Author: RootsRated

8 Fantastic Cabins in South Carolina State Parks

The Villas at Devils Fork State Park.

Wake up predawn, take a few steps to your own boat launch, and watch the sunrise while paddling through massive cypress trees. Cozy up in a historic cabin built shortly after the Revolutionary War. Or wind down from a day exploring huge waterfalls on your second-story porch as the sun sinks low into the lake. From the foothills to the Sandhills there’s a lot to explore in South Carolina. Here are cabins in eight state parks providing access to these amazing locations.

1. Devils Fork State Park

Paddling at Devils Fork State Park in South Carolina.
Devils Fork State Park puts you on the shores of Lake Jocassee.

Rob Glover

Lake Jocassee, close to where the South Carolina, Georgia, and Western North Carolina borders meet, is an absolute gem. Rolling, undeveloped hills surround its deep, clear waters. Several waterfalls, tucked away in green coves, tumble over rough rocks creating secret hideaways. Thirty minutes away, sweeping views from atop Table Rock Mountain are worth the steep hike. And when the day’s adventure is done, kick back on the screened in porch of one of the 20 villas that line the lake at Devils Fork State Park.

2. Keowee-Toxaway

Lake Keowee in South Carolina.
Tons of coves with private beaches line the shores of Lake Keowee.

Rob Glover

There’s only one cabin at Keowee-Toxaway State Park, but oh what a cabin it is. After a chilly afternoon of paddling the crystal-clear waters of Lake Keowee, warm up at the three-bedroom villa by either of the two fireplaces. The nearby trails of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness offer plenty of hiking options—if you can drag yourself away from this beautiful lakeside retreat.

3. Hickory Knob State Park

The Guillebeau cabin at Hickory Knob State Park.
Staying in the Guillebeau cabin, which was built in the late 1700s, is a historic experience.

Discover SC

There’s no such thing as “bored” at Hickory Knob State Park. A 12-mile bike/hike trail system runs the ridges and hugs the shoreline of Strom Thurmond Lake, dipping in and out of dense stands of cedar and pine. The lake, which lies on the border of South Carolina and Georgia, is fed by the Savannah River and offers excellent fishing among its never-ending coves. And with skeet shooting and archery available in the park, there’s little chance of running out of things to do at Hickory Knob. There are several lodging options at the park, but none that compare to the historic Guillebeau House. The restoration of this 2-bedroom cabin, originally built around 1770, added modern conveniences but retained its historic charm.

4. Cheraw State Park

Lake Juniper at Cheraw State Park.
Lake Juniper is the heart of recreation at Cheraw State Park.

Discover SC

Cheraw State Park is a fantastic destination for beginner kayakers. The secluded, 390-acre lake is surrounded by nearly untouched shoreline. On-site canoe and kayak rentals make it easy to explore the cypress wetlands of Lake Juniper. Floating around the bases of these immense trees—spotting turtles, fox, and the near-famous red-cockaded woodpeckers—will turn a first-time novice into a lifetime paddler. The simple but well-appointed cabins at Cheraw make a convenient launch pad for an early morning exploration of the lake. Look for the moonlight paddle trips offered by the state park.

5. Oconee State Park

The land of waterfalls surrounds Oconee State Park.
The land of waterfalls surrounds Oconee State Park.

David Ledford

Whether you’re hoping to wake up to a peaceful sunrise over the lake or prefer to be nestled in the woods dozing off to the chirp of crickets—the cabins at Oconee State Park have you covered. To help you immerse into your favorite environ, many of the of the cabins in the park have screened-in porches and some come with outdoor fire pits. The extensive trail system throughout the area links waterfalls almost too numerous to visit—even in a full weekend of hiking. And with access to the 76-mile foothills trail, that’s just the beginning.

6. Table Rock State Park

The view at Table Rock State Park.
A tough hike but worthy reward at Table Rock State Park.

Teresa Burton

Sitting hundreds of feet above the lake below, the exposed wood beams and giant back porch of the lodge at Table Rock State Park is a feast for the eyes. But one day each month during summer, the sounds of fiddles and banjos fill the lodge, creating a sumptuous treat for the ear as well. The Music on the Mountain jam session brings together a talented group of pickers and singers, and it’s free to attend. Of course the trail system, with its ridiculously gorgeous views and wooded paths, shouldn’t be overlooked. The rustic wood cabins in the park provide a comfortable place to rest and recharge after a long day of exploring.

7. Poinsett State Park

The spillway at Poinsett State Park.
The spillway is one of the picturesque locales at Poinsett State Park.

Discover SC

The one-bedroom cabins at Poinsett State Park were part of the work completed by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s. They still stand, offering comfortable lodging to park visitors. Each of these efficient cabins has been updated with modern appliances but remains anchored by a wood-burning fireplace. Sitting near the convergence of the central piedmont and the coastal plane, Poinsett offers hiking and biking in the surrounding Manchester State Forest, which means rambling through hardwood forests and over the unique Sandhills—remnants of an ancient time when this part of the continent was underwater. With connections to the Palmetto Trail, South Carolina’s longest path, there are plenty of miles to explore.

8. Santee State Park

Lily pads at Santee State Park.
Paddle through the lily pads at Santee State Park.

Discover SC

It would be difficult to find lodging closer to the water than the pier cabins at Santee State Park. These 10 yurt-shaped cabins sit directly over the 110,000 acre Lake Marion. Rent a stand-up paddleboard at the park and take off from the attached boat launch for your sunrise float among the cypress.

Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Discover SC

So, You Want to Go on a Solo Van Trip?

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With the storm clouds from the day’s rain still lingering, the setting sun ignited the sky in intense golden light and vibrant hues of pink. Maneuvering my rusty Sprinter van through curve after curve, descending deeper into the canyon that leads to Zion National Park, I felt like nothing could stop the good vibes that pulsed through me as I drove into the unknown.

A few hours earlier I had decided on a whim to leave St. George, Utah and continue pushing forward on my eastward journey from California to Tennessee. Since Zion was somewhere entirely new for me, my focus was split between taking in the views of sandstone spires jutting into the sky, and glancing at a map of dispersed camping areas that I could call home for the night. Bumping down an empty dirt road, I reached the fork that led to two free camping areas, only to find that the heavy rain had turned both roads into thick red clay that would be like quicksand for a loaded up van. With Plan A and Plan B now out of the question, I pulled over and started pondering my next move, one that I like to call “Plan C What Happens”. I turned to my travel partner, Rodi—a one-year-old Australian Cattle Dog—and asked him what we should do. No response.

Solo van trips often feel this way: moments of elation punctuated by moments of “oh, shit”. Coming from someone currently on the road, here’s what to consider when thinking about taking on a van trip alone.

