10 Adventures to Put on Your Bucket List Now
By Michael Lanza
Do you have a “bucket list?” I’m not sure how many trips are on my list, which I’ve maintained for years, but I can tell you its word count: 18,589 words (including notes about each trip). And it keeps getting longer, even though I tick off new trips every year. Last year, to give a few examples, I trekked the majestic Tour du Mont Blanc with my family (see below), adventured in Costa Rica, and backpacked Utah’s Dark Canyon and Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
Looking for great ideas for your bucket list? (Who isn’t?) Well, you’ve clicked to the right place. I’ve assembled here 10 of the best adventures I’ve taken over nearly three decades as an outdoor writer and photographer—all of them trips that belong on every serious outdoor adventurer’s list—with information based on my personal experience, and links to stories at The Big Outside with many more images from and info about each one.
Here’s the thing about bucket list trips: They usually require planning months in advance. This year, just for starters, I have plans to backcountry ski in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and backpack off the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, and I’m hoping to hike an 87-mile traverse of Glacier National Park for which I had a permit last year, but had to cancel due to major wildfires.
Procrastinating gets you nowhere but in a seat at your computer wondering where you could be instead.
I’ll update this list regularly to keep feeding you fresh ideas—and making your bucket list continually get longer rather than shorter. Please share any thoughts, personal experiences, or suggestions you have in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
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.
See what a week in Alice’s Wonderland is like. Read 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.
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.
Backpack Glacier National Park’s Gunsight Pass Trail
Glacier National Park is one of my favorite places to backpack, but much of it is quite remote and challenging. My family’s three-day hike on the Gunsight Pass Trail, when my kids were nine and seven, was just as scenic as any trip I’ve done there, without the physical and logistical difficulties. We saw a mountain goat near Gunsight Pass, camped beside Gunsight Lake, and got views into one of Glacier’s most beautiful cirques, the one harboring Lake Ellen Wilson.
Read my story about it and see more images, and see all of my stories about Glacier National Park. (I also write more about that trip in my book Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.)
Score a popular permit using my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”
Sea Kayak Alaska’s Glacier Bay
See seals, brown bears, mountain goats, humpback whales, bald eagles and a huge variety of large birds, and 2,000-pound Steller sea lions. Hear and watch bus-sized chunks of ice calve explosively from a glacier whose snout spans a mile across and rises a sheer 300 feet out of the sea. Camp on wilderness beaches with views of peaks soaring to over 15,000 feet just miles from the ocean. A multi-day sea-kayaking trip in Glacier Bay (lead photo at top of story) offers a glimpse of what the world was like 10,000 years ago, as the last Ice Age drew to a close.
Backpack Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness
The popular Lakes Basin, including Mirror Lake (above), are merely the best-known area of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon—but are representative of the mountain scenery there. Protected as a primitive area since 1930 and one of the inaugural group of federal wilderness areas designated in The Wilderness Act of 1964, the Eagle Cap has granite peaks, beautiful mountain lakes, white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk, black bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, and abundant wildflowers that make it feel like a cross between the High Sierra and the Rocky Mountains.
Read my story “Learning the Hard Way: Backpacking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness,” about my family’s five-day backpacking trip there.
A trip like this goes better with the right gear. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and “The 5 Best Backpacking Tents.”
Whitewater Raft Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River
One of the most scenic, remote, and thrilling adventures my family has ever taken was whitewater rafting six days down Idaho’s classic Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Flowing like an artery through the heart of the second-largest federal wilderness in the continental United States, the nearly 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the Middle Fork is about a far off the grid as one can get in the Lower 48. And there’s a lot of whitewater—300 ratable rapids, a number of them class III and IV—plus beautiful side hikes to overlooks and waterfalls.
Now my family is planning a return trip down the Middle Fork. See why in my story “Big Water, Big Wilderness: Rafting Idaho’s Incomparable Middle Fork Salmon River.”
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Backpack Sequoia National Park
With some of the highest mountains in the Lower 48 and a constellation of stunning backcountry lakes, California’s southern High Sierra belong on any list of top backpacking destinations in America. On a six-day, 40-mile backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park, my family hiked through a quiet, backcountry grove of giant Sequoias, and over 10,000-foot and 11,000-foot passes at the foot of 12,000-foot, granite peaks, and camped at two lakes that earned spots on my list of 25 favorite backcountry campsites. I still consider it one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever hiked.
See my story “Heavy Lifting: Backpacking Sequoia National Park,” about my family’s 40-mile backpacking trip there, and all of my stories about Sequoia National Park and California national parks at The Big Outside.
Like this story? You may also like my “10 Tips For Getting Your Teenager Outdoors With You”
and “My Top 10 Family Outdoor Adventures.”
Trek Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park
An Arctic-looking landscape vibrantly colorful with shrubs, mosses, and wildflowers. Cliffs and mountains that look like they were chopped from the earth with an axe. Thick, crack-riddled glaciers pouring off mountains like pancake batter that needs more water. Braided rivers meandering down mostly treeless valleys, and reindeer roaming wild. Summit views of a sea of snowy, glacier-clad peaks rolling away to far horizons. The world’s most comfortable huts and excellent food. That describes my family’s weeklong, roughly 60-mile, hut-to-hut trek through Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park—the “Home of the Giants.”
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.
Got a trip coming up? See my reviews of the best gear duffles and luggage and 6 favorite daypacks.
Take Father-Son and Father-Daughter Adventures
When my son and daughter were both small, I began taking each of them, separately, on an annual father-son and father-daughter outdoor trip, which came to be know as the “boy trip” and “girl trip.” Now, it has become another event that my kids and I squeeze into our busy calendar every year, because we wouldn’t miss it. While most of these have taken place in wild places in Idaho, near our home, my daughter and I also took a girl trip backpacking in the Grand Canyon and my son and I climbed a mountaineering route up Mount Whitney together.
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