drops of green food coloring. Try it at Crescent Hill Craft Housewith a pint of a local craft brew, another rising item on any food tour of the Bluegrass State.

Ahhh the Hot Brown, the signature sandwich of Kentucky. Try this open-faced turkey, bacon and cheesy Mornay sauce delight right at the source, J Graham’s Café inside of the Brown Hotel. Invented at the Brown Hotel in 1926, this sandwich is often found at Derby parties and on restaurant menus around the state.

A special treat for the uninitiated is Henry Bain sauce. Invented by a waiter while working at the Pendennis Club, this sauce has become famous for its sweet and spicy flair. Ingredients include chutney, ketchup, chili sauce, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. It’s OK to fall in love with it, because you can now buy bottles of it at the club.

Transparent Pie in Maysville

For 60 years, Magee’s Bakery in Maysville has been making Transparent pie, which is similar to its better-known cousin pecan pie, but doesn’t have nuts and boasts a distinct flavor all its own. The origin of Transparent pie is difficult to nail down, but it possibly dates back to the 1800s, when people cooking in small farm kitchens had to be creative with what they had on hand: eggs, sugar, butter, cream and bit of flour.

Bourbon Balls in Frankfort

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When bourbon balls were invented in 1938, they quickly became popular and remain a Southern classic.

Kimberly Vardeman

As the birthplace of America’s only native spirit, it’s no surprise that Kentucky has worked bourbon into every nook and cranny of its cuisine, including dessert. When Ruth Hanly Booe invented bourbon balls in 1938, they quickly became popular and remain a Southern classic. The traditional version contains bourbon, vanilla wafer crumbs, cocoa, confectioners' sugar, and sometimes pecans. Why not take some home? At the Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory, you can pick up a box of bourbon balls made with Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon, or Mint Julep candies that combine bourbon, mint and chocolate.

Beer Cheese & Ale 8 in Winchester

Born in Clark County in the 1940s, beer cheese has been a staple of Kentucky’s appetizer menus for almost 80 years. A creamy spread made of cheese, beer, garlic, and cayenne, it’s popularity reaches into neighboring states. For the most authentic recipe, visit Hall’s on the River, home of Original Snappy Beer Cheese. When Queen Elizabeth II visited Kentucky to tour thoroughbred horse farms, she loved Snappy Beer Cheese so much that she took home a tub of the stuff. To ensure that you get the full beer-cheese experience, consider planning a trip to Kentucky during the Annual Beer Cheese Festival.

Another local favorite to crow about is Ale-8-One. Crafted in 1926, it's the only soft drink invented in the state that is still produced today. For decades, Ale-8-One was only available in Kentucky, and loyal fans from neighboring states would buy cases of the gingery caffeinated soda and take them home. For an ice cold Ale-8-One, stop by JK’s at Forest Grove, where you’ll also find amazing Southern cooking, including beer cheese.

Soup Beans & Bourbon in Lexington

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Slow cooked pinto beans with smoked pork create a savory dish found on menus across the city.

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Once only the fare of Appalachian kitchens and hard-working mining families, soup beans are now a trendy food on the Lexington heritage cooking scene. Slow-cooked pinto beans with smoked pork create a savory dish found on menus across the city. Try the red-pepper spiced version at the Winder Corner Market,where soup beans are served with fried corn cakes, another regional favorite.

If you’re going to explore Kentucky’s culinary scene, you have to consider the state’s most well-known product—bourbon. For a true aficionado’s experience, check out the Bluegrass Tavern bourbon bar, which serves more than 450 varieties of bourbon. It’s also a superb place to enjoy a Mint Julep, a classic Manhattan, or a retro Old Fashioned.

Pudding and Pie in Harrodsburg

Any foodie tour of Kentucky simply wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the American classic Beaumont Inn, where the buffett is filled with Kentucky favorites like country ham and fried chicken. However, it’s the corn pudding that makes the inn a prime destination. A traditional potluck favorite, it’s a baked side dish that can best be described as a corn-filled custardy delight.

For dessert head on over to Shaker Village for another hyper local specialty, Shaker Lemon Pie. Created on a historic Shaker farm decades ago, this delightful pie is tart, sweet and filled with paper-thin slices of whole lemon, making for a taste bud explosion like no other.

Spoonbread in Berea

Berea’s arts scene and natural scenery make it a great destination for travelers. Add in the spoon bread at Berea College’s elegant Boone Tavern and it’s a perfect place to spend a weekend. While the origin of spoon bread is a bit of a mystery, many believe it has come down from a Native-American recipe. Most closely compared to corn bread, this regional dish is more like a heavy souffle in all it’s eggy, buttery, moist goodness. Berea also hosts an annual Spoon Bread Festival.

