By Michael Lanza
What adventures did you take this year that inspired you? The 13 photos in this story are favorite images from several wonderful trips I took in 2019—and perhaps you’ll want to take. They include a few enduringly favorite places: backpacking in the Grand Canyon and running the canyon 42 miles rim-to-rim-to-rim in a day; backpacking the amazing Teton Crest Trail; rafting and kayaking Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon River; and dayhiking Idaho’s high point, Borah Peak. But my outdoor travels also featured places I had not been before, including backpacking Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon and trekking Spain’s Picos de Europa Mountains.
Scroll through the photos and short anecdotes from each trip below. Some include links to stories about those places that I’ve already posted at The Big Outside—many of which anyone can read in part, but require a subscription to The Big Outside to read in full, including my tips and information on how to plan and take those trips. Watch for my upcoming stories about the other the places described below.
I’d love to hear what you think of any of my photos or the places shown in them, or upcoming plans you have. Please share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
And I hope my photos help inspire you to start planning your adventures for 2020—because these are the experiences that give meaning to our lives.
Backpacking in the Grand Canyon
For the second year in a row, I made two trips to the Grand Canyon—and once again, those separate trips showed two very different faces of this magnificent place that I find myself increasingly wanting to return to again and again.
In early May, two friends and I backpacked a six-day, 74-mile traverse on what is arguably the best backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon—which is how a longtime backcountry ranger there described it when he recommended it to me—from the South Kaibab Trail to Lipan Point, including the rugged and stunning Escalante Route.
Our timing was serendipitous: We walked through a vibrant bloom of wildflowers carpeting the desert. We also camped and lounged in rare shade beside three of the finest creeks draining the South Rim, pitched our tents a short walk from the murmur of the Colorado River, and walked through some quiet and truly inspiring corners of this vast canyon.
See my story about that trip, “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon,” which includes some information and tips on taking that trip. Or fully inform yourself with everything you need to know to plan and pull off that trip by picking up my downloadable e-guide of the same name.
Now is the time for planning a multi-day hike in the canyon. See my story “5 Epic Grand Canyon Backpacking Trips You Must Do.”
Get my expert e-guides to “The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon”
and “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”
Trekking Spain’s Picos de Europa Mountains
In June, my family trekked for five days through the Picos de Europa in northern Spain, a mountain range I’d first heard of only months earlier—and it blew us away not only for the scenery, but for the notion that there’s a beautiful trekking destination in Europe that’s easily accessible and not overrun.
From our first day hiking perhaps the best-known trail in the Picos—through the deep canyon of the Cares Gorge, with its sheer limestone cliffs—to the high mountain huts, a sunrise where a sea of clouds below us suddenly flamed up red and orange, a long day’s hike across a starkly beautiful alpine landscape, and even a surprise snowstorm, we had a grand adventure.
Watch for my upcoming story about my family’s trek through the Picos de Europa, and see this menu of all international trips at The Big Outside.
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Floating Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon River
A few weeks after returning from Spain, in mid-July, my family and more than two dozen friends—including our guides from Middle Fork Rapid Transit, some of whom also guided our first trip on this river four years ago—rafted and kayaked what may be the very best multi-day, wilderness river adventure in America, Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon River.
Sure, there are many great multi-day wilderness river trips in America. (I’ve taken and written about several good ones.) But really, I don’t know of one that combines all the elements of the Middle Fork: breathtaking scenery, frequent rapids up to class IV, excellent beach campsites, numerous very scenic side hikes, hot springs, world-class trout fishing, and one of the most lovely rivers to ever carve a twisting canyon through mountains.
There are very good reasons I rank this trip among what I believe is a pretty impressive list of our “10 Best Family Outdoor Adventure Trips.”
See for yourself in my story “Reunions of the Heart on Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon River.”
I can help you plan any other trip you read about at my blog. Find out more here.
Hiking Idaho’s Borah Peak
In August, my wife and I celebrated dropping off our son for his freshman year in college by hiking Idaho’s high point, 12,662-foot Borah Peak—an outstanding dayhike that’s feasible for many fit hikers, but offers a real challenge and the payoff of an adventurous character and a killer summit view.
