Top 10 Hikes in 2021

Evolution Lake, John Muir Trail, Kings Canyon National Park, August 2021

The past year brought new milestones for Live and Let Hike, with the Covid-era bump in traffic continuing for a second year. In fact, annual viewership rose by more than 50 percent compared to 2020 and more than 100 percent relative to 2019—Live and Let Hike had 225,080 site visitors and 338,581 page views in 2021.

In the past 12 months, I added 42 new blog posts, mostly from hikes in California but also a handful of trails in Arizona, Oregon, and Utah. A short trip in January brought us to coastal northern California and southwest Oregon, where we discovered some spectacular, lush landscapes at Redwood National Park and Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. In addition to some local hikes in the Bay Area, the spring was spent training for summer long-distance backpacking adventures with some short, overnight trips in California’s Silver Peak Wilderness, Henry W. Coe State Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Yosemite National Park. I also snuck in a separate two-day trip to Yosemite for some more day hiking in April and returned briefly to Utah and northern Arizona for some slot canyon adventures. The summer was all about backpacking in the Sierra Nevada. After completing a terrific 56-mile, week-long circuit in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in June, I embarked in late July on the longest backpacking trip of my life—a 254-mile jaunt from Mount Whitney to Yosemite on the northbound John Muir Trail—which I later catalogued in a five-part series. Other commitments ate into my hiking (and blogging) time in the fall, but I did manage to squeeze in short trips to Channel Islands National Park and the Mendocino area along the Pacific coast. As with past years, the backlog of posts from 2021 hikes will bleed into 2022…

The top five most visited posts on Live and Let Hike in 2021 were, as usual, holdovers from past years: (1) Top 10 Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park’s “Frontcountry”; (2) White Rock Canyon – Arizona Hot Spring Canyon Trail Loop (Lake Mead National Recreation Area, AZ); (3) Whiteoak Canyon – Cedar Run Trail Loop (Shenandoah National Park, VA); (4) Steep Ravine – Matt Davis Trail Loop (Mount Tamalpais State Park, CA); and (5) Falls Trail Loop (Mount Diablo State Park, CA). The top-viewed new posts in 2021, however, were, in order: (1) The New Wave Loop (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ); (2) Hetch Hetchy to Wapama Falls and Rancheria Falls (Yosemite National Park, CA); (3) Crown Lake – Kerrick Meadow – Peeler Lake Loop (Yosemite National Park, CA); (4) Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass (Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, UT); and (5) Cathedral Wash (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ).

In keeping with tradition from past years, I have compiled below a subjective list of my ten favorite hikes from 2021. A diverse year of hiking brought a wide variety of hikes to the top ten, from the lush redwood forests of northern California to the stunning glacial cirques of the Sierra Nevada to the sinuous slot canyons of Arizona and Utah.

10. Kelly Lake, Coit Lake, & Pacheco Falls Loop (Henry W. Coe State Park)

Springtime is the perfect season for exploring the Diablo Range south and east of the Bay Area, when the streams are full and the hills come alive with wildflowers and verdant colors. This 20-mile backpack in Henry W. Coe State Park traverses challenging terrain to two man-made lakes and a hidden waterfall and features high, panoramic views across the range and Santa Clara Valley in the South Bay.

See my post on March 30, 2021 for a full trail description.

Pacheco Falls Loop, Henry W. Coe State Park, March 2021

9. Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (Yosemite National Park, CO)

The strenuous Upper Yosemite Falls Trail gains a brutal 2,700 feet in elevation as it exits Yosemite Valley and climbs to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall. Atop the sheer granite walls, hikers get extraordinary views across the valley and central Yosemite. There are certainly easier trails in the area with less elevation gain, but tackling this one leaves hikers with a sense of triumph and accomplishment.

See my post on May 23, 2021 for a full trail description.

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, Yosemite National Park, April 2021

8. Cathedral Wash (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ)

The first of two hikes on this list from my Arizona/Utah trip in May, the choose-your-own-adventure ramble down Cathedral Wash is a rewarding and lesser-known hike in the southern reaches of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Some mild scrambling is required to bypass pouroffs, muddy pools, and steep ledges, but this all adds to the fun as the route descends through the Kaibab Limestone and Toroweap Formation to the banks of the mighty Colorado River.

See my post on June 22, 2021 for a full trail description.