Catfish in Benton

It should come as no surprise that cooks in the Land Between the Lakes area know their way around a fried fish. On the western shore of Kentucky Lake, folks return year after year to the Catfish Kitchen to feast on their fried catfish (including gluten-free recipes), soup beans, and world-class hush puppies.

Burgoo and Mutton in Owensboro

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At Old Hickory Bar-B-Que in Owensboro, they have been serving award-winning burgoo for 100 years.

Joanna Poe

A staple at most barbecue places, burgoo is a slow-cooked, thick and savory stew usually made from pork, mutton, or beef and an assortment of veggies, such as okra, corn, lima beans and potatoes. Some historians claim burgoo’s roots are more rustic and that the original ingredients included game, such as venison, squirrel, and anything else hunters could catch.

At Old Hickory Bar-B-Que in Owensboro, six generations of the Foreman family have been serving award-winning burgoo for 100 years. Another of their specialties, not seen on many American menus, is a wide assortment of mutton.

Written by Lisa Collard for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.

Featured image provided by Mack Male

Pair Your Outdoor Adventure with a Craft Beer in Helena

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Montana ranks second in the nation for breweries per capita, and the state’s capital city is home to many of them. Located in Central Montana near where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, Helena is a community that enjoys the great outdoors and a great craft beer. This combination often translates into a leisurely, scenic afternoon hike followed by a friendly rendezvous at a local brewery. Whether your tastes lean more toward an intensely citrus IPA or a full-bodied ale, Helena’s breweries will quench your thirst after a day of adventuring. Here are a few favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of the creative beer-making that Helena has to offer.

Mount Ascension/Ten Mile Creek Brewing

The 5,262-foot Mount Ascension is a Helena landmark, and getting to its peak is one of the area’s top adventures. The 3.2-mile loop is rated as moderate and offers stunning views of Helena and the surrounding area. The dog-friendly trail is popular with hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers, and it is the perfect place to work up a sweat before retreating to Ten Mile Creek Brewing, which is only three miles away from the trailhead. Beers are brewed using water from nearby Ten Mile Creek — so when you take a sip, you’re truly tasting Montana. With a variety of home-crafted brews on tap, from Bullwhacker Brown Ale to Queen City IPA, Ten Mile Creek offers a relaxed brewery experience with a rotating event schedule.

Spring Meadow Lake State Park/Lewis & Clark Brewing

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After your activity of choice, stop by Lewis & Clark Brewing Company.

Helena CVB

Located on the western edge of Helena, Spring Meadow Lake State Park features a 30-acre, spring-fed lake, and it’s a popular spot for fishing, swimming, hiking, and biking. A .8-mile trail circles the lake for hikers and runners, while the 4.6-mile rails-to-trails path connects the park to the Centennial Trail and downtown Helena. After your activity of choice, stop by Lewis & Clark BrewingCompany, which serves up hand-crafted, unpasteurized beers made on site. The brewery is housed in a historic building downtown and hosts a steady stream of activities and special events on its indoor and outdoor stages. Beer connoisseurs will appreciate the local ingredients used in many brews, and some of the spent grain from brewing is used in the food, such as bratwurst buns and pizza crust.

LeGrande Cannon Boulevard/Brewhouse Pub & Grille

The LeGrande Cannon Boulevard Trail is a 6.3-mile out-and-back that winds through Mount Helena City Park. A popular route with mountain bikers, the trail is also a relaxed hike with stunning views of the Helena Valley. Take the time to explore some of the many side trails to see where they lead. Just a mile down the road is Helena’s Brewhouse Pub & Grille, which is often brimming with people — and for good reason. The pub features excellent food offerings, a variety of local and mainstream brews, and a relaxed, inviting atmosphere. Downstairs at the Brewhouse, open from 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday, features its own menu and mellow atmosphere.

Dry Gulch Short Loop/Blackfoot River Brewing Company**

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Just a mile from the trail, you’ll find the Blackfoot River Brewing Company.

Helena CVB

Just south of Helena between Mount Ascension and Rodney Ridge, the 3.7-mile Dry Gulch Short Loop is a moderate-rated hiking and mountain biking trail that features plenty of switchbacks and good tree cover that offers shade and a solid workout. Mountain bikers in particular like the singletrack here. Just a mile from the trail, you’ll find the Blackfoot River Brewing Company. The cozy taproom produces a variety of local favorites, including Tartanic, a Scottish-style ale, the Smooth Cream Ale, and the American Strong Ale. All are hearty post-adventure favorites. Each week a new beer rotates through the "beer engine" — often an eclectic choice such as Orange IPA or Bloody Mary ESB.

