The 12 Best Casual Adventures in Chattanooga

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Taking an epic, all-day trip into the great outdoors is one of the best things you can do—when you have the time and energy. All too often, though, busy schedules mean that micro-adventures requiring little to no preparation are more realistic.

And with manageable excursions around every corner, Chattanooga makes it easy to get your outdoor fix in small doses. Here are a few of our favorite effortless ways to get outside in Chattanooga—no maps or gear required.

1. Signal Point

Tucked into the cliffside in Signal Mountain’s historic district, Signal Point is the perfect destination for nature lovers and history buffs alike. From the parking lot, it’s only about a hundred yards down a gradual staircase to the first overlook, a spot was used by the Union to send communication signals during the Civil War. From here, you’ll have a clear view of the Tennessee River as it cuts through the steep gorge. Raccoon Mountain is also visible to the west.

2. Riverwalk Cycling

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The Riverwalk is an easy way to enjoy a smooth bike ride.

Kathryn Crouch

Chattanooga’s Riverwalk is impressive both for its length and its scenery. The wide, paved path spans from St. Elmo to the Chickamauga Dam, passing directly through downtown along the way. The Riverwalk is almost entirely flat, making it manageable for all skill levels and ages, and it offers amenities such as restrooms, playgrounds, and picnic tables. A popular access point to the riverfront path is from the Bluff View Art District in the heart of downtown. Don’t have a bike? Pick one up at one of over 30 bikeshare docking stations and pedal to your heart’s content.

3. Reflection Riding Nature Center and Arboretum

Take a trip to this hidden gem for a relaxing day in a beautiful natural area. Located at the foot of Lookout Mountain, Reflection Riding offers 14 miles of hiking trails, a 3-mile scenic drive, calm water, wildlife, and much more. With more than 300 acres of beautiful meadows and forests—plus a native animal exhibit and vibrant gardens—Reflection Riding is a lovely place for people of all ages to spend a day outside.

4. Walnut Street Bridge and Coolidge Park

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The Walnut Street Bridge, as seen here from Coolidge Park, offers excellent views of the Tennessee River.

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Connecting the trendy NorthShore neighborhood to the lively downtown area, the Walnut Street Bridge is one of Chattanooga’s signature attractions. The blue-trussed bridge was constructed in 1890 and was once the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. Though it no longer holds that title, the beautiful bridge remains a favorite place for both locals and visitors to enjoy walking, running, and biking. Coolidge Park, located just below the Walnut Street Bridge on NorthShore, is a great spot to relax and cool off on the Tennessee riverfront after your stroll.

5. Outdoor Bars and Restaurants

For breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anything in between, Chattanooga restaurants are teeming with fantastic outdoor seating areas. For coffee, pastries, and café fare, visit the European-style cobblestone patio at Rembrandt’s Coffee House in the art district. At lunchtime, grab a seat outside of 1885 Grill for southern coastal cuisine and premium people-watching experience in the St. Elmo neighborhood. In the evening, have beers, burgers, and fried pickles on the rooftop deck of the Pickle Barrel, which overlooks the busy downtown Market Street. Or, for a slightly swankier outing, stop in at Beast and Barrel for cocktails on the back porch, which looks out over Coolidge Park.

6. Chattanooga Ducks

For a one-of-a-kind tour of the Scenic City, take a spin on the Chattanooga Ducks. The Ducks are amphibious military vehicles that offer a two-for-one tour of downtown and the Tennessee River. After an informative ride around some of the city’s main attractions, the Ducks coast right into the river for a trip around MacLellan Island and a unique view of the Tennessee Aquarium, the Hunter Museum, and the riverfront parks.

7. Sunset Rock

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You only have to go a few steps for amazing views at Sunset Rock.

Kathryn Crouch

Another of Chattanooga’s most well-loved natural features, Sunset Rock is an easy-to-get-to panoramic overlook on Lookout Mountain. The parking lot is tiny, but if you manage to get a spot, it’s only a few steps to catch a gorgeous glimpse of Lookout Valley from Sunset Rock, which was also a key site during the Civil War. While it’s arguably the best place to watch a sunset in Chattanooga, this overlook is worth a visit any time of day.

8. Chattanooga Market

Every Sunday from May to November, vendors and artisans from around the region set up shop at the open air First Tennessee Pavilion for the Chattanooga Market. You’ll find gourmet cheese, local produce, craft beer, unique art, fresh popcorn, and much more among the market’s many aisles. Each week, there are an array of food trucks and local musicians, so you can easily make a day of your trip to the Chattanooga Market.

9. SUP on the Tennessee River

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The Tennessee River has become a very popular place to go stand-up paddleboarding.

Jake Wheeler

If you’ve always wanted to try stand-up paddleboarding, there’s no better place than Chattanooga. With the Tennessee River flowing right through downtown, getting on the river couldn’t be easier. And because of this easy access, there are several places around town to rent gear and get instruction. Rock/Creek Rentals and Outpost on the Riverwalk offers a variety of SUPs and kayaks, and their knowledgeable staff will make sure you’re comfortable and confident before getting on the water. Similarly, L2 Outside on NorthShore offers SUP rentals and weekly guided paddles on the Tennessee River.

10. Montague Park

This little-known park on Chattanooga’s Southside is part green space and part outdoor art museum. As the largest sculpture park in the Southeast, Sculpture Fields is home to more than 35 pieces of gigantic outdoor art from sculptors around the world. With walking paths and acres of grass, Montague Park plays host to festivals, yoga classes, school field trips, and much more. It’s perfect for a picnic or a casual stroll among the sculptures.

