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 backpacking trips and other adventures in the U.S. and around the world—from Grand Teton, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Canyonlands national parks to Paria Canyon, the Tour du Mont Blanc, and a few adventures on water and land that may not be on your radar—all of them worthy of your bucket list.
All of them are also trips that you should—or must—start planning now to take them in 2022.
The 10 trips described below all stand out in personal memory among the countless trips I’ve enjoyed over the past three decades, including the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. Each writeup below links to a full story about that trip at The Big Outside with many more images and info, including my expert tips on planning and taking each trip. (Those stories require a paid subscription to The Big Outside to read in full.)
I update this list regularly to feed you fresh and timely ideas—and to help make your bucket list, like mine, continually get longer rather than shorter.
I can help you plan any of these trips—see my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can do that for you and to read scores of comments from people like you whom I’ve helped plan an unforgettable adventure. See also my E-Guides page for my downloadable, expert e-guides to many of America’s best backpacking trips.
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. I try to respond to all comments.
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—most recently in August 2019, when it seemed 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, at times, a measure of solitude.
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 applying for a backcountry permit reservation the minute the park starts accepting them, traditionally the first non-holiday Wednesday in January (starting at 8 a.m. Mountain Time), which will be Jan. 5, 2022. Popular backcountry camping zones, like those along the the Teton Crest Trail, get booked up very quickly after the park starts accepting reservations—often within minutes. The park allows one-third of available permits to be reserved in advance, so two-thirds are available first-come, for walk-in backpackers, no more than one day before your trip begins.
See my stories “A Wonderful Obsession: Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail,” “5 Reasons You Must Backpack the Teton Crest Trail,” “How to Get a Permit to Backpack the Teton Crest Trail,” “The 5 Best Backpacking Trips in Grand Teton National Park,” and all stories about backpacking the Teton Crest Trail at The Big Outside.
I’ve helped many readers plan a Teton Crest Trail backpacking trip. See my Custom Trip Planning page.
Dying to backpack in the Tetons? See my e-guides to the Teton Crest Trail
and the best short backpacking trip there.
Discover the Best of Yosemite
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, Ten Lakes Basin, Yosemite Valley’s North Rim, Matterhorn Peak and Matterhorn Canyon, Burro Pass, Mule Pass, Benson Lake, and Dewey Point, among many.
This flagship park’s finest backpacking trips and dayhikes offer a variety of experiences that will awe you no matter how much time you have or how many times you’ve been there. For backpacking, plan to submit a Yosemite wilderness permit application 24 weeks (168 days) in advance of the date you want to start hiking.
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 (both of which have shorter options), and my story about my most-recent trip there in September 2021, “Yosemite’s Best-Kept Secret Backpacking Trip.” See also “Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite,” “The 10 Best Dayhikes in Yosemite,” “The Magic of Hiking to Yosemite’s Waterfalls,” and all of my stories about Yosemite National Park at The Big Outside.
I know Yosemite’s unique wilderness permit system very well, and I’ve helped many readers plan a backpacking trip in Yosemite—including helping some obtain a permit after they had failed applying on their own. Go to my Custom Trip Planning page to see how I can do that for you.
You want to backpack in Yosemite? See my e-guides to three amazing multi-day hikes there.
Dive 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.
I’ve explored the canyon on numerous backpacking trips and rim-to-rim-to-rim ultra-runs and hikes, including 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 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.”
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 backpacking in the Grand Canyon at The Big Outside, including “5 Epic Grand Canyon Backpacking Trips You Must Do,” “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon,” “5 Reasons You Must Backpack in the Grand Canyon,” “How to Get a Permit to Backpack in the Grand Canyon,” and “Fit to Be Tired: Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a Day.”
Do your Grand Canyon hike right with these expert e-guides:”
“The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon”
“The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon”
“The Complete Guide to Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
Hike ‘America’s Most Beautiful Trail,’ the John Muir Trail
Are you ready to thru-hike the John Muir Trail? For many serious backpackers, “America’s Most Beautiful Trail” represents a sort of holy grail. Traversing the High Sierra, the JMT spans 211 miles from Yosemite Valley to the 14,505-foot summit of Mount Whitney (where you still must hike over 10 miles downhill to finish the trip.) Definitely one of America’s 10 best backpacking trips, it crosses three national parks—Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia—and two wilderness areas, the Ansel Adams and John Muir within the Inyo and Sierra national forests.
My memories of thru-hiking the JMT are of an endless parade of stunning alpine lakes and very lofty mountain passes where the entire High Sierra seemed to sprawl out before us.
A JMT permit, obtained from the agency where you choose begin the trip—either Yosemite National Park or the Inyo National Forest—ranks among the most sought-after wilderness permits in the country. You must plan months in advance because the application timing is up to 24 weeks in advance of your preferred start date for Yosemite or between Feb. 1 and March 15 to start at Whitney Portal. Dates from July through September receive the greatest demand.
See all stories about backpacking the JMT at The Big Outside, including “Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail: What You Need to Know,” “The Best Backpacking Gear for the John Muir Trail,” and “Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail: The Ultimate, 10-Day, Ultralight Plan,” I can give you personalized, custom trip planning for the JMT. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn more.
Want to read any story linked here? Get full access to ALL stories at The Big Outside, plus a FREE e-guide. Join now!
Yes, You Really Gotta See 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 citizenship. (In fact, I have.) 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. Many of Yellowstone’s thermal features—like my favorite, the park’s biggest hot spring, Grand Prismatic Spring 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 easy adventure.
