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 Canyon, Glacier, Olympic, Sequoia, and other national parks to Alaska, the Alps and Norway (lead photo above)—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 for now to take them in 2019.
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 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.
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.
Get my expert e-guides to three great backpacking trips in Yosemite now!
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 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.
Even after numerous trips over the years, I returned twice again last year, backpacking the rugged and stunning, 25-mile Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the North Rim in May, and dayhiking rim-to-rim-to-rim across the canyon and back over two days last October; and I’m returning again to backpack off the South Rim this April and run rim-to-rim-to-rim in October (two trips you will read about eventually at The Big Outside) . The Grand Canyon can get addictive, but in a good way.
Hike the canyon smartly and safely. Get my expert e-guide to backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim
or my expert e-guide to dayhiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim.
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 feature stories about dayhiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim and dayhiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim; backpacking the Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop; 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.
Backpack Through 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 last September, 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 treks through Glacier (see links below) 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.
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 backpacking Glacier’s Northern Loop and the CDT through Glacier.
Backpack the Teton Crest Trail
The Teton Crest Trail was one of my earliest, major backpacking trips, and is one I’ve returned to do multiple times since—and I’m just as excited to have a permit to do it again this summer as I was that first time 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 truly unique adventure in one of America’s most spectacular mountain ranges. This is, of course, a popular trip, so reserve a backcountry permit months in advance if you can. But the park does set aside two-thirds of available backcountry campsites for backpackers seeking to obtain a first-come (or walk-in) permit no more than one day in advance of a trip’s start date—so it’s possible to get a permit without an advance reservation.
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 expert e-guides to the Teton Crest Trail
and the best beginner-friendly backpacking trip there.
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. Get my e-guide “The Perfect, Flexible Plan for Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.”
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 “Insider Tips: The 10 Best Hikes in Zion National Park” and “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 e-guide “The Complete Guide to Backpacking Zion’s Narrows”.
Backpack the Wild Olympic Coast
Hiking and camping on miles and miles of wilderness beach. Stone pinnacles rising out of the pounding surf. Sightings of seals, sea otters, bald eagles, and blue whales. Climbing and descending rope ladders in dense rainforest, where giant Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, and western red cedar grow to 150 or 200 feet tall, some with diameters up to 15 feet wide.
Those are just some of the many highlights of a three-day, 17.5-mile hike of the southern stretch of the coast of Olympic National Park—truly one of the best backpacking trips in America, and one suitable for a family with young kids (ours were nine and seven when we took them).
See my story “The Wildest Shore: Backpacking the Southern Olympic Coast.”
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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.
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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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—whose name means the “Home of the Giants.”
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
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 offers a glimpse of what the world was like 10,000 years ago, as the last Ice Age drew to a close. This adventure remains one of the very best my family or I have ever taken.
Read my story “Back to the Ice Age: Sea Kayaking Glacier Bay.”
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