11. North Chick Blue Hole

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Take a dip at the North Chick Blue Hole on a hot summer day.

Kathryn Crouch

One of Chattanooga’s favorite swimming holes, the North Chick Blue Hole is an easy walk from the parking area near Soddy-Daisy. Large boulders in the creek act as natural dams to create several deep plunge pools, perfect for cooling off on a hot day. Though the area is heavily trafficked, especially in the summer, its location in the valley between Mowbray and Signal Mountains makes the North Chick Blue Hole feel like an oasis.

12. Southside Coffee Shop Crawl

Enjoying a cup of coffee at one of Chattanooga’s many cafés is always great, but enjoying it on the porch of one of the Southside’s quaint coffee shops is even better. Take a little tour of the coffee scene and experience the variety of relaxing patios at each one. Treat yourself to locally roasted coffee and fresh-baked bread on the stony patio at Niedlovs, sandwiches and a view of the bustling Chattanooga Choo Choo at the Frothy Monkey, and biscuits and house-roasted coffee at Mean Mug.

Written by Madison Eubanks for RootsRated Media in partnership with Chattanooga CVB.

Featured image provided by Kathryn Crouch

Weston Ski Track – Cross Country Skiing

Weston Ski Track

Intro

Weston Ski Track has great cross-country skiing for the whole family and beginners. Weston Ski Track offers a variety of trails. It has 9.3 miles of natural-snow trails, weather permitting, and 1.3 miles of trails in the snowmaking area. Here you will find four different tracks with various trail where you can enjoy, practice, and even take lessons on cross-country skiing without having to travel far from Boston. You won’t want to miss out on all the fun this place has to offer!

What Makes It Great

Weston Ski Track offers 1.5 miles of trails for a great cross-country skiing adventure in their snowmaking area. However, the trails expand to 9.3 miles of fun in their natural-snow trails with a good snow fall and with the help of their master groomers. When the entire ski area is open, there are four tracks in total. These tracks include John Hart Track, Red Tail Track, Coyote Track, and Fox Track. Each track is filled with different trails that loop and connect with one another. While on the tracks you can enjoy not only the fantastic activity of cross-country skiing, but also the beauty of the Charles River.

The track offers both adult and kid lessons. Adult lessons are 75 minutes classical or skate-skiing. During a classical lesson you will learn the basics of motions, turning, and negotiating small hills. During skate-skiing lessons you will learn the basics of weight transfer, edging, and V1 timing. There are also 75 minute kid lessons for age 6-10 where they will be introduced to the fun gliding on snow. Lessons are offered most weekends and holidays. Reservations recommended for the 10:30 am and 11:30 am lessons. Private lessons for children and adults are available as well. Weston Ski Track truly offers it all!

Who is Going to Love It

Families and friends will absolutely love cross-country skiing at Weston Ski Track. Skiers have four tracks to choose from and the various trail within them. The terrain in these tracks are fairly easy-moderate. Adding to the fun, the adult and kid lessons continue to make this place extremely beginner and family friendly. Or, if you want to learn in a more private setting, you can enjoy the private lessons offered by Weston Ski Track. There is truly something for everyone her and a lot to love about this place!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Boston, Take the Mass Pike to exit 15. Stay left after the tollbooth. At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Park Road, following a sign for Route 16. Weston Ski Track is a quarter mile down the road on the left.

Hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 am to 9 pm, Friday 10 am to 6 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 6 pm. Parking is free, however, lessons and trail passes are $33 for adults, $29 for children ages 13-16, and $20 for children ages 11-12.

 

Written by Danielle LeBlanc for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Elizabeth Lloyd

Weston Ski Track – Cross Country Skiing

Weston Ski Track

Intro

Weston Ski Track has great cross-country skiing for the whole family and beginners. Weston Ski Track offers a variety of trails. It has 9.3 miles of natural-snow trails, weather permitting, and 1.3 miles of trails in the snowmaking area. Here you will find four different tracks with various trail where you can enjoy, practice, and even take lessons on cross-country skiing without having to travel far from Boston. You won’t want to miss out on all the fun this place has to offer!

What Makes It Great

Weston Ski Track offers 1.5 miles of trails for a great cross-country skiing adventure in their snowmaking area. However, the trails expand to 9.3 miles of fun in their natural-snow trails with a good snow fall and with the help of their master groomers. When the entire ski area is open, there are four tracks in total. These tracks include John Hart Track, Red Tail Track, Coyote Track, and Fox Track. Each track is filled with different trails that loop and connect with one another. While on the tracks you can enjoy not only the fantastic activity of cross-country skiing, but also the beauty of the Charles River.

The track offers both adult and kid lessons. Adult lessons are 75 minutes classical or skate-skiing. During a classical lesson you will learn the basics of motions, turning, and negotiating small hills. During skate-skiing lessons you will learn the basics of weight transfer, edging, and V1 timing. There are also 75 minute kid lessons for age 6-10 where they will be introduced to the fun gliding on snow. Lessons are offered most weekends and holidays. Reservations recommended for the 10:30 am and 11:30 am lessons. Private lessons for children and adults are available as well. Weston Ski Track truly offers it all!