Finding the Balance between Introverted and Outgoing

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Van life comes with legit perks.

Jenna Herzog

For anyone considering this type of trip, let me be the first to break it to you: you will inevitably spend a lot of time alone. Behind the wheel, making your morning coffee, finding a camping spot at dusk, and wandering through a new town are just some of the many times when you’ll find yourself sans company. Being comfortable with that is essential.

At the same time, traveling alone opens you up to meeting plenty of new and interesting folks along the way. I’ve found that while living in my van without a partner, I don’t have much choice but to be outgoing. Whether I’m walking up to a stranger at a full campground to see if I can park my van at their site, or asking a coffee shop owner where to find a shower in town, surviving and having fun on the road is only possible with the help of others.

Campgrounds, cafes, and outdoor gear shops are typically my go-to spots for meeting people when I arrive to a new place. Though constantly introducing myself can get exhausting, I find it well worth the effort as a way to meet people who I can chat, camp or rock climb with. While traveling solo, the random people that I strike up conversation with frequently shape my adventures and make for a good time on the road.

Fighting Loneliness on the Road

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Co-pilot's are a necessity in van life.

Jenna Herzog

Adventuring solo doesn’t necessarily mean feeling lonely all that often. My main piece of advice for solo van travelers would be to find a community that you can connect with wherever you go. The van life community is a surefire choice, so don’t be shy to chat up the other people you see cooking dinner out of a van in a parking lot. I’ve found the van life community to be rather far flung, including everything from twentysomethings living out of their vans as they work in one place, to retirees touring around in luxury rigs. Because of this, I’ve made easier and deeper connections with the rock climbing community, so I suggest looking to your passion as a way to find people.

Staying in touch with friends and family back home does wonders for making you feel like a semi-normal member of society. It can be challenging if you’re frequently in places without cell service or internet, but making the effort to call home during long drives or on rest days can do wonders to help you feel grounded. If possible, make plans to meet up friends along the way to break up your time spent talking to yourself. Reach out to the people you know wherever you visit, or invite along friends and family who may be willing to join in on the adventure for a week or two. Also, bring a dog. If you don’t have one, adopt one.

Planning Expenses

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New day, new adventure in van life.

Jenna Herzog

One of the first questions people ask me about my trip is how I can afford it financially. For one, life on the road is intrinsically less expensive than living stationary, thanks to no rent or utility bills and little need to buy new material items.

Among the many different ways to cover the expenses of van travel, two popular choices include working seasonal jobs along the way or saving up for a period of time beforehand. I chose the latter, working a full-time office job with the goal of converting my empty cargo van and hitting the road for wilder pastures. So far, I’ve driven through six states and I’ve spent less money on gas than I would have paid making my daily commute to the office.

General frugal living techniques—“dirtbagging” if you will—can help keep the costs of van travel to a minimum. Making an effort to find free camping or share campgrounds, partaking in the occasional dumpster dive behind a grocery store, and only shelling out for a $5 shower when absolutely necessary are some the keys to cheap living. At the same time, when traveling alone it’s worth it to cut yourself some slack and splurge on the things that will make for a better experience, whether it be making room in the budget for a drink at the local bar or springing for an Airbnb every once in a while.

Staying Well & Keeping Safe

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Living the van life allows you to see things you might not normally.

Jenna Herzog

Right after how I pay for my travels (okay, and “where do you go to the bathroom?”), the next question I frequently get asked is if I feel safe alone on the road. The answer is yes, but it comes with some effort and routine. I follow a set of basic guidelines to reduce risk, like taking frequent breaks when driving long distances, locking my van whenever I leave it and when sleeping inside it, minimizing the time I spend driving at night, and moving to another camping spot if I ever feel insecure where I am. Having previous travel experience is a big help in this regard, as developing that intuitive sense of the people and places you can trust is crucial.

Doing your best to stay healthy can save you the trouble of spending four days rethinking your life choices as you nurse a flu or a cold in your van. Though it can be tempting to chow down on chips and chocolate bars, taking the time to cook healthy meals certainly impacts how good you feel. Having a convenient kitchen setup in the van—with a cooler or fridge, stove, propane, water source, and cooking supplies—can make the difference between making a quality meal at camp or succumbing to snacks for sustenance.

Parting Note

Practical elements aside, taking a solo van trip creates a lifestyle of ultimate freedom, where embracing spontaneity is essential and chasing curiosities becomes the norm. I’ve learned to attain a sense of peace by living in that awkward space of the unknown, and to feel comfortable wherever I find myself. So long as you fill your days with what makes you truly happy, life becomes a lot bigger when you live in a tiny space.

Written by Jenna Herzog for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Jenna Herzog

Diversity, Ego, and Mileage: The Struggle for Inclusivity in the Thru Hiking Community

JMT_Quiet Time near Bubbs Creek

In recent years thru hiking has seen an explosion in popularity. Whether it’s due in part to the hugely popular book-turned-blockbuster Wild by Cheryl Strayed or simply because people are venturing outdoors in record numbers, America’s scenic trails are seeing a massive spike in numbers of hikers. Permits issued for the Pacific Crest Trail—which is perhaps the most popular of America’s triple crown trails along with the Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail—have more than doubled between 2013 and 2016.

But that increasingly mainstream status hasn’t come without controversy, starting with the very essence of what a "real" thru hike is.

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A hiker on the Bighorn Plateau of the 211-mile JMT heads north from Mt. Whitney.

Kara Kieffer

For many, a thru hike of any length involves simply walking from one end of an established route to the other, ideally completed in a hiking season (or one calendar year) without skipping any large sections, though one can expect some accidentally missed miles or detours that result in not hiking absolutely every inch of the route. On the PCT, for example, hikers are routinely forced to skip dozens of miles due to closures caused by endangered species and forest fires. Hikers typically handle this by hitchhiking around the closures to where the trail reopens and continuing on their way. After all, for most, a thru hike is about the adventure at large and less about exact number of miles walked.

Conversely, some members of the hiking community believe a true thru hike should be a finitely defined thing. To these purists, a thru hike is hundreds (if not thousands) of miles long, consists of one single continuous footpath with absolutely no breaks—and no exceptions to the rules. When confronted with the same fire or endangered species closure, these hikers would elect to road walk around the closure, thus preserving their continuous footpath.

However, and more alarmingly, this vocal subgroup of purists has openly criticized hikers who don’t share their views. Carrot Quinn, author of Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart who has hiked more than 9,000 miles, dug into her own experience in a 2017 blog post entitled "I Have to Get Something Off My Chest".

