By Michael Lanza
So you didn’t plan far enough in advance to reserve a permit for backpacking this summer in Yosemite, Grand Teton, Glacier, or another popular national park, eh? So, now what? Where will you take a big outdoor adventure this year? Here are five backpacking trips that even slackers still have time to plan and execute this year. Three of them are in top-tier national parks for backpacking, and the other two are multi-day hikes with national park-caliber mountain scenery.
But don’t sit on your hands any longer. Read through this list now and start the gears turning to make one of these trips happen this year. You’ll be glad you did.
I’d love to read what you think of this list of trips; leave a comment at the bottom of this story.
Circumambulate Mount Hood
If you’re looking to up the ante in terms of challenge while drinking a big glass of scenery just about every step of the way, backpack around Mount Hood. The 41-mile Timberline Trail around the 11,239-foot volcano presents serious creek crossings, fields of wildflowers in mid-summer, waterfalls in abundance, and blow-you-away views of Hood around every bend. The Timberline Trail typically sheds most of its snow cover by late July or early August—when wildflowers are in riot—and its season can last well into September and sometimes into October.
See my story “Full of Surprises: Backpacking Mount Hood’s Timberline Trail.”
Mount Hood’s Timberline Trail is one of “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips.”
Explore the High Sierra in Sequoia National Park
With some of the highest mountains in the contiguous United States and scores of beautiful backcountry lakes—not to mention consistently sunny days in summer—California’s southern High Sierra unequivocally belongs on any list of top backpacking destinations in America. On a six-day, 40-mile loop hike from the Mineral King area of 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. I still consider it one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever hiked. And while permit quotas for popular trailheads like the High Sierra Trail get booked months in advance, there are still many summer dates available for starting at Timber Gap.
See my story “Heavy Lifting: Backpacking Sequoia National Park,” about my family’s backpacking trip there and all of my stories about Sequoia National Park and California national parks at The Big Outside.
See the Best of the Wind River Range
Besides the High Sierra, there may be no mountain range in the country with as many lovely alpine lakes and tarns as Wyoming’s Wind River Range—you will lose count of the lakes you hike past. But unlike much of the High Sierra, in the Winds, you just may see fewer people than lakes, and backcountry permits are not an issue. On a roughly 41-mile loop from Elkhart Park, two friends and I spent a night in Titcomb Basin, an alpine valley at over 10,000 feet below a granite wall of 13,000-foot peaks. Our route crossed three 12,000-foot passes, one via an adventurous, off-trail route over 12,240-foot Knapsack Col that led into a mystical hanging valley. Start exploring the Winds and you may never want to stop.
See my stories “Best of the Wind River Range: Backpacking to Titcomb Basin” and “A Walk in the Winds: A One-Day, 27-Mile Traverse of Wyoming’s Wind River Range,” and all of my stories about the Winds at The Big Outside.
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Hike Into the Grand Canyon
I’ve hiked into the Big Ditch enough times—including recently spending four days on the Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the North Rim (which you will read about at The Big Outside soon)—to understand two fundamental backpacker truths about it: First, no other place compares to it, period—there’s only one Grand Canyon; and second, every trip there deserves five stars, each so scenic and special that it’s hard to imagine ever getting enough of this place. Of course, many other backpackers share that view, so competition for backcountry permits is stiff, especially for the popular Bright Angel and South and North Kaibab trails. Now is the time to plan a backpacking trip for October, a prime month for hiking in the Grand Canyon. Mark your calendar for June 1 to apply for a permit for October.
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See my story “Backpacking the Grand Canyon’ Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop,” and all of my numerous stories about the Grand Canyon, including my stories about dayhiking rim to rim, a four-day, family backpacking trip from Grandview Point to the South Kaibab Trail, a three-day hike from the New Hance Trailhead to Grandview Point, and backpacking the remote and rugged Royal Arch Loop.
And watch for my upcoming feature story about my most recent backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, a 74-mile hike from the South Kaibab Trail to the Tanner Trail.
Plan your next great backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon or other parks using my expert e-guides.
Backpack in the Great Smokies
On a multi-day hike in the Great Smokies, you can drink heartily from the mug of the Southern Appalachian Mountains experience, going from bracing swims in low-elevation streams that tumble through one cascade after another, to classic views of an ocean of blue ridges. The