Who is Going to Love It

Families and friends will absolutely love cross-country skiing at Weston Ski Track. Skiers have four tracks to choose from and the various trail within them. The terrain in these tracks are fairly easy-moderate. Adding to the fun, the adult and kid lessons continue to make this place extremely beginner and family friendly. Or, if you want to learn in a more private setting, you can enjoy the private lessons offered by Weston Ski Track. There is truly something for everyone her and a lot to love about this place!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Boston, Take the Mass Pike to exit 15. Stay left after the tollbooth. At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Park Road, following a sign for Route 16. Weston Ski Track is a quarter mile down the road on the left.

Hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 am to 9 pm, Friday 10 am to 6 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 6 pm. Parking is free, however, lessons and trail passes are $33 for adults, $29 for children ages 13-16, and $20 for children ages 11-12.

 

Written by Danielle LeBlanc for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Elizabeth Lloyd

Are You Addicted to Nature?

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Anyone active in the outdoors community around Chattanooga has likely heard of Randy Wharton. The founder of Chattanooga-based nonprofit Wild Trails is also an ultramarathon trail runner, long-distance paddleboarder, and lifelong outdoor adventure seeker.

His love of nature is a given, but Wharton offers some extreme descriptions for his passion for the outdoors and the lifestyle he’s created around it, which he calls "radical health."

"When you’re in this kind of shape there isn’t really a day where you couldn’t wake up and go run 30 miles," he says. “I do this stuff every day, [but] not because I want to stay healthy. It’s kind of like when somebody has gotten addicted to heroin. Certain addictions are just impossible to break, and [addiction to nature] is just like that. It’s hard for somebody who has never experienced radical health to know how it feels.”

"There’s a connection with nature that’s such a huge part of the experience," Wharton adds. “I’m certain there’s no way it would be the same if I ran 10 miles on city streets. There’s an energy that’s out there in nature that you just don’t get when you’re in the city. It’s an amazing feeling.”

While not everyone can run 30 miles at any given moment like Wharton, most outdoor enthusiasts can relate to the mental and physical connection to, or even craving for, nature. And it turns out, there’s a name for it: biophilia.

As our increasingly urbanized cultures across the globe become more stressed out, depressed, and addicted to technology, more and more scientific studies are making correlations between nature exposure and benefits to both physical and emotional health. And when we lose our nature fix, we often feel crummy or crabby.

If this sounds familiar, here’s a handy set of reference questions to ask yourself and find out—are you addicted to nature?

If you find yourself more stressed out if you don’t get your trail time … you might be addicted to nature.

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It’s not just the physical exercise that makes you feel good: It’s the simple act of being outside.

Jeff Bartlett

"Even after just 15 minutes of being outside, our brains and bodies start to respond [and] people experience a boost in well being," says journalist Florence Williams, who has written extensively about the science behind nature’s benefits. “Our blood pressure goes down, our heart rate variability changes in a way that’s more resilient to stress, and our cortisol levels—our stress hormones—can decrease.”

This de-stressing is attributed to factors beyond the positive effects of exercise. Consider a study in which researchers in Japan sent groups of people to walk in the forest and other groups to walk in the city, and measured the effects on both. The nature walkers had markedly higher positive benefits and lowered stress levels than the city walkers, leading researchers to theorize that it was the immersion in nature that led to the benefits. So if you’re feeling stressed out, you may just need some nature in your system to chill.

If you find yourself feeling depressed after being stuck inside all week … you might be addicted to nature.

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Feeling down? Being outside is connected to lowered levels of depression and stress.

Mitchel Jones

While working on her recent book, _The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creativ_e, Williams spent time with researchers in Finland whose studies showed that people who spend at least five hours a month in nature are able to better resist and ward off mild depression. According to the researchers, that’s the recommended monthly minimum for maintaining emotional health, but more is generally better.

"Nature benefits exist on a dose curve," Williams explains. “So the benefits depend on how much nature you have.”

"Five hours a month isn’t very much in my book," she adds. “I need to go out every day, so I think there’s some individual variability.”

In other words, if you’re in the "addicted to nature" category, you likely need to get outside more to stay emotionally healthy.

If your creativity and focus plummet if you haven’t been breathing clean outside air … you might be addicted to nature.

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Being outdoors for any length of time has positive benefits on your brain and creativity.

Mitchel Jones

Yep, nature makes you more creative too. In studies by psychologists from the Universities of Kansas and Utah, students who spent several days hiking and camping in the wilderness performed 50 percent better on tests measuring their creativity than when they took the same tests before spending time outdoors. Other studies showed boosts in memory, cognition, and focus after connecting with nature, whether that meant walking outdoors or simply looking out the window.

Add to that hundreds of years of anecdotal evidence and stories from the great scientists, writers, and artists of history—many of whom claimed that their best ideas came to them during a walk in the woods—and you’ve got a great recipe for sparking creativity: Get outside.

If you find yourself more selfish, self-absorbed, and generally crabby when you haven’t seen a sunset in weeks … you might be addicted to nature.

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The feeling of awe that comes when absorbing the power and beauty of nature can make us better people.

Mitchel Jones

There’s a lot of new research looking into the power of awe: that powerful feeling you get while, say, soaking up a stunning sunset. It turns out that experiencing awe-inspiring natural beauty actually makes us better people.

"Imagine looking up at the Milky Way, or looking at an incredible waterfall, or seeing a moose in the woods. We have this sense of awe that makes us—our egos—feel smaller," Williams explains. “We tend to view our own personal problems as being less significant, and then we feel more connected to each other and the power of the universe.”