Backside Trail/Gulch Distillers

In the Mount Helena City Park, the Backside Trail is a lightly trafficked three-mile loop that’s popular with hikers and trail runners. The trail is moderate in difficulty and offers a quad-burning climb, as well as a section through some grassy woodlands filled with ponderosa pine. Just 1.1 miles from the trail, Gulch Distillers is a good option for those looking for something more than beer. Helena’s only micro-distillery is tucked into a historic gulch. Spirits are fermented, distilled, and bottled on the premises, using only Montana-grown grains. The historic location is just downstream from one of Helena’s first gold strikes, and the spirits’ names reflect the historic weight of the area. Flintlock Bourbon Cask Spiced Rum, Guardian Gin, Triple Divide Vodka and Burrone Fernet tempt palates of all preferences.

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Helena’s breweries will quench your thirst after a day of adventuring.

Helena CVB

Bonus Option

Want your adventure and alcohol in one stop? Head to BroadwaterHotSprings and Tap Room, home to a series of natural hot springs and pools filled from an artesian well and cooled with natural cold springs water. The outdoor pools are open year-round and beautifully crafted, offering a respite for road-weary travel warriors. After your soak, take advantage of the Springs Taproom & Grille. The restaurant uses local ingredients wherever possible, and a wide variety of beers and wines are available. If you’re more in the mood for recovery, this adventure may be right up your alley.

Written by Jess McGlothlin for RootsRated Media in partnership with Helena CVB.

Featured image provided by Helena CVB

10 Best Bike Tours in the U.S.

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When it comes to two-wheeled adventuring, sometimes self-guided exploration is part of the thrill. Other times, you’d rather leave the wayfaring to an experienced guide so you can focus on soaking up the scenery as well as the eats (and drinks) along the route.

Whether you’re a hardcore cyclist looking to press your daily mileage or just out for a Sunday cruise with plenty of stops for Instagram photos, there’s an offering that’s just your speed. In recent years, operators have expanded their offerings to include a wide range of interest and skill levels, from ambitious tours of California’s coast and wine regions, to food-centric cruises to Denver’s food halls, to historic rides through Maine’s lighthouses—and everywhere in between. In honor of National Bike Month in May, here are 10 of the best bike tours in the U.S.

1. Denver for Fantastic Food Halls

Denver has become a food-hall capital as of late, thanks to five destinations dotting the Mile High City and its suburbs with a mouthwatering array of restaurants and artisanal food shops. Take a bite out of all five spots over 10 miles of urban road riding, from Avanti Food and Beverage in the LoHi neighborhood to Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, home to 50 local businesses housed in a former airplane hangar in Aurora. Get rolling at The Source, a hotel/market hall hybrid in a former iron foundry with 25 indie food vendors and bike rentals.

2. Albuquerque for Chiles

When in New Mexico get fresh green chile bread🍞

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This kicky little veggie, whether in its red, green, chopped, and sauced forms, is ubiquitous in New Mexico. The crop is the basis of the state’s signature regional cuisine—and one of Albuquerque’s most popular outings from Routes Bicycle Tours. The 10-to-12-mile tour cruises along the Rio Grande’s cottonwood forests to six of the city’s top foodie hotspots, like Golden Crown Panaderia for green chile bread, and Pop Fizz, home to red chile chocolate popsicles.

3. Austin for Live Music

During Austin's thriving festivals—and there are plenty of them—ditch the car and make like the locals, opting for a bike instead, which gets you past the inevitably snarled traffic to the stage way faster. And you’re sure to stumble across live music venues on the Austin Icons tour offered by Austin Bike Tours and Rentals. The two-hour outing pedals past Sholtz’s Beer Garden, the oldest operating business in Texas that’s had a grand influence on local culture and music.

4. Santa Barbara, California for Beaches and Wine

It’s hard to decide which is more relaxing: the beach or wine country. But California Bicycle Tours’ multi-day rides from Southern California up the Central Coast promise the best of both. Riders pedal along scenic coastlines, past quaint seaside towns, and along the scenic vines of Santa Barbara’s wine country. Tours vary based on itinerary; however, they cover 22 to 40 miles per day, so they’re better suited to riders who are accustomed to being in the saddle.

5. Los Angeles for Tacos

Leave me here to die 🌮 (food styling by @ellishamburger)

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La La Land’s taco scene is spicy, and an outing from LA Cycle Tours wraps up some of the city’s best known and off-the-beaten-path spots. The nine-mile tour through several L.A. neighborhoods and past historic sites helps justify that extra side of guacamole.

