Hiking is an incredible experience to share with your closest friends or even a larger group of people who enjoy the outdoors. Going still beyond hiking, mountain climbing is the pinnacle of outdoor recreation. Imagine scaling some of the tallest, most challenging mountains in the U.S. or even simply hiking smaller summits and finding yourself on the top of the world, looking out over the earth as if it were your own domain. You feel weightless after a long hike, breathless and exhausted but ecstatic with your accomplishments and dizzy with joy at what you had seen at the top. These mountains listed here are of varying heights and require different skill levels, but there's something for everyone in your student group.
Mount Shasta, CA - 14,179 feet
This Cascades volcano last erupted in 1786 but you should be perfectly fine hiking its peak. This is perhaps one of the most popular adventure destinations in California as the mountain rises alone from the earth's surface, striking an intimidating and yet intriguing pose against the surrounding vistas like some Lonely Mountain. Trails range in difficulty from Avalanche Gulch which is the least strenuous to Green Butte Ridge, a grade three trail that requires extensive technical skill. Over 13,000 hikers attempt to make it to the top every year but not all of them succeed. If you're fairly inexperienced, go with Avalanche Gulch and perhaps even make the whole climb in a single day or get a guide to help you along.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, CA - 8,839 feet
Fabulously iconic, Yosemite's Half Dome is perhaps one of the most recognizable peaks in the world. While, in the early years of discovery, people believed the mountain to be inaccessible by humans, thousands of people love to hike to its peak every year. So many love doing this that the park had to institute a lottery draw to whittle down the number of hikers to 225 a day. Get there early to put your names in the drawing for a chance to hike the peak. Most hikers take 10 to 12 hours to make the trek though there are varying trails for those not climbing the actual peak. You will need gear to make the climb, however, and there are plenty of suppliers in the park to get you going.
Mauna Kea, HI - 13,796 feet
If most of the mountain wasn't underwater, Mauna Kea would be considered the tallest mountain in the world. Hawaii's tallest peak, Mauna Kea is comprised of a series of volcanic cinder cones and while its twin, Mauna Loa, is consistently spewing lava, Mauna Kea is dormant. Her peak is also much steeper than Loa's which grants you better views, a more challenging hike, and quicker climbs. Plus, you won't be in danger of lava on Kea. The Mauna Kea Trail inclines 4,576 feet along a six-mile trail, starting at the Onizuka Visitor Center at 9,200 feet. Though strenuous, this is a great hike for beginners.
Desolation Peak, WA - 6,102 feet
About six miles south of Canada, Desolation Peak Trail is considered popular but hard-going. The trail to the top starts off easy and then begins a sharp ascent after two miles. Through the challenge, you'll gain amazing views of the various ecosystems, alpine forest, and ponderosa, as well as the wildlife which roams the park. On the top of Desolation Peak, you'll find a fire tower of special significance. Beat author Jack Kerouac spent a summer living on this summit, in the tower, which he used in inspiration to write the novel Desolation Angels.
Guadalupe Peak, TX - 8,751 feet
The tallest peak in Texas, Guadalupe rises magnificently from the Chihuahuan Desert floor between Carlsbad, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. The mountain can be scaled any time of the year affording to Texas' warm, arid climate though be sure to bring lots of water. Hike to the top using the 4.25-mile stony trail and be rewarded with amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding desert and high elevation forests. At the peak, there is a metal pyramid constructed by American Airlines in 1958 on the side of which you'll see the airline's logo along with a tribute to the Pony Express Riders and one to the Boy Scouts of America.
Mountains Requiring Extreme Technical Skill & Preparation:
Mt. McKinley (Denali), AK - 20,320 feet
Denali/McKinley is perhaps the single most difficult mountain belonging to the United States. Climbs are dependent on the extreme weather which is liable to change on a moment's notice and the harsh conditions make the trek slow-going and strenuous. However, if you're lucky enough to climb Denali, and you have the skill and gear, there's no better American peak to scale. The experience alone is priceless but the views are second to none. You can find training courses for both Denali and Rainier (featured below) to ready you for the climb.
Mt. Rainier, WA - 14,411 feet
The highest volcano and glaciated mountain peak in the Lower 48, Mount Rainier is a challenge, to say the least. Not many succeed in scaling her icy summit but those who do will never forget the views, the rewarding feeling of being on top of the world, and the sight of seeing the state of Washington beneath their feet. Guided hikes, like those you'll find with Denali, can get you to the summit easily in three days after a period of training for inexperienced hikers. This mountain is not to be taken lightly, but she sure is worth it.