Researchers are finding that the more people experience awe, and the perspective of feeling smaller but still connected to something bigger and more significant than themselves, the better their emotional health.

"Nature and wilderness are critical for civilization," Williams adds. “It really does make us more community-minded, it makes us look out for each other, and it makes us better people. Even if we live in a city, it’s still important to seek out those moments of awe and beauty. You can find it in a sunset, a bird flying overhead, or the rivers in your town. Cultivating that awe is something you have to learn how to do.”

If ** you get antsy if you’re not regularly running 30 miles, paddling Class V’s, or shredding trails on your bike … ***you might be addicted to nature (and, maybe, adrenaline too).*

While nature plays a big role, when it comes to high-octane adventure sports or extreme physical activity, you’re probably also addicted to some combination of adrenaline, dopamine, and endorphins.

"When you start thinking about adventure sports, that’s kind of a different brain network that kicks in," Williams says. “Then you’re talking about a dopamine dependency, where you do need a big hit of dopamine that you can only get from a certain level of adventure sports. I think that nature is a part of that, but I don’t think that it’s the whole picture.”

Put another way, you don’t have to be bombing down a mountain at 40 miles an hour to appreciate nature or reap the benefits of being in it.

"We all have different tolerances for nature and different types of nature that we prefer," Williams says. “Some of us might feel great looking at the ocean, and others of us are freaked out by how wide open it is. We need to pay attention to how we feel when we’re outside, how we feel in different kinds of nature immersion settings. Some people are going to be on that side of the bell curve where they may need a big bang and they may also need the adrenaline rush of the sport.”

So you’re addicted to nature. What now?

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Accept your addiction, and get out there and embrace it.

Mitchel Jones

Embrace it, and be grateful it’s a healthy addiction: Nature is the cure, not the disease.

"I think that addiction to nature is sort of our default state," Williams notes. “I think we’re all supposed to be addicted to nature because that’s how [our ancestors] survived—they needed to totally understand and feel connected to the natural world.”

According to experts, the real problem is not that some of us are addicted to nature, but that so many of us aren’t. Increasingly, people whose lives play out almost entirely in urban environments are addicted to technology and disconnected from nature—and so much is lost in that imbalance. And it’s not just the obvious effects like weight gain: We lose the peace that comes with a walk in the woods, the creativity sparked by a run on a trail, the thrill of testing your limits on a crag or a river, and the wonder of looking up at a clear sky full of stars.

The negative effects we feel when we don’t get our nature "fix"—depression, stress, selfishness, or lack of focus—are all really just indicators that we’re missing something that is inextricably tied up in the core of who we are, not just as outdoor enthusiasts or adrenaline junkies and everyone in between. Nature also connects us to something far more primal and long-lasting: who we are as humans.

"We are natural beings, and we have to interact with other natural beings, not just human beings," Wharton says. “There’s something out there in nature. I used to run a lot faster, but since I slowed down, I see more. There’s an interaction with nature that happens that we just need.”

Written by Andrew Shaughnessy for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Mitchel Jones

The 20 Best Hikes in the United States

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From the Smokies to the Rockies, and the Everglades to the highest point in Maine—and everywhere in between—the United States is full of world-class hikes. Whether you’re a hardcore peak bagger, out for an ambitious day hike, or are obsessed with the panoramic views for your Instagram feed, there’s always something thrilling to lace your hiking boots up for. Here, we tapped RootsRated editors for intel on some of the best hikes in the United States. Use them as inspiration for your next outing—or as a reason to plan a trip.

Teton Crest Trail, Wyoming

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The Teton Crest Trail epitomizes the splendor of the West.

John Strother

There are a lot of really great hikes on this list, but Wyoming’s Teton Crest Trail might just take the cake as being the most epic. For 35-45 miles (depending on your route), this slender singletrack path cuts a dwarfed, serpentine figure as it slices through the heart of one of America’s most stunning mountain ranges, linking together its very best features along the way. Over the course of two to five days, hikers will pass through wildflower-filled meadows, over airy mountain passes, past glacially-fed tarns, and across expansive basins that swallow up hikers and spit them out as tiny, inconsequential specks against the jagged backdrop of the Tetons. In short, this trail will skew your perception of what constitutes a bucket-list worthy hike. Pro tip: Permits are hard to come by, but because the trail weaves in and out of national parklands and national forestlands, if you camp in national forest designated areas, obtaining a permit isn’t necessary.

Roan Mountain, Tennessee

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The 14-mile traverse of the Roan Mountain Highlands is one of the best hikes in the Southeast.

Joe Giordano, mods made

Ask any Southeastern backpacker what the best overnight trek in the region is, and the majority will tell you: the 14-mile traverse of East Tennessee’s Roan Mountain Highlands via the Appalachian Trail is a true standout. Not only is it home to one of the most unique shelters on the entire A.T. (the Overmountain Shelter, better known as "the barn" because it’s, well, a two-story barn), but it also offers up some of the best grassy “bald” hiking in America. Think of it almost like the Southeast’s version of ridgeline hiking: You’re above the trees, surrounded by a sea of billowing grasses in the foreground and a sea of bluish-gray mountains sprawling into every direction in the background, with nothing in the way to obstruct these views. The only downside? Cameras rarely do Roan justice.

Buckskin Gulch, Utah

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Buckskin Gulch highlights the beauty of slot canyon hiking in Utah—just make sure to do your homework before venturing out.