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The California Hikers & Riders Trail is gently graded with minimal elevation gain. Along the way, hikers will see the rock formations and iconic trees that Joshua Tree is known for, and likely no people.

Kara Kieffer

In the post, Quinn describes her dilemma while hiking the approximately 800-mile Hayduke Trail in 2016 when she fell severely ill. She required a medical evacuation but, to Quinn’s surprise, medics arrived in a helicopter instead of a vehicle because of the remote location she and her hiking partner were located in.

Regarding Quinn’s decision to not reveal those details in her blog at the time, she explains: "…instead of writing about the rescue, I said that we’d hitch-hiked into town. I did this not because I was ashamed … but because I knew that once word got out about my helicopter rescue, I would be bullied and trashed for it within the long-distance hiking community, and I wanted to delay the inevitable."

Indeed, Quinn goes on to describe how she was bullied online, and that "ever since then, gossip about how I’m a ‘fake hiker’ continues to make its way back to me." She says there are “ some really, really bad apples in the long distance hiking community”, people “who would be driven out of many other communities for their shady ways, but simply because they’ve walked a lot of miles, they are held up as heros.”

This dark side also is opening the door to a conversation about inclusivity, diversity, and privilege in hiking circles (and the outdoor community at large). Among those who are speaking up is Vanessa Pamela Friedman, a self-described queer, fat, femme hiker who completed more than 450 miles of the PCT in 2017. As she wrote in an article for Autostraddle.com, an online community geared primarily toward lesbian, bisexual, and queer women, "There’s a long, rich history in the United States of pretending that white cis straight thin athletic men are the only people who enjoy being outdoors. If you flip through an REI catalogue, scroll through popular outdoorsy Instagram accounts, or visit our National Parks, there is an overwhelming lack of representation of anyone who does not fit that mold."

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A hiker on the John Muir Trail heads toward Bubbs Creek below Forester Pass, the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail, near where it intersects with the JMT.

Kara Kieffer

As many have noted, the majority of the marketing in the hiking and outdoors communities targets white, able-bodied men. However, it’s these same people who are now speaking loudest about the idea that there is one right way to thru hike, thus making an already expensive and esoteric pastime more exclusive.

And it’s not just these hardcore purists making proclamations online. A 2015 New Yorker article bemoaned the fact that the most popular hiking books are ones in which the authors do not hike the entire trail. In the article, the author rails against A Walk in the Woods and author Bill Bryson for stating that he hiked the Appalachian Trail despite skipping large portions. In many PCT hiking communities, Strayed is derided for not completing the whole PCT, despite the fact that a complete thru hike was not her initial goal nor, arguably, the point of the narrative in Wild. (In fact, one hiker created an entire website called [www.donthikelikewild.org](www.donthikelikewild.org) that heaps scorn and criticism onto Strayed and her book.)

The collective message? If you didn’t finish the whole hike the way certain people feel you should, your experiences and efforts are invalid.

This elitist mindset fails to take into account the kaleidoscope of lifestyles and backgrounds that thru hikers represent. Furthermore, this way of thinking doesn’t recognize the financial, situational, and cultural privilege associated with taking several months (or even weeks) away from one’s life. Finally, it diminishes the experiences of people who can only get out for a weekend or a few days.

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Thru hikes are the perfect time to explore natural spaces; this view shows the landscape of Pinchot Pass from the John Muir Trail.

Kara Kieffer

On the other hand, it’s only human nature to feel protective of, say, hiking the entire length of the AT or PCT and want to preserve the integrity of such a feat. But, thru hikes are not sacred, scarce, or reserved for a small percentage of the population: Just like public lands, they’re available to everyone. Furthermore, one person's success does not diminish another’s. The fact that there will likely be more thru hikers in 2018 than ever in history doesn’t take away from all the hikers that came before—if anything, it adds to the prestige of the booming community.

And as it continues to grow, the thru hiking community has some serious work to do if it wants to be more inclusive and welcoming to the new faces that are making their way onto the trails. Which isn’t to say that the thru hiking community is devoid of merit, in fact, many thru hikers speak effusively about how wonderful their on-trail family is. But perhaps it’s time to move beyond the ever-popular thru hiking mantra "'hike your own hike" and start speaking up so that everybody can have a better hike. This means challenging those who voice exclusionary and belittling opinions, welcoming new hikers and supporting their journeys, and setting a higher standard for acceptable behavior—regardless of how many miles people are hiking, or how they’re choosing to hike them.

Written by Kara Kieffer for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Kara Kieffer

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.

Ben W

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

New River Gorge – Climbing

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Intro

If you could map the development of East Coast rock climbing, you’d see it spread directly from Northeastern states southward to West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks and on to North Carolina. If you were around when it happened, though, you’d be totally unaware that the spread of climbing leap-frogged what has become the largest collection of world-class routes east of Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. But since its late “discovery” in the 1980s, the pace routes have appeared at the New River Gorge is unprecedented in America. Today, there are thousands of single-pitch sport and trad climbs, and boulder problems here, and that number is still growing.

What Makes It Great

Here’s how it goes at the New River Gorge: first, you visit to climb. Then, you have so much fun that you move here. Why, you ask? The answer is many-pronged. The New has literally thousands of climbs and boulder problems on bullet-hard Nutall sandstone, and at most crags (there are dozens) they all live side by side in perfect harmony. Leaf through Mike Williams’s guidebook, New River Gorge Rock Climbs, and it’s easy to believe that half the weight of its 2 tomes is all the red ink he used to print the stars that mark classic climbs.

It has been said that the New avoided the controversies around style and ethics that plague so many other climbing areas, solely because there’s so much perfect rock to go around. Place a resource of this magnitude right smack dab next to Fayetteville, WV, a thriving small-town community of friendly locals, restaurants, campgrounds, and rest-day activities aplenty, and you get something that is unique in America—a gigantic playground, if you will, for the perfect climbing weekend getaway.

But, there’s a flip side to this coin. The New has a well-deserved reputation for tricky, technical rock climbing that has foiled many a gym-climbing genius. There’s a wealth of top ropes and sport climbs for beginners, but precious few routes for fledgling trad leaders. Climbs tend to consist of long moves between bomber horizontal cracks, and can easily school the unschooled climber.

Nevertheless, easy-access, short-approach crags are plentiful, with top rope friendly Bridge Buttress and Junkyard Wall topping the list. But the crown jewel of the New is surely Endless Wall, a 3-mile-long unbroken section of cliff ranging from 60 feet high to past 100 that is entirely covered with star-adorned classics at every grade from 5.8 through 5.14.

