My Top Ten Hikes of 2023

Top Ten Hikes of 2023

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

I’ve posted my Top Ten Songs of 2023. I’ve posted my Top Ten Books of 2023. And now, I’m following the pattern that I established in previous years: turning my attention to hikes that I’ve been privileged to enjoy in the past year. Hiking has remained one of my favorite ways to experience the world, and to experience intimacy with God.

I didn’t visit any of the United States’ National Parks this year, outside of the nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park, so I expected this year’s list would reflect a more muted palette of hikes. But looking back through the archive of data from my Garmin and Gaia accounts, I realized that I actually got to experience some pretty remarkable natural landscapes over the course of the year: not just in the United States, but in Wales, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Canada.

I also finished hiking every public trail in Mahoning County (mostly east and a little bit south of Portage County). For the second year in a row, I participated in the “Fall Hiking Spree” in Summit County (just to the west of Portage County). And I started my next quest to hike every public trail in Trumbull County (mostly east and a little bit north of Portage County).

So anyway — without further preamble, here are my Top Ten Hikes of 2023, in ranked order:

  1. Caredigion Coast (in Wales), on May 16th
  2. West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge (in New Mexico), on February 24th
  3. Mosquito Creek Lake State Park: West Side Trails (in Ohio’s Trumbull County), on October 22nd
  4. Cymerau Falls (in Snowdonia National Park, in Wales), on May 18th
  5. Old Orchard Trail and Lanterman Falls (in Ohio’s Mahoning County), on March 26th
  6. Rubha Beag Circular Path (in Scotland), on May 25th
  7. Eternal Flame Falls (in New York), on July 18th
  8. Herrick Fen (in Ohio’s Portage County), on September 22nd
  9. Cascade Valley: Oxbow Trail (in Ohio’s Summit County), on October 20th
  10. Soesterduinen (in the Netherlands), on June 1st

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

Fietstocht vanaf Baarn naar de Soesterduinen

#10 – Soesterduinen (in the Netherlands), on June 1st

When I think of “the Netherlands,” I don’t often think about its natural beauty. Most of our family’s decade of living in that part of the world was city-bound, with only occasional forays to the coast or the forested areas in the middle of the country. But when our family spent a week on vacation in the Netherlands this summer, we stayed in a smaller town outside of Amsterdam (where the lodging was more affordable). And one of the things this did for us was provide us with easier access to some of the natural beauty of the Netherlands. In particular, my kids and I rented bicycles one day and rode them to a nature preserve called the Soesterduinen (the Sand Dunes of Soest). We had a lovely time plodding through the sand, climbing trees, and eating snacks on a picnic bench overlooking the dunes.

Cascade Valley: Oxbow Trail

#9 – Cascade Valley: Oxbow Trail (in Ohio’s Summit County), on October 20th

This hike was a part of the 2023 Summit Metroparks Fall Hiking Spree. I combined it with another hike afterwards to complete the challenge and claim my walking stick medallion as a reward. But what I really liked best about this hike was that view of the Oxbow of the Cuyahoga River. It wasn’t quite peak Fall foliage conditions, but it was getting there. The vista from the park’s viewing platform was spectacular. And to think that the trailhead is only a 25-minute drive from my house!

Resting at Herrick Fen

#8 – Herrick Fen (in Ohio’s Portage County), on September 22nd

This nature preserve is so close to home that I could bike there or walk there. But in the third week of September this year, I used a car to drive there with some extra supplies: a hammock and a camp chair, as well as my journal and Bible. It was the middle of the busiest season of the year for collegiate ministry at Kent State University, so I planned a day of rest and reflection out in the wetlands just north of Kent. And what a day it ended up being! The weather was perfect. The first signs of Fall were just starting to show. And I had the nature preserve to myself for about five hours that day! It was a balm to my soul, and I’m so glad this hike is so accessible whenever I need it.

25th Anniversary Trip to Quebec: Eternal Flame Falls in New York

#7 – Eternal Flame Falls (in New York), on July 18th

Marci and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year. To celebrate, we planned a trip along the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, ending up in a small town along the Saint Lawrence Seaway in Quebec. On the way up, we made a slight diversion to see a place I’d heard about in Western New York where a flame is fueled by a vein of natural gas within a waterfall. The place was called Eternal Flame Falls, and it was indeed a worthwhile diversion. I mean, how often does one come across a fire burning within a rocky recess of a waterfall?!? I also like the way that the idea of an “eternal flame” represents the enduring love and loyalty that Marci and I have cultivated for the last quarter-century.