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In a region as labyrinthine and loaded with slot canyons as Southern Utah, it’s difficult to say that Buckskin Gulch is the definitive best slot canyon hike in the region. But it’s certainly the longest and the deepest … and, yeah, probably the best, too. For 13 miles, these narrows snake through a mazy tunnel of towering red rock walls, often no more than a wingspan’s width apart and so tall that they block out sunlight. Some hikers choose to link up with nearby Paria Canyon for an overnight 20-mile trip, but for day hikers, it’s just as rewarding to park at the Wire Pass Trailhead and embark on an out-and-back distance of your choosing. The important things to remember with this hike are largely water-related: First, flash floods are a very real threat, so be sure to check the forecast and plan accordingly. Second, bring more water than you want to carry; the dehydration creeps up quick in the desert.

Mount Katahdin, Maine

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A lucky hiker summits Mount Katahdin, the tallest mountain Maine, on a rare day without fog.

Foxcroft Academy

The tallest mountain in Maine and the North Star, northern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail, Mount Katahdin is truly legendary. It juts upward out of the sprawling expanse of lakes, ponds, and deep woods that define Baxter State Park and towers over the land with a commanding presence. The most iconic way to reach the summit is via the vertiginous spine of the 1-mile Knife’s Edge Trail. Along its impossibly narrow and serrated saddle, hikers scramble from Pamola Peak across Chimney Peak to South Peak and finally to the 5,267-foot summit of Katahdin. Once the (likely fog-shrouded) summit photos have been snapped, a roughly 5-mile descent via the Appalachian Trail will take hikers back to the Katahdin Stream Campground trailhead 4,100 feet below.

Grayson Highlands, Virginia

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Wild ponies will be your companions on a hike in the Grayson Highlands of Virginia.

Virginia State Parks

In a word, the Grayson Highlands of Virginia are breathtaking. In 19 words, they are an almost make-believe land of high mountain meadows, 5,000-foot peaks, thick rhododendron tunnels, and mystical wild ponies. Like most state parks, there’s a large variety of activities to pick from (camping, bouldering, fishing, and horseback riding), but arguably the best way to get a comprehensive taste of the park’s character in a condensed snapshot is to hike the 8.5-mile out-and-back to the summit of Virginia’s highest point: Mount Rogers. The route starts out from the Massie Gap parking area along the Rhododendron Trail. It links with the Appalachian Trail, traveling through grassy pastures sprinkled with boulder outcroppings, and then eventually connects to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail, which twists through a lush, mossy forest to the summit.

Clouds Rest, California

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Clouds Rest backs up its dreamy name with views to go along with it.

John Strother

The 14.2-mile round-trip hike to the Clouds Rest summit offers an exceptional taste of what Yosemite National Park is all about. As you’re standing atop its 9,926-foot perch, high above Yosemite Valley from a less-witnessed vantage point than the famous Half Dome buttress, with a giant sea of granite and coniferous pines and sequoias below, it’s hard to feel anything but utter awe and respect for your surroundings. The trailhead is located in the northeast corner of the park. From here, it’s a 7-mile mostly uphill trek whose elevation chart vaguely resembles a healthy year in the stock market—a few spikes up steep ridges here, a few dips into gullies there, but with a pretty consistent uphill hockey stick growth toward the summit. What the chart won’t illustrate, however, are all the glorious intangibles along the way—babbling snowmelt streams, sequoias so stout you’d need a group of five to fully hug them, ever-expanding panoramas as you ascend, the tranquillity at the summit, and of course, the icy plunge in Tenaya Lake as a refreshing reward once you return to the trailhead.

Wheeler Peak, New Mexico

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Wheeler Peak will challenge your quads, but the panoramic views at the summit make it worth it.

Jake Wheeler

It’s weird to think that the tallest peak in New Mexico would be overshadowed by anything within the immediate vicinity. But with Southern Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park some two hours to the north, and the cultural hotspot of Taos about 45 minutes to the south, that’s kind of what happens to Wheeler Peak. Don’t let this lack of regional recognition fool you, though: The 8.2-mile round-trip hike to this lofty summit in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is one of the best in New Mexico and a true lesson in uphill slogging. Averaging about 800 vertical feet per mile, this trail takes hikers through lung-expanding evergreen forests and then up lung-crushing climbs above treeline. What you’ll remember other than the impressive summit panorama will be the near endless collection of switchbacks that seem to pinball you back and forth, side to side, and up-and-up through a seemingly infinite sea of scree. Patience—and quad-strength—are both virtues on this hike.

Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

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Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a thru-hiker, the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies is an unforgettable hike.

Kevin Stewart Photography

For Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, the 72 miles of the A.T. within the Smokies represent one of the most revered sections of the entire 2,200 mile route. For long-weekend backpackers, this stretch represents one of the most efficient and spectacular ways to get an intimate taste of America’s most visited national park. Whichever way you slice it, the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies is a spectacular hiking experience teeming with old-growth forests, incredible biodiversity, challenging climbs, sprawling mountain vistas, and a booming population of fearless and curious black bears. You can’t go wrong with any day hike section you choose along this route, but to really maximize the experience, a 4-5 day excursion that covers the entire 72 miles is your best bet. Overnight permits are required, so make sure you plan in advance.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

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You’ll almost certainly be in a long line waiting to officially hike Half Dome. And yes, it’s worth it.

