2017 is nearly in the books, and it’s been a banner year for Live and Let Hike. Viewership reached new heights (roughly 85,000 visitors and 167,000 page views in 2017), and I added 76 new posts this year that covered hikes, scenic byways, and other destinations in 11 different states: California, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia. I also inaugurated two historical series in 2017, highlighting trails related to the Civil War and Revolutionary War.
For the second year in a row, the top 5 most visited posts (excluding the home page) were all holdovers from past years: (1) Top 10 Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park’s “Frontcountry”; (2) Top 10 Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park’s “Backcountry”; (3) Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch Loop (Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, UT); (4) Capitol Reef Hiking Guide; and (5) Rock Circuit Trail (Middlesex Fells Reservation, MA).
This year’s most popular new posts, however, were all from the mid-Atlantic: (1) Dolly Sods North Loop (Dolly Sods Wilderness WV); (2) Appalachian Trail – Maryland Section 1: Pen Mar to Raven Rock Hollow, including High Rock and Devil’s Racecourse (South Mountain State Park, MD); (3) Yorktown Battlefield Auto Tour (Colonial National Historical Park, VA); (4) Stone Bridge Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA); and (5) First Manassas Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA).
More importantly than page views, of course, was the quality of the hikes involved. In that spirit, check out the list below for my (heavily subjective) “top ten” best hikes of 2017, ranked in reverse order.
- Big Schloss (George Washington National Forest, VA/WV)
Taking its name from the German word for “castle,” the rocky outcrop at Big Schloss straddles the Virginia–West Virginia border and features stunning, panoramic views of tree-laced mountains and majestic valleys. The 2.1-mile hike to the top is no slouch, either, with regular vistas as the trail follows the spine of a narrow, windswept ridgeline.
See my post on November 10, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Tibbet Knob (George Washington National Forest, VA/WV)
Better yet, make a day of it and hike to the top of Big Schloss’ less-visited cousin to the southwest, Tibbet Knob, which is arguably even more spectacular. An initial viewpoint at the hike’s ½ mile mark sports excellent views of the Shenandoah Valley, while the summit at 1.4 miles overlooks beautiful Trout Run Valley in the heart of the Great North Mountain range.
See my post on December 2, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Beech Cliff Trail & Canada Cliffs Trail Loop (Acadia National Park, ME)
I had the pleasure of visiting Maine’s Acadia National Park for the first time this year and was not disappointed. Despite never surpassing 1,600 feet above sea level, the granite peaks on Mount Desert Island are wonderfully rugged and unlike nearly anything else on the eastern seaboard. The Beech Cliff Trail is one of the park’s four “iron rung” hikes: strenuous climbs that require negotiating ladders, iron aides, and steep staircases to mount exposed cliff sides. The reward is commanding views of Echo Lake, Somes Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
See my post on August 14, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Blackbird Knob Loop (Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV)
After more than a year-long hiatus, I went on two overnight backpacking trips in 2017, both in West Virginia’s spectacular Dolly Sods Wilderness. This hiker’s paradise in Monongahela National Forest features alpine-like meadows, babbling creeks, high-altitude vistas, and broad ecological diversity, making it an increasingly popular destination despite its remote location. The Blackbird Knob Loop, the first of the two backpacks on this list, cuts through the heart of the Dolly Sods area, crisscrossing meadows as it visits both the forks of Red Creek and includes westerly views of beautiful Canaan Valley.
See my post on October 9, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Acadia Mountain Loop (Acadia National Park, ME)
This challenging hike on Acadia’s quiet west side leads to a stony summit with panoramic views, then drops to the banks of Somes Sound, a tranquil inlet that feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. The ascents and descents are sharp and rocky, making this one of the toughest hikes on this year’s list.
See my post on August 20, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Stout Grove Loop (Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, CA)
One of three hikes in the top ten from my July trip to northern California, the Stout Grove Loop is a short and easy circuit through one of the best redwood stands in the world. Walking through redwood groves, particularly in the region’s iconic fog or evening sun, is an otherworldly experience; these vermilion-hued sentinels, the world’s tallest trees, offer a distinctive beauty that is impossible to replicate in words or photographs.
See my post on November 4, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Prairie Creek Trail – Foothill Trail Loop (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA)
Longer and often less crowded than Stout Grove, this circuit hike in nearby Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park offers a casual walk through several groves of spectacular redwoods. While passing the much-vaunted “Big Tree,” the most beautiful trees are unlabeled, silent sentinels reaching for the sky. All 2.6 miles of this hike, save for one tricky section, are wheelchair-accessible.
See my post on November 4, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Fern Canyon (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA)
While the trees are the main draw, the most spectacular hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods is the Fern Canyon Trail, a short but exquisite passage between fern-strewn walls. Lush with greenery and dripping with moisture, this jungle-like canyon was once a shooting location for Jurassic Park: The Lost World. A mile-long out-and-back covers the best of the canyon and requires hikers to surmount downed trees and ever-changing stream crossings.
See my post on October 29, 2017 for a full trail description.
- The Beehive Loop (Acadia National Park, ME)
The most popular of Acadia’s “iron rung” hikes, The Beehive Loop includes a hair-raising ascent up an exposed cliffside, ending at a summit overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Frenchman Bay. From here the loop traverses two lesser peaks and then drops to an attractive lake known as The Bowl. Strenuous and thrilling, The Beehive is an Acadia classic.
See my post on August 22, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Dolly Sods North Loop (Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV)
The Dolly Sods North Loop, a popular backpacking destination in central West Virginia, takes this year’s top marks for its diverse terrain and stunning views. A rim of Pottsville Sandstone along the Rocky Ridge Trail offers unparalleled vistas of Canaan Valley, while the hike’s numerous meadows and heath barrens bear closer resemblance to ecosystems in northern Canada than to the rest of the mid-Atlantic.
See my post on September 13, 2017 for a full trail description.
- Appalachian Trail – Maryland Section 3: Wolfsville Road to US 40, including Black Rock & Annapolis Rocks (South Mountain State Park, MD)
- Coastal Trail – Lands End Section, including Mile Rock Beach (Golden Gate National Recreation Area, CA)
- Falls Loop Trail (McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, CA)
- Manzanita Lake Trail (Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA)
- Mill Creek Falls Trail (Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA)
- Paradise Meadows Trail (Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA)