Moderate hiking trips in January

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of October 31-November 6, 1996
Pampered honeymoon seclusion
Backcountry fun in the Canadian Rockies
Thanksgiving on Maui with teenagers
Moderate hiking trips in January
Mexico: Too many options to count

Moderate hiking trips in January
Question: First, I'd like to say that I regularly read your column and I have learned a lot. I can even say that I've used the advice you've given other adventure-seekers for my own trips (e.g., El Yunque in Puerto Rico). I have a challenge which I'm sure you can handle: I am currently planning a four-day trip for myself and three friends to take place in mid-January. Two of us are fairly experienced hikers/campers, and the other two have little experience. With this in mind, I'm looking for a place to do some moderately challenging backcountry hiking and camping. There are a few requirements: I'm looking for somewhere only two to three hours from a major airport to maximize time and minimize connecting flights. (Two of us are in Detroit, one in Boston, and one in Seattle). I'm also looking for a place near some large mountains such that we can take day hikes from base camp up the mountain. I'm looking for a place with temperatures of at least 50 by day at lower elevations. The mountain and surrounding area should be large enough that there are lots of nearby trails, great vistas, natural beauty (of course), and a minimum of people. I've looked at areas such as the mountain "sky islands" near Tucson, the Anza-Borrego Desert, and I've read a little about some areas in Texas. Most important is a large mountain to climb and explore without very cold temperatures, at least at the bottom. Cool temperatures on top would be delightful. What can you recommend as far as the places listed, as well as other places? Please list several possible locations. Geographic location is open to anywhere in the lower 48 states. Thanks for your help.

Alan Susser
Ann Arbor, MI
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Well, Alan, please don't take this the wrong way, but you seem to be asking for a whole heckava lot, considering we're talking about January after all, when much of the backcountry in the central and northern sections of the country--not to mention the higher elevations in the south--will likely still be under snow. And a lot of it. The bottom line is that you're going to need to be flexible with your requirements--either that, or go to Mexico instead. Of the locations you've mentioned, the Anza-Borrego Desert, an easy two-hour drive northeast of San Diego, is an okay bet with a decent supply of day hikes (try the trail to Palm Canyon) and more than 500 miles of fat-tire-friendly four-wheel drive roads. Keep in mind, though, that jeep routes far outnumber official hiking trails, so if you go you'll be doing much of your trekking on open double-track. Another bit of bad news: Anza-Borrego strikes out in the "large mountain to climb" department: This is desert-badland terrain, so you'll have to settle with a bushwack up 5,633-foot Granite Mountain. Call park headquarters at 619-767-5311 for details.

Texas's Big Bend National Park is another logical choice, although it would entail a 325-mile drive south from El Paso (not the country's most bustling airport by any means). Drive fast enough, though, and you might make it in five hours. Once there, base yourself at one of the park's three developed campsites ($7 per night), and sample the Chihuahan desert through a slew of day hikes (Chimneys Trail, 13-mile South Rim Trail, to name a few) in the immediate area. Call the park at 915-477-2251 for more specifics.

Two more possibilities: El Malpais National Monument in southern New Mexico (no big mountains, 70 miles west of Albuquerque, a handful of day hikes; call 505-285-4641) and California's Mojave National Preserve (four and a half hours from L.A., day hiking galore, not much in the way of mountains; call 619-733-4040). For more details on these two places and others, consult "Desert Solitary" in the Destinations section of Outside's September 1996 issue, and for info on Big Bend, check out "Frost-Free and Easy" in Outside's Winter 1996-97 Travel Guide. If the pickings are too slim for your liking, I'd suggest postponing until at least early spring, when the white stuff starts to melt.

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