6. Portland, Oregon, for Craft Beer

Portland has earned the nickname "Beervana" for good reason—it’s home to more than 70 breweries, at last count. Get a sampling of what’s on tap with Pedal Bike Tours, which guides thirsty riders along the five-to seven-mile route past 11 of the city’s sudsy spots and inside a handful of them to see the brewing process and—of course—taste.

7. New Orleans for Cuisine

You probably won’t come close to pedaling off the calories you consume, but who doesn’t come to the Big Easy to overindulge a bit? The Confederacy of Cruisers’ New Orleans Culinary Bike Tour itinerary changes with the seasons, but you can expect a sampling of NOLA classics like gumbo, po’boys, crawfish, Cajun pork boudin, and jambalaya, as well as a few off-the-tourist-track surprises from the city’s Italian and African influences. This caloric cruise follows six- to 10-mile routes (but don’t count on your pedaling to offset the feast).

8. Atlanta for Neighborhood Gems

Biking the Beltline with these beauties by my side 🚲🚲🚲

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The Atlanta Beltline will ultimately encircle A-Town, connecting 45 in-town neighborhoods along trails built on former railroad corridors. That neighborly spirit prevails on free weekly tours, organized by the Atlanta Beltline Partnership. Saturday morning rides follow the 16-mile Eastside Trail or the 11-mile Westside Trail; routes alternate each weekend.

9. Oak Park, Illinois, for Architecture

Architecture aficionados will find their match in the summer tours (June through September) of the world’s largest collection of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The outing begins and ends at the iconic architect’s home and studio, and cruises through a picturesque neighborhood filled with 21 Wright-designed structures.

10. Portland, Maine, for Lighthouses and Lobster Rolls

Summer Feet Cycling’s Lighthouse Bike Tour follows the scenic shores of Casco Bay by bike to five of the state’s picturesque lighthouses, with guides sharing Portland’s history along the way. along the 10- to 12-mile tour, you’ll work up an appetite for lunch, which features the city’s best lobster roll. Or, for the foodie-centric cyclists who prefer their tour with more lobster rolls than lighthouses, Summer Feet also has an offering exclusively devoted to taste testing one of New England’s signature dishes.

Written by Ashley M. Biggers for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Tim Mossholder

7 of the Most Amazing Early Season Hikes in Colorado

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It might be getting warmer in Denver, but in the higher altitudes in Colorado, cold weather and snow tend to linger a little longer. (The higher you get, the more likely you are to encounter snow, even in June and July.) Fortunately for hikers ready to shake the dust off their boots, there are plenty of Colorado trails scattered across the state to kick off your season.

Before you hit the trail, be sure to check the weather forecast. Conditions can change quickly in Colorado, and a day that starts off pleasant and sunny can quickly turn cold and wet. This also means occasional muddy trails, even at low elevations. Avoid hiking on trails that are saturated, as leaving tons of footprints in muddy trails damages them for other users. If you do encounter a little mud, walk right through it rather than widening the trail—that’s what sturdy hiking shoes are for.

Ready to strap on your daypack and get to hiking? Check out these seven Colorado trails perfect for an early season hike.

1. Waterton Canyon | Littleton

Distance: 6.5 miles one-way to the dam

Start your hiking season off with a quick jaunt on the Colorado Trail. Waterton Canyon is the 486-mile trail’s eastern terminus, which means it’s a short drive from Denver and is at a fairly low elevation. In the spring and early summer, the canyon comes to life: foliage is in bloom and you have good odds of seeing bighorn sheep. It’s 6.5 miles alongside the South Platte River to the dam that creates the Strontia Springs Reservoir, but you can make this out-and-back hike as long or short as you like. Leave the pups at home for this one—in order to protect wildlife habitat, they’re not allowed on the trail.

2. Red Rocks Trail | Morrison

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Hike around the Red Rocks and observe Denver in the distance.

Sam Howzit

Distance: 6 miles round trip

Ask any Coloradan about Red Rocks, and they’ll tell you all about the famous amphitheater. But Red Rocks is so much more than a concert venue—the trails in the area are open to hikers during the day and many a morning boot camp is held in the stands. To get the most bang for your buck, park at Matthews/Winters Park at the north end of the trail. The Morrison Slide Trail leads toward Red Rocks Park, where you’ll see stunning geological formations (don’t climb on them—you’ll likely get a citation) and probably mule deer. You can turn this one into a 7-mile loop by heading back to your car via the Dakota Ridge Trail. Enjoy the sweeping views of the Front Range and downtown Denver along the way.

