10 Adventures to Put on Your Bucket List Now
By Michael Lanza
Are you looking for great trip ideas for your personal “bucket list?” Well, you’ve clicked to the right place. This freshly updated list spotlights 10 of the best adventures in the U.S. and around the world—from Yosemite, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Everglades, and other national parks to Patagonia, the Alps, and New Zealand—all of them trips that belong on every serious outdoor adventurer’s list. All of them are also trips that demand you start planning for them now to take them in 2019.
Because here’s the thing about bucket list trips: They usually require advance planning. At this time a year ago, for example, I began planning months in advance so that I could backpack off the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in May, rock climb with my family in Idaho in June and in Yosemite in July, backpack in Idaho’s Sawtooths in August and a 90-mile traverse of the Continental Divide Trail in Glacier National Park in September, and dayhike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in October.
The 10 trips described below—each with an inspiring photo—all have links to stories at The Big Outside with many more images and info for each one. I’ll update this list regularly to keep feeding you fresh ideas—and making your bucket list continually get longer rather than shorter.
I’d love to read any thoughts, personal experiences, or suggestions you want to share in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
Backpack the Teton Crest Trail
One of my earliest, major backpacking trips—and one I’ve returned to do multiple times since—the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park has everything: incredible views almost every step of the way, wildflowers, killer campsites, a good chance of wildlife sightings, and even a degree of solitude along some stretches. It’s challenging but not severely difficult (we took our kids when they were in grade school), and delivers a truly unique adventure in one of America’s most spectacular mountain ranges.
A TCT permit reservation is very difficult to get; apply in early January. See my stories “American Classic: The Teton Crest Trail,” and “Walking Familiar Ground: Reliving Old Memories and Making New Ones on the Teton Crest Trail,” about backpacking the TCT with my family, as well as my numerous posts about the Teton Crest Trail and Grand Teton National Park, with photos and tips on backpacking there.
Dying to backpack in the Tetons? See my e-guides to the Teton Crest Trail
and the best beginner-friendly backpacking trip there.
Hike the Grand Canyon
I think it’s fair to say that you cannot call yourself an accomplished backpacker or dayhiker until you’ve gone down into the Grand Canyon—and arguably multiple times—simply because it’s so geologically unique, challenging, and mind-boggling beautiful and vast. Every hike there has only fueled my appetite to explore more of the 1.2 million acres in America’s fourth-largest national park outside Alaska. I visited twice this year, backpacking the rugged and stunning, 25-mile Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the North Rim in May, and dayhiking rim-to-rim across the canyon and back over two days in October.
Apply for a popular Grand Canyon backpacking permit beginning on the first of the month four months prior to the month in which you want to start a trip—for instance, on Dec. 1 for a trip in the month of April.
Watch for my upcoming stories about both of those 2018 hikes. See my existing stories at The Big Outside about several trips in the Big Ditch, including this photo gallery from dayhiking rim to rim; my feature about dayhiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim; backpacking 29 miles from Grandview Point to the South Kaibab Trailhead; the 25-mile hike from Hermits Rest to the Bright Angel Trailhead; a rugged, 15-mile trek from the New Hance Trailhead to the Colorado River and up to Grandview Point; and backpacking the experts-only, 34.5-mile Royal Arch Loop.
Click here now for my expert e-guide to dayhiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim.
Explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
At a slickrock pass between two canyons in The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, we soaked up a view that would make Dr. Seuss smile. Stratified cliffs stretch out in three directions. Stone towers 200 to 300 feet tall, with bulbous crowns bigger around than the column on which they sit, seem ever at the verge of toppling over. Just a few days later, we hiked through a sprawling garden of sandstone arches in Arches National Park. The Needles District is very popular with backpackers, so apply for a permit reservation at least four months in advance.
See what a week in Alice’s Wonderland is like and learn more about planning this trip in my story “No Straight Lines: Backpacking and Hiking in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks,” and see a menu of all of my stories about hiking and backpacking in southern Utah.
Score a popular permit using my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”
Knock Off Yosemite’s Best Dayhikes
Half Dome, Mount Hoffmann, Mist Trail, Upper Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Lakes—these names are nearly as famous as the park that harbors them: Yosemite. Still others, like Matterhorn Peak, Clouds Rest, and Dewey Point, are equally spectacular if not as well known. Among the myriad ways to explore Yosemite, ticking off some of its finest dayhikes offers a varied sampler of this flagship national park that’ doable no matter how much time you have there: a week, three days, or one
Reserve campground sites or lodging in or near Yosemite months in advance. See my stories “The 10 Best Dayhikes in Yosemite” and “The Magic of Hiking to Yosemite’s Waterfalls” and all of my stories about Yosemite National Park at The Big Outside.
