Hit the trail and explore the different landscapes of the wide open West.
Along with the adrenaline rush, calories logged on a fitness tracking device and post-worthy selfies to be had, hiking also rewards nature enthusiasts with an immersive introduction to the land and environment. While shopping and dining at the local haunts are good ways to get to know a new place, exploring its landscape can create a true acquaintance. From cacti to snow-capped mountains, red rocks and shimmering lakes, these natural beauties make the argument for hitting the trails.
Commencing the climb up 1,700 feet to the Mount Healy overlook at 7 p.m. may sound like a risky proposition when you consider the three- to four-hour roundtrip, but hikers who traverse this path in Denali National Park during the summer months will have plenty of daylight. That’s because here, uninterrupted sunlight shines 24/7 for 70 straight days. This unique phenomenon creates a sort of comfort that the usual hourglass of time until dusk robs from hikers. The switchbacks under shaded trees are cooled with a continuous flow of mountain air that feels pure and fresh. Even still, beading of sweat on the brow means the peak is near. From the top of Mount Healy, forest gives way to an open tundra where there are sweeping views of the Denali National Park entrance area, the Nenana River Valley, Healy Ridge and nearby alpine ridge. In the summer, snowy mountain peaks contrast rushing rivers and wildlife sightings are likely.
Lengthy stretches of flat, dry land lead up to pastel painted bluffs and buttes across Phoenix’s dusty landscape. From the entrance of Hog Canyon, red tinted dirt dotted with varying types of cacti greet hikers for the 7 mile in-and-out hike. Though this trek offers minimal incline, the rocky pathway and threat of a hot afternoon sun add a level of difficulty to this seemingly mild experience. With each turn, a lizard scampers off its sunning spot on some otherwise innocuous rock face. Each step forward brings into closer view the Superstition Mountains, which stand tall in a stoic yet ominous way. Be sure to pack lots of water for this hike, wear a hat and SPF and don’t get caught wandering after sunset. Night fall can happen suddenly on this path because of the tall walls of rock that block out the moonlight, making for pure darkness and endlessly starry skies.
A bus turns up the paved road at a whipping speed, forcing passengers to hold on tight before they’re ultimately released at one of nine different stops for their chosen hike. The Grotto exit features its namesake trail, Kayenta Trail and the famed Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Boasting a panoramic — albeit death-defying — view from 5,790 feet up, hikers must ascend with assistance from a chain to the top of the pointed rock formation. At no point during daylight is this trail empty but some times of year and day are busier than others, which can dramatically impact both the completion time and level of enjoyment. During a late morning in the summer, hikers packed like sardines pull themselves up the chain on a stretch of rock no wider than a chaise lounge in a very slow, compact single-file line. Attempt this perilous trail early enough during the off season and the experience will be far less crowded and much more fun. There’s no bad view in the park, so even the more reserved trails reward awe-inspiring views.
Banff, AB, Canada
While some nature enthusiasts turn to a protein bar or piece of fruit for energy at the apex of their journey, hikers of Lake Louise indulge in tea and pastries inside a small tea house before completing the trail. The trip to the Lake Agnes Tea House, which was built in 1901 as a hiker refuge, begins on the shore of Lake Louise’s crystalline water. Because of what’s called glacial wash, where the sun reflects off glacier particles in the water and refracts blue and green light, the lake water is a surreal baby blue. Though the switchbacks from the water to the tea house make up just over 2 miles, during the winter months it can be slick with ice and snow. Once finished with the hike, be sure to take in the scenic foliage, historic Fairmont Chateau hotel and nearby town of Banff. Bear spray is advised if hiking the less populated trails in Banff, and the protective aerosol can be rented from the base camp for a lower cost than buying it outright.
Before going on any outdoor excursion, pack the necessary equipment — water, an energy source like nuts or fruit, sunscreen, insect repellant and, where needed, bear spray. Though most of the hikes listed in this article have reliable cell service, it’s always good to have a hard copy map on hand and to tell someone about your intended route before setting out.