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 Yellowstone (lead photo above), Yosemite, the Tetons and Everglades, Arches, and the Grand Canyon, to the Tour du Mont Blanc, Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, New Zealand and more—all of them trips that belong on every serious outdoor adventurer’s bucket list.
All of them are also trips that you either should—or must—start planning for now to take them in 2020.
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 update this list regularly to keep feeding you fresh and timely ideas—and making your bucket list, like mine, 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
I’ve had the good fortune of taking many of the best backpacking trips in America. But of them all, the Teton Crest Trail is the one I’ve returned to the most times—including this past August, when it was just as beautiful and inspiring as the first time I backpacked it more than 25 years ago. That’s because this traverse of 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 five-star adventure in one of America’s most spectacular mountain ranges. This is an enormously popular trip, so plan on reserving a backcountry permit when the park starts accepting them in early January.
See my stories “A Wonderful Obsession: Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail,” “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.
Click here now to get my e-guide “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.”
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.
As a person who loves the mountain, I had never seen myself exploring the Everglades. After my first, brief visit, I knew I had to return and spend more time there, because this place is so fascinating, rich in wildlife, and now so gravely threatened by the rapidly changing climate—and I knew I wanted to take my children there.
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.”
Go Deep into 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 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.
Even after numerous trips over the years, I’ve returned six times in the past four years, taking three rim-to-rim-to-rim ultra-runs and hikes and three backpacking trips: seeing the surprisingly lush oases on the rugged and stunning Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the North Rim; enjoying an adventure with repeated surprises on one of the canyon’s hardest multi-day hikes, the Royal Arch Loop; and backpacking six days this past April from the South Kaibab to Lipan Point—including the Escalante Route, which has hands-down one of the best overlooks I’ve ever seen in the canyon. Afterward, I understood why a longtime backcountry ranger had told me beforehand that that traverse is “the best backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.”
Hike the canyon smartly and safely using my expert e-guides to backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim,
dayhiking rim to rim, and the best backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon can get addictive, but in a good way.
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 example, by Dec. 1 for a trip in April or June 1 for a trip in October.
See my many stories about the Grand Canyon at The Big Outside, including my latest about “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon,” and my feature stories about dayhiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim and dayhiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim; backpacking from Grandview Point to the South Kaibab Trailhead; hiking from Hermits Rest to the Bright Angel Trailhead; and a rugged trek from the New Hance Trailhead to the Colorado River and up to Grandview Point.
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Take Yosemite’s Best Dayhikes and Backpacking Trips
Half Dome, the John Muir Trail, Tenaya Lake, Mount Hoffmann, the Mist Trail, Upper Yosemite Falls, Tuolumne Meadows, and the Cathedral Range, Cathedral Peak, and Cathedral Lakes—these names are nearly as famous as the park that harbors them: Yosemite.
But in numerous trips backpacking, dayhiking, and climbing here over the years, I’ve discovered that other corners of Yosemite are equally spectacular if not as well known, including the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Clouds Rest, Red Peak Pass, Matterhorn Peak and Matterhorn Canyon, Burro Pass, Mule Pass, Benson Lake, and Dewey Point, among many. Ticking off some of this flagship park’s finest backpacking trips or dayhikes offers a varied sampler that awes you no matter how much time you have or how many times you’ve been there—and I speak from experience on that.
See my stories about backpacking trips through Yosemite’s two biggest chunks of wilderness: a 65-mile hike south of Tuolumne Meadows and an 87-mile hike north of Tuolumne. See also “The 10 Best Dayhikes in Yosemite,” “The Magic of Hiking to Yosemite’s Waterfalls,” “Ask Me: Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite,” and all of my stories about Yosemite National Park at The Big Outside.
You want to backpack in Yosemite? See my e-guides to three amazing multi-day hikes there.
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 extended in three directions from where we stood. Stone towers 200 to 300 feet tall, with bulbous crowns bigger around than the column on which they sat, seemed ever at the verge of toppling over. And this Seussian vista stretched for many miles, as far as we could see.
Days later, we hiked through sprawling gardens of sandstone arches in Arches National Park, admiring the largest from below, scrambling up into some of them, even discovering quiet corners of the park where we could enjoy a more-remote arch or a small side canyon to ourselves.
Arches has become increasingly busy, but still retains its magic, especially when you walk a few miles out a trail. Similarly, the Needles District of Canyonlands is popular with backpackers. Arrange any camping or lodging and apply for a permit reservation soon for a trip next spring.
See 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.
Want to read any story linked here? Get full access to ALL stories at The Big Outside, plus a FREE e-guide. Join now!
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 thermal features—like the park’s biggest hot spring, Grand Prismatic Spring (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 easy.
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.
Want my help planning any trip you read about at my blog? Click here for expert advice you won’t get anywhere else.
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.”
Save yourself a lot of time and headaches. Get my e-guide “The Perfect, Flexible Plan for Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.”
Whitewater Raft Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River
One of the most scenic, remote, and thrilling adventures my family has ever taken has been whitewater rafting six days down Idaho’s classic Middle Fork of the Salmon River. We’ve done it twice, most recently last July, and we’re already planning out next Middle Fork trip with a large group of friends and other families—it’s that much fun.
Flowing like an artery through the heart of the 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—100 ratable rapids, a number of them class III and IV—plus beautiful side hikes to overlooks and waterfalls, and some of the loveliest beach campsites you’ll ever fall asleep on. Do this trip, and take it guided if you don’t have whitewater boating skills. (I recommend our favorite river guiding company.)
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Trek Through Italy’s Dolomite Mountains
Located in the northeastern Italian Alps, with one national park, several regional parks, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dolomites thrust a dizzying array of spires and serrated peaks into the sky, gleaming like polished jewels in bright sunshine and virtually pulsing with the salmon hue of evening alpenglow. They strike a sharp contrast with the deep, steep-sided, verdantly green valleys and meadows. On a weeklong, hut-to-hut trek through one of the world’s most spectacular and storied mountain ranges, my family hiked a 39-mile (62k) section of the roughly 112-mile (180k) Alta Via 2, or “The Way of the Legends.”
An alpine footpath famous for scenery that puts it in legitimate contention for the title of the most beautiful trail in the world, the AV 2 is also known for comfortable mountain huts with excellent food—and a reputation for being the most remote and difficult of the several multi-day alte vie, or “high paths,” that crisscross the Dolomites. On one of my family’s biggest adventures, we discovered that it was all of those things and more.
Got an all-time favorite campsite? See “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”
Tackle New Zealand’s Best Adventures
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. Well, you don’t have to imagine that scene—you can just go to New Zealand’s biggest wilderness, 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 combined, Fiordland is New Zealand’s biggest and wildest park, and home to some of its greatest adventures—and it’s merely a starting point when exploring this island nation that’s blessed with what seems an almost unfair surfeit of majestic mountains, forests, inland waters, and coast, and where adventure seems baked into the DNA of its people.
From walking some of the prettiest hut treks in the Southern Alps that don’t require booking months in advance or hiring a guide, and paddling Fiordland’s incomparable fjords Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound and its most beautiful and storied river, to hiking the active volcanoes of Tongariro National Park and even New Zealand’s “hardest hut trek,” I’ve had the great fortune to see several of the finest places in this enchanting country.
My advice to you: This is a place worth spending extra time in. See my stories:
Tell me what you think.
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