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, Zion, Glacier, and Sequoia to the Tour du Mont Blanc, Italy’s Dolomite Mountains and more—all of them trips that belong on every serious outdoor adventurer’s bucket list.
All of them are also trips that you must start planning 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.
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 there 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.
If you want to backpack Yosemite this summer, the time to apply for a wilderness permit is now.
I’ve helped many readers plan a great trip in Yosemite. Go to my Custom Trip Planning page to see how I can do that for you.
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 the Best of Zion National Park
Tick off the best dayhikes and backpacking trips in Zion—Angels Landing, The Narrows, The Subway, the West Rim Trail, Observation Point, 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.
While Zion has become the third-most-visited national park, it’s still possible to escape the crowds there—something I’ve figured out how to do on even the most popular hikes, like Angels Landing and The Narrows. And like other uber-popular parks, a trip to Zion requires planning months in advance to get local lodging and any other needed reservations.
See all of my stories about Zion, including “Insider Tips: The 10 Best Hikes in Zion National Park,” which includes my expert tips on how to avoid the crowds when hiking in Zion, plus my feature stories about a family backpacking trip in the Kolob Canyons and West Rim Trail, hiking The Subway, 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 expert e-guide to Backpacking Zion’s Narrows.
Backpack Incomparable Glacier National Park
Glacier ranks among the favorite national parks of backpackers, and little wonder: No place in the Lower 48 really compares with it. From its rivers of ice pouring off of craggy mountains and sheer cliffs that soar high above lushly green valleys, and over 760 lakes offering mirror reflections of it all, to megafauna like mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and grizzly and black bears, these million acres in the rugged Northern Rockies simply deliver an experience you can’t find in any park outside Alaska.
I’ve backpacked multiple times all over Glacier, most recently when three friends and I hiked 94 miles mostly on the Continental Divide Trail through the park—unquestionably one of the entire CDT’s best sections. The park’s more than 700 miles of trails enable trips of varying distances, from beginner-friendly to serious, remote adventures in deep wilderness.
My e-guides to two long and magnificent treks through Glacier, “The Best Backpacking Trip in Glacier National Park” and “Backpacking the Continental Divide Trail Through Glacier National Park,” detail all you need to know to plan and execute those trips safely and describe shorter variations on those routes, while my blog stories (see below) provide more basic planning details.
And, of course, I can give you a customized plan for a backpacking trip of any length in Glacier; click here to learn how.
See my stories “Wildness All Around You: Backpacking the CDT Through Glacier,” “Descending the Food Chain: Backpacking Glacier National Park’s Northern Loop,” and “Jagged Peaks and Wild Goats: Backpacking Glacier’s Gunsight Pass Trail,” and all of my stories about Glacier National Park at The Big Outside.
Get my expert e-guides to the best backpacking trip in Glacier
and backpacking the Continental Divide Trail through Glacier.
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.
While many backpackers zero in on Yosemite and the John Muir Trail—creating enormous demand for those backcountry permits—far fewer set their sights on areas of Sequoia like the trip my family took. That means it’s an easier permit to get, and the scenery rivals anywhere in the Sierra. I still consider it one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever hiked.
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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 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.
Backpack a Canadian Rockies Gem
The Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park may not be on your radar—but put it there. This 34-mile (55k) hike, done in four to five days, features a long line of skyscraping stone monoliths, stunning Floe Lake, creeks gray with glacial till, and one of the tallest waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains, 1,154-foot (352m) Helmet Falls. For more than 18 miles (30k), the trail follows the base of a nearly unbroken, massive limestone escarpment in the Vermilion Range, plastered with glaciers and towering in some locations about 3,000 feet (900m) above the trail—they look like a chain of El Capitans standing shoulder to shoulder. The trail crosses four passes between about 7,100 and 7,700 feet.
We saw mountain goats, but none of the grizzly bears that live in abundance in the Rockies of our northern neighbor. Unlike other international trips, getting there is relatively easy and inexpensive. Well known among Canadian backpackers but less so among Americans and international trekkers, the Rockwall arguably deserves a place on any list of the world’s prettiest trails. Reserve a backcountry permit by spring; it’s popular.
See my story “Best of the Canadian Rockies: Backpacking the Rockwall Trail.”
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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.”
Hike through These Little-Known Peaks in Spain
From minutes into our hike up the Cares Gorge in northern Spain’s Picos de Europa National Park, walking through a herd of chamois in a gorge that looks like an impressionist painting with its soaring, white and gray limestone cliffs dappled with greenery, we were enchanted by these mountains that resemble a smaller replica of Italy’s Dolomite Mountains—and I was flabbergasted that I had only first heard of this place months earlier. And the adventure seemed to only get better and prettier with each day.
My family hiked a 52-mile (84k) loop over five days through the highest and most rugged and vertiginous peaks of the Picos de Europa. At every turn, we gaped at enormous limestone cliffs and jagged peaks. Like other European treks, it had a civilized flavor, as we walked valleys with tiny, quiet villages and grazing sheep and cows and spent our nights in mountain huts or inns. But like the best international treks I’ve taken, the Picos have an element of stark, rugged beauty, which we saw hiking through alpine terrain where we went hours without seeing other hikers.
See my story “The Best 5-Day Hike in Spain’s Picos de Europa Mountains.”
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of both stories for free, or download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and the lightweight backpacking guide without having a paid membership.
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