From trudging through snowy-white sand in New Mexico’s 90-degree autumn weather to venturing deep into the shady woods of central Czech Republic, my hikes of 2018 were varied, to say the least.
Also unique this year was my participation in the 52 Hike Challenge – a movement that encourages people to get out onto the trails at least once a week for the entire year.
It was fairly casual participation on my part, because I didn’t fully document every single hike I took on social media, and some of my hikes were repeats on local favorites. Even so, I had plenty of ‘first times’ too – from the beaches of Southern California, to the mountains of Utah, to the depths of the Grand Canyon.
So, as 2018 comes to an end, and as I close in on my 52nd hike of the year, I am taking a look back at the top 10 – my personal ‘greatest-hit hikes’ of 2018:
Alkali Trail, White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, New Mexico
It might look cool and slightly icy, but the Alkali Trail in the White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico was anything but when I visited in the fall of 2018.
On the somewhat surreal, but totally amazing, scale, I give the Alkali Trail a 10 out of 10. One caveat: Along with the high temperatures throughout much of the spring, summer, and fall seasons, hikers must contend with the shifting quality of the fine sand. I found that it’s significantly more difficult than hiking on the granite trails I’m accustomed to.
The five-mile Alkali Trail is rated as strenuous (black diamond), and it lives up to that rating.
Even the roads getting to the trails have a packed-snow appearance. If not for the hot breeze, I would have sworn that the eight-mile road network through the heart of the gypsum dune field had that freshly snow-plowed look.
Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, Czech Republic Geopark
As a part of a hosted media trip through the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic in August, my group was treated to a hike through the woods of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. The area is laced with trails that are well-established, but retain the feel of nature and solitude.
Along with the towering pine trees and their enormous pine cones, the area is also home to Míchovu skálu, a fascinating rock formation made up of separate granite plates. The 773-meter-elevation formation is great for climbing and relaxing, and offers a good spot for views of the surrounding rolling fields and hills.
I especially loved the shady canopy along the well-marked network of trails.
Tonto Plateau, Inner Grand Canyon, Arizona
If there was one adventure in 2018 that showed me the highs and lows of hiking, it had to be the day-long trek down the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail, across the Tonto Plateau, and up the Bright Angel Trail.
The highs were obvious … sun-drenched mesas, green oases, and spectacular buttes.
For me the lows came later, when – as the sun was starting to set – I was having difficulties on the steep climb out of the Bright Angel Trail. The earlier 95-degree fall day had taken its toll, and I was suffering from the canyon’s revenge – leg cramps. Climbing out was a challenge – all 3,090 feet of elevation gain. Still, the views were pretty great as the sun was going down!
Wilson Mountain, Sedona, Arizona
When it comes to hiking choices in Sedona, Arizona, (and there are many!) I don’t think they get any better than this one. The Wilson Mountain Trail has it all – sweeping views of the nearby Red Rocks and Oak Creek Canyon; plenty of cacti and wildflowers; and beautiful green mountain terrain at the summit.
The strenuous 10-and-a-half-mile out-and-back trail packs in about 2,300 feet of elevation gain, rising steeply from the Midgley Bridge off of Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon.
The trek up is difficult but stunning.
As beautiful as the hike up is, though, the top of Wilson Mountain might be even better.
The way down isn’t bad either.
Storm Trails, Granite Dells, Prescott, Arizona
Sometimes, you hit a trail at just the right moment. That’s what happened over the summer, when I hiked the new network of Storm Trails in the Granite Dells in my hometown of Prescott, Arizona.
Not only did the trails open up an entirely new section of unique Granite Dells’ rock formations, they offered an awesome view of my favorite desert bloom – the hedgehog cactus flower.
I can never seem to get enough of these perfect scarlet blooms.
Golden Spoke Trails, Salt Lake City, Utah
When a photo/writing assignment took me to the Salt Lake City area, I took in miles of Utah’s amazing Golden Spoke Trail system in the Provo/Salt Lake City/Ogden area. I fell in love with the diversity of the terrain, including everything from lakes to canyons to horse pastures.
The well-maintained trails are mostly flat and fairly easy, and the great mapping and signage makes using them a pleasure. I suggest a walk or bike ride through the beautiful Provo Canyon on the Provo River Parkway.
Coral Pink Dunes State Park, Utah
I could hardly believe my eyes when I arrived at Utah’s Coral Pink Dunes State Park, and I was met with these fields of gorgeous yellow “rough mule’s ear” wildflowers. They were everywhere in the off-the-beaten-path state park near Kanab in southern Utah.
The Coral Pink Dunes State Park was a short detour off my route from Salt Lake City back home to Arizona, and what a pay-off! I loved the area, and wished I had planned to stay for the night.
With few permanently designated trails, the dunes are open to hikers and ATVs. But once again, shifting sand makes the going a bit difficult. At the start, I decided to aim for the top of a far-off dune, but it wasn’t an easy task!
Mount Royal, Montreal, Quebec
For what might be the perfect blend of cityscape, nature, and history, I choose Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec. Even though I visited in May, when the park’s greenery had yet to bud, I tremendously enjoyed the short walk up the Canadian city’s centerpiece peak.
If you’re into city skylines, this is the place for one of the best vantage points of Montreal. And a walk to the peak will surely take you through some iconic parts of the city. On my way to the park, I walked through the lovely McGill University campus.
At the peak’s summit sits the historic Chalet du mond Royal, a Great-Depression-era building, and the adjoining Kondiaronk Belvedere lookout, which offers stunning views of the downtown area and the St. Lawrence River in the distance.
Firewater Trail, Prescott National Forest, Arizona
For a fall hike close to home, the Firewater Trail (Trail 325) in the Prescott National Forest’s Thumb Butte area west of Prescott, Arizona, is hard to beat. With ample gambel oak trees along the route, the trail is encased in yellows and golds in October and November.
A friend and I hiked the trail right before Halloween 2018, and I couldn’t help but see a few slightly spooky scenes along the way.
Coastal Trail, California
As I love to do each year on my birthday, February 2018 took me to the ocean. This time, it was the San Diego area in Southern California. Although my son, daughter-in-law and I visited a number of sites along the coast over the long weekend, I absolutely loved the outing to the Del Mar and La Jolla areas on my actual birthday. The beach walks are quick detours off the massive California Coastal Trail system.
I’m all for long walks on the beach, and this warm, sunny day was perfect for it.
All in all, 2018 was a good year for getting out into nature. Here’s hoping 2019 will match it. I’m thinking some walks along the East Coast might be in order.
What about you? Any big plans for venturing into the outdoors in the New Year? Happy Trails if you do!