10 Photos From 2016 Adventures That Will Inspire You to Get Outdoors

By Michael Lanza

What trips did you take in 2016 that reinvigorated you and fired your enthusiasm for the outdoors? Looking back through thousands of photos I took over the past year, I’ve selected some favorite images I captured on 10 memorable adventures in 2016—including several with my family. The list ranges from multi-day backpacking, river, and climbing trips in five states to outings as short as a half-day within an hour of my home. These trips occurred in seven national parks and an equal number of places managed as wilderness, from Washington’s North Cascades to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado, from California’s Mount Whitney to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Perhaps more than anything, these pictures illustrate the diversity and wealth of natural beauty that we have many reasons to celebrate in America.

The following images, most of which link to existing stories at The Big Outside, also show why the outdoors is so central to my life that I’ve built a career around it for more than two decades. Maybe you’ll find inspiration in one or more of these pictures for a future trip… or just draw a few minutes of vicarious pleasure from them.


My son, Nate, backpacking above Utah's Dirty Devil River canyon.
My son, Nate, backpacking above Utah’s Dirty Devil River canyon.

Exploring Southern Utah’s Lonely Corner

During a weeklong, family trip at the end of March, we backpacked into the canyon of Utah’s Dirty Devil River, exploring an area off the radar of most backpackers. We hiked across slickrock, with sweeping vistas of the rolling plateau and wildly sculpted sandstone domes and towers flanking the canyon. We also dayhiked into remote Horseshoe Canyon, a district of Canyonlands National Park, to view the Great Gallery, a panel of Archaic rock paintings dating back up to 8,000 years.

I’ll write about that trip in upcoming stories at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see all of my stories about Canyonlands National Park and about hiking and backpacking in southern Utah.


Climbing Mount Whitney, Sequoia National Park.
Climbing Mount Whitney, Sequoia National Park.

Climbing California’s Mount Whitney

On a four-day, April climb of the Mountaineers Route on California’s Mount Whitney, highest peak in the Lower 48 at 14,505 feet, my 15-year-old son, Nate, and I, with a team of guides and several readers of this blog, left our high camp at 12,000 just before dawn on summit day. I captured the photo above, of some of our group approaching Whitney’s towering east face as the rising sun bathed the granite in golden light.

See my story about that trip, “Roof of the High Sierra: A Father-Son Climb of California’s Mount Whitney,” my “Review: Gear For Climbing Mount Whitney,” and all of my stories about adventures in California national parks at The Big Outside.


Surprise Canyon, Panamint Range, Death Valley National Park.
Backpacking Surprise Canyon, Panamint Range, Death Valley National Park.

Hiking and Backpacking in Death Valley

A month after climbing the highest peak in the contiguous United States, I was back in California, within sight of both Mount Whitney and the lowest point in North America, in Death Valley National Park. With three companions from the outdoor industry, I backpacked up Surprise Canyon in the Panamint Range and dayhiked to the park’s high point, the 11,049-foot summit of Telescope Peak. True to its name, Surprise Canyon was a verdant oasis in one of the planet’s driest deserts, with a robust creek and one waterfall we had to scramble up a short cliff to get around (photo above). And Telescope Peak is a scenic hike almost from the first steps on a trail that meanders upward through desert mountains, with views taking in some of the greatest vertical relief on the continent.

See my story “A Mind-Boggling Chunk of Lonely: Backpacking in Death Valley National Park,” and watch for my upcoming story about dayhiking Telescope Peak at The Big Outside.

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Hiking through Idaho's City of Rocks National Reserve.
Hiking through Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve.

Climbing at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve

I’ve spent untold days rock climbing, hiking, trail running, and camping, many times with my family, at the City of Rocks over nearly 20 years of living in Idaho. I have many photos from there that show the natural beauty of its hundreds of granite monoliths scattered across the high desert, and the innumerable, gorgeous sunsets I’ve witnessed there (including the lead photo at the top of this story). On another family trip there last June, I got this shot of my son, Nate, hiking toward the Stripe Rock area, on the way back to our campsite after climbing.

I’ll write about the City of Rocks in an upcoming story at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see all of my stories about outdoor adventures in my beautiful, chosen home state of Idaho.


See the best new gear for climbing in my “Gear Review: A Complete Rock Climbing Kit For Climbers With a Real Life.”


My 18-year-old nephew, Marco, and me on Idaho's Payette River.
My 18-year-old nephew, Marco (in front), and me on Idaho’s Payette River.

Running the World-Class Whitewater of the Payette River

Whitewater kayakers and rafters travel from all over the country and the world to paddle Idaho’s Payette River and its North and South forks and Cabarton section. Living about an hour’s drive from the Main Payette, we’re fortunate enough to get on it several times every spring and summer. I enjoy introducing newcomers to what we have here in Idaho, and had a chance to take my 18-year-old nephew, Marco Garofalo, down the class III Main Payette and Cabarton section in July.


