When to Go: The Coast Range opens up a bit earlier than the Rockies, so
you can push the season a bit. Late June to early October works most years, but
August has the best weather—and sees the heaviest traffic.
The very names on this epic
route—the Golden Stairs, the Scales, the Stone Crib—are redolent with the
suffering of 1898 gold miners, and there’s no mistaking the history here. Both
sides of the trail are littered with rusting remains of equipment the miners
jettisoned out of exhaustion. More than a century later, the backcountry
journey those miners blazed, driven by greed, has become one of the iconic
wilderness routes in North America. It’s a natural. The route rises quickly
from tidewater to crest Chilkoot Pass at 3,300 feet. But instead of dropping
back down, it meanders more than 20 miles through an alpine wonderland, while
losing only a thousand feet before returning to its terminus at Bennett Lake.
Insider Tip: Spanning two national parks, two countries, a state, a
province and a territory, Chilkoot Trail makes staging a challenge. Solve that
by starting and ending in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and use the robust
infrastructure for trailhead transport. Take the White Pass and Yukon Railway
over the mountains to Skagway, a stupendous ride, and have Alpine Aviation pick
you up in a floatplane at Bennett Lake for the outrageous 45-minute flight back
to Whitehorse, in plenty of time for a beer on the deck before dinner.
Globally renowned as the birthplace of extreme skiing (often defined as “you
fall, you die”), Chamonix
has some of the world’s premier lift-accessed steep skiing and
snowboarding—including plenty of terrain that won’t leave you dead on a glacier
if you catch an edge wrong. Located in a deeply cleaved valley near the
trisection of France,
the town sits in the shadow of the highest peak in the Alps, Mont Blanc, and a
tangle of other glacier-clad mountains. Chamonix’s cobblestone streets and
car-free pedestrian center make for a classic mountain village environment
typically bustling with leathery mountaineers and gawking tourists. This is
France, so the nightlife is predictably spirited, and diverse accommodations
range from grimy climbers’ hostels to luxury lodgings.
But it’s the mountains that rule here. The many lifts and trams access terrain
so steep and rugged that many skiers will be wishing for a ride down, as well.
One ticket gains access to the 11 different ski zones scattered discontinuously
across the valley. If the snow is good, vertical drops of over 9,000 feet are
possible. With more glaciers—and their pesky offspring, crevasses—than any ski
area in Europe, skiers and snowboarders who enjoy staying alive should hire a
local guide before heading out of bounds.
Ask a Local
Former France Ski Team member and current freeride world champion Aurélien
Ducroz has lived his entire life in Chamonix. Here are his
Budget: The recently renovated Hotel du Louvre is in the center of town.
Swank: Le Hameau Albert 1er in downtown Chamonix is the only five-star
Cheap: Maison Moustache et Filles, a new restaurant downtown, is run by
Charles “the Moustache” and his two daughters, Maxime and Camille. It’s
decorated with an extraordinary collection of old skis.
Gourmet: Le Cap Blanc, one of Le Cap Horn’s three venues, serves delicious
Best After-Ski Party Spot
Chambre Neuf, a Scandinavian-influenced bar, has live music and is host to
the best after-ski vibe the town has had in years.
Best Rest-Day Activity
Chamonix is a real city, so even if you’re not a skier there are many other
things to do, such as visit the Alpine Museum.
Chamonix’s Classic Ski Run
La Vallée Blanche starts from the top of the Aiguille du Midi and goes for
16 kilometers on top of a glacier in the middle of incredible mountains!
Shoreline Highway—Marin County’s winding, two-lane stretch
of Highway 1 from Sausalito to the Sonoma County line—snakes through the Marin
Headlands, hugs stunning coastal bluffs, and passes through Stinson Beach, a
classic California beach community. Off-road mountain biking was born here—and
on-road cyclists are ubiquitous—so take it slow, preferably in a hybrid vehicle
to limit emissions and avoid running out of gas. Temps can be 10-to-15 degrees
cooler than in nearby San Francisco, so bring a jacket, even on hot days. To
enjoy the most expansive Pacific views, wait until the morning fog clears
before making the drive north from the Golden Gate Bridge. Fuel up in
Sausalito, and then stop at Muir Woods National Monument to walk among
thousands of giant, old-growth redwoods. Before nightfall—since the scenic
curves can be deadly in the dark—check-in at the Inn at Roundstone Farm,
located within Point Reyes National Seashore. Spend a day exploring the
seashore’s dramatic rocky headlands, 150 miles of hiking trails, and 2,600-acre
tule elk reserve, where the fall rut (the late-summer to early-fall breeding
season) inspires magnificent bull elks to bugle, battle, and butt antlers for
While peak fall foliage varies annually, the 100-mile White
Mountain Trail typically delivers brilliant fall colors from the end of
September through the second week of October. Yet, even after the leaves have
faded and the leaf-peeping crowds have gone home, meandering this National
Scenic Byway reveals classic New England fall scenes—historic covered bridges,
granite mountain peaks, dramatic gorges, rushing cascades, and bucolic
Colonial-era farmhouses and barns. Each section of the loop displays a unique
personality. Drive the 37-mile Kancamagus Highway—“the Kanc”—for mountain
vistas, moose sightings, and bird-watching; visit North Conway for tax-free
outlet shopping, the trail’s largest concentration of restaurants, and Conway
Scenic Railroad train trips; and travel the Crawford Notch-to-Bartlett stretch
to ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway to the 6,288-foot summit of New
England’s highest peak, or drive to the top via the Mt. Washington Auto Road.
The iconic New Hampshire tourist attraction celebrates its 150th anniversary in
2011 and, weather permitting, is scheduled to remain open for passenger car
travel until October 23 this season.