Wanderlust USA: The Great American Hike

As with its predecessors – Wanderlust: Hiking on Legendary Trails and The Hidden tracks – Wanderlust USA takes readers on a visual journey through some of the earth’s most unique and spectacular landscapes. The memorable images are accompanied by texts and information boxes, that highlight not only the natural wonders but also the cultural and historical elements that distinguish each of the respective hikes. Spanning deserts, alpine regions, rainforests, and coastal environments, the featured trails take place in 25 different US states and include family-friendly day excursions, three and four-day trips for intermediate backpackers, and challenging multi-week wilderness treks.

The following excerpt is from the Pacific Crest Trail chapter:

“The PCT is a transformative experience. After spending months walking in the wilderness, hikers will find that their lung capacity has increased, their legs have become stronger, and their smile lines have grown deeper. Accompanying the physical changes, they may also discover a peace of mind and clarity of thought that had been hitherto unknown to them. Let’s call it Mother Nature’s PCT Package Deal; a six million step plan for bringing out the best in folks.”  

Hiking the Knife’s Edge in Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness (photo by Ryan “The Tourist” Choi).

From a personal perspective, putting Wanderlust USA together was like taking a long walk down memory lane. An opportunity to revisit some of the extraordinary natural areas I’ve had the privilege of hiking in over the past three decades. Periodically, I would find myself daydreaming about a sunbathed alpine pass in the High Sierra or a labyrinthine ravine in South Dakota’s fantastical Badlands. And then with an ironic chuckle, I would recall being blown around like a rag doll during hurricane season in the White Mountains, or feeling like SpongeCam Square Pants after a week of hiking through freezing rain in the Cascades. I realize that some of those things may sound less than optimal, but you know what? I wouldn’t trade a single one of those memories for all the chocolate in Belgium. 

The following excerpt is from the Star Dune Loop in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, one of my all-time favourite places to sleep under the stars:

“The Colorado Rockies are renowned for their lofty summits, shimmering lakes, and sweeping valleys. Yet nestled among these storied, arcadian mountains is an outlier tract of wilderness like no other in the United States. A four-hour drive south from Denver, Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is home to the tallest and most dramatic sand dunes in North America. Set at the foot of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains, these Sahara-esque dunes combine with snow-capped peaks, to make arguably the most striking juxtaposition between desert and alpine scenery anywhere on the planet.”

Yours truly channeling my inner-Lawrence of Arabia in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

From the beginning, Wanderlust USA was very much a collaborative effort. Yours truly provided a handful of the photos and most of the written content, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some well-deserved shout-outs. Firstly, to the editing team at gestalten, who are second to none when it comes to graphic design and visual storytelling. Secondly, a special thanks to Rachel Sampson (text editor), who has kindly put up with all of my eccentricities over the course of both The Hidden Tracks and Wanderlust USA. Thirdly, to all of my American hiker mates who were kind enough to contribute many of the book’s incredible images. And finally, who not only provided some amazing photos, but also chipped in with the texts for Shenandoah National Park (Alan), Cedar Mesa (Paul), and Big Bend National Park (Paul).  

Maroon Bells

Chiefs Head Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park

Russell Carillon Col

Q&A – Wanderlust USA 

Have you personally done all of the hikes featured in “Wanderlust USA”?

No. I’ve completed 27 of the 30 featured hikes. The three with which I’m not familiar – namely the Outer Mountain Loop, Cedar Mesa, and Cedar Run/Whiteoak Canyon.

What’s your favourite trail in the US?

I don’t have one. If we’re talking ranges or regions, then I’d say (in no particular order) the High Sierra, Alaskan Interior, Wind River Range, Beartooth Mountains, Colorado Plateau, and the northern Appalachians during peak foliage season.

Lower Muley Twist Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park

What are some of the family-friendly trails included in the book?

The Ocean Path (Acadia National Park); Kukui Trail (Hawaii); the Lost Coast Trail (California); Shoshone Lake Loop (Yellowstone); Willow Hole Trail (Joshua Tree), and; the Gorge Trail (Watkins Glen, New York).

How about hikes that are suitable for intermediate and more seasoned backpackers?

In regard to the former, options include the Presidential Traverse (White Mountains), the Long Trail (Vermont), and the Superior Hiking Trail (Minnesota). As to the latter, the Wind River High Route, Sierra High Route, and Grand Enchantment Trail are all great choices that are featured.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire

Does Wanderlust USA differ from the first two installments in the series?

The basic formula is the same. A notable addition is the “Author’s Anecdotes” – personal vignettes from my experiences on many of the featured hikes. These can be found in the Information Boxes at the end of each chapter, and the tone of them is often a wee bit more lighthearted than that which you will find in the texts (i.e. More like “The Hiking Life” website). The anecdotes feature colourful characters, memorable animal encounters, and random musings from the trail.

“It’s the Badlands, Baby”

In September 2016, I pioneered a 145 km (90 mi) full-length traverse of Badlands National Park. The most challenging aspect of the trip was the dearth of potable water along the route. In light of the parched landscape, I began my journey carrying 12 liters of H2O—enough to get me through to the tiny ghost town of Scenic on the park’s western outskirts, where I knew I could fill up for the second and final stage of the trek. 

Not more than 25 minutes after setting out from Ben Reifel Visitor Center, I was just about to leave the Badlands Loop Road for the path less traveled, when a yellow and white combi van pulled up beside me. Inside was a bohemian-looking couple who looked to be in their early to mid-sixties.

The lady in the passenger seat asked me if I needed a ride. “No thank you,” I replied. She then asked me where I was going, to which I gave her a quick synopsis of my plan to hike from one end of the park to the other. She seemed genuinely concerned about my welfare. After a minute or two of assuring her that I knew what I was doing, her less talkative husband piped up and said in a deadpan voice: “It’s the Badlands, baby, it ain’t meant to be easy.”

All three of us broke out laughing. And with that memorable line, we said our goodbyes and I continued on my way. Over the next five days, I couldn’t get those words out of my head. Every time I encountered a difficult situation, I’d repeat, “it’s the Badlands, baby…” and start to chuckle. It has been almost three years since completing the route, yet those simple words have continued to be a tough-moments mantra of mine—a surefire way of making me smile and lightening the mood when I’m faced with challenging obstacles.” 

The Badlands at sunset

Final thoughts on “Wanderlust USA”?

Wanderlust USA is an ode to the beauty and wonder of experiencing the American wilderness on foot. As with its predecessors, it’s not a detailed planning guide that hikers will take with them out on the trail (Hint: It tips the scales at a gossamer weight 1.87 kg/4.1 lb!). It’s meant to inspire rather than enable. That said, within its pages, I hope there is something to pique the interest of almost everyone, from grizzled vets to wide-eyed newbies.

Happy Trails!

Cam

Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Mendenhall Glacier | Mount McGinnis Trail, Alaska.

Loowit Trail, Oregon

Gorge Trail in winter / Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Cedar Mesa, Utah

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