The popular, standard route up the mountain, the Southwest Ridge, ascends a steep 5,200 vertical feet in 3.4 miles—that’s about 1,500 feet per mile, a grade of about 28 percent, making it a burly outing. The distinctive feature on the route is Chicken-Out Ridge, where hikers encounter a few hundred feet of third-class scrambling that’s not technically very difficult for anyone with experience and comfort scrambling off-trail, but it is exposed in spots (explaining the name).
Watch for my upcoming story about hiking Borah Peak, and see my All Trips List for a menu of stories about trips in Idaho at The Big Outside.
Gear up smartly for your trips. See a menu of all my reviews and expert buying tips at my Gear Reviews page.
Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail
After some 20 trips in the Tetons, these peaks still retain the ability to awe me. In late August, I returned once again to backpack the incomparable Teton Crest Trail with three friends who are regular backpacking partners of mine, but by strange coincidence, none of whom had ever hiked the TCT. I planned an itinerary that placed us at my favorite campsites on the TCT (spots which grace my list of 25 favorite backcountry campsites).
Although I’ve backpacked it multiple times, on a trail that unspools a nearly constant highlights reel, I still experienced moments when vistas that I didn’t recall surprised me; I even discovered one thrilling overlook of the South Fork of Cascade Canyon, from just below Hurricane Pass, that I had not visited before.
And in the kind of encounter that I’ve had before on the TCT, but always gives a thrill, while hiking toward Lake Solitude early on our final morning, we stopped on the trail to watch a huge bull moose, off to one side of us, stroll down the canyon.
See my story about that most-recent trip, “A Wonderful Obsession: Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail,” and all of my stories about Grand Teton National Park at The Big Outside.
Click here now to get my e-guide “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail.”
Backpacking Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon
In mid-September, at the tail end of summer, I finally knocked off a trip that’s been on my to-do list for several years: backpacking Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon, in the park’s more-remote southwest corner. Best known for a famous backcountry hot spring called Mr. Bubble—where we enjoyed a delightful afternoon soak in the swirling blend of water from a natural hot spring mixing in the broad, shallow pool with cold creek water—Bechler Canyon also impressed us with its thunderous and beautiful waterfalls and cascades.
On a five-day, roughly 55-mile hike, we walked along and made several fords of the Bechler River, which varies in character from a gentle, quiet, tree-lined waterway with world-class trout fishing to a raging torrent where some cascades tumble for hundreds of feet. We hiked through Shoshone Geyser Basin, the largest backcountry geyser basin in the park, seeing pools of boiling water, steam hissing from ground vents, and geysers erupt as we walked past them.
See my “Photo Gallery: Backpacking Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon,” and all of my stories about Yellowstone National Park, and watch for my upcoming feature story about this trip at The Big Outside.
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Running the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim
I returned to the Grand Canyon in October with several friends to run-hike 42 miles rim-to-rim-to-rim in one day—an outing I’ve completed before, both in a single day and over two days, and still consider one of the most scenic days of hiking I’ve ever had.
We started descending the South Kaibab Trail—one of the 25 best national park dayhikes in America—shortly before 6 a.m., intentionally timed to catch the dawn light flashing like a wildfire across a vast sweep of the Grand Canyon sprawling before us. (Seriously, everyone should hike down the South Kaibab shortly after dawn on a clear morning at least once.) And the ascent of the North Kaibab Trail offers more variety, from the narrow canyon of lower Bright Angel Creek to the trail’s upper section, where you walk a footpath carved into the face of a cliff.
See my “Photo Gallery: Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim” and my stories “Fit to be Tired: Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a Day” and “April Fools: Dayhiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim,” and scroll down my All National Park Trips page for a menu of all stories about the Grand Canyon at The Big Outside.
Do this trip right. Get my expert e-guide to backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim
or my expert e-guide to dayhiking rim to rim.