3. Centennial Cone Park | Golden

Distance: 12 miles round trip

Thanks to its location in the foothills, Golden has no shortage of excellent early season hikes. Walking through Centennial Cone Park often feels like being in the mountains, but without the long-lingering snow. The park is accessible from three points: Clear Creek Canyon at the Mayhem Gulch Trailhead and north in two points in Golden Gate Canyon. Part of the full loop is closed for elk calving until mid-June, but this doesn’t detract from the hike at all—it’s still a great out-and-back on the Travois Trail from the Camino Perdido access (You might even get to see cute elk calves in the park’s interior!). Check the schedule before you head out: on weekdays any mode of transport is fair game, but on weekends, hiking is only allowed on odd-numbered dates.

4. Royal Arch Trail | Boulder

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Get a world-class view of Boulder.

Mark Doliner

Distance: 3.5 miles round trip

Like most outdoor adventures in Boulder, this hike is a lung-buster. Start at the Chautauqua Trailhead for a visit to the ranger station and check on any closures, then head up toward the iconic flatirons. The Royal Arch Trail is short, clocking in at around 3.5 miles, but it packs a punch—expect to climb many flights of rock stairs. In fact, lots of hikers bring trekking poles for this one to save their knees on the way down. Once you reach the top, walk through the arch and scramble around on the rocks, where you’ll get a world-class view of Boulder.

5. Alderfer/Three Sisters Park | Evergreen

Distance: 7-10 miles round trip

Alderfer/Three Sisters truly feels like you’re deep in the mountains, but it’s at a low enough elevation that it’s typically snow- and mud-free early in the hiking season. The park boasts more than 15 miles of trail through stands of ponderosa pine and is also a popular destination for mountain biking and rock climbing. The Three Sisters Trail leads you almost seven miles up and over one of the park’s tall rock outcroppings, or follow the trails around the park’s perimeter for a 10-mile loop.

6. Lily Lake | Estes Park

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The level, easily-accessible loop around the lake itself is about a mile long.

Patricia Henschen

Distance: approx. .8 miles round trip

Rocky Mountain National Park is definitely at high elevation—it’s even home to the iconic 14,259-foot Longs Peak, which you can see from the Lily Lake Trail—but in the late spring and early summer, you’ll find snow-free conditions in parts of the park. The level, easily-accessible loop around the lake itself is only about a mile long, but the trail also offers access to numerous spur trails. (There’s also excellent sport climbing just off the trail above the lake.) As the temperatures start to warm up, keep an eye out for tiger salamanders.

7. Colorado National Monument | Fruita

Distance: Varies from 0.5 to 17 miles round trip

You don’t have to leave Colorado to make it to the desert, and spring/early summer is a great time to see the cactus in bloom at Colorado National Monument. The park has several short nature trails where you can watch as the desert comes to life. If you’re craving a little more adventure, the monument is also home to rugged, remote backcountry trails, including the Black Ridge and Liberty Cap Trails. Always keep an eye on the weather in the desert—if there’s rain in the forecast, steer clear of washes and canyons, where you might encounter flash flooding. (Note: Pets and bikes aren’t allowed in Colorado National Monument.)

Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with 37.5.

Featured image provided by Todd Petrie

10 Must-Do Hikes in the Mountain West

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From Montana’s Livingston Range to the Lechuguilla Desert of southern Arizona, the U.S. region known as the Mountain West is brimming with top-caliber hiking destinations. Narrowing down a list of 10 standouts is no small feat, but we took a stab at it anyway, choosing from the eight states that make up the U.S. Census Bureau’s Mountain West zone.

Take note: These aren’t the 10 best hidden hikes in the Mountain West; none of these routes are particularly obscure. In fact, several rank among the most celebrated trails in the country—and for good reason. A journey into the maw of one of the world’s most sublime canyons, backcountry skylines gloriously rock-torn, adventures in wide-open heights and close-hemmed halls of stone: These destinations highlight the scenic punch and variety characteristic of this outdoor playground and its seemingly infinite opportunities for adventure.

1. The Chinese Wall, Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Montana

As you might expect from a mighty watershed frontier, the Continental Divide in North America comes mantled in some pretty heady scenery along most of its length. And one of its most dramatic expressions comes in the heart of one of the largest roadless areas in the Lower 48, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex of northwestern Montana. Deep within the "Bob"—named for an early champion of the federal wilderness area and a hardcore long-distance hiker—about a dozen miles of the Divide between Larch Hill Pass and Haystack Mountain separates the Flathead and Sun basins in the guise of a slanted, east-facing limestone ledge 1,000 feet high: the famous Chinese Wall.

