3 West Coast Thru-Hikes Under 100 miles to Bring Joy After the Storm
By: Emily Schrick
With recent events currently keeping everyone cooped up inside, many of us are dreaming of the days when we can safely travel again to new trails and put some good long miles under our boots. However, many of us won’t have the kind of time it takes – about 4 to 6 months – to embark on one of the long distance trails of 1,000+ miles. Even thru-hikers who have unfortunately had to postpone their 2020 plans for the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails may be looking for something that can scratch that itch before setting dates for their next attempt.
Thankfully, there are many trails out there that can be easily fit into a week of vacation, and I’d like to introduce you to a few along the West Coast.
For each trail below, I’ve also included the number of vacation days you’d have to take for this hike – with the assumptions that you work a traditional 5-days-per-week job with a 2-day weekend you can tack on to the suggested vacation days.
1. The Lost Coast Trail (Northern California): 25 miles
If you’re looking for an isolated and wild coastal hike, the Lost Coast Trail (LCT) is for you! The LCT is located in the King Range, a part of California’s coastline that is so rugged, Highway 1 had to be moved inland during construction. While this point-to-point hike has a time-consuming (or expensive) shuttle involved, the views more than make up for it. You’ll be in sight of the Pacific Ocean the entire hike, with opportunities to see lots of wildlife, including sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, and maybe even migrating whales.
Because you’re walking on the beach most of the time, you’ll have the added challenges of hiking in varied sand and rock conditions, and reviewing tide charts so you can walk through the impassable sections safely. You’ll witness erosion happening in real time: rockfall is common, and there are chunks of the trail missing, having fallen into the ocean below.
You can hike the LCT year-round, but be prepared for lots of rain and high creek crossings in the winter.
Note: Permits are required for this hike. You can obtain them starting on October 1 the year before you want to hike: https://www.recreation.gov/permits/72192
Total Days Needed: 5
Vacation Days Used: 3
2. The High Sierra Trail (Central California): 72 miles
The High Sierra Trail (HST) traverses Sequoia National Park in an east-west fashion, starting at Crescent Meadow in the west and ending at Mt. Whitney in the east. You’ll hike through Giant Sequoias before ending up in the high alpine, passing by lakes and climbing up passes, and finally ending at the summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states.
The HST is a perfect alternative to the longer, more popular John Muir Trail. You can hike the HST in the summer months, with July showing off the beautiful alpine wildflowers, and September being the least populated and most snow-free. If you’ve been itching for a taste of the beautiful granite peaks and green meadows of the High Sierra, look no further than the HST.
Permits are required for this hike. You can enter the lottery for permits on March 1st of each year for the upcoming summer: https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/wilderness_permits.htm
Total Days Needed: 9
Vacation Days Used: 7
Key Gear Item: Waterproof Pack Liner. Even though the Sierra is regarded as a summer paradise, it can be notorious for afternoon thunderstorms. With a liner, I didn’t have to worry about my important gear getting wet if an unexpected downpour occurred.
3. The Wonderland Trail (Mount Rainier, Washington): 93 miles
The Wonderland Trail is a challenging (but worth it) trip that circles Mt. Rainier. You will climb straight up into subalpine meadows with stunning views of the mountain, and suddenly descend back into the old-growth forests surrounding the glacial rivers flowing away from the peak. It is possibly the most beautiful rollercoaster you will ever ride.
The Pacific Northwest, and Mt. Rainier especially, is notorious for moody weather, so you’ll have to be prepared for rain even in the middle of summer, but the threat of a downpour shouldn’t turn you away from this trail. There are multiple trailheads to begin this hike, and because it’s a loop, logistics are pretty easy! There are also resupply options on the trail at the three main trailheads, so you don’t have to carry your food for the whole trip. Super-athletes have hiked the Wonderland in 3 days, while others can take up to 10 days to hike it. I opted for a happy medium of 6 days, which was very doable, especially with a light pack.
Permits are required for this hike. You can enter the lottery for permits between March 15-31 each year for the upcoming summer: https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wilderness-permit.htm
Total Days Needed: 8
Vacation Days Used: 6
Key Gear Item: The Kumo. In order to complete the Wonderland Trail in a faster than average pace, packing super light was key, and the Kumo carried my load wonderfully.