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: 18,712 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.
I regularly update this story to spotlight trips at the time of year when you should start planning them—or trips that require little to no advance planning and are ideal for that time of year. You’ll see that reflected in the stellar lineup of adventures in this story.
Here’s the thing about bucket list trips: They usually require advance planning. This year, for instance, I planned months in advance so that I could backpack off the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in May and rock climb in Yosemite with my teenage son in July, and I have plans to backpack with my family in Idaho’s Sawtooths in August and a permit to hike an 86-mile traverse of Glacier National Park in September.
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.
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 geysers—like the park’s biggest, Grand Prismatic (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 not too rigorous.
You may hear tales of traffic jams in Yellowstone during summer, and yes, it’s a busy place. But just go there. First, though, read my “Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone,” and see this menu of all of my posts about Yellowstone National Park.
I also write about cross-country skiing Yellowstone with my family in my book Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.
Backpack the Great Smoky Mountains
You’ve seen photos of classic Great Smoky Mountains National Park scenery, with overlapping rows of blue, wooded ridges fading to a distant horizon. But on a 34-mile hike from lower elevations near Fontana Lake up to the park’s crest, traversing a stretch of the Appalachian Trail, I enjoyed a grand tour of the wonderful variety in this half-million-acre park, one of the premier backpacking destinations east of the Mississippi.
I sat beside rocky streams tumbling through cascades; walked through forest that harbors 1,600 species of flowering plants (76 listed as threatened or endangered in North Carolina and Tennessee) accompanied only by the sound of birds; and, of course, looked out over an ocean of blue ridges from 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome and the park’s highest bald, 5,920-foot Andrews Bald. I also found a surprising degree of solitude, even in the popular fall hiking season.
Read my feature story about that trip, “In the Garden of Eden: Backpacking the Great Smoky Mountains.“
Score a popular permit using my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”
Trek Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park
Southern Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, in the heart of Patagonia, is undoubtedly one of the most prized trekking destinations in the world. Granite peaks soar thousands of feet overhead like swords piercing the sky, and some of the world’s biggest glaciers—like the Grey Glacier (above)—stretch for many miles. When a friend and I trekked here, this place looked familiar from the many pictures I’d seen, and yet, kind of surreal, too massive to really comprehend the landscape’s scale. It’s also, you could say, kind of windy.
Read my story about this world-class Patagonian adventure.
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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 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 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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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.”
Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides.
Click here now to learn more.
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 7 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.
Like this story? You may also like my “10 Tips For Getting Your Teenager Outdoors With You”
and “My Top 10 Family Outdoor Adventures.”
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