Seven iconic mountain traverses doable in a day, and by day we mean 24 hours. Headlamps at the ready!
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For those who embrace the experience, there’s no satisfaction like running a mountain traverse—often remote, with technical terrain, and quickly changing weather conditions, a multi-peak link-up makes for a physical and logistical challenge. On most, water sources are absent or unreliable. Some require off-trail route finding and rock scrambling, and you’ll have to set up a vehicle shuttle if you’re just going one way. But with diligent planning and proper training preparation, some are doable in a single glorious day. Here are a few unforgettable mountain traverses to add to your ticklist.
•Distance: 19 miles (point-to-point)
•Elevation Gain: 7,143 feet
In Colorado, the Tenmile Range is heaven for peakbaggers. You’ll hit 10 summits along the way, all exceeding 12,300 feet, including two 13-ers. Stacked along a prominent ridgeline and called simply Peaks 1-10, the names belie the impressive relief you’ll earn atop this range between Frisco and Breckenridge. No official trail links them all, but with a mix of running, scrambling, and basic route finding, you can conquer this alpine traverse.
Begin at the Royal Trailhead in Frisco, which leads to a viewpoint over the town. Venture off trail from there and continue up the ridge, where you’ll soon encounter the Class 3 rock spines that connect Peaks 1-4. Beyond Peak 4 the terrain eases to blocky talus and tundra meadows, but remains steep on all the ups and downs. Finish by descending into Breckenridge Ski Resort on a dirt road from Peak 10. The best time to take on the trail is in summer, with snowmelt usually making it accessible by May/June.
The Grand Traverse extends 40 miles across Colorado's Elk Range, from Crested Butte to Aspen.
•Elevation Gain: 6,200 feet
Another Colorado favorite is the traverse across the Elk Mountain Range from Crested Butte to Aspen, one of America’s most famed mountain courses. The Grand Traverse is legendary as a midnight-start ski mountaineering race, but it now includes both biking and running competitions each year as well. The link-up of national forest trails and roads are open all summer, so you can also run it on your own.
Beginning in Crested Butte, the route skirts south of the ski resort and follows Brush Creek then East Brush toward Star Pass. The first 15 miles are well watered, largely shaded, and ascend gradually—just enough to get your legs warm before the steep and exposed climb to the pass at 12,300 feet. From there, it’s a rolling, exposed ridgeline that passes a few lakes just before Taylor Pass at mile 23. The terrain doesn’t dip below 11,000 feet until it drops under the Sundeck on top of Aspen Mountain, where it then follows resort trails into town. For those not on skis, the best time to take on the trail is summer and early fall.
•Distance: 21 miles (out-and-back)
•Elevation Gain: 5,436 feet
The proudest mountain traverse above the Salt Lake Valley is the aptly named Skyline Trail along the crest of the Wasatch Range. Its two sections, North and South, traverse more than 20 miles while overlooking Utah’s ridges and valleys in all directions. It is a popular multi-use trail that is easy to follow when free of snow, usually from May to September. It skirts some of the peaks but scrambling to any of the summits is an optional detour.
Begin at the trailhead along North Ogden Canyon Road to take just the North Skyline, which is an out-and-back route of 21 miles that features both Ben Lomond Peak (9,711′) and Willard Peak (9,763'). South Skyline can be done as a 10.5-mile one-way between this trailhead and Pineview Reservoir. It reaches a 360-degree view atop Lewis Peak (8,031 feet), but overall it’s less dramatic than North Skyline.
•Distance: 12 miles (point-to-point)
•Elevation Gain: 2,600 feet
The Snoqualmie Trailhead is Seattle’s closest destination for proper mountain training on Rattlesnake Mountain. The trail does cross some clearcuts and scrubby second-growth forest, but the gaps grant views of Mt. Rainier in the distance, and stands of tall, mature forest do remain in some sections of the path. The route is traveled in either direction, but north to south makes the climbing more gradual and saves the best views for last—the ledges above Rattlesnake Lake. Nearly all the elevation gain is in the initial climb, with gently rolling terrain across the top of the ridge. This, along with the relatively short distance, creates nice versatility for mileage and difficulty, with manageable one-way as well as out-and-back options. This trail can be hiked year-round, but be prepared for some snow in the winter.
•Distance: 20 miles (out-and-back)
•Elevation Gain: 6,500 feet
The full High Sierra Trail crosses more than 70 miles of mountains in Sequoia National Park. It can be done as an overnight fastpack with a wilderness camping permit, but the more popular one-day, out-and-back route bags Mt. Whitney (14,505′) from the trail’s east terminus at Whitney Portal. Backpackers spend one or two nights on the trail, but runners can tackle the 10.7 miles and 6,500-foot gain to the summit and return in a day. July and August are the best time to visit, as snowfall can make the High Sierra Trail impassable through the spring.
The well-traveled trail ascends through a soaring conifer forest along a tumbling creek for the first 3.5 miles, then steepens and enters the alpine realm of granite cliffs and scree fields. The formidable "99 Switchbacks" await ahead, leading to a wild traverse of Whitney’s south ridge to the summit. One side reveals the rest of the mountains that the High Sierra Trail crosses, with the other side offering the precipitous east face of the Sierra dropping away underfoot. A permit is still required for day trips, so plan in advance.
Take the Appalachian Trail to see the view from Clingmans Dome at 6,644 feet. Shahid Durrani
•Distance: 70 miles, with shorter versions
•Elevation Gain: Varies
The full length of this Appalachian Trail section in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is more than 70 miles, but any section of it can make an epic day trip. It follows the crest of the range, crossing dense forest, craggy summits, grassy balds, and the AT’s ultimate highpoint—Clingmans Dome—at 6,644 feet. The trail is easy to follow but much of it is quite rugged with rocks and roots or constructed stairs. Within the park between Fontana Dam in the south and Davenport Gap in the north, the trail only crosses a road once, at Newfound Gap, but passes very near the road on Clingmans Dome.
The most obvious day-trip sections are the 32 miles from Fontana Dam to Clingmans Dome, 11 miles from there to Newfound Gap, and 30 miles from there to Davenport Gap, but other variations are possible with side trails or out-and-backs. The whole distance is loaded with iconic Smokies summits, so you’ll have to return for more runs to tag them all. You’ll find fewer crowds in the spring and fall, but be aware that it can get quite cold between October and April.
•Distance: 23 miles
•Elevation Gain: 8,500 feet
Mount Washington (6,289′), notorious for extreme weather, is the highest of a chain of summits named after U.S. presidents in the Appalachians of New Hampshire, with the network of trails that cross the range's crest aptly titled the Presidential Traverse. Backpackers break this section into multiple days, but runners can do it as a continuous push.
Starting at Appalachia Trailhead and finishing south at Crawford Path tackles the most elevation gain early on, and is the more popular direction of travel. No matter what, you’ll charge rocky ups and downs of 500 feet or more between summits, and spend considerable time above treeline. The trail's exposure, combined with the area's reputation for unpredictable and dangerous weather, should be taken into account by hikers and runners—come prepared and use good judgment. Side trails offer escape routes and bypasses of the summits, should conditions go south. While it can be done year-round, July and August are the most popular months to take on the trail.
Preview Photo: © Kristina Folcik
Written by Jesse Weber for RootsRated Media in partnership with La Sportiva.