The forested slopes of southeastern Oklahoma’s ironically named Sans Bois Mountains provide the backdrop for much of the excitement in “True Grit,” a novel by Charles Portis and two major motion pictures (1969 and 2010). You wouldn’t know it though, for the mountain peaks shown in the films suggest places farther west. Indeed, the movies were filmed in Colorado and New Mexico, but pursuing outlaws in post-Civil War Indian Territory, as the main characters are portrayed as doing in “True Grit,” w
The Lost Coast Trail (LCT) in northern California may very well be the best beach hike in the United States. The name derives from the fact that it is the only part of the California coast that is not paralleled by a highway. I’m sure the romantic ring of that name only adds to its considerable popularity. It sounds like something from a teenage adventure novel. “The Hardy Boys and the Pirates of the Lost Coast”
There is a northern section and a southern section. The southern stretch is muc
Although I did several trips on cross-country skis and snowshoes that involved camping out in the Northern Rockies in below freezing temperatures for multiple nights, the past few years my definition of “winter backpacking” has either included a US Forest Service rental cabin with a wood stove or a plane ticket to southern Arizona. I still find winter to be a beautiful time of year and I enjoy the heightened elements of the season that seem so magical, but I just hadn’t hadn’t been motivated to
I collect hidden places of refuge in the wilderness. At least once a year I retreat to one of these havens to renew my spirit. These spots have a few things in common: They are off trail, deep in the wilderness, difficult to get to, and a delightful surprise when first discovered. And, when I am there, being alone feels exactly right.
Deep within one of California’s coastal mountain ranges in the Ventana Wilderness, one such location is a sandstone cave at the base of a large rock outcroppi
I was muddied, bloodied, and soaked, but I had reached my goal. I was standing on the rim of Wailau Valley. Just beyond my toes, the land dropped away steeply to the valley floor 3,000 feet below. Waterfalls streamed down the cliffs that surrounded this lost world as it swept away before me to the north shore of Moloka’i. It was hard to believe that 50 years ago I had descended this cliff and then hacked my way through five miles of jungle to the ocean. I must have been crazy. I was definitely l
With so many places to explore in Montana, it might seem a bit strange to visit the same place for a second time – much less a third time. But one lake in particular has drawn me back to it three times over the last few years. My first visit to this lake was coincidentally my first summer in Montana. My eagerness for mountain scenery led me to visiting it so early (late May) that even though it had been a mild winter, the lake was still frozen over and although the scenery was magical I wasn’t a
The United States tends to protect its public lands in piecemeal fashion. Congress designates a single landform – a mountain range, coastline, or canyon – as a National Park or Wilderness area, but leaves the surrounding land open to settlement and industry. As a result, an ocean of development – towns, roads, mining claims, and logging operations – surrounds a few islands of protected space. Only a few ecosystems are protected in their entirety.
One such ecosystem is the Greater Yellowston
Hikers love maps. Maps are more than just navigational aids – they’re permission to let our imaginations run free. Maps inspire childlike wonder. We dream about what’s around the bend. I’ve spent years staring at a map of long-distance hiking trails in the United States. The Arizona Trail runs north-south through its home state, as does the Idaho Centennial Trail. Between the two, there’s a gap where no established trail exists.