John Strother

You don’t need climbing skill or equipment to scale Yosemite’s iconic Half Dome. Using steel cable handrails, hikers can ascend 400 feet up the backside of this granite monolith to reach its summit of 8,840 feet, with panoramic views of the Sierra Mountains in all directions. From the Yosemite Valley floor, Half Dome is a strenuous, 12- to 14-mile round-trip hike. Break up the journey by hiking 4.7 miles to Little Yosemite Valley to camp. Then, hike 3.5 miles to Half Dome and hit the cables early before they’re super crowded. Usually, the cables are accessible May through October, and permits are limited, so set a reminder to snag one as soon as they open on March 1. Don’t forget to pack plenty of water and bring sturdy gloves.

Rae Lakes Loop, Kings Canyon National Park

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The 41.4-mile Rae Lakes Loop is a popular hike in the High Sierras, with stellar lake views.

Kirk Y.

The 41.4-mile Rae Lakes Loop showcases some of the most stunning scenery in the High Sierra. Beginning at 5,041 feet in a forest of pines, cedars, and cottonwoods, the trek requires nearly 7,000 of climbing for hikers to visit emerald meadows and cobalt lakes surrounded by mammoth granite towers. While the hike includes the heart-pounding, 2.1-mile ascent of Glen Pass at 11,998 feet, grades are generally moderate and water is plentiful along the way. To avoid several intense climbs, do this hike clockwise. Due to high demand for permits, book as early as possible to March 1, when permits are released, and hike in May to avoid summer crowds.

Appalachian Trail, Georgia section hike

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The Georgia section of the AT stretches for nearly 80 miles and is an eye-opener for many would-be hikers about the challenge ahead.

Alan Cressler

Northbound AT thru-hikers begin their 2,200-mile journey in Georgia, where the trail climbs high, exceeding 4,000 feet of elevation, to offer epic views from rock outcrops and sublime walks through emerald forests of rhododendron, mountain laurel and moss-covered boulders. Stretching 78.6 miles, the Georgia portion of the AT is not only beautiful but also challenging, with steep, rugged terrain that strains less-seasoned hikers and causes some to abandon their dreams of hiking to Maine. If a thru-hike is a little too ambitious for you, the Georgia AT includes many access points, so several day hikes and short trips are possible. If you begin at Neels Gap you can visit the Mountain Crossings gear store to mingle with thru-hikers and see the only point where the AT passes through a manmade structure. From there, make the steep climb to the summit of Blood Mountain to explore a unique stone trail shelter and enjoy a remarkable view of Appalachian ridges rolling to the horizon.

Florida National Scenic Trail

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The Florida National Scenic Trail runs from the state’s Panhandle through its southern reaches.

National Forests in Florida

One of the most iconic trails in the Southeast, this 1,300-mile route stretches from the state’s Panhandle all the way to Big Cypress National Preserve at the southern end of the state. But you don’t have to tackle the whole thing to savor some of its highlights, from serene marshland to spectacular wildlife viewing. Take your pick from a number of excellent section hikes: A few recommended routes include the 11-mile stretch from Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs, one of the trail’s oldest sections, and hikes around Hopkins Prairie, where you’re likely to see sandhill cranes and eagles. Campgrounds, both primitive and traditional, are interspersed along the way, so you can easily turn your day hike into an overnighter.

The Dipsea Trail, Marin County, California

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The Dipsea Trail in Marin County, north of San Francisco, is home to the oldest trail run in the country.

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Don’t let this trail’s whimsical name fool you: The approximately 7-mile stretch is a doozy, with nearly 688 steps—in the first mile—and long uphill stretches for nearly 2,000 feet in total elevation gain. Even so, doing the Dipsea is a must for any Bay Area hiker or active-minded visitor, with forests that look like they’re lifted from a fairytale book, flowy single-track through majestic redwoods, and a finish at the Pacific Ocean. The trail is also home to one of the most infamous trail races in the country (and the oldest): The Dipsea Race, which has drawn hardy runners to battle its roots, ruts, and other ankle-twisting obstacles since 1905. Whether you run it or hike it, you must do it.

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, Santa Cruz, California

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The Skyline-to-the-Sea trail is net downhill, making for an especially rewarding finish at the Pacific Ocean.

Miguel Vieira

You can hike its sections separately, but to really experience the essence of this 31-mile trek, one of the best in the San Francisco Bay Area (if not all of California), it’s best to make a true adventure of it, with two overnighters on trailside campgrounds. Built over seven years by a local nonprofit, the trail treats hikers to roaring waterfalls and towering coastal redwoods and passes through two excellent state parks, Castle Rock and Big Basin, before culminating at the Pacific Ocean. Another big plus? With a start in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the trail is all net downhill. No surprise, then, that reservations fill up fast, so plan ahead and be patient—it’s well worth the effort.

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, New Hampshire

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This eight-mile round-trip hike to the summit of Mount Washington is a year-round favorite in New England.

Annes Travels

The iconic 6,288-foot Mount Washington in the White Mountains is a challenging and worthy summit, especially in the winter. While many are drawn to its eastern slopes to ski Tuckeman’s Ravine, a select few hike the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail on the western side to the mountain’s peak. This demanding, approximately eight-mile round-trip route challenges hikers with steep and exposed sections, icy scrambles, and the threat of erratic weather and strong winds. But the stunning views, frozen waterfalls, and exhilaration of standing atop New England’s highest peak make the cold toes, burning lungs, and treacherous trek worth it.

Longs Peak, Colorado

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Navigating the famous boulder field is just one part of the adventure of this iconic Rockies hike.