Who is Going to Love It

Who isn’t going to love it? Actually, that’s easy to answer. If you like your climbing served up easy, the New’s technical aspect takes some getting used to. But if you’re looking for brainy, chess-gamey masterpieces of all grades and styles packed into a relatively teensy geographical area, then you really need to see the New to believe it. If you’re a pebble puller, you’ll also find the New to be the most underrated bouldering area in America.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The New isn’t 1 crag. It’s a collection of several, most within the boundaries of the New River Gorge National River, part of the National Parks system. Ergo, all the rules of climbing in national parks apply, from dogs on leashes and wilderness camping to permits for bolting.

Get your beta from the storied climbing shop, Water Stone Outdoors, in downtown Fayetteville, and be sure to pick up the aforementioned guidebook there. Boulderers, you’re also in luck. In 2015, Stella Mascari and Micah Klingler published the first comprehensive guidebook to the area, New River Gorge Bouldering, which adds more than 1,000 catalogued problems to the New’s 1,000-plus roped routes.

Written by Jay Young for RootsRated in partnership with West Virginia .

Featured image provided by Mike Williams

Red River Gorge – Climbing

Image for Red River Gorge

Intro

This is it. This is THE American destination for sport climbing. Some New River Gorge folks might argue otherwise, and for pure climbing, they have a strong case. But the Red, with its centralized camping and slightly-less-remote location, makes it a very popular destination. And even though its reputation involves long, steep, pre-hung sport lines, there is also a lifetime’s worth of trad climbing to be had here. 

What Makes It Great

Located an hour’s drive from Lexington and within a few hours of about a dozen states, the Red is the weekend destination for a huge number of climbers. There are many camping options, from the ubiquitous and sometimes riotous Miguel’s to the quieter places like Lago Linda’s. 

As for the climbing, the Red is famous for seemingly endless steep, overhanging walls. While many of these types of walls exist, like the Solar Collector, Drive By, and Motherlode crags, there are also dozens of crags that feature slabs, faces, tiered roofs, and any other style of climbing you’d like to chalk up for. 

The Red can be climbed year-round, though is best in fall and spring. Summer will be quite humid and warm, and winter can be very very cold. The good news, though, is that a large proportion of the climbing stays dry in the rain.

Rest days can be spent in Lexington, hiking around the numerous natural bridges in the area, or sitting in Miguel’s with a hot slice of pizza and a cold Ale-8-1, the local drink of choice (it’s non-alcoholic). Also, a little hint: there’s an awesome spring just before the Nada tunnel. Keep an eye peeled for it, because it’s the best drinking water around!

Who is Going to Love It

As mentioned above, the Red is one of those places that is on every climber’s dream list, so chances are, you’ve heard of it and are dying to get here, too!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

For more, make sure to check out the online guidebook.

Written by Spenser Tang-Smith for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Spenser Tang-Smith

Insider’s Guide to Yosemite National Park

Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.

Located on the western slopes of central California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, Yosemite National Park is 1,200 square miles of breathtaking beauty, filled with granite walls, towering sequoias, and incredible waterfalls that draw nearly 4 million visitors each year. The preservation of the Yosemite Valley was not only instrumental in the creation of the National Park System, but it helped start a naturalist movement with leaders like John Muir promoting a new way to view the country’s natural resources.

The park is filled with prominent geological features that have become household names, like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral Peak. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the park and it’s home to some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet. The 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls is the highest in North America. In other words, Yosemite is filled with once-in-a-lifetime sights just waiting to be explored.

The California gold rush in the 1850s first brought significant European Americans into the valley, which put them in conflict with the Ahwahneechee, who were considered especially violent by neighboring tribes. The U.S. Army arrived to settle the dispute and a company doctor named Lafayette Bunnell wrote about the beauty of the Yosemite valley—a word he coined from a neighboring tribe’s phrase for the Ahwahneechee, yohhe’meti, which means "they are killers." The Ahwahneechee were eventually captured and placed on a reservation near Fresno, Calif.

Bunnell’s writing attracted other visitors. Artist Thomas Ayres and writer James Mason Hutchings continued to spread the word, and an exhibit of Ayres’ paintings of Yosemite in New York City helped gain national attention to the valley. As more people began traveling to the area, prominent California citizens lobbied to protect Yosemite from overly commercial development, and in 1864, President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, which was the first time the federal government set aside land for the creation of a park for public use. Yosemite was ceded to California by President Grant to be operated as a state park.

Naturalist John Muir was an early proponent of a system of national parks and a camping trip he took in the Yosemite Valley with Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 encouraged the president to add the land to the national park system. Muir proved persuasive and in 1906 Roosevelt signed a bill to put the land back under federal control. When the National Park Service was formed in 1916, Yosemite was put under its umbrella.

Classic Adventures

Views from the John Muir Trail.
Views from the John Muir Trail.

Ray Bouknight

While the park is enormous, covering close to the size of the state of Rhode Island, the vast majority of visitors spend their time in the seven square miles of the Yosemite Valley. And you can understand why: The valley features 10 different hiking trails that highlight the postcard-worthy views at every turn.

The park’s signature hiking experience is the Mist Trail, a relatively short yet challenging journey that offers amazing up-close views of two waterfalls that are combined more than 900 feet tall. You’ll also be able to access the John Muir Trail, with its iconic views of Nevada Fall, Liberty Cap, and Half Dome, which has been described as one of the finest sights in the park.

You have several options when taking on the Mist Trail all of which start at Happy Isles in the eastern Yosemite Valley (which is shuttle stop No. 16 in the park). The trail begins at 4,000 feet in elevation and you’ll be climbing 1,000 feet to the top of Vernal Fall then 1,900 feet to the top of Nevada Fall. While the mileage numbers seem relatively low, know that much climbing is involved, and plan accordingly. The Mist Trail will take you directly to the top of Vernal Fall via an impressive granite stairway of more than 600 steps.

The hike to Half Dome is another Yosemite staple, and this one comes with bonafide bragging rights. It’s considered one of the longest and steepest day hikes in a national park, consisting of a 14 mile round trip that gains nearly 5,000 feet in elevation. Getting to the top of Half Dome requires a nearly vertical climb with the aid of a set of cables—a climb that becomes extremely treacherous when wet. But the view from the top can be well worth the effort.

Be aware that permits are required for the Half Dome hike when the cables are up, from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day, and a lottery system is put in place to distribute permits throughout the summer.

Stretching all the way from Mexico to Canada, the Pacific Crest Trail runs along the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges. Nearly 70 miles of the trail are in Yosemite, including Donohue Pass, which rises 11,056 feet at the southern border of the park. The John Muir Trail is a 211-mile path from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S.

