A December hike along the Lost Coast Trail

The Lost Coast Trail is a spectacular hike along northern California‘s Pacific Coast. The trail is roughtly 25 miles in length, running from Shelter Cove to Mattole Beach, and is only accessible by a few narrow, twisty roads. It is a rugged, lightly traveled route that alternates from Pacific beaches to mountain passes, with more than 8000 feet of elevation gain over the course of its length.

For many trekkers, the Lost Coast Trail is one of the top hikes in all of North America, and it was with that in mind that filmmaker Ryan Commons and three of his friends, set out to trek the challenging route over a seven day period earlier this month. The result is the great video below that captures the essense of the Lost Coast from it’s chilly beaches to its sprawling mountain ridges.

For remote hikes it is difficult to beat the Lost Coast Trail. As you can see from the video, it is aptly named and a worthy hike for any backpacker looking for solitude on their next adventure.

[Photo credit: Rick McCharles via Flickr]

The Lost Coast Trail from Ryan Commons on Vimeo.

Favorite hiking spots near Madrid

While most people come Madrid to sample the cuisine and see the art museums, Spain has much more to offer. Just an hour from the capital Madrid is the Sierra de Guadarrama, a chain of rough mountains wreathed in pine forest. While the strange rock formations of La Pedriza are perhaps more impressive, the Sierra de Guadarrama is the favorite getaway spot for madrileños because it’s so easy to get to and provides a variety of hikes for all fitness levels. Even out-of-towners will be able to get there and navigate the trails with no trouble.

The hikes start at the little town of Cercedilla, which can be reached by bus from Madrid’s Moncloa station or by train from Atocha station. Both take about an hour. If you want to stay overnight, several hostels and pensions offer cheap accommodation and the little local restaurants serve up traditional food at small-town prices.

First stop should be the visitors’ center just 2km (1.2 miles) uphill from the station. Here you can get a free map (in Spanish, but easy to understand without any linguistic knowledge) and advice on current conditions. There are also the usual nature exhibits to tell you a bit about the land you’re about to see.

From here you can branch off onto one of many trails. Cercedilla is at the head of the dead-end valley of Fuenfría, surrounded on three sides by the Guadarramas. Unlike many trails in Spain, the ones here are actually well marked with color-coded spots on trees and rocks. Various hikes go up the sides of the valley to viewpoints on the surrounding mountains. There’s also a dirt road that loops around the valley high enough to give excellent views and easy access to the peaks. The sides of the valley are sheltered by pine forest, but once you get up towards the peaks you’ll be exposed to the elements. Be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, and if the weather is at all cool don’t forget some warm clothing. Wet weather gear is necessary sometimes too!

Beau Macksoud of the English-language hiking group Hiking in the Community of Madrid recommends Los Miradores, marked as the orange trail on the map.

“It’s not super difficult but has great views. It’s about 9 km (5.5 miles). Also, if you want to change your path for something more challenging, it crosses with other routes.”

%Gallery-106170%The trails range from short loop hikes you can do in an hour to all-day slogs that will test even the most fit. Most have a marked change in elevation that will get your heart pumping, and don’t forget to explore the bottom of the valley and its sparkling stream.

The Sierra de Guadarrama played a key role in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. The forces of the Second Republic, an uneasy coalition of liberal, socialist, communist, and anarchist parties, defended Madrid in a long siege against the fascist and Catholic forces of General Franco. The mountains were the city’s northern bulwark, and you can still see a string of concrete bunkers that protected the passes and valleys of the Guadarramas. Most aren’t fenced off and are safe to explore.

The Guadarramas are the scene for most of the action in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, considered by many to be the classic book on the war, although George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia gives a more realistic view of what the war was really like.

So if you’re headed to Madrid, set aside the wine and art museums for a day and head to the mountains!

Park service dedicates ‘trail of time’ at Grand Canyon

The National Park Service is hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon today as they dedicate a new trail that has been hundreds of millions of years in the making. The official ceremony will take place at 2:30 PM local time, with an informal hike along the trail taking place between 3:00 and 5:00 PM. The event is part of the park’s celebration of Earth Science Week.

The new path has been dubbed the “Trail of Time” and it is designed to be an interpretive walk that focuses on the amazing geologic processes that are on display in and around the Grand Canyon. The new exhibit follows an existing trail, but incorporates some interesting new elements that help to define the magnitude of the natural forces that are on display to visitors. For instance, there are now brass markers every meter along the route, with each of those markers representing 1 million years of geologic history. Viewing tubes have also been added which help to put into context where certain visible rocks fall along the Earth’s historical timeline.

The Trail of Time can be hiked in two different directions. If visitors start at the Yavapai Geology Museum they can walk backwards in time, slowly approaching the oldest rock in the park, the Elves Canyon gneiss. This ancient formation is more than 1.8 billion years old. On the other hand, hikers who begin at the Verkamp’s Visitor Center will actually move forward in time, approaching the youngest rock in the Grand Canyon the Kaibab Limestone, which is a mere 270 million years old.

The Grand Canyon is one of the best places on Earth to view first hand the impressive geological processes that go on around us on a daily basis. Those processes are so small that their effects can only be seen over the course of millions of years, but in the Canyon, more than a billion years of Earth history is open to examination, giving a all a very humbling glimpse into the powerful forces that are in play on our planet.

For more information on this fun and educational new trail, check out the virtual Trail of Time by clicking here.

[Photo credit: Micahel Quinn of the NPS]

National Park Service pledges $875k for trails

The U.S. National Park Service has announced a number of updates and improvements to existing trails throughout the park system, and backed the plan by pledging nearly $875,000 specifically ear-marked to complete the initiative. The “Connect Trails to Park” project will be funded from a grant program created last year to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the National Trails System.

Created back in 1968 with legislation that mandated the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, the system now consists of over 52,000 miles of trails. 11 of those are National Scenic Trails with another 19 being designated as National Historic Trails. Over a thousand other hiking routes are listed as National Recreation Trails as well.

All told, 17 projects will receive funding from the grant, which is designed to “restore or improve existing trails and trailhead connections, provide better wayside and interpretive services, encourage innovative educational services, support bridge and trailhead designs, and provide planning services for important trail gateways.” In other words, we can expect improved infrastructure on the projects that are receiving funding, which includes the Continental Divide Trail and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, amongst others.

These infrastructure upgrades kick off the “Decade of National Trails” initiative that will see similar updates on a number of other routes in the years ahead, leading up to the 50th anniversary of the trail system in 2018.

To see the complete list of trail upgrades, and where the money is being spent, click here.

Best spots for an autumn hike

With fall officially upon us, cooler weather has begun to set in, and the green leaves of summer have given way to the bright reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn. For many, this is the best time of the year to head out on a trail for a long hike and to take in this annual color show. Hear are some recommendations for the best places to witness nature’s color palette on display.

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park
The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is one of the most popular in the U.S., pulling in nearly 10 million visitors per year. But in the fall, the crowds begin to thin out, just in time for the leaves to start changing colors. With over 800 miles of trails to explore, there are no lack of great hikes in this park. Be sure to check out the higher elevation trails, such as Sugarland Mountain and Gregory Bald, which offer stunning views throughout October and into November. With sugar and red maples, hickory trees, and scarlet oaks, you’ll have plenty of eye candy to take in.

Allegheny National Forest
Located in northwest Pennsylvania, the Allegheny National Forest is a bit of a hidden gem and mostly unknown outside of the region, which generally translates to smaller crowds. Each fall the half million acres of oaks, poplars, and white ash trees show off a brilliant range of colors to those lucky enough to experience them. While there are miles of trails to choose from, perhaps the best of the best is the Hickory Creek Wilderness Trail, which is 11 miles in length, and cuts through the heart of the forest itself.
Pisgah National Forest
Leaf lovers in North Carolina have plenty to see when they hit the trail in Pisgah National Forest, found not far from Asheville. With the southern Appalachian Mountains as a backdrop, the forest becomes spectacularly colorful in late October, making all of the trails a good bet for a day hike. Take a stroll up Mt. Mitchell, which at 6089 feet in height, offers views that will take your breath away for more reason than one. But when you get to the top, the view is worth the effort.

Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Oregon offers up spectacular scenery all year round, but come fall, the maple trees turn to gold and standout brilliantly against the stark cliff faces. The Gorge has a number of beautiful waterfalls as well, which add even more of allure of a hike through the area. Check out the Multnomah Falls loop trail, which is only about a mile and a half in length, but gains more than 600 feet of altitude along the way. The trail gives hikers a great view of the Gorge, and passes right by one of the most scenic waterfalls in the entire country.

Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula remains a great wilderness escape and one of the best places in the country to enjoy fall foliage. The Escarpment Trail in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park is amongst the best hikes in the Midwest, and while it is just 4.3 miles in length, it provides spectacular views of the surrounding forest which ring the Lake of the Clouds. In the fall, the hills are ablaze with reds, oranges, and yellows that are just too good to miss.

There you have it. Just a sampling of some of the best fall hikes throughout the U.S. What’s your favorite fall hike? is there a hidden gem that you’d like to share? Leave a comment and tell us all about it!