Katie Dills

Longs Peak’s 14,255-foot summit looms over Colorado’s northern Front Range, a mountainous beacon summoning the adventurous. A journey to the top of Longs is a truly epic undertaking—even for fit hikers. The standard ascent route via the Keyhole is a 15-mile outing with more than 5,500 feet of elevation gain and is usually done in a single 10-to-14-hour push. Most begin in the darkness around 2 am, catching the sunrise above treeline about five miles in at the famous boulder field. Crossing through the Keyhole dramatically changes the character of the hike from a steady, class-2 cruise to a wild, exposed, class-3 scramble along well-marked ledges. A tough push up a loose gully called "The Trough" grinds up to 14,000 feet, where there is still work to do. A steep scramble through the “Home Stretch” exits atop the surprisingly flat, broad summit block. After all that work, there’s still the challenge of getting down safely. Big, bold, and tough, Longs is one of the most amazing adventures in the Rocky Mountains.

Mount Frissell, Connecticut/Massachusetts

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Mount Frissell is one of the most stunning hikes in New York’s Taconic Mountains.

Morrowlong

At 2,454 feet, Mount Frissell stands in the heart of southern New England and New York’s rolling Taconic Mountains. When the full force of the changing seasons paints the trees in hues of red, yellow, and orange, this hike makes a strong case as the most beautiful in the region. A modest, 1-mile trail start from Mount Riga Road in Massachusetts and gently climbs through scrub oak to the summit of 2,289-foot Round Mountain before continuing to the top of Mount Frissell. Unlike most hikes, however, you’ll get the best views beyond the summit. Passing into Connecticut, hikers come across the highest point in Connecticut at 2,380 feet on the south slopes of Mount Frissell—keep going! At 0.5 miles past the highpoint pin is the Connecticut-New York-Massachusetts tri-point marker, and roughly another mile past that are the panoramic views of rolling farmland and distant Appalachian mountains from 2,311-foot Brace Mountain. Return the way you came for excellent views of neighboring mountain domes to the north.

Peak One, Colorado

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The challenging hike to the summit of Colorado’s Peak One includes spectacular views.

Todd Powell/ Frisco

At 12,933 feet, Peak One is more than 1,400 feet lower than Colorado’s highest peak, but what it lacks in elevation it makes up for in unmatched views. Access is easy, with the trailhead located right off highway I-70. Hikers climb past the ruins of an old mining town before breaking treeline. A class-2+ ridgewalk reveals the depth and beauty of Colorado’s high country. Dillon Reservoir sits at the foot of the peak to the east, where the mighty Front Range 14ers stand in the distance. The northern views are dominated by the mysterious and challenging Gore Range, while far-off Sawatch Range mountains decorate the western horizon. A fun, brief scramble ascends the summit. Turn around at that point for an 8-mile out-and-back with more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain—or keep traversing along the Tenmile Range to Tenmile Mountain and beyond. Hiking from Peak One to Peak Ten is one of Colorado’s big point-to-point testpiece adventures.

Humphreys Peak, Arizona

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Arizona’s highest point, Humphreys Peak boasts fascinating history along with its views.

Coconino National Forest

The highest point in Arizona, 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak is an ambitious peak to bag, with an impressive history to ponder as you conquer it. Geologists speculate this strato-volcano once stood much higher until it experienced a Mount St. Helens-style eruption that resulted in its trademark bowl and diminished height. The Arizona Snowbowl ski area is set on the flanks of the peaks San Francisco Peaks, of which Humphreys is the tallest. A hike to the top travels through pine forests and out of treeline along a well-maintained trail through chunky volcanic rock. Admire the power that shook the land as you take the final steps to the airy summit, where views span out into the lowlands that transform into far-off deserts and canyons. It’s about nine miles round-trip, with 3,000 feet of elevation from the standard route on the Humphreys Peak Trail.

Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park

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Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park.

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Located on an island in Lake Superior that’s 45 miles long and just nine miles wide, this national park is so remote you’ll have to take a ferry or seaplane to access it. But once you do, you’ll have your pick of 165 miles of hiking trails that cover spectacular terrain, including the ruins of an old copper mine and a lighthouse that dates back to the late 1800s. Many hikers flock to the Greenstone Ridge Trail, which runs along the spine of the island, but the Minong Trail is a 52-mile trek that’s slightly harder, but with far fewer people and just as stunning views, wildflowers, and up-and-close wildlife viewing. Choose from several out-and-back routes, or make it a point-to-point overnight trip (there are 36 first-come, first-serve campgrounds) and you just might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Written by Selena Makrides for RootsRated Media in partnership with RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Jake Wheeler

Why Kremmling Is an Awesome (Even If Underrated) Destination for Water Lovers

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Colorado may be best known for its Rocky Mountains, but it’s also called the "Mother of Rivers" and the “Headwaters State.” More major rivers start in Colorado’s snowy high country than any other state. Is it any wonder that water lovers from around the world head to north-central Colorado for water sports and recreation?

Nowhere is this more apparent than Kremmling. Located just two hours from Denver in Grand County, this diamond-in-the-rough town is a hidden gem for water lovers. For a romantic weekend getaway, adventurous corporate retreat, or affordable family vacation, Kremmling may be Colorado’s best-kept secret.

