Well, what a strange year it has been. In the early days of 2020, it was hard to imagine that, by March, much of the world would be dealing with a global pandemic that would take the lives of millions and usher in lockdowns, mask mandates, and economic recessions. Yet through the course of it all, a curious thing occurred: as travel restrictions eased in the United States over the summer, hiking trails from coast-to-coast saw record numbers of visitors. After the initial burrowing of March and April, the number of people exploring the great outdoors—for better or for worse—seemed to take off like never before.
The visitation statistics at Live and Let Hike seem to reflect this dynamic. After taking a hit in March and April, the number of visitors to the site rose to record levels through the rest of the year. In 2018, my previous personal best, Live and Let Hike had 84,370 unique visitors and 172,517 page views. This past year smashed that record by wide margins, reaching 140,364 visitors and 227,354 page views in 2020.
While spending much of 2020—like others—at home, I was fortunate enough to get away for several brief hiking/backpacking adventures. In January and February, before Covid-19 devastated the United States, I spent several days in southern California at Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve and completed an arduous, 3-day backpacking trip on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail in the East Bay. As the pandemic swept across the country in the spring, March through May were spent primarily hiking close to home, exploring some of the many wonderful local parks of the Bay Area. By late spring and summer, loosening restrictions allowed me to branch out a bit, with brief overnight trips to California’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Hoover Wilderness, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Snow Mountain Wilderness, and Trinity Alps area. Tragically, many of the places I visited early in the year—such as Big Basin, Mojave National Preserve, and Ohlone Wilderness—went up in flames in California’s devastating late-summer wildfires.
Driving through persistent wildfire smoke much of the way, an out-and-back road trip from California to Colorado in August and September allowed me to visit family and stop at a few parks I had not visited in years, including Colorado National Monument and Great Basin, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks. The return to Capitol Reef was particularly rewarding, as it had been more than five years since I had served there as a seasonal volunteer in 2014-2015 (and produced a comprehensive hiking guide to all the park’s hikes). I also spent time with my family hiking in the Collegiate Peaks area, near Salida, Colorado.
In the fall, alas, studying and working interfered more and more with hiking, although I managed a couple of short hikes in southern California and Arizona on a trip to Phoenix around election day. As with past years, the backlog of posts from 2020 hikers will bleed into 2021, as my timing from hike-to-blog-post seems to stretch longer and longer every year.
The top five most visited posts on Live and Let Hike in 2020 were, as usual, holdovers from previous years: (1) Top 10 Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park’s “Frontcountry”; (2) Top 10 Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park’s “Backcountry”; (3) Appalachian Trail – Maryland Section 1: Pen Mar to Raven Rock Hollow (South Mountain State Park, MD); (4) Rock Circuit Trail (Middlesex Fells Reservation, MA); and (5) Cliff Trail – Lower Trail Loop (Cunningham Falls State Park, MD).
The top-viewed new posts in 2020, however, were: (1) White Rock Canyon – Arizona Hot Spring Canyon Trail Loop (Lake Mead National Recreation Area, AZ); (2) Steep Ravine – Matt Davis Trail Loop (Mount Tamalpais State Park, CA); (3) Mount Diablo via Eagle Peak and Mitchell Canyon (Mount Diablo State Park, CA); (4) Falls Trail Loop (Mount Diablo State Park, CA); and (5) Chalone Peak Trail (Pinnacles National Park, CA).
As is tradition with past years, I have compiled a list of my top ten favorite hikes from 2020. This was a very difficult choice as always, but the below captures some of my high points in an otherwise trying year.
10. Lost Lake Trail (San Isabel National Forest, CO)
While alpine lakes are ubiquitous in the Colorado Rockies, it is hard to match the splendid, peculiar qualities of Lost Lake, which boasts a rock island and stunning turquoise-green colors. The 2.5-mile out-and-back to the lake is a relatively easy jaunt from Colorado Highway 306 near Cottonwood Pass in the Collegiate Peaks. In addition to the spectacular lake, the Lost Lake Trail offers excellent views of the Continental Divide, Mount Yale, and the Cottonwood Creek drainage. This show-stopper is a must-see in the Buena Vista/Salida area of Colorado.
See my post on December 18, 2020 for a full trail description.
9. Buckhorn – Golden Wall Trail Loop (Dixie National Forest, UT)
While receiving a fraction of the visitors of nearby Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah’s Red Canyon area boasts similarly colorful hoodoos and multi-hued canyons begging to be explored. The Buckhorn and Golden Wall Trails combine to form an excellent loop starting and ending at the Red Canyon Campground, meandering among the red-orange knobs and lofty hillsides for four scenic miles.
See my post on September 14, 2020 for a full trail description.