Laide: Rubha Beag Circular Path

#6 – Rubha Beag Circular Path (in Scotland), on May 25th

The Scottish Highlands have become a very special place to me. Our family’s summer vacation created the third opportunity for me to visit our friends the MacRaes in the small town of Laide, on the Western Coast of Scotland. And I loved everything about our time in the area. One morning, though, I slipped away from the rest of the family and drove to Mellon Udrigle, where I parked and set out to follow a path marked by a sign I’d seen the day before: the Rubha Beag Circular Path. It afforded spectacular views of the rocky coast. And even though the weather was gray and windy, I really enjoyed this hike and the space it provided me for introspection and prayer.

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

#5 – Old Orchard Trail and Lanterman Falls (in Ohio’s Mahoning County), on March 26th

The Mill Creek park system (which functions more or less as the Mahoning County parks department) is amazing. In the middle of a very industrialized, urban area, it maintains some remarkable natural beauty. And the trails near Lanterman Falls are some of the best — plus they provide a variety of views of a surprisingly-impressive waterfall. I enjoyed this hike on the front end of our church’s Spring Break Trip to H2O Youngstown, and it really provided some valuable space to absorb the beauty of God’s Creation and reflect on the truths of God’s Word. Really, though, almost all of the different natural sites I got to see throughout Mahoning County in 2023 were noteworthy.

Wales: Hike to Cymerau Falls in Snowdonia National Park

#4 – Cymerau Falls (in Snowdonia National Park, in Wales), on May 18th

Our family traveled to Wales for the first time in May, and we got to see a variety of different landscapes while we were there. We designated one day as “Snowdonia Day,” driving a couple hours North from our home base in Llanrhystud to see one of the UK’s National Parks, along with a few other points of interest along the way. We picked a hike more or less at random — but it ended up being a really lovely hike. We encountered one other family in our first ten minutes on the trail, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves. The path through the valley to Cymerau Falls was impossibly green: ferns and mosses and trees crowding in on every side. And when we made it to the waterfall, we had the loveliest little picnic with just the five of us.

#3 – Mosquito Creek Lake State Park: West Side Trails (in Ohio’s Trumbull County), on October 22nd

In late-October, I needed a break. I needed some space to process some grief and listen for God’s voice. And fortunately, I was able to do a quick, overnight Getaway to Trumbull County that really went a long way towards providing some healing. The weather on this hike was particularly mercurial. Sometimes the sun shined through the forest canopy like a cathedral of a thousand stained-glass windows. Sometimes the sky clouded over again and a light drizzle started to fall. It was a mucky hike, both literally and figuratively. But waves of truth started to wash over my soul as I opened up to the Book of Ecclesiastes on my Bible app and continued walking. It spoke the language of my heart. It resonated deeply — reminding me of the complexity of the world, more or less unchanged for thousands of years. And I’m really grateful, even months later, for the perspective that was provided on this walk through the woods.

Rio Grande del Norte Canyon

#2 – West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge (in New Mexico), on February 24th

I took a spiritual retreat to the desert of New Mexico in February, and it provided some really meaningful space to connect with God. I had some lovely hikes in the Rio Chama valley, near the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. But this hike along the West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge stands out in my mind because of its serendipity. I wasn’t looking to hike on that last day in New Mexico, with just a little time between checking out from the monastery and checking in for my flight out of Albuquerque. But when I drove over the bridge spanning this spectacular gorge over the Rio Grande and then saw a parking lot and visitor’s center, I spontaneously decided to go scramble along the trail for just a little over a mile. And it was lovely. I even spotted a couple of bighorn sheep resting in the sunshine. It was a good reminder that some of the best things in life (and in hiking) are free and spontaneous.

Wales: Sunset Hike along the Wales Coast Path

#1 – Caredigion Coast (in Wales), on May 16th

Our family traveled to Wales for the first time in May, and we were completely charmed. The countryside was lovely and lush and green, with sprays of wildflowers seemingly everywhere we looked. On our first full day in Wales, we took a walk along the Wales Coast Path through grassy valley leading down to the coast of the Irish Sea. It felt like we had the entire country of Wales to ourselves. Green grass swayed in the wind. Golden sunshine poured over us from across the sea. Rocky cliffs plummeted 350 feet from the grassland to the water. It was amazing. If you want, there’s a whole post I wrote around that time, titled My Favorite Hour in Wales. But for the purposes of this Top Ten list, it’s safe to say this was a pretty easy selection for my #1 Hike of 2023.

This entry was posted in Children, Europe, Family, God, Health, Hiking, Marriage, Middle Age, Ohio, Prayer, Recreation, Seasonal Depression, Sports, The Netherlands, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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