Yosemite is a world-class climbing destination with an endless variety of challenges to explore. The big walls of Yosemite Valley are on many climbers' bucket lists, as is the crack climbing in the Merced River Canyon. The walk-up campsite of Camp 4 is ground zero for the sport of rock climbing. The infectious spirit of community and camaraderie among climbers (and wannabes) remains as alive today as it did when pioneers like Royal Robbins and Warren Harding first started scrambling up El Capitan and other sheer rock faces back in the 1960s and ’70s. You’ll have to arrive early (the ranger station opens at 8:30 a.m., but a line usually forms long before then) to snag one of the 35 no-reservation sites from spring through fall. But even if you’re not staying, a visit to this legendary spot—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—is a must-do for climbing enthusiasts.

Finally, no trip to Yosemite would be complete without visiting one (or all) of the three groves giant sequoia trees. The Mariposa Grove, with about 200 trees, is the largest and located near the park’s south entrance. The Tuolumne Grove (with 25 trees) and the Merced Grove (with 20) are not accessible by car, requiring about 2-3 miles of hiking to reach them.

The park’s most famous sequoia, the Wawona Tree (also known as the Tunnel Tree), was featured in countless pictures promoting the park in the early part of the 20th century. A hole was carved out of the trunk in 1881 to let carriages, and eventually cars, drive through it. In 1969, the tree fell under a heavy snow, and it’s age was estimated at 2,300 years old. The tree is still a popular attraction, now known as the Fallen Tunnel Tree, and it’s still impressive, even on the ground.

Off the Beaten Path

Yosemite sunset.
Yosemite sunset.

Jordan McQueen

While it’s tough to escape the crowds anywhere in such a popular park, sections of Yosemite don’t get nearly the number of visitors you find in the valley. Located in the northwest corner of the park, Hetch Hetchy Valley is 38 miles from Yosemite Valley and features excellent hiking trails overlooking the reservoir. It also features one of the longest hiking seasons in the park, so it’s a good spot for early or late in the season. You’ll also find several waterfalls in the spring, as well as an impressive wildflower display. The 5-mile (round-trip) hike to Wapama Falls , which begins at the O’Shaughnessy Dam, is a good route to take it all in.

While the big walls in Yosemite Valley get the attention, the climbing in the dome studded Tuolumne Meadows is also excellent. You’ll find more short and medium length routes here and 11 major domes (plus many other minor ones) to explore.

Immerse Yourself

Yosemite features 13 different campgrounds , which as you can imagine fill up quickly. Reservations are highly recommended, as the limited first-come/first-serve spots are usually gone by noon from April to September. The vast majority (95 percent) of Yosemite is designated wilderness, so there are plenty of opportunities for those willing for backcountry camping. Wilderness permits are required, however, and should be obtained in advance.

For a more luxurious experience in the park, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel—formerly known as the Ahwahnee, with the name change caused by a trademark dispute—is one of the parks jewels. Dating back to 1927, the hotel is the park’s only AAA-rated Four Diamond resort. A recent renovation spruced up the rooms, and you’re sure to swoon at the soaring ceilings in the knock-your-socks-off dining room. For a less pricey alternative, you can stop by for brunch.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit

Autumn colors in Yosemite.
Autumn colors in Yosemite.

Eric Hossinger
  • With elevations in Yosemite ranging from 3,000 feet to more than 12,000 feet, it’s tough to generalize about the Yosemite weather. But you can say that 95 percent of the precipitation comes between October and May. The summers tend to be dry—with the occasional thunderstorm. 

  • Planning is key for Yosemite. The popularity of the park means that reservations are required months in advance for both accommodations and the signature activities that require permits. 

  • Because of this, a visit in the late fall or winter can get you into the park with much fewer people and easier reservations. The fall colors are spectacular, and the winter season allows for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the park. 

  • Free shuttles circulate throughout the park year-round. Use them. Finding parking can be difficult, especially in the busy summer months. 

  • It may be counter intuitive, but it can sometimes pay to get a late start. The rush to get on the trail at the crack of dawn can lead to heavy traffic. If you take your time in the morning, you may also be able to grab a no-reservation campsite, as others tend to leave the campgrounds mid-morning. 

  • Don’t rely on your cell phone. While the park has plenty of modern amenities, cell phone coverage is spotty at best. Don’t rely on your phone for GPS. Take a paper map with you when hiking.

Written by Jeff Banowetz for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Joyce Cory

5 Reasons to Visit the Eastern Sierra

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The mountain range known as the Sierra Nevada forms the rugged backbone of California, bisecting the populous coastal plains of the west and the state’s remote interior. Part of the American Cordillera that stretches almost uninterrupted from Alaska to the Tierra del Fuego, the Sierra boast some of California’s most striking—and most rugged—landscapes.

While the western slopes of the range are easily accessed from the Bay Area and other coastal cities, solitude and the barren beauty of the desert are your reward when you reach the eastern side. Meadows of sage and rabbitbrush blanketing the floor of the Owens Valley, abruptly giving way to rock at the foot of the towering granite escarpment. As you go further east towards Nevada’s White Mountains, the Valley transitions into a moonscape of sun scorched rock.

Distance and limited access over high mountain passes thin the crowds, making the Eastern Sierra a favorite playground for adventure seekers from Northern and Southern California (and beyond). With premier hiking, skiing, climbing, camping—and natural hot springs where you can soak sore muscles—the Eastern Sierra are worth a trip. Here is a guide to some of the highlights of California’s other side.

1. Hike the Tallest Mountain in the Lower 48

Entering the Mt. Whitney Zone en route to the summit.
Entering the Mt. Whitney Zone en route to the summit.

Pierce Martin

At 14,505 feet, Mount Whitney has earned the title of "tallest mountain" in the lower 48. The peak straddles Inyo and Tulare Counties and forms part of the Sierra Crest and the Great Basin Divide. The Mount Whitney Trail—the most popular approach—starts from Whitney Portal on the mountain’s eastern slope and climbs 6,100 feet over 11 miles to the summit. Hardy (and permitted) hikers can make the climb in a day, though if you are looking for a more humane approach and a chance to linger over the scenery, you can camp on the granite slopes to make it a two-day ascent. Whitney can be a bit of a thoroughfare on summer weekends, but there are plenty of other trails, peaks, and lakes in that promise a quieter hiking experience if that’s what you’re looking for.

2. Ski California’s Highest Slopes

Skiers and snowboarders regularly drive up from SoCal to hit the slopes at Mammoth for a weekend.
Skiers and snowboarders regularly drive up from SoCal to hit the slopes at Mammoth for a weekend.