But the less-busy off-seasons of fall and winter are, in my opinion, the best times to see Yellowstone. Autumn offers frequently gorgeous weather without the traffic levels of summer. It’s also the best season for the outstanding backpacking trip on the Bechler River Trail And of the many trips I’ve taken in America, I still consider cross-country skiing in Yellowstone one of the most special, for the wildlife viewing, the fascinating natural features like erupting geysers, the relatively low bar for skill level (it’s very family-friendly—and you can snowshoe instead of skiing, too), and how winter completely transforms the landscape.
Yes, you will probably encounter traffic in Yellowstone. But just go there—and start planning months in advance to secure needed reservations for camping and lodging. For backpacking, apply for a backcountry permit prior to April 1, when the park begins processing applications.
See my stories “In Hot (and Cold) Water: Backpacking Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon,” “The Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone,” “The 10 Best Hikes in Yellowstone,” and “Cross-Country Skiing Yellowstone,” and all of my stories about Yellowstone National Park at The Big Outside.
Want my help planning any trip on this list? Click here for expert advice you won’t get anywhere else.
Experience the Magic of Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon has rightly earned fame as one of the best backpacking trips in the Southwest—arguably top five if not top three—for its towering walls painted wildly with desert varnish, massive red rock amphitheaters and arches, hanging gardens where the few springs in the canyon gush from rock, and sandy benches for camping, shaded by cottonwood trees.
For much of the first three days of this typically five-day descent, you pass through the Paria’s twisting narrows, where walls of searing, orange-red sandstone shoot up for hundreds of feet. The walls press in so close at times that you can cross the canyon in a dozen strides. Sunshine ignites the upper walls and reflects warm light downward, painting every wave of rock in a subtly different hue. You’re often walking in the shallow river, and pockets of quicksand add an adventurous element to this trek.
It’s done alone or combined with its 15-mile-long tributary slot canyon, Buckskin Gulch—which gets so tight that you have to take off your pack and squeeze through sideways.
This is a popular hike, so apply for a permit reservation as soon as they become available, which is after 12 p.m. on the first of the month, three months in advance, for example, on Jan. 1 for a trip anytime in April.
See my story “The Quicksand Chronicles: Backpacking Paria Canyon.”
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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.
And in March 2021, three friends and I backpacked for five days into the remote Maze District of Canyonlands, following primitive trails and routes that snake through a truly unique landscape of canyons, mesas, and a labyrinth of chasms, and enjoying an unusual degree of solitude.
Arches has grown increasingly busy, but still retains its magic, especially when you walk a few miles out a trail. Arrange any camping or lodging and apply for a permit reservation soon for a trip next spring and apply for a Canyonlands backcountry permit on or soon after Nov. 10 for a trip beginning between March 10 and June 9.
See my stories “No Straight Lines: Backpacking and Hiking in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks,” “Farther Than It Looks—Backpacking the Canyonlands Maze,” and “Still Waters Run Deep: Tackling America’s Best Easy Multi-Day Float Trip on the Green River,” and a menu of all of my stories about hiking and backpacking in southern Utah.
A trip like this goes better with the right gear. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and “The 8 (Very) Best Backpacking Tents.”
Trek the Tour du Mont Blanc
Think about this for a moment: You will spend nine to 12 days hiking a trail around “The Monarch of the Alps,” 15,771-foot Mont Blanc, through three Alpine nations—France, Italy, and Switzerland. You will spend your nights in high mountain huts with knock-your-socks-off views of crack-riddled glaciers pouring off rocky peaks or in comfortable lodging in iconic mountain towns like Chamonix and Courmayeur and quiet, post-card mountain villages. Not to mention 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. Before I trekked it with 12 family and friends of varying abilities—including my 80-year-old mother—I mapped out in advance out a flexible daily itinerary that allowed some in our group to use local public transportation to avoid hard sections or bad weather, and everyone had a wonderful experience that was perfect for them.
No permit is required to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc, but mountain huts and lodging along the trail get booked up months in advance.
See my story about that trip, “Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc at an 80-Year-Old Snail’s Pace.”
My e-guide “The Perfect, Flexible Plan for Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc” describes the daily TMB itinerary I created for our group. It provides detailed advice on day-to-day options for customizing a flexible TMB hiking itinerary on the first nine of the TMB’s 11 stages, including how and where to take transportation to shorten or avoid difficult sections or bad weather; how to plan and prepare for a TMB trek; and gear and safety tips. It also recommends shorter sections of the TMB to trek if your time is more limited.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Click here now to learn more.
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 and kayaking six days down Idaho’s classic Middle Fork of the Salmon River. We’ve done it twice and we’re already planning out next Middle Fork trip with a large group of friends and other families—yes, 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, hot springs, 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.)
Guided rafting trips on the Middle Fork book up months in advance—sometimes two years in advance for popular, mid-summer dates. Apply between Dec. 1 and Jan. 31 for a permit for a private party trip during the control season (May 28 to Sept. 3) through the online lottery at recreation.gov.
Planning your next big adventure? See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips”
and “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”
Paddle the One-of-a-Kind 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. Backcountry permit reservations can be made online year-round 90 days in advance of your trip’s start date daily at 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time or you can get a walk-in permit at the park’s Gulf Coast Visitor Center or the Flamingo Visitor Center up to a day in advance of starting a trip.
See my story “Like No Other Place: Paddling the Everglades.”
I’ve helped many readers plan an unforgettable backpacking or hiking trip.
Want my help with yours? Click here to learn more.
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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