My Ten Best Hikes of 2014

2014 was an epic year for hiking in a lot of ways. While I will detail those ways in a separate post, this post reviews the ten hikes out of the 200 total times I hiked that I enjoyed the most. As with any list like this, there was a lot left out, including the Eagle Crag hike on which I also received a call for an interview at my current job, one of the most brilliant sunsets I ever witnessed on Mt. San Jacinto, and more hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains than I’ve ever done before.

Here is what made the cut and why. Click on the links to see write-ups on all but one of the hikes:

10. Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Prisoners Harbor from Montanon Ridge
This was my first foray to the Channel Islands, despite living within 50 miles of them for most of my life. My buddy Taylor and I took the hour-long boat from Ventura Harbor, and we passed through a pod of dolphins about 1,000 strong. Once at the island, we climbed up to Montanon Ridge, where we enjoyed spectacular views over the west end of the islands, Anacapa Island, and back toward the mainland. We capped it off by eating lunch in a grove of eucalyptus trees while island foxes scampered around us. After hearing them chirp at each other, I can definitively tell you what the fox says.

9. The Congress Trail/Circle Meadow, Sequoia National Park

Circle Meadow during the golden hour
I must have hiked the Congress Trail a good 20 times in my life, and yet, somehow, it still lands on any list of my favorite hikes every time. In spite of the many awe-inspiring places I saw with vast panoramic views, there’s something about walking through a meadow carpeted with wildflowers while evening sun filters through a forest of massive trees. Bonus points for seeing a couple of bears and some deer.

8. Mt. San Gorgonio summit camp

Dawn over the Coachella Valley from the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio
The week before I set off to hike the HST/JMT, I decided to lug my 40 lb pack up to the summit of Southern California’s highest point. I had seen the campsites at the summit on my last trip up, and I heard from my friend Kyle that the camping was pretty good up here despite the lack of water. Hauling the pack up the steep slope at elevation was a bit of a nightmare, but the rewards of watching the sun set and rise from 11,500′ were more than enough compensation.

7. Yoga Hike, Palomar Mountain State Park

Black Oaks on the Doane Valley Nature Trail
My wife Kelly and I both thrive with our separate passions. She is an excellent yoga teacher, and I do alright at hiking. We decided to put our passions together with a guided hike/yoga class/overview of ecotherapy on a sunny November afternoon at Palomar Mountain State Park. Not only was the foliage at full peak, but we found just how much fun it is to put on an event like this together.

6. McGee Creek Canyon, Inyo National Forest

First lake in McGee Creek Canyon
This October, I returned to the Eastern Sierra to gorge myself on brilliant fall foliage. Only this year, I did not go alone. My friend Casey at Modern Hiker joined me, where we took a couple of hikes in the Mammoth Lakes area. Of the two we did, McGee Creek was the best, with outstanding scenery and a gorgeous color show. As anticipated after months of emailing and collaborating on work for the site, Casey proved to be a real mensch and a pleasure to hike with.

5. White Chief Bowl, Sequoia National Park

White Chief Bowl in the brilliant morning light
Taylor and I got together once again to tackle some of the hanging valleys at Mineral King. After undergoing a full-blown aerial assault by the mosquitos of Monarch Lake (which almost made the cut), we headed for White Chief Bowl. The Bowl and its attendant canyon were easily the most interesting and beautiful of the six hikes I took in Mineral King, which is a considerable statement as all six of the hikes I took that weekend were spectacular in their own unique ways. The beautiful marble outcrops, dry meadows, wildflowers, and marshy Bowl made this one stand out above the rest.

4. Big Pine Creek, Inyo National Forest

Second Big Pine Lake
Big Pine Creek was an afterthought on the previously mentioned fall color trip with Casey, and I almost didn’t take this hike. It was the end of the trip, and I had already hiked a lot. I wasn’t sure I wanted to schlep back to a place that didn’t have any more fall color. I was completely wrong about the fall color, as I found some stunning groves of aspens which I reported on the California Fall Color blog. But the real knockout punch were the turquoise lakes in the upper reaches of the canyon. The color comes from glacial sediment, which is so fine that it hangs suspended in the water. Sierran lakes are already beautiful without exception, but with water like this, the Big Pine Lakes win at everything.

3. Ranger Falls, Mt. Rainier National Park

Ranger Falls
Most of California lived through one of the driest years on record in 2014, with most areas of the state receiving 30-50% of average annual precipitation. It was therefore a blessed relief to spend a long weekend in Seattle, Washington. Naturally, I cajoled my wife Kelly to come with me to the northwest corner of Mt. Rainier National park to see if we could find Ranger Falls. I don’t think Kelly enjoyed the cold, but we did pass through an old-growth rain forest toward an absolutely stunning waterfall. It was an excellent respite from a year of mostly dry, brittle heat.

2. The High Sierra Trail, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Moraine Lake on the second day of the trip
This was the main event of the year and something I had been planning for for nearly 10 months. My plan was to hike the High Sierra Trail over to the John Muir Trail and follow the JMT to Yosemite. I did not make it that far, as I underestimated the power of loneliness and the rigors of such an endeavor. Still, this hike was full of stunning beauty and fantastic moments, even though I had had my fill by the end.

1. Post-rain hike, Doane Valley, Palomar Mountain State Park 

The tail end of the storm at Lower Doane Valley
I’m a little surprised myself that a hike I’ve done dozens of times made the top of this list. I was sure it would be the High Sierra Trail, or at least something else in Sequoia National Park. During the weekend of this hike, San Diego county was hit by an absolutely massive storm that dropped about a third of the county’s annual precipitation in a three-day period. 20 minutes in, I had already seen about 25 deer on the trail, a flock of turkeys, bandtail pigeons, hawks, and a coyote. The pond was full to the brim, and the creeks were in high flow. For one miraculous morning, the drought did not exist, even though this was effectively it for rain in the 2014 winter. Palomar is never more beautiful than when it is wet, and this was the most beautiful I had ever seen it.

One Reply to “My Ten Best Hikes of 2014”

  1. Hi Scott,

    My name is Saroj and I am a co-creator of Sidewalk (http://www.visitsidewalk.com), a magazine to help people discover and plan amazing hiking adventures. I wanted to say hi because I admire your passion for the outdoors and really enjoyed going through your hiking adventures on your blog.

    Would you have few minutes to checkout Sidewalk (http://www.visitsidewalk.com)? Feedback from an avid hiker, like yourself, would be really useful to our small team. And yes, of course, if you are interested in sharing your hiking adventures, we would love to have your trips on Sidewalk. Please feel free to say hi at team[at]visitsidewalk.com and we will be happy to continue the conversation further.

    Happy Hiking!
    Saroj
    http://www.visitsidewalk.com

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