Hike in the lee of this great pale escarpment via the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail from the Benchmark Trailhead, or climb to its spine at Haystack Mountain. Whichever way you go, be sure to keep an eye out for grizzly bears, a suitably majestic beast to go along with the big terrain.

2. The Thorofare, Greater Yellowstone, Wyoming

You’ll also be walking in the shadow of the grizzly on this legendary backpacking route into the roadless wilds of far southeastern Yellowstone National Park and the adjoining Teton Wilderness. You’ll tramp down the eastern shores of Yellowstone Lake—the largest above 7,000 feet in the U.S.—to its southeast arm and the willow-clad delta of the Yellowstone River, then upstream along the meandering channel between the Two Ocean Plateau and the Absaroka Range. Somewhere on the National Forest land beyond the park’s southeastern boundary is the anonymous chunk of turf farthest from a road in the Lower 48 states. But the entire high-elevation valley is deliciously remote and charged with the presence of the silvertip bear, equally cantankerous moose, and those aforementioned grizzlies.

3. Big Sandy Trail, Wind River Range, Wyoming

This heavily used trail to the iconic Cirque of the Towers in the southern Wind Rivers serves as a classic gateway to Wyoming’s vast uncrowded high-country wilderness. Like the similarly breathtaking Titcomb Basin to the north, the gray battlements of the Cirque—one of the emblematic mountain vistas in the West—are worth seeing even if you’ll likely have company.

Reached by a long-slog blacktop-to-dirt drive from U.S. 191 near Pinedale, the Big Sandy Trail, an old American Indian route, follows the Big Sandy River to Big Sandy Lake, then on a steepening track past North and Arrowhead lakes to 10,800-foot Jackass Pass. Here you’ll gain your introductory prospect of the Cirque of the Towers, which cradles Lonesome Lake (which is not particularly lonesome in summer and fall) in its hard granite embrace. These prongs, spires, and prows—which include Warbonnet, Wolf’s Head, Pylon Peak, Warrior, Shark’s Nose, Lizard Head (at 12,842 feet, the high point of the Cirque of the Towers), and gloriously standoffish Pingora—create some of the most esteemed climbing walls in the Rockies.

Keep soaking in the granite garden by trekking farther to Shadow Lake on the "back side" of the Cirque of the Towers.

4. Alice Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho

The jags, towers, and cliffy brows of the Sawtooths represent a pinnacle (so to speak) of Idaho’s prodigious mountain scenery, and Alice Lake—one of 300-plus tarns chiseled by glaciers into this snarled-up range—makes a fabulous introduction. Set at about 8,600 feet, Alice Lake reflects the west face of 9,902-foot El Capitan and a ripsaw rampart southward.

Reach this rockery tarn via the Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake. The trail muscles some 5.5 miles upslope through mixed conifer woods and high glades, making multiple stream crossings en route. Alice Lake is a popular day hiking or overnighter destination, but can also serve as a springboard for longer adventures in the southeastern Sawtooth high country. You can undertake a memorable 19-mile loop by journeying on to Twin Lakes, up and over a high pass, and dropping down to big Toxaway Lake.

5. Highline Trail, Uinta Mountains, Utah

The Uintas are geographic trivia—one of the only west-east-trending mountain ranges in the Western Hemisphere—and also one of the country’s conterminous grandest alpine expanses, rivaling Colorado’s San Juans, the burliest range in the Southern Rockies, for sheer extent of alpine territory. The Highline Trail shows off the storm-licked splendor of the High Uintas Wilderness on a week-plus, nearly 100-mile trek between Hayden Pass and U.S. Route 191, much of it above the 10,000-foot contour.

Lonesome tarns, rusty Precambrian pyramids and fins, windswept tundra passes, staggered canyons—oh, and did we mention the thunderstorms? This is a Rocky Mountain roof-of-the-world traverse of the highest order.

6. The Maroon Bells, Elk Mountains, Colorado

Geographically speaking, the Elk Mountains lie close to the heart of the Southern Rockies, and two of their half-dozen fourteeners—the Maroon Bells—form arguably that skyscraping region’s scenic culmination. Given the paired loom of 14,156-foot Maroon Peak and 14,014-foot North Maroon, plus the eye-catching red of their capping Maroon Formation sedimentary layers, and it’s no surprise they’re said to be the most photographed summits in Colorado.