John Lemieux

The aptly named Mammoth Mountain reaches 11,053 feet at its summit, boasting over 3,000 vertical feet sprawling over 3,500 acres of skiable terrain. Known for expansive bowls, tree skiing, and fast groomers, Mammoth has something for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. In addition to some of California’s best terrain, you’ll be sure to find powder stashes after snowstorms—despite the dry climate of the Eastern Sierra, the mountain averages over 400 inches of snow per year due to its unique position in a low point of the range. Though seasonal closures of several mountain passes can make it a bit of a trek from the Bay Area during the winter, a trip to Mammoth for a taste of big mountain skiing is well worth the drive.

3. Climb the State’s Best Bouldering

People from around the United States (and the world) travel to Bishop to climb at the Buttermilks.
People from around the United States (and the world) travel to Bishop to climb at the Buttermilks.

Mark Doliner

Second only to Yosemite in notoriety amongst climbers, the Eastern Sierra is a renowned California climbing destination. Bishop, an outpost along Highway 395, is something of a climbing mecca, drawing climbers from around the state to test themselves on world class bouldering routes. From Bishop, you’ll have access to local favorites including the Buttermilks, the Druid Stones, and the Happies and the Sads at the Volcanic Tablelands.

4. Camp… Almost Anywhere

Who wouldn’t want to wake up to those views?
    Charlotte Dohrn
Who wouldn’t want to wake up to those views?
Charlotte Dohrn

If you are used to the overwhelming process of finding camping on the west side of the mountains and along the coast, the availability of campsites throughout the Eastern Sierra will come as a relief. BLM manages large swathes of land in the region that allow free dispersed camping, as well as a number of first-come, first-served established camping areas. If you are looking for a site with more amenities, the Forest Service also maintains campgrounds throughout the area, including sites on the road from Lone Pine to Mt. Whitney, and another overlooking Silver Lake in the June Lake area near the Ansel Adams Wilderness. No matter where you camp in the Eastern Sierra, you will have expansive views of the night sky dotted with bright stars. ** **

5. Soak in Natural Hot Springs

Plan time for a trip to the hot springs after a long day–you won’t regret it, and your body will thank you for it.
Plan time for a trip to the hot springs after a long day–you won’t regret it, and your body will thank you for it.

gastondog gastondog

Part of an ancient caldera, hot springs and other volcanic relics dot the Eastern Sierra. Few experiences can match that of soaking tired muscles in hot mineral water after a long day of hiking or climbing, so be sure you make some time for a soak before the next day’s adventure. Locals and frequent visitors have their favorite hidden spots, but there are plenty of accessible pools near Bridgeport and Mammoth Lakes. If you head east on Highway 120, you’ll find the ghost town of Benton Hot Springs, which has a small inn and rustic campsites with private tubs overlooking the White Mountains.

Getting There

Many of the roads in the Eastern Sierra are also great for cycling.
Many of the roads in the Eastern Sierra are also great for cycling.

TikTak Images

It’s not easy to get to the Eastern Sierra from the western half of the state—which is part of its appeal. In the winter, Highway 120 over Tioga Pass is closed, blocking the most direct route from the Bay Area and necessitating a northern or southern approach. Once you’ve made it to the east side of the range, Highway 395 will serve as your go-to thoroughfare for travelling north and south. Though your best adventures will be out of the car, driving Highway 395 is an experience in and of itself. While Highway 1 along the coast and mountain roads like Highway 120 tend to get all the press, the 395 is a hidden gem of vast desert expanses flanked by towering peaks.

Written by Charlotte Dohrn for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by jar [o]

Mountain Biking at Joshua Tree? Exploring the Desert View Conservation Area

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I’m not a fan of the phrase “hidden gem.” Beyond its rampant overuse, it’s not often all that accurate; most trails, peaks, or swimming holes either aren’t really that hidden or aren’t really gems. There’s no shortage of hyperbole on the internet these days, it would seem.

But hidden in plain sight, just outside Joshua Tree National Park, is a small cluster of mountain bike trails with no signs, no parking lot, no crowds, no trailhead kiosk with a map, almost no trace that they exist at all. Pedal into the rocks and sand here, though, and you’ll stumble upon a place that truly qualifies for that tired old saying.

Lurking just off-trail are pointy things that want to hurt you. Trust me, I checked.
    Jeff Bartlett
Lurking just off-trail are pointy things that want to hurt you. Trust me, I checked.
Jeff Bartlett

Like most U.S. National Parks, Joshua Tree doesn’t allow mountain biking on singletrack (IMBA maintains a list of exceptions). Neither does the nearby Sand to Snow National Monument, nor the Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness, nor the Sheephorn Valley Wilderness, nor… well, you get the idea. Mountain bikers who find themselves at this fascinating transition between the Mojave and Colorado deserts also find a notable lack of locations to mountain bike.

Enter Jima Reed and the Joshua Tree Bike Shop, who have invested their time to maintain and improve an existing network of faint trails in a place the local BLM office calls “Section 6,” or (perhaps more poetically) the Desert View Conservation Area.

Just two miles from the town of Joshua Tree and literally adjoining the national park itself, Desert View features a network of dusty roads popular with off-roaders, a smattering of dispersed campsites, and the aforementioned offering of nearly-indiscernible MTB trails.

I showed up at the bike shop on a Wednesday afternoon, introduced myself and asked where to go ride. I didn’t expect much of an answer; many folks would rather their backyard trails stay secret, and I don’t blame them. Unexpectedly, not only was Jima happy to talk about which I’d likely enjoy, he had a map for me to take along.

These trails feel natural and suit the landscape well. 
    Jeff Bartlett
These trails feel natural and suit the landscape well.
Jeff Bartlett

The first time I tried to follow that map, my 2.3” tires bogged down in a series of sand traps, I hiked back to the road across a sand wash and managed to step directly on a cactus. I loved it immediately. There are only 5 or 6 miles of singletrack here, but most of the trails ride well in both directions, and the doubletrack criss-crossing throughout the area creates plenty of opportunities for different loops and link-ups.

It’s rare to find this much adventure in a trail system with so little total mileage. Mountain bike trails are often confined to sterile-feeling “bike parks” full of sculpted berms and roller coaster trails churned out by machine, but Desert View is a tiny slice of raw, backcountry riding.

Intermediate trails like Bad Manor, Southridge, and Long May You Run serve up a surprising amount of flow while snaking pleasantly through rocky outcrops. But the advanced trails, including Sidewinder and the blissfully-jagged Django, deliver a kind of gritty, occasionally-awkward technical riding that rewards precise front wheel placement and the ability to bend your bike around corners. I bonked my way around on a steel hardtail and felt right at home.

