Despite the fact that I hike for a living and hike on my free time, I would need at least 10 lifetimes to hike all of the trails my little hiking heart desires. And that’s saying something. In the 25,000-plus miles I have spent on trails, from Alaska to Argentina, Scotland to South Korea, I have hiked some amazing terrain. Here are must-do hikes to add to your bucket list:
1. Presidential Range, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Jeff Romano, the author's younger brother, and Heather, the author's wife, in New Hampshire's Presidential Range. All images: Craig Romano
My love for the mountains was born in New Hampshire, and I will always be faithful to the state. Hike the highest mountains in the Northeast and across the largest alpine tundra in the Eastern US. On a clear day, the views from 6288-foot Mount Washington exceed 100 miles and include four states, one province and the Atlantic Ocean. Home to the highest recorded winds and some of the worst weather on the planet, Mount Washington and the Prezies command respect.
2. The Chic Choc Mountains, Parc National de la Gaspesie, Quebec
The Chic Choc Traverse is a 50 mile section of the International Appalachian Trail where the Appalachians meet the Gulf of St Lawrence. This 200,000-acre park is home to Quebec’s highest Appalachian summit, 4166-foot Mount Cartier, and the southernmost herd of woodland caribou in North America. You can backpack--go hut to hut or break up the trip with a cushy night in the beautiful Gite du Mont Albert.
3. The Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Constructed in 1915, the Wonderland Trail wraps 93 miles around Washington’s iconic 14,411-foot Mount Rainier. On this trail that gains more than 25,000 vertical feet, you’ll traverse old growth forests, interior rainforest, alpine meadows, alpine tundra, and glacial moraine—in essence every life zone within the 235,000-plus acre national park. And you’ll never tire of the non-stop views of the massive glacier-covered volcano.
4. High Divide, Olympic National Park, Washington
This 19-mile loop to one of the most famed places within the Olympic Mountains has it all: sparkling alpine lakes, resplendent alpine meadows, sweeping views, abundant wildlife, primeval forest, and inspiring waterfalls. Hike along a mile-high wildflower-carpeted ridge high above the Hoh Rainforest and within the shadows of glacier-cloaked Mount Olympus—highest and snowiest summit in the Olympics. I first hiked it in 1989 during my first solo backpacking trip. It instantly became one of my favorite backcountry destinations.
5. Kluane National Park and Preserve, Yukon Territory, Canada
Combine Kluane National Park and Preserve (5.4 million acres), with the adjacent 13.2 million acre Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska and British Columbia’s 2.3 million acre Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, and you get the largest protected area of wilderness in the world. Home of Canada’s highest summit, 19,551-foot Mount Logan, Kluane also contains huge tracts of land within the Coast Range rain shadow. Hike through dry aspen and spruce forests and up open grassy ridges to where herds of Dall sheep graze and lumbering grizzlies prowl the deep wide glacier-formed valleys. The hike to the Kings Throne is spectacular with its views of large lakes and rock glaciers.
6. Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Hike to the highest summit entirely within Nevada, 13,065-foot Wheeler Peak and behold an island of craggy snow and forest pocked peaks surrounded by a sea of high desert. One of the least visited of our national parks; Great Basin contains groves of thousands of year old bristlecone pines, the oldest life forms on earth. The park also contains Nevada’s only glacier, old mines and exceptional hiking without the crowds.
7. The W Circuit, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
If Alaska and Wyoming were combined and populated with South American flora and fauna, you’d have Torres del Paine. This park is incredible with the iconic Towers centerpiece to land of wide open plains, massive icefields and azure fjords. The W (named for the shape of the route) Circuit is a classic. Hike through the southernmost deciduous forests in the world and to massive glaciers miles long. And marvel at guanacos, rheas, and condors. There are parakeets, penguins, cougars and killer whales here too.
8. Breche du Roland, Le Parc national des Pyrenees, France
Hike over talus, across a cascading creek, up glacial moraine, and over a glacier to this dramatic cleft sitting 9200-feet high in the Pyrenees on the French-Spanish border. It is a challenging hike, but you’ll have plenty of company joining you to this landmark, an important part of French Culture as told in La Chanson de Roland. Lots of other great landmarks prevail in this 112,000-acre national park, including one of the tallest waterfalls in Europe, largest cirques in the world and feeder trails to El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.
9. Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Italy
A 123,000-acre national park in the heart of my favorite region of Italy (and I have traveled this country from Sicily to Trieste), Abruzzo National Park protects a section of the lofty rocky and meadow covered Apennine Mountains, which run the spine of the Italian peninsula. Aside from a great trail system emanating from a small medieval village, this park contains some of Europe’s most rare animals including wolves, lynx and brown bears. And this park, once medieval royal estate contains huge stands of old growth beech forest.
10. Pirin National Park, Bulgaria
Imagine if Washington’s North Cascades were in the Balkans. The Pirin Range, with its craggy 8,000-foot plus summits cradling sparkling alpine lakes and containing ridges carpeted in alpine meadows, looks straight out of the Pacific Northwest. Here where Europe meets Asia, the only thing more fascinating than the landscape is the culture, which includes beautiful orthodox monasteries and melodic folk music. The hike up 9564-foot Vihren, highest peak in the range and second highest peak in the country is non-technical and a classic. The peak contains Europe’s southernmost glacial mass.
Craig Romano has walked more than 25,000 miles throughout the US, Canada, South America and Europe (see suggestions on where to go at hikeoftheweek.com), authored ten hiking guidebooks, co-authored four others, and is at work on six more. When he’s not hiking, writing about hiking, or reading about hiking, he’s home napping with his wife, young son and two cats.