Water, Water, Everywhere

The Colorado River stretches 1,450 miles through seven states and into Mexico, carving out the Grand Canyon in Arizona and filling Nevada’s Lake Mead. This mighty waterway begins in Colorado with its headwaters located at La Poudre Pass, roughly 40 miles (as the crow flies) northeast of Kremmling. Snowmelt flows freely southwest from the pass to form the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park before meeting the Blue River and Muddy Creek at Kremmling. These three waterways fill the Williams Fork, Green Mountain, and Wolford Mountain Reservoirs, respectively. Kremmling’s rivers, rapids, and reservoirs provide an endless supply of wet and wild adventures.

Unlike the nearby trendy ski towns, Kremmling’s a place for laid-back comfort and the perfect destination for value-minded travelers. You’ll feel right at home with the Old West history and culture that make this town as natural and familiar as your favorite pair of blue jeans or cowboy boots. There’s no pressure here—just warm folks and old-fashioned hospitality. So slip into the town of Kremmling and get ready for a wet summer of adventure.

Hit the Rapids

Kremmling offers a healthy sampling of water sports, and there’s something for everyone. Take the family on a leisurely float along the upper Colorado River, the "Upper C," as it’s known to locals. Enjoy whitewater thrills on class I to class IV rapids, by kayak or raft. Experienced paddlers pump up the adrenaline with a mad dash through big class V rapids in Gore Canyon, where the river drops 400 feet in a mere five miles.

Local outfitters like Liquid Descent, AVA, Mad Adventures, and Adventures in Whitewater provide raft and kayak gear for groups, families, couples, and individual trips. (Most outings come with tasty meals included.) Guided half-day, full-day, and overnight trips are available, or you can rent a raft, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard and make your own adventure. Wetsuits, splash jackets, personal flotation devices, helmets, and booties are also provided for guided trips and available for rent for private outings.

Your outfitter shuttles you to nearby access points along the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the Upper Colorado River Recreation Area. For "paddle-it-yourselfers," the BLM’s Kremmling field office can answer questions and point you to the nearest boat launches including Radium, State Bridge, and Pumphouse Recreation Site. Tent and RV camping, picnic tables, shelters, grills, fire rings, and vault toilets are available at some launch sites.

Enjoying a Sportsman’s Paradise

Dubbed "The Sportsman’s Paradise," Kremmling is also the perfect basecamp for fishing, boating, and camping. For fly fishing, cast your line in the deep pools and coves of the Colorado River, Blue River, and Muddy Creek. Enjoy lakeside or boat fishing at three nearby reservoirs—or extend your stay and check them all out. Anglers revel in year-round fishing at these reservoirs for kokanee salmon, northern pike, roundtail chub, and rainbow, lake, and brown trout.

Ten minutes north on U.S. 40, the 1,550-acre Wolford Mountain Reservoir offers a marina, boat launch, boat rentals, and a beach for swimming, plus tent and RV camping at Wolford Campground. East of Kremmling on U.S. 40 and County Road 3, the 1,600-acre Williams Fork Reservoir has a boat ramp, picnic area, and RV and tent camping. South of Kremmling on CO 9, visit the 2,125-acre Green Mountain Reservoir for picnicking, the Heeney Marina, seasonal rustic camping at Cataract Creek, Prairie Point, McDonald Flats, Cow Creek North, Cow Creek South, Elliott Creek, and Willows Campgrounds, and year-round dispersed camping in the White River National Forest. Visit recreation.gov to reserve a campsite or see which ones are first-come/first-served. Many of the campgrounds are dry, so bring your own water.

Use your own boat or rent one for your stay. Choose from jet skiing, water skiing, canoeing, kneeboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, pontoon boating, knee boarding, fly fishing, bait fishing, ice fishing, and more. You’ll never run out of ways to enjoy the water in Kremmling.

Stick Around for the After Party

Kremmling’s budget-friendly lodging, restaurants, and breweries keep you happy, comfortable, and well-fed during your downtime. Take a daytime walking tour through historic Kremmling, visit the Heritage Park Museum, or book a "fun shoot" at the local shooting range. If you’re in town for the weekend, spend an evening with live music at Grand Adventure Brewing. Drop by the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center for more ideas and be sure to check out their online calendar of events for annual celebrations like Kremmling Days, July 4th’s Fire Up the Cliffs, and the Middle Park Fair & Rodeo.

Day Trips Within an Hour of Kremmling

Kremmling’s location at the junction of U.S. 40 and CO 9 provides quick access to oodles of out-of-town adventures for day-tripping. North of town, Steamboat Springs offers hot springs soaking, rafting, kayaking, and tubing on the Yampa River, and fishing, boating, and water skiing on Steamboat Lake, Pearl Lake, and Stagecoach Reservoir.

South of Kremmling, Summit County is home to iconic ski towns like Breckenridge, Frisco, Keystone, and Silverthorne. These mountain meccas aren’t just for snow sports. You’ll find plenty to do in the summertime, from sailing at Lake Dillon to hydro-biking at Copper Mountain, and disc golf at Frisco Adventure Park.

Southeast of Kremmling, check out Winter Park for hiking, biking, and zip-lining. Then head northeast to Grand Lake, the biggest, deepest natural lake in the state, or visit Rocky Mountain National Park for miles of hiking trails, sparkling lakes, waterfalls, and stunning mountains like 14,259-foot Longs Peak.

With so much to do and see around Kremmling, you’ll be tempted to make your Grand County vacation an annual tradition. Give in to the temptation—getaways like this, with people you care about, make memories that last a lifetime.

Written by Susan Joy Paul for RootsRated Media in partnership with RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Patricia Henschen

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

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

A post shared by Gaby Rawls (@gabriellerawls) on

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