See my expert e-guides to three great backpacking trips in Yosemite!
Paddle the Everglades
Under a hot February sun and cloudless sky, we paddled kayaks across the perfectly still, dark-chocolate waters of the East River. Flocks of snowy egrets flew in close formation overhead. White ibises, black anhingas, tri-colored herons, and brown pelicans flapped above the wide river and the green walls of forest on both sides, and great blue herons glided past, their wing spans equal to an average human’s height. We slipped through narrow mangrove tunnels, where tangles of thin branches arched overhead.
That was just the first day of a delightful family adventure in the Everglades, the third-largest national park in the contiguous United States—bigger than Glacier or Grand Canyon, twice the size of Yosemite, and one of Earth’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries. Winter is the prime season for paddling the Everglades: Temps are warm and there are few mosquitoes. See my story “Like No Other Place: Paddling the Everglades.”
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Take the Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone
I could fill a story with a list of Yellowstone National Park’s unique features and reasons why everyone American should visit the park as a requirement of full citizenship, but just take my word on this: go there. I’ve been numerous times, at all times of year, and it’s always enchanting and beautiful. We first took our kids when they were too young to even remember it, but so many of Yellowstone’s geysers—like the park’s biggest, Grand Prismatic (above), in Midway Geyser Basin—are reached on short, easy walks, making Yellowstone an ideal vacation for families with young children or anyone looking for an adventure that’s not too rigorous.
You may hear tales of traffic jams in Yellowstone during summer, and yes, it’s a busy place. But just go there—and start planning now in order to secure needed reservations for camping and lodging. First, though, read my “Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone” and “Ask Me: The 10 Best Short Hikes in Yellowstone,” and see this menu of all of my posts about Yellowstone National Park.
I also write about cross-country skiing Yellowstone with my family in my book Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.
Want to read any story linked here? Get full access to ALL stories at The Big Outside, plus a FREE e-guide. Subscribe now!
Explore Zion National Park
Tick off the best dayhikes and backpacking trips in Zion—Angels Landing, The Narrows, The Subway, the West Rim Trail, the Kolob Canyons—and you’ve named some of the most scenic pieces of wild real estate in the entire National Park System. I’ve been there several times and still have adventures on my to-do list for that park. And like other popular parks, a trip to Zion requires planning months in advance to get local lodging and any other needed reservations—as in, start right now for next spring.
See all of my stories about Zion, including a photo gallery from all of my hikes there, and my stories about a family backpacking trip in the Kolob Canyons and West Rim Trail, hiking The Subway, dayhiking 50 miles across Zion, and backpacking The Narrows at The Big Outside. See also my story “The 10 Best Hikes in Utah’s National Parks.”
Click here now to get my e-guide The Complete Guide to Backpacking Zion’s Narrows.
Trek Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park
Southern Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, in the heart of Patagonia, is undoubtedly one of the most prized trekking destinations in the world. Granite peaks soar thousands of feet overhead like swords piercing the sky, and some of the world’s biggest glaciers—like the Grey Glacier (above)—stretch for many miles. When a friend and I trekked here, this place looked familiar from the many pictures I’d seen, and yet, kind of surreal, too massive to really comprehend the landscape’s scale. It’s also, you could say, kind of windy.
Read my story about this world-class Patagonian adventure.
Planning your next big adventure? See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips”
and “The 20 Best National Park Dayhikes.”
Trek Around Mont Blanc
Think about this for a moment: Walking a trail around “The Monarch of the Alps,” 15,771-foot Mont Blanc. Spending nine to 12 days hiking through three Alpine nations—France, Italy, and Switzerland—and your nights in high mountain huts with knock-your-socks-off views of crack-riddled glaciers pouring off rocky peaks. Or staying in comfortable lodging in iconic mountain towns like Chamonix and Courmayeur, and quieter villages with incredible views as well. Eating some of the best food of your life and washing it down with regional wine and beer.
Widely considered one of the world’s great treks, the Tour du Mont Blanc is as much a rich cultural experience as a one-of-a-kind scenic hike. Bonus: Abundant public transportation allows you to customize your hike to suit your stamina level and abilities.
See my story “Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc at an 80-Year-Old Snail’s Pace.”
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
Sea Kayak New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park
Imagine the ocean rushing in to flood Yosemite Valley to about one-third of the height of El Capitan, and then dumping more than 20 feet of rain onto it every year, so that forests sprang from its sheer granite walls and waterfalls plunged hundreds and thousands of feet. Or instead of imagining that scene, just go to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, where jungle-clad cliffs rise straight up out of the sea to 4,000-foot summits.
Sprawling over nearly three million acres, an area as large as Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks combined, Fiordland is New Zealand’s biggest and wildest park, and home to some of its greatest adventures—a place I’ve visited a few times and long to explore more.
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