Cathedral Wash, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, May 2021

7. Boy Scout Tree Trail (Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, CA)

The lush and bountiful opposite of the dusty canyonlands of Utah/Arizona, Redwood National Park in northern California boasts a landscape of ubiquitous ferns and iconic coast redwoods. The Boy Scout Tree Trail in the northern reaches of the park passes hundreds of the silent sentinels—the tallest plant species in the world—en route to the modest but pretty Fern Falls.

See my post on January 12, 2021 for a full trail description.

Boy Scout Tree Trail, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, January 2021

6. Miner’s Ridge – James Irvine Trail Loop, including Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA)

Next on the list is another hike from our Oregon/northern California trip in January, this one forming a long (12-mile) loop through the heart of Prairie Creek Redwoods. After ascending a modest ridgeline dotted with coast redwoods, the route descends through a Sitka spruce forest to the Pacific Ocean and Fern Canyon, a stream-fed gulch where the hairy walls are covered from top to bottom with the canyon’s namesakes. From the coast, the circuit works its way back through more redwood forest to return to the start.

See my post on February 23, 2021 for a full trail description.

Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, January 2021

5. Hetchy Hetchy to Wapama Falls and Rancheria Falls (Yosemite National Park, CA)

Another overnight backpacking trip, the 13-mile out-and-back to Rancheria Falls from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park brings hikers along the north shore of the reservoir to a landscape of tumbling streams. After passing Wapama Falls, which drops more than 1,000 feet, the onward path passes two more drainages with flowing chutes, culminating at a bridge over Rancheria Falls with excellent views back across the reservoir in the western Sierra Nevada.

See my post on April 16, 2021 for a full trail description.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Yosemite National Park, March 2021

4. Twin Lakes, Boomerang Lake, & Island Lake (Desolation Wilderness, CA)

An excellent and easily-accessible hike in the northern Sierra Nevada, this 7-mile jaunt rises into the Crystal Range of the Desolation Wilderness and passes four spectacular alpine lakes. The spring snowmelt also produces pretty waterfalls and water-logged moraines, adding to the allure of this majestic place—often reached by way of a half-day hike or overnight backpack.

See my post on August 24, 2021 for a full trail description.

Lower Twin Lake, Desolation Wilderness, June 2021

3. Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass (Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, UT)

Cutting more than 18 miles through the Paria Plateau in southwest Utah, Buckskin Gulch is considered to be the longest slot canyon in the world. The narrow, winding passages and colorful hues made my short foray into the canyon one of the top three best hikes of the year, an immensely impressive landscape that lives up to the hype.

See my post on June 4, 2021 for a full trail description.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, May 2021

2. Deadman Canyon Loop (Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, CA)

Meant to be a preparatory trip to condition for my later journey on the John Muir Trail, the 56-mile Deadman Canyon Loop turned out to be a spectacular adventure in its own right. From Lodgepole in Sequoia National Park, the route ascends and descends Silliman Pass and enters Kings Canyon National Park, after which the path bends east and south to traverse Deadman Canyon, a hidden gem that rivals Yosemite Valley in its beauty. Once over Elizabeth Pass, the trail descends a granite pitch that is one of the most scenic stretches of trail I have ever seen and then follows the High Sierra Trail westward back to the Giant Forest in Sequoia.

See my post on August 22, 2021 for a full trail description.

Deadman Canyon, Kings Canyon National Park, June 2021

1. John Muir Trail (Sequoia National Park to Yosemite National Park, CA)

The hands-down favorite for this year was my 254-mile hike along the John Muir Trail (JMT) and environs, a challenging, multi-week journey that brought us from Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park all the way north to Yosemite Valley. During a journey that comprised four linked sections, we camped at spectacular glacier-fed lakes, ascended more than a dozen mountain passes, and traversed long canyons, all the way making friends with several through-hikers.

See my series of four posts for full hike descriptions—Section I, Section II, Section III, and Section IV—plus a bonus post on preparing and planning for the JMT.

John Muir Trail, Kings Canyon National Park, August 2021

Honorable Mention:

This entry was posted in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Arizona, California, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, John Muir Wilderness, Moderate Hikes, Redwood National & State Parks, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, Strenuous Hikes, Utah, Yosemite National Park and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Top 10 Hikes in 2021

  1. Whipped Owl says:

    Reblogged this on Whipped Owl and commented:
    Some ideas for folks…….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great journey information. Thanks for posting both text and pictures. Yes, Hetch Hetchy and Rancheria were tremendous.

  3. Pingback: Top 10 Hikes in 2022 | Live and Let Hike

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