The close of a year is a great time to look back at all of your accomplishments and successes, as well as set new challenges for yourself for the year to come.
As New Year’s approaches, people are going to start asking what your New Year’s Resolution is. If you want to have something better than the usual “go the gym more” or “eat healthier,” you might want to have something a little more epic in mind for those New Year’s parties. Here are some of our favorite tough hikes and treks you can use for your own New Year’s Resolutions. These are tough, challenging adventures that require planning, foresight, and training — and every single one of them offers a huge return on your investment.
The Three Saints
If you’re in Southern California, hiking the three tallest prominent summits is a fantastic challenge that doesn’t require putting too many miles on your odometer. All three peaks – Mount San Antonio (Baldy), San Jacinto Peak, and San Gorgonio Mountain – offer distinct challenges and characters and even different approaches depending on how tough you want to make your resolution.
At 10,069 feet, Mount San Antonio is the tallest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains as well as the tallest point in Los Angeles County. A tough but do-able day hike from Manker Flats is just over 10 miles, climbing up the Ski Hut Trail or trekking across the narrow Devil’s Backbone from the Mount Baldy Ski Area.
Just to the east, San Jacinto Peak rises to 10,834 feet in elevation, high above the desert floor near Palm Springs. The steep, almost shocking slope of its north face is one of the most dramatic in the Lower 48 and even John Muir himself said “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!” Now, Muir was known to occasionally indulge in a bit of hyperbole, but we agree that the view is pretty dang spectacular from here. You can bag this peak the easy way from Mountain Station, the longer, moderate way from Idyllwild, or the insanely tough you’d really better be in awesome shape and kind of superhuman way via the Cactus to Clouds Trail, ranked one of America’s Toughest Day Hikes by Backpacker Magazine.
From San Jacinto, you can gaze right across San Gorgonio Pass to its namesake Mountain – the tallest in Southern California at 11,503 feet. Reaching this summit from almost any approach requires an insane amount of effort – you’ll be fighting elevation, incline, and exposure as the summit lies some 300 feet above the treeline. Gorgonio can be reached by a tough, steep climb via Vivian Creek, doable as an overnighter or a grueling dayhike – or the longer but not quite as difficult approach from South Fork.
Spend enough time hiking and eventually you’re going to hear the siren call of Mount Whitney. At 14,505 feet, this is the highest point in the Lower 48 – and it’s approachable by a nontechnical trail in the Eastern Sierra that despite its crowds is a stunningly gorgeous route to hike. It’s doable as a long, pre-dawn dayhike but we highly recommend spending a night or two on the way up. Not only will it help with the elevation, but it will also give you time to soak in all the dramatic views of alpine lakes, glaciers, meadows, and the distant desert floor below you. The Permit Lottery starts on February 1, so now’s a good time to get your crew together and start planning!
Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim
Hiking inside one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World is an experience in and of itself, but hiking from rim to rim and back again is a world-class accomplishment. Bring your trekking poles on this 43 mile adventure, because all those ups and downs add up to more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain. You’ll experience dramatic temperature changes, life-altering views, and memories that will last a lifetime. You’ll also probably REALLY enjoy your first meal after you finish.
The Rae Lakes Loop
The Rae Lakes Loop is one of the most popular in the Sierra Nevada, but because it’s in one of the remote reaches of Kings Canyon National Park, it doesn’t get quite as much marquee action as some of the other routes on this list. And that’s a shame, because holy wow is the scenery on this trek mind-blowing. This 40+ mile journey meanders through mountain meadows, lingers at alpine lakes, and conquers epic ridgeline crests – and because it’s a loop hike, you never have to repeat a section of trail! This route requires training, planning, and permits – so get your request in as soon as possible and start dreaming of this amazing scenery.
Go the Distance Instead
If you’re looking to set a good hiking goal but are still intimidated by some of these admittedly intimidating trails, then we suggest setting a distance or number goal for yourself instead. Maybe you’re not up for hiking the John Muir Trail all at once, but we bet you could easily rack up its 210.4 miles in distance over the course of the year. Break up a big hike into sections, set a mileage target, or for more structure and support, join an ongoing project like the 52 Hike Challenge and get outside once a week for the entire year.
So … what’s your New Year’s Resolution trail goal?