America's Friendlist Summits
Backpacker|May - June 2021
Some high points require expert skill, a bit of luck, and probably some suffering. Not these. Here are 15 peaks—high on views, low on effort—that don’t play hard to get.
By Laurs Lancaster

[DAYHIKE] FLATSIDE PINNACLE, ARKANSAS

This one is almost too easy. While reaching the 1,550-foot tower sounds like a strenuous ascent, it’s just a mere .3 mile along the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. All too soon, the canopy of white oaks and hickories, interspersed with shortleaf pines and turkeys darting across the forest floor, fall away. The top of a 200-foot climb reveals views of Forked Mountain, White Oak Mountain, and 1,011-foot Pinnacle Mountain, the easternmost peak in the range. Give in to the temptation to stay past sunset and watch the moon rise over nearby Lake Maumelle. Turn it into a shallow overnight by posting up in one of the impacted areas near the top. No matter how much time you spend here, the return hike won’t take long.

TRAILHEAD 34.8746, -92.9135 GET HERE From AR-9, follow Forest Service Roads 132 and 94 to the trailhead PERMIT None CONTACT www.fs.usda.gov/ouachita

[DAYHIKE] BLACKROCK SUMMIT, VIRGINIA

While there’s only .5 mile of hiking and 30 feet of class 2+ scrambling up mismatched boulders to reach Blackrock’s 3,160-foot summit, the views from the top of this talus slope will make you feel as if you’ve summited the Matterhorn. The vista includes a long stretch of the Shenandoah Valley flanked by the likes of Rockytop Ridge, Lewis Peak, and Massanutten Mountain. Once you’ve downclimbed (also a cinch), turn this one into a loop (maximizing your odds of spotting one of the resident black bears) by swinging around to the back of the talus slope and following the Trayfoot Mountain Trail .6 mile back to the parking lot.

TRAILHEAD 38.2230, -78.7333 GET HERE Follow Skyline to the parking lot at milepost 84.8 PERMIT None CONTACT nps .gov/shen

[DAYHIKE] NORTH SCHELL PEAK, NEVADA

Don’t worry when the track fades. As far as off-trail navigation goes, this is as straightforward as it gets. Sure, the old roadbed climbing up through a grove of aspens and bristlecone pines at the start of this 6-mile route peters out when you get above treeline, but the basin’s miles-long views ensure that the gentle, 3,000-foot ascent along the ridgeline is easy enough to follow. From Schell’s 11,883-foot summit, experience what peak baggers call “ultra-prominence” as you stare down the 5,403 feet to the valley below. In the distance, 13,159-foot Wheeler Peak looms, but with a measly 3,409 feet of prominence, we think you’ll agree the real bragging rights are right where you are.

TRAILHEAD 39.4003, -114.6273 GET HERE From US 93 north, turn onto State Route 486 and then left onto Forest Road 425. Follow the dirt road to the campground trailhead PERMIT None CONTACT www.fs.usda.gov/htnf

[OVERNIGHT] BLACK TOP MESA, ARIZONA

Waking up to a bird’s-eye view of the very best of the Superstitions— Weavers Needle, Battleship Mountain, Geronimo Head, and Black Mesa Mountain spread out in a semi-circle from north to south—will make the frontcountry feel farther away than it is. (The petroglyphs in the area add to the immersive feeling.) Given that, it’s easy to forget that most of the 5.7-mile hike in was a breeze through wild oats and all manner of cacti from the Dutchman trailhead, though the final gain of 1,000 feet in a mile is likely to stick in your memory. Camp in an impacted spot near the summit and rest assured that backcountry depth is more a feeling than a distance.

TRAILHEAD 33.4801, -111.4431 GET HERE Follow State Route 88 to the turn for Service Road 78 and follow it to the end. PERMIT None CONTACT www.fs.usda .gov/tonto

[DAYHIKE] GRAYS PEAK, COLORADO

Summiting your first Colorado Fourteener is a rite of passage for any peakbagger. Kick-off your list with 14,278-foot Grays Peak—though it’s the tallest point on the Continental Divide, it’s a class 1, non-technical ascent and is the easiest Fourtneer that doesn’t have an automobile road. You’ll still face a 3,000-foot climb over 2.6 miles, and you’ll share the trail with the locals— mountain goats, basking marmots, and squeaking pikas—on the final mile of scree to the summit. There, views stretch far and wide, from 14,115-foot Pikes Peak to the south to 14,258-foot Longs Peak’s summit block to the north. Make it a two-fer by adding on 14,275-foot Torreys Peak, just a half-mile away over some light class 2 climbing. Then, get to planning the rest of your list.

TRAILHEAD 39.6590, -105.7851 GET HERE Take Exit 221 offof I-70 and follow Stevens Gulch Road to the trailhead PERMIT None CONTACT www.fs.usda.gov/arp

[DAYHIKE] MT. MITCHELL, NORTH CAROLINA

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