Our Favorite Hikes of the Past Nine Years

It’s hard to believe it, but today is Modern Hiker’s NINTH anniversary!

This year was pretty huge for us. We broke another outdoor vandalism story – and fought back a legal threat, experienced the beauty of Nepal and a full-fledged natural disaster, welcomed amazing new writers from all over the West to the site, and ran a huge crowdfunding campaign (which we’re stuffing packages of our campaign perks for this weekend!).

There are some really exciting things for us on the horizon, too – we’ve just started moving forward with our new site design, we’ll be attending Outdoor Retailer for the first time in January, and my book manuscript for “Day Hiking: Los Angeles” is due in just a few weeks (!!!).

In honor of our ninth anniversary, I decided to look back on a personal favorite hike from each year we’ve been on the web. Enjoy – and enjoy these trails, too!

sandstone post-rain

2006 – The Mishe Mokwa Trail

The first trail I ever wrote-up for the site is also the trail I credit with inspiring me to become a serious hiker. I’ve probably hiked this route to Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains more often than any other trail, and even nine years later I’m still discovering new things to love about it. When people ask me what my favorite trail in Southern California is, I always answer with this one without any hesitation.

Strawberry Peak

2007 – Strawberry Peak

In 2007 I hit the ground running, exploring trails in the Santa Monicas and San Gabriels every weekend. I did some really tough hikes this year, but by far the toughest was Strawberry Peak. This long route features a moderately terrifying section of class-3 scrambling with extremely exposed drop-offs before the summit – and even just thinking about it today gets my blood pumping. Damaged in the 2009 Station Fire, volunteer and Forest Service crews have done a fine job in rehabilitating the routes … just don’t try this one if you’re afraid of heights!


2008 – Havasu Canyon

In 2008, I headed to Arizona on my to-date lengthiest backpacking trip into one of the most gorgeous places on the planet: Havasu Canyon.

This otherworldly oasis of turquoise water and lush greenery in the red rocks of the Grand Canyon usually ends up on those “places to see before you die” lists – and with good reason. It’s unlike any other place you’ve ever seen and is just one of those hiking destinations that leaves you awed and grinning from ear to ear the entire time you’re there.

A huge flash flood came through here right after I visited and altered the landscape significantly, but I got to revisit this canyon years later and somehow it made it even more beautiful than it was before.

Wildflowers blooming in Pinnacles National Park

2009 – Pinnacles National Park

During the peak of wildflower season, I spent a weekend camping out in Pinnacles National Monument (now Pinnacles National Park). The wildflowers would have been reason enough to visit, but I was on a bit of a “San Andreas Geology” tour and it was really the landscape that stole the show here. The Pinnacles are remnants of an ancient volcano that was dragged up to northern California by continental drift, leaving these stellar rock formations behind. The park’s High Peaks Loop is a full-day adventure that will have you squeezing through caves and rock cracks and climbing up narrow, steep trails to the tops of the pinnacles themselves.

Mount Whitney

2010 – Mount Whitney

Hike long enough, and eventually you’re going to want to get your boots up to the top of Mount Whitney. The trail to the highest point in the Continental United States is both a mental and physical challenge, but if you go during the right time of year at the very least it’s a non-technical ascent. Our group of adventurers topped out above 14,500 feet in 2010 after a few days of conservative altitude acclimatization. Most of the info we’d read ahead of time complained about the crowds and messiness of the trail, but we all found the route to be beautiful, inspiring, and absolutely unforgettable. Permit Season for 2016 is coming up in a few weeks – are you prepped and ready?

Placerita Canyon

2011 – Placerita Canyon

Sometimes what makes a hike special isn’t just one quality, but rather the sum of its parts. Such is the case with the Placerita Canyon Firebreak Trail, which is like two vastly different trails in one. The first section is full-sun, chaparral, and tough, steep ascents and descents on rugged firebreaks. Then, about halfway through the loop, the trail ducks into a shaded riparian canyon and follows a seasonal creek bed to an historic ranch (and the site of the first gold rush in California!).

Darwin Falls Death Valley

2012 – Darwin Falls

You probably already knew that Death Valley is one of the lowest, hottest, driest places on the planet, but you may not know that there’s also a year-round waterfall hidden in the western part of the park. Hiking to Darwin Falls is best described as an “Alice in Wonderland” experience – it’s all beige sand and stone when you start, but as the canyon walls narrow the area erupts in lush greenery, birdsong, and finally – this cascading waterfall. In a park full of surprises and wonders, this one definitely sits near the top.

Zion Observation Point

2013 – Observation Point

In 2013 I was able to take an incredible month-long trip to Utah and Arizona and the first place I visited was Zion National Park. While most of the attention in Zion is directed at the high-profile climbs to Angel’s Landing and the epic trip through the Narrows, the trail that stuck with me the most was the climb up to Observation Point from the valley floor. This long, lightly-traveled hike meanders up sheer cliffs, through slot canyons, and pinyon pine forests to what is probably the most epic view of Zion Canyon you can find in the park.


2014 – Limekiln State Park

2014 was the year I started doing Modern Hiker full-time AND the year we started getting some amazing contributions from our first outside writers Scott Turner and ShawntĂ© Salabert. As a result, our 2014 is PACKED with killer hikes. We added dozens of trails in Utah, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Eastern Sierra – not to mention seriously building out our San Diego coverage. After much deliberation, though, I think the honor of 2014’s hike has to go to diminutive Limekiln State Park in Big Sur. Looking on a map, this tiny state park doesn’t look like it has a lot to offer, but the 2.3 miles of this route manage to pack in cathedral-like redwood groves; rushing, moss-and-fern lined creeks; ghostly dilapidated remains of human industry; the jaw-dropping coast of Big Sur; AND one of the most beautiful campgrounds I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. The big lesson here? Don’t overlook the smaller parks.

victory trailhead las virgenes canyon

2015 – Las Virgenes Canyon

Another tough year with new contributors and trails from the Pacific Northwest, Great Basin, and Rocky Mountains – but 2015’s trail selection proves that even after nine years of hiking in Southern California, it can still surprise me. I hadn’t done much hiking in the western San Fernando Valley but some of Scott’s reports from the region inspired me to investigate – and I’m glad I did. In the winter and spring, these emerald hills, blooming native wildflowers, and majestic oaks can instantly transport jaded Southern Californians back to a time before the strip mall and freeway – and the best part is the trail network near Las Virgenes Canyon is extensive enough for a tough full-day trek and varied enough for an easy stroll, too!

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