Floating the Green River's Gates of Lodore section through Dinosaur National Monument.
Floating the Green River’s Gates of Lodore section through Dinosaur National Monument.

Rafting and Kayaking Through Dinosaur National Monument

Also in July, my family and 21 friends and extended family took a four-day, guided rafting and kayaking trip through one of the most storied and breathtaking canyons in the West: the Gates of Lodore section of the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument. Floating between multi-colored cliffs rising more than a thousand feet above us, we ran rapids up to class IV—although many rapids were easy enough for beginners to paddle in inflatable kayaks—hiked to waterfalls and prehistoric pictographs, and saw more bighorn sheep than possibly any of us has ever seen on one trip.

Watch for my upcoming story about floating the Gates of Lodore section of the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument with outfitter Holiday River Expeditions.


Do you like The Big Outside? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by a USA Today Readers Choice poll and others. Get email updates about new stories and free gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box at the bottom of this story, at the top of the left sidebar, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hiking over Bondcliff on the Pemi Loop in New Hampshire's White Mountains.
Hiking over Bondcliff on the Pemi Loop, White Mountains, N.H.

Dayhiking the 32-Mile Pemi Loop, White Mountains, N.H.

On a very long, August day that began with light rain showers and pea-soup fog and reached its climax with the clouds lifting to give us long, stunning views of one of the most remote corners of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, two friends and I dayhiked the grueling, 32-mile, 10,000-vertical-foot Pemi Loop. Wrapping halfway around and then crossing the Pemigewasset Wilderness of the Whites, it passes over eight 4,000-foot summits, including the very scenic and popular stretch of the Appalachian Trail over Franconia Ridge.

I’ll write about that big day in an upcoming story at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see all of my stories about hiking in the White Mountains.


No matter how far you’re dayhiking or backpacking, the right techniques and gear just make it more enjoyable. See my “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier” and “Gear Review: 6 Favorite Daypacks.”


Middle Cramer Lake, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.
Middle Cramer Lake, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.

Backpacking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains

When my son told me he wanted to take two of his 15-year-old buddies on their first backpacking trip, I naturally agreed, and we headed out into Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains for three days in late August. We camped at two of the hundreds of gorgeous mountain lakes that dapple the Sawtooths, our first night at Middle Cramer Lake (photo above), and our second night above the largest of the Baron Lakes. Measured by the scenery and the boys’ enjoyment of the adventure, I think it was hugely successful.

I’ll write about that trip in an upcoming story at this blog. See my many stories about Idaho’s Sawtooths, including my “Photo Gallery: Mountain Lakes of Idaho’s Sawtooths.”


Make your next backpacking trip better by first reading “My Top 5 Ultralight Backpacking Tips” and “Gear Review: The 10 Best Packs For Backpacking.”



Larch trees showing fall color at Rainbow Lake, North Cascades National Park Complex.
Larch trees showing fall color at Rainbow Lake in the North Cascades.

Backpacking in the North Cascades

In the last week of September, a friend and I backpacked 80 miles through Washington’s North Cascades National Park and adjacent Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, hiking a circuit from Easy Pass Trailhead over four mountain passes: Easy, Park Creek, Rainbow, and McAlester. We went from lush, old-growth forest where the trail sliced through ground carpeted in moss and ferns, passing thunderous waterfalls, to alpine terrain where the larch trees had turned brilliant yellow and glaciers loomed above us. On our final night in the backcountry, we camped by the shore of Rainbow Lake, where I shot the above photo near sunset.

I’ll write about that trip in an upcoming story at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see all of my stories about the North Cascades region.


Hiking in Western North Carolina’s Mountains

Moore Cove in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest.
Moore Cove in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest.

To wrap up a pretty good year of outdoor adventures, in October I spent a week dayhiking in the western North Carolina mountains and backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In an area with some of the most biologically diverse forests in the country and rich with waterfalls, I hiked to several beautiful falls. Early one evening, I took a short walk to a magical little spot called Moore Cove in Pisgah National Forest, where a thin veil of water pours over the lip of an overhanging, 50-foot cliff.

I’m planning several stories about that trip over the coming months. For now, see this gallery of photos I’ve already posted of hiking and backpacking in western North Carolina, and this 3-minute read about backpacking in the Great Smokies.

See all of my stories about family adventures and national park adventures at The Big Outside.



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2 thoughts on “10 Photos From 2016 Adventures That Will Inspire You to Get Outdoors”

  1. Well, I’m certainly inspired. I’m impressed you’ve been able to take so many stunning pictures this year. I absolutely love all of them, but I really love the Middle Cramer Lake picture.