They’re also plenty well-loved, so don’t come here seeking solitude; treat it as a pilgrimage to one of the great landmarks of the American Rockies. The hike to Crater Lake puts you at the very foot of the Maroon Bells, but the views just keep expanding if you trek up to Buckskin Pass, which can also be strung together with West Maroon, Frigid Air, and Trailrides passes in a roughly 30-mile backpacking loop.

7. Wheeler Peak, Snake Range, Nevada

The crown of relatively little-visited Great Basin National Park, of the Snake Range and essentially of Nevada (though Boundary Peak in the White Mountains on the California line modestly outranks it), 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak is a special mountain. The Snakes are their own sky-island range, loftiest in the eastern Great Basin, and rising from the sagebrush sea of that cold desert to subalpine aspen forests and wizened bristlecone-pine groves. (In 1964, a bristlecone 4,844 years old was chopped down on a Wheeler Peak moraine.) Wheeler Peak is also known for its small glacier, one of the southernmost in the U.S.

An 8.6-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead above Wheeler Peak Campground takes you to the rubbled summit with its head-spinning Basin-and-Range panorama. It’s not a demanding hike, but well worth doing.

8. The Narrows, Zion Canyon, Utah

North Fork Virgin River’s world-famous gorge and its domeland surrounds are so knock-you-over-the-head scenic that any trail in Zion National Park verges on the unreal. Two, though, attract the lion’s share of attention: Angel’s Rest—the up-top, vista-rich one (strictly for non-acrophobes)—and the Narrows, the shadowy, amphibious, down-low one through the twisty, high-walled slot forming the head of Zion Canyon.

You can join the masses wading upstream into the Narrows from the end of the popular Riverside Trail at the Temple of Sinawava, or drop down from Chamberlain’s Ranch on a more adventurous 16-mile trek. The latter requires a permit; from the Temple of Sinawava, you don’t need one as far upstream as Big Spring.

There are countless quieter slot canyons in the Colorado Plateau, but the Narrows is legitimately wondrous, and if you combine it with remoter adventures (including those farther up its course), you might even enjoy the oohing-and-aahing camaraderie of it all. It’s a communal National Park experience on par with watching Old Faithful erupt or staggering all scenery-drunk around Yosemite Valley.

Accessible and well-visited though the lower portion of the Narrows may be, it’s also dangerous given the potential for flash floods. Check in at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center for the most up-to-date forecast and flood hazard rating, and don’t play the odds.

9. North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona

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Hike from montane woods to hot desert in one 14.2-mile swoop on the North Kaibab Trail, the only maintained route connecting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. It’s popular but not as much as its South Rim counterparts (the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails), and given the "Big Ditch’s" one-of-a-kind topographical breadth, it serves up mega-scale scenery not many hiking trails can match.

The North Kaibab Trail drops from the Kaibab Plateau’s conifers at 8,241 feet to the Colorado nearly 6,000 feet below. From Coconino Overlook less than a mile down-trail, it descends southeastward to Supai Tunnel and Redwall Bridge in Roaring Springs Canyon—named for a weeping limestone cliff reachable by a 0.3-mile spur—then cants southwestward into Bright Angel Canyon (Cottonwood Campground, 6.5 miles and 4,200 feet down from the trailhead, offers a good first-night stopover). A mile past that, a side trail leads to Ribbon Falls. Near its end, the North Kaibab Trail traverses the tight Vishnu Schist confines of the Box before attaining Phantom Ranch and the bridge to Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the canyon.

After a night or three down here, you can retrace your steps back to the North Rim or add a "Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim" feather to your cap by climbing the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim.

10. Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon Loop, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Braving grizzlies at the Chinese Wall, you’re within easy reach of the Canadian border. On the very opposite side of the country, this short but mesmerizing walkabout in the heart of the Sonoran Desert shows off rugged scenery that is, ecologically speaking, more Mexico than the U.S. Remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument lies in an awesome, sparsely settled expanse of the Sonoran that also includes the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Mexico’s desolate Pinacate backlands.

This 3.5-mile loop links the Bull Pasture and Estes Canyon trails on the western flanks of the Ajo Mountains. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to admire the eccentric namesake cactus, which barely makes it north of the border, as well as the Sonoran Desert’s defining species, the monolithic saguaro, plus a whole slew of other desert plants. The impressive stature of both the organ pipe and saguaro cacti complements the burliness of the Ajos’ craggy bosses. And the views from the Bull Pasture leg unfurl far south across the Sonoyta Valley into Sonora, Mexico.

Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by John Strother

Building a Bouldering Community in Winston-Salem

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You’d think Ben Burgess would’ve cut his climbing chops on the iconic routes surrounding his hometown of Boulder, Colo. But Ben didn’t tackle his first ascent until just a few years ago when he moved to North Carolina. Before that, you’d be more likely to find him indoors playing video games than out on a mountain, he says. But all that changed when his girlfriend took him to Pilot Mountain. "I loved climbing from the get-go," says Burgess. “It’s like puzzle-solving with your whole body. Now I spend half my time outdoors, so it can happen to anyone.”

Burgess is the owner of Winston-Salem’s new downtown bouldering gym, Rock Box Bouldering. His vision is that Rock Box will become a central hub for the Triad climbing community, and he sees the North Chestnut Street location, a 5-minute walk from North Main Street, as an easy after-work hangout for people living and working in the office buildings, universities, and downtown apartments nearby.

Not Just for Climbers

Burgess hopes Rock Box becomes not only a hub for seasoned climbers, but also a place for people who might not be interested in outdoor climbing but are looking for a unique way to socialize. Unlike traditional climbing gyms, where climber and belayer work together in relative isolation, bouldering is set up for groups to work on problems, or routes, together. Not much gear is required, making it easier to learn.

"Bouldering is a lot more intuitive, and a lot less intimidating, than rope climbing," says Burgess. “No ropes, no harnesses, and you’re not super-high off the ground. You have an instant discussion topic—the route you’re working on. You can go bouldering with friends, then grab a beer and dinner together.”

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The maximum wall height is 14 feet, so no drop to the thickly padded floor will be greater than about 10 feet.

Ben Burgess / Rock Box Bouldering

Futurist Climbing has designed more than 2,000 square feet of climbing surface, and Leading Edge Climbing is responsible for the build-out. The maximum wall height is 14 feet, so no drop to the thickly padded floor will be greater than about 10 feet. The 14- to 16-inch floor padding extends across the gym floor and 10 feet past the bouldering walls in every direction.

Restrooms, seating, and a workout area with free weights and machines complete the space. In the workout area, climbers who typically work back and forearm muscles on the wall can focus on opposing muscle groups, legs, and cardio for a complete body workout. Two thousand square feet remains unfinished and will be built out in the future, possibly as as private event space or a cafe. In the meantime, the front desk will stock snacks and a drink cooler.

Group Discounts & Gear Rentals

Day passes are available, but a membership will be more economical for anyone climbing at least once a week. There are monthly and annual membership options, depending on how frequently you climb. Discounts are available for groups coming in to climb together, and climbing shoes and chalk bags are available to rent. Burgess hopes to host climbing competitions and partner with downtown businesses on community events like yoga classes for climbers and pint nights.

Challenging Problems & Classes

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Burgess also hopes to offer a class in transitioning from gym to outdoor climbing to promote the Triad’s outdoor assets

Ben Burgess / Rock Box Bouldering

The V scale is used to set and grade gym bouldering routes, which are color-coded based on difficulty. Grading is subjective and can vary from climber to climber based on height and body type, but grades of V0 or VB (basic) are generally assigned to beginner problems, while the most difficult routes can earn a grade as high as V16. Primary factors are the steepness of the wall and the distance between and nature of the holds. Routes will range from jugs (big, open hand holds) and easy lines for beginners to difficult problems with pumpy crimps (small edges) and pinches (held between the thumb and fingertips) to challenge the most experienced climbers. "Even beginner problems will have interesting movement and puzzles that challenge you," says Burgess.

Walls are designed with overhangs and steeper pitches than you might find when you’re climbing outdoors, a necessity from a safety standpoint to allow climbers to jump down without hitting the holds. He advises beginners to practice safe drops, starting just a foot or two off the mat, dropping, and progressing higher on the wall over time. The tight fit and stiff sole of a climbing shoe help to grip the wall, so Burgess is offering first-time climbers free gear rentals to lessen the intimidation factor. He also plans to host classes for all skill levels, including a bouldering 101 for people who are new to the sport; bouldering technique for climbers who want to up their game; and conditioning for climbing for those interested in sport-specific cardio and strength training.

Burgess also hopes to offer a class in transitioning from gym to outdoor climbing to promote the Triad’s outdoor assets. "The main way to make the transition is by getting to know people who climb outdoors," says Burgess. “The gym is a more controlled environment, and it’s great for learning and meeting people. But we’re really blessed to have great climbing areas right next door.” Rock Box will rent out climbing shoes, chalk bags, and crash pads that climbers can take to local bouldering areas in the Saura Mountains.

"Even if people don’t have any interest in outdoor rock climbing, bouldering is a really fun social activity," says Burgess. “My vision is to get more people interested in climbing, bring it into the mainstream, and create responsible climbers.”

Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Ben Burgess / Rock Box Bouldering