8. Alpine Lakes Loop and Bristlecone-Glacier Trails (Great Basin National Park, NV)
Great Basin in remote eastern Nevada is one of the country’s least-visited national parks but harbors several prominent sights, including the tallest mountain entirely located in Nevada (Wheeler Peak), the only glacier in the state, and a large concentration of bristlecone pines, which can live longer than any other tree species on the planet. The Bristlecone-Glacier Trail leads to a spectacular bristlecone grove and ends at the base of Wheeler Peak (13,063’), which harbors Rock Glacier. The hike is easily combined with a trip to Stella and Teresa Lakes on the Alpine Lakes Loop.
See my post on August 27, 2020 for a full trail description.
7. Sidewinder Canyon (Death Valley National Park, CA)
The first of two hikes from Death Valley in the top 10, Sidewinder Canyon features three excellent slots, each with narrow bends, dark passages, and hidden nooks and arches. The speckled conglomerate produces some modest obstacles—but also some decent handholds—as hikers weave their way through the narrows to their end. This is certainly a top hike in Death Valley and a nice complement to #2 below.
See my post on March 14, 2020 for a full trail description.
6. White Rock Canyon – Arizona Hot Spring Canyon Trail Loop (Lake Mead National Recreation Area, AZ)
Speaking of slots, this splendid loop hike—just over the Arizona border from Las Vegas and the Lake Mead area—traverses sinuous sandstone narrows and a hidden hot spring near the banks of the Colorado River. Arizona Hot Springs features 85- to 120-degree temperatures year-round, and the full color palate (especially reds, oranges, purples, greens, and blues) are on display on this circuit, which includes multiple layers of sandstone, lush vegetation, and clear river waters.
See my post on April 15, 2020 for a full trail description.
5. Lassen Peak Trail (Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA)
At 10,457 feet, Lassen Peak is one of the highest mountains in the Cascade Range, the centerpiece of Lassen Volcanic National Park, and one of only two volcanoes in the contiguous United States to have erupted since 1900. The Lassen Peak Trail—which gains 2,000 feet in 2.5 miles—climbs to the top of the caldera, revealing incredible views that stretch from the Trinity Alps, Mount Shasta, and the Coast Range to the north/west and Lake Almanor, the Sierra Nevada, and the Great Basin Desert to the south/east.
See my post on July 29, 2020 for a full trail description.
4. Ohlone Wilderness Trail (Ohlone Regional Wilderness, CA)
Traversing terrain as rugged and beautiful as parts of the Sierras, the 28-mile Ohlone Wilderness Trail connects Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore with Mission Peak Regional Preserve in Fremont in California’s East Bay region. The multi-day hike passes hidden valleys, rolling ridges, and scrubby peaks—including Rose Peak (3,817’) and Mission Peak (2,517’)—making this one of the most scenic hikes in the Bay Area. (Note: As of January 2021, Ohlone Wilderness is currently closed due to Covid-19 and the summer wildfires that affected the area.)
See my post on May 21, 2020 for a full trail description.
3. Peekaboo Loop Trail (Bryce Canyon National Park, UT)
The Peekaboo Loop Trail descends below the rim of the Pink Cliffs in Utah’s Bryce Canyon and traverses a maze of multi-colored hoodoos, spires, and knobs in a strenuous, 4.9-mile stem-and-loop. While Bryce Canyon may be smaller than Utah’s four other national parks, the picturesque, other-worldly nature of the hoodoo landscape is virtually unparalleled.
See my post on September 14, 2020 for a full trail description.
2. Golden Canyon, Badlands Loop, and Gower Gulch Trail Loop, including Red Cathedral & Zabriskie Point (Death Valley National Park, CA)
The sun-soaked badlands of the Furnace Creek area are one of the most iconic features of California’s Death Valley National Park and can be explored by way of a full-day loop hike that includes Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, Red Cathedral, and Zabriskie Point. The colorful geology goes wild on this hike—with patches of bright yellow, deep red, chalky white, and even magenta and purple adorned the desert landscape.
See my post on March 7, 2020 for a full trail description.
1. Crown Lake – Kerrick Meadow – Peeler Lake Loop (Hoover Wilderness/Yosemite National Park, CA)
Even in a year with several excellent hikes, there was simply no match for the striking beauty and blissful solitude of this 3-day backpack in the Twin Lakes area of California’s Sierra Nevada. The strenuous hike climbs through the Hoover Wilderness to the Sierra Crest, dropping briefly into Yosemite National Park and skirting five spectacular alpine lakes. This was undoubtedly the hiking highlight of 2020!
Browns Creek Falls (San Isabel National Forest, CO)
Diablo Foothills Loop (Diablo Foothills Regional Park, CA)
Fall Canyon (Death Valley National Park, CA)
Kelso Dunes Trail (Mojave National Preserve, CA)
Ptarmigan Lake Trail (San Isabel National Forest, CO)
Rings Loop Trail (Mojave National Preserve, CA)
Snow Mountain Loop via Deafy Glade Trail (Snow Mountain Wilderness, CA)
South Fork Lakes (Trinity Alps Wilderness, CA)
Teutonia Peak (Mojave National Preserve, CA)
Trail Gulch Lake (Trinity Alps Wilderness, CA)