Most of the riding here is rocky, but not overly technical. 
    Jeff Bartlett
Most of the riding here is rocky, but not overly technical.
Jeff Bartlett

Most of the beginner trails, including the enticing-sounding Luge Trail, and many of the roads (especially on the north side), are too sandy to attempt unless you have a fatbike or 27.5+ tires. I don’t, and I found the intermittent sand traps to be the most challenging part of riding here, so I tried to stick with the rockier options.

Likewise, in lieu of signage of any kind, don’t ride here unless you’re comfortable with navigation. MTB Project and Trailforks are a good start, but many of these trails are easy to ride right past without even seeing them.

I spent a month working remotely from Indian Cove while trying to prepare for a 60-mile mountain bike race, which means I had the chance to log quite a few miles at Section 6. I came away with a genuine affection for the place, despite having the tip of a hedgehog cactus spine still lodged in the arch of my right foot. It’s a unique style of riding amid a unique landscape.

You can't ride trails in the National Park, but Desert View features similar landscapes. 
    Jeff Bartlett
You can't ride trails in the National Park, but Desert View features similar landscapes.
Jeff Bartlett

I’d love to see the California BLM work with local mountain bikers to develop this system further, giving area cyclists somewhere to ride in what’s otherwise a blank spot on the map. As Jima told me, “those trails keep on giving as you ride.”

Editor’s Note

Joshua Tree National Park’s official site says the following in regard to mountain biking: “The park’s Backcountry and Wilderness Management Plan designates approximately 29 miles of trails for non-motorized bike use, however, the new trails cannot be used until Congress gives its approval.” This article is NOT about riding mountain bikes in the National Park. RootsRated Media does NOT condone illegal riding on trails which are not open to bikes!

Written by Jeff Bartlett for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Jeff Bartlett

Vacaville – Bouldering

Vacaville Bouldering

Intro

Located about halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco, the bouldering at Vacaville is somewhat of a local secret but is worth a trip for any climber traveling through the area. In the hills above the town is a field of primo basalt boulders with more than 50 boulder problems. Most of the climbing here is on the easy to moderate side, with the most difficult problems in the V7-V9 range. The boulders are easy to get to and on a clear day you can see the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance.

What Makes It Great

If you’re looking to spend a weekend in the Bay Area and want to get in some fun bouldering, head to Vacaville. The Nut Tree Boulders are easily accessible from either Highway 80 or the 505, and you’ll find more than 50 problems in the easy to moderate range. The rock here is basalt, which means the good holds are really good, but there can also be some loose stuff in there. It also means you can’t climb here after it rains or the holds could break.

The Nut Tree Boulders are not as busy as other climbing areas, and are split into three sections: Boxcar Woody Boulders, Hillcrest Boulders, and Woodcrest Boulders. The Boxcar Woody Boulders are a popular after-work spot because there is no approach – they are right next to the road. The Hillcrest Boulders are a little more spread out, but have the most problems, as well as the area classics. The hardest problem in Vacaville is found at Hillcrest (Scott’s Traverse, V9). The Woodcrest Boulders are more concentrated and is the most popular area in the Nut Boulders. It’s easy to run a circuit on the problems in this area and there’s also a short approach.

The area is still being developed, but most problems fall within V0-V5. The majority of the boulders are around 10-20 feet, but there’s the occasional 30-foot climb if you like exciting highballs. The best time to come is in the winter and on cooler spring or fall days.

Who is Going to Love It

You aren’t going to be able to crush a ton of hard problems here, but if you want a weekend filled with fun bouldering, this is the place to go. The Nut Tree Boulders are easily accessible and have a short approach, so if you don’t like trekking in to your climbing areas, this is a good place for you. Most of the boulders range from about 10-20 feet, but some do go up to as high as 30, so if you are looking for highballs, you’ll find them here as well.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There are no parking fees and there are several parking areas for the Browns Valley Open Space, so just look for the signs. For the Boxcar Woody Boulders, park along the road or near the church. You can get to the Hillcrest Boulders from Boxcar Woody or from Hillcrest Circle. The Woodcrest Boulders are off Woodcrest Drive, and you’ll park on the street next to a gate with a barbed wire fence behind it.

There are also cattle in the area (vaca does mean “cow” after all), and you shouldn’t approach them. Because of the animals in the area, be extra diligent about packing out whatever you take in.

There’s no camping in the area, but there are plenty of hotels in town.

Basalt can be very fragile when wet and easily break, so you should not climb here within 24 hours of a rain.

Written by Abbie Mood for RootsRated in partnership with Visit Vacaville.

Featured image provided by @_nickandrew_

Small Town, Big Backyard: 6 Reasons Why Bishop is a Must-Visit Destination for Outdoor Lovers

Bishop, California is in what is arguably one of the most beautiful pockets of land in the Lower 48. It’s no wonder that the town is known as "small town with a big backyard." Between the Sierra and Inyo National Forest, just south of Yosemite and north of Death Valley National Parks, it’s backyard is big indeed.

This pocket of Inyo County is a secluded paradise with just about every ecosystem imaginable within reach—the Owens Valley, alpine forests, the deserts of Death Valley, hot springs, the oldest trees in the world, canyons, and everything in between. There are mountains and forests and lakes and every kind of outdoor recreation imaginable. You could spend your entire life exploring this small section of California and still leave many a trail untouched, forest nooks undiscovered, and mountaintops left to be summited. Here are just a few reasons why Bishop is a must-visit place for outdoor lovers.

1. Hot Springs

In business for almost one hundred years, one of Bishop’s most popular destinations is Keough’s Hot Springs—a hot spring with campsites for both tents and RVs. It’s the largest hot spring in the Eastern Sierra and provides visitors with a hot soaking pool and a waterfall cooling mechanism that pours into a larger pool. The pools are open year-round, with an average temperature between 86 and 92 degrees, perfect for summer and crisp nights alike. Keough’s is fun and historic—the perfect place to set up camp for a couple of nights and soak away sore muscles from a day of hiking or climbing the nearby Sierras.

2. Alpine Lakes

Located in the Inyo National Forest, Lake Sabrina is one of the most scenic places in the region. With round-trip hikes ranging from 6.2 to 11.8 miles, there are options for both day and overnight adventures that’ll take you through 13,000-foot granite peaks and above blue glacial lakes. The hikes are strenuous in nature, but incredibly rewarding as you climb the steep switchbacks and unveil view after view. If you camp above the treeline, a night sky with no light pollution reveals a magnificent starry sky.

3. Oldest Trees in the World

Just an hour east of Bishop is a section of the Inyo National Forest called the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which is home to the oldest trees in the world. Weather depending, the forest is generally accessible between May and October each year. The trees, which are more than 4,000 years old, reside in the White Mountains, growing at high elevations between 10,000 and 11,000 feet. The mountain road to the visitors center and Schulman Grove is well-maintained, and gives visitors the opportunity to access several hiking trails. If you have a four-wheel drive, the dirt roads that wind through the bristlecone forest reveal even more of gnarled, storybook trees.

4. Rock Climbing and Bouldering

Attacking the wall in Owens River Gorge. (unknown climbers)

A post shared by Steven Mathis (@stevenmathis) on

With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, the Bishop area has ideal weather for world-class climbing and bouldering opportunities. Owens River Gorge is a climber’s paradise, with hundreds of routes throughout the gorge. With steep walls, cracks, and crevices of volcanic tuff, Owens River Gorge is one of the most popular climbing areas in the state of California. Most climbing routes are found between 4,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation, and guarantee wild topography. Alternatively, Buttermilk Country is well-known for its dramatic landscape and bouldering opportunities, and the Happy and Sad Boulders are the place to go to give you skin a bit of a rest after spending some time in the Buttermilks.

5. Mountain Biking

With all the surrounding national forests and parks, there are endless opportunities to hit mountain trails on two wheels. Buttermilk Country Loop is a narrow dirt road that winds through the John Muir Wilderness and reaches 8,500 feet at its highest point. While some explore the loop (and its side roads) in their 4×4, it’s a much-loved loop for mountain bikers. The 17.4-mile loop is steep and technical, so expect a solid challenge. The views are a pleasant reward for the hard work, particularly in the spring and fall when wildflowers and changing leaves abound.

6. Water Activities

You might have to bundle up a little more but fall fishing is fine.

A post shared by Bishop (@visitbishop) on

Bishop Creek, the summer honey hole, is known statewide for its world-class trout fishing. It’s stocked annually by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with supplemental stockings from the Bishop Chamber of Commerce. Perfect for a weekend angler getaway, there are more than 200 campsites in the area, and a few cabins and lodges along the Bishop Creek drainage, so you never have to be too far away from the fishing. There are also several hotels in the town of Bishop, just a short drive away. Float the river, cast a line, and throw your fresh catch of the day on the grill, all while enjoying the solitude that comes with the remoteness of the area.

In the winter, try the Lower Owens River for fly fishing. It can get busy on the weekends (especially holiday weekends), so the middle of the week is the best time to go for solitude. This time of year there are midday blue wing olive (BWO) mayfly hatches in this area, so use BWO imitations to capture the wild brown trout—on a good day, you can get 20-30 trout in just a few hours!

Written by Ashley Halligan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Mark Doliner

The Best Cold-Weather Climbing Destinations in Central Carolina

Garrett Gossett is the volunteer leader of the Charlotte chapter of the American Alpine Club . The AAC brings the national community of climbers together and advocates for access and safety issues. In Charlotte, the local chapter organizes fund-raisers and provides a forum for climbers to discuss the sport they love. The Charlotte chapter offers a meeting each month at Sycamore Brewing open to both members and nonmembers.

Gossett got his first taste for climbing as a kid in summer camp and has been climbing around the southeast for years. His interest in climber education and safety lead him to organize a rappel class for the AAC and, eventually, to launching the chapter in Charlotte a year ago. With his help, we offer this list of great cold weather climbing destinations within an easy drive of Charlotte.

1. Stone Mountain

Great Arch at Stone Mountain State Park.
No Alternative, the sister route to the well known Great Arch at Stone Mountain State Park.

Matt Swain

The 600-foot granite dome of Stone Mountain State Park is well known as a southeastern friction-climbing gem. In the winter, this slab of rock is particularly popular. Its south facing routes can be an oven in the summer, Gossett says. But this stone makes for a perfect climb in cooler temperatures.

“There’s really nothing to grab onto on most of the slab routes out there,” he says. “You’re purely dependent on friction in your feet. The nature of granite is really odd in that it feels stickier when it’s cold. It has this greasy feel when it’s really hot outside.”

Of course the ultra-classic route is the Great Arch. Unlike the other slab routes, it’s all trad climbing. But most of Stone is about long run outs. While the terrain at Stone isn’t the most difficult, you’ll be climbing high above your gear so Gossett expresses the importance of having your head in the right place. A good route to start with, and one of his favorites, is Block Route. This 5.8 approach to the tree line is an introduction to what Stone has to offer.

Gossett also suggests the Great White Way as one of the best examples of slab climbing in the park. The route follows a water groove on an exposed section of the mountain.

“It’s terrifying,” he says. “But if your head’s in the right place, it’s a lot of fun.”

2. Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area

One of the greatest attributes that makes Rocky Face Park a cold-weather climbing destination is its accessibility. Parking right next to the wall makes a quick trip to the car easy should fingers and toes get too cold. That accessibility also makes it a great place for those who are early in their outdoor climbing career.

“It’s a really good place to take beginners who want to climb outside,” Gossett says. “There’s easy access to the top of the route, so you can do a lot of teaching up there. You can let someone lead up or top-rope and a third person can be at the top helping them learn how to clean the route. It’s a good classroom.”

The south-facing gneiss rock face here was the former home of an old quarry. Gossett says that while many of the routes are solid, there are some less traveled ones that can have loose rocks. Helmets are a great idea everywhere, but especially here.

3. Sauratown

Located on a YMCA camp, the popular routes at Sauratown are only accessible during winter.
Located on a YMCA camp, the popular routes at Sauratown are only accessible during winter.

Matt Swain

Sauratown Mountain is the quintessential cold-weather crag. Located on the site of YMCA Camp Hanes, access is strictly restricted to winter climbing—December through March. The short climbing season here, as well as the warm, south-facing wall, make it a very popular cold-weather destination. Some of the best examples of classic trad routes and sport climbing are found here.

As is the case with many climbing areas, the use of Sauratown is made possible through a partnership with landowners and the climbing community. Access to this particular resource was made possible through the work of the Carolina Climbers Coalition. Please visit their site before climbing at Sauratown and consider contributing to their efforts.

4. Rumbling Bald

Rumbling Bald has one of the greatest collection of bouldering problems in the area.
Rumbling Bald has one of the greatest collection of bouldering problems in the area.

Matt Swain

Through another amazing achievement of the Carolina Climbing Coalition, the Rumbling Bald climbing area of Chimney Rock State Park is now public land. Known for its world-class bouldering, the area also has a significant number of traditional and sport routes.

Overgrown vegetation and heat make the south-facing wall inhospitable in summer, but it’s a common stop for winter climbing of all types. The sheer variety of climbs here make it a popular destination, and the addition of the climber’s parking lot has made access to Rumbling Bald much easier.

Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Garrett Gossett