My Top Ten Hikes for 2018

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2018 and Top Ten Books of 2018, I decided to turn my attention to hikes that I’ve been privileged to enjoy in the past year. Hiking has become one of my favorite ways to experience the world, and to experience intimacy with God. And this year was special because I got to visit several different U.S. National Parks, plus several other places of exceptional natural beauty.

So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Hikes of 2018, in ranked order:

  1. Flattop, Hallett, and Otis (FHO) with Family, on July 8th
  2. Camp Manatoc “Laatste Loodjes,” on October 18th
  3. Lawn Lake and Crystal Lakes, on June 28th
  4. Phelps Lake (Jump Rock), on June 14th
  5. Golden Gate Owl Trail, starting from Muir Beach, with Marci, on May 18th
  6. Badlands Notch Trail with Family, on June 4th
  7. Tinker’s Creek Promontory + Secret Fount of Sycamores with Olivia and Cor, on April 30th
  8. Appalachian Trail to Charlie’s Bunion, on March 28th
  9. Emigrant Peak Foothills, on June 8th
  10. Towpath Trail – Northernmost Segment, on February 23rd

And again, for those who would appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:


#10 – Towpath Trail – Northernmost Segment, on February 23rd

The hike itself was fairly unremarkable: mostly pavement and tightly-packed gravel on a trail that used to be used for livestock powering the transportation of freight by canal in the 1800s. The weather conditions, too, were forgettable: gray and dreary. But this hike was significant because it allowed me to color in the last of the trails on my official map of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, completing a quest that had allowed me to experience many other lovely hikes throughout the CVNP. I also got to see a muskrat on this hike.

#9 – Emigrant Peak Foothills, on June 8th

Montana is marvelous. This summer provided my first opportunity to visit the Treasure State, and it quickly proved to be one of my favorite places on earth. On the morning of this particular hike, I went out by myself — carrying some water, a hammock, and some bear mace (recommended and provided by the proprietor of the place where we were staying) — and I didn’t cross paths with another human being for the rest of the morning. Most of this hike was bush-whacking across scrubby alpine terrain, not really following any prescribed path, but I kind of liked it that way. It was a glorious day to be out in God’s Creation.

#8 – Appalachian Trail to Charlie’s Bunion, on March 28th

I helped to lead a team of 60 people from H2O Kent to Great Smoky Mountain National Park for our Spring Break trip focused on developing Spiritual Disciplines. On a free day, ten of us (including my three kids) went hiking along the Appalachian Trail to a rock formation called Charlie’s Bunion. Our hike started in mist and mystery (getting to see, first-hand, why they’re called the Smoky Mountains), but conditions cleared just in time for us to see some dramatic vistas out near Charlie’s Bunion. There were some bumps in the road — both literally and figuratively — but it was a very memorable hike.

#7 – Tinker’s Creek Promontory + Secret Fount of Sycamores, with Olivia and Cor, on April 30th

It was a beautiful spring day when Olivia, Cor, and I revisited a special place I had discovered on my own adventures a week or two earlier. The bluff overlooking Tinker’s Creek is pretty spectacular, on its own, but this hike was particularly special because we all discovered a “secret” waterfall just off the trail, where the water pools around a grove of Sycamore trees before falling off to join the creek below. This hike is a hidden gem in the northern part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

#6 – Badlands Notch Trail, with Family, on June 4th

It was blazing hot on the day we visited Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, but that kind of made the stark, desert landscape even more imposing and impressive. This hike wasn’t very far (just 1.3 miles, round-trip), but it was very worthwhile. Later on that day, we saw bison and antelope in a different section of the park. Pretty cool stuff for such a hot day!

#5 – Golden Gate Owl Trail, starting from Muir Beach, with Marci, on May 18th

Marci and I celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary with a trip to Northern California. We had some memorable hikes among the Redwoods and Sequoias that could have easily made this Top Ten list — but our hike along the coast, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, was perhaps the most unique. It was cold and windy, but the views out over the Pacific Ocean were amazing.

#4 – Phelps Lake (Jump Rock), with Family, on June 14th

Grand Teton National Park is spectacular: impossibly steep, snow-capped mountains jutting up from pristine mountain lakes. We didn’t get to climb to the top of any of those snow-capped mountains during our brief visit to the park — but our loop around Phelps Lake was my favorite hike that we got to do together. The highlight was leaping 20-25 feet through the air from the top of the appropriately-named Jump Rock into the icy cold waters of the lake. Elliot, Cor, and I all made the leap, and we’re glad we did.

#3 – Lawn Lake and Crystal Lakes, with Friends, on June 28th

I didn’t expect much from this hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was suggested by my friend Clay, and I just went along with it for the sake of group dynamics — but it ended up being a really fabulous experience. It had a lot of the same elements as the popular Sky Pond (one of my all-time favorite hikes): hiking through waterfalls and across snowfields to get to crystal-clear alpine lakes… But we almost had the trail to ourselves! We had a great hike, and some great conversation along the way.

#2 – Camp Manatoc “Laatste Loodjes,” on October 18th

While Hike #10 on this list represented the end of my quest to hike every trail on the official map of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this hike was special because it represented my completion of the last known trail of any sort within the boundaries of the CVNP. Camp Manatoc is owned by the Boy Scouts of America, predating the establishment of the National Park that completely surrounded it upon formation in the 1970s… But it feels like the National Park, and its trails are some of the most rugged and natural of all the trails in the area. So I really wanted to hike all of these trails, as well as the official National Park ones (as well as some county bike trails and city trails that were contiguous with the rest of the park). It was a beautiful fall day when I completed this hike in Camp Manatoc, and I got to see a few deer and a flock of wild turkeys while I was there. It was a great way to finish the “last little pieces of lead” (to borrow a Dutch phrase) weighing out the totality of my experiences in the Cuyahoga Valley.

#1 – Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak, and Otis Peak (FHO) with Family, on July 8th

Many of the other hikes on this Top Ten list were designed to prepare our family for this hike, in the Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve done this hike a few other times, in previous years, but I was really excited for the whole family to be able to do it together — and everything came together beautifully, with only minimal complaining from the children. The mountaintop views (from three different summits!) were spectacular, and sliding down Andrews Glacier was a great way to start descending back towards the trail head. I’m really proud of this hike.

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