The gap is not for lack of scenic beauty, however. The state o
I’ve always placed a premium on solitude when planning my outdoor activities and, with some planning and luck, have never found it to be particularly difficult to obtain. However, with trails across the country being more crowded than ever this past summer, it’s taken a bit more effort even in sparsely populated western Montana to have that lake, peak, or meadow all to yourself. Fortunately, with a bit of flexibility and research I was able to turn a short-notice opportunity for an overnight tri
Some years ago I was eating breakfast with my wife, Lyn, at the Vermillion Valley Resort when a group of unusual looking people sat down at an adjacent table. They were wiry and weather beaten and gave off a raised-by-wolves vibe. They proceeded to eat enormous platters of food, which they washed down with beer. They turned out to be thru hikers from the nearby John Muir Trail (JMT). After they told us a little about their trip, I said to my wife, “I want to do that! – or, at least, I want to lo
Among its many inimitable charms, prime backpacking season in the Northern Rockies is also unfortunately defined by a cruel brevity. Try to hike too early in the season and you wind up postholing through leftover snow, anxiously evaluating raging creeks for the safest place to cross, and camping near lakes still thawing out from winter – adventuresome, but not exactly ideal. A few weeks later and things are more amenable to backpacking, but bugs (especially the biting kind) become so numerous th
Although lacking wilderness status or the “brand name” recognition of Glacier National Park, the Beaverhead Mountains in western Montana are a remarkably scenic landscape with few crowds and plenty of lakes with trout in them. In other words, they contain all the prerequisites for a great backpacking trip. The Beaverhead Mountains, which are at the southern end of the Bitterroot Mountain Range, are also notorious for having millions of voracious mosquitoes which makes early season trips here a f
“Crowded” at trailheads in national forests in Montana typically just means more cars than you can count one hand, thus providing a degree of solitude that backpackers in states like Oregon or Washington would envy. If a solo experience is what you’re after, it doesn’t take much effort to find great hikes where the chances of you being the only hiker on the trail are north of 90%. Needless to say, by and large hiking in Montana during the COVID-19 pandemic has not made me feel like I’m putting m
It is one thing to conceptually understand that you have the gear to bivy at 7,500 feet in the Northern Rockies with a forecast of six degrees below zero. It is another thing entirely to find yourself in circumstances where you end up having to do exactly that. And it was in such circumstances that I found myself on the last night of 2015. Perhaps I shouldn’t have turned down that invitation to a New Year’s Eve party after all.
I left home that morning later than I would’ve liked and
The last two winters I’ve spent living in the American southwest, and before I left I planned to take a long bike ride. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go, but I was leaning towards somewhere way out in the desert. I changed my mind many times in the months before the trip, but eventually decided to leave sunny California, and drive further inland, to Utah.
I had driven this highway once before, a scenic route through the southern part of Utah. Highway 12, “The All American Road
Hiking from one beautiful place to another on pleasant and well-maintained trails is a great way to spend five days. Doing so with a good friend and cooperative weather makes a great experience even better. Throw in a few synchronous strokes of good fortune and you end up with an incredibly rewarding and memorable adventure.
Neither John nor I had been on a four-night trip since March 2011 when he, myself, and my girlfriend at the time did a trek through the Chiricahua Mountains in s
Last month, my brother and I met up in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. My brother is more of a biker than a hiker, and as such our goal was to bike the White Rim Road that runs throughout the district and loop back to our starting point, a mountain bike ride totaling 103 miles.
We’d brainstormed a few ways to tackle the trip, from trying it in one very long day to taking things very easy over many days. Eventually, we settled on 2 nights…We'd be carrying o
A few weeks ago I was able to return to Canyonlands National Park, but this time stayed on the opposite side of the river from the Maze to join up with Ted Ehrlich and Christy who drove in from Colorado to backpack through Salt Creek Canyon and the Needles.
Our respective drives late on a Thursday night resulted in a noon-ish start from the Cathedral Butte trailhead the next day after shuttling a vehicle. The weather was slightly sketchy, overcast with what looked like rain in the dis
In mid-March, Ted Ehrlich and I spent a few days backpacking in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. The Maze is frequently referred to as one of the most remote spots in the lower 48, and though I’m not sure how exactly it ranks on that scale, it did require some significant of amounts of off-highway driving to reach.
The Maze is located in southeastern Utah, west of the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers and bordered by the both to the east. Though bordered by wa
Back in April, Ted Ehrlich and I spent a few days hiking and camping in southern Utah – One highlight of that trip had to be our hike through Buckskin Gulch, one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the world.
With a snowy drive through Wyoming and then a whiteout in Colorado, the drive wasn’t a fast one and I met Ted at a deserted trailhead near Grand Junction around 10pm. From here we’d carpool into Utah. We drove west in the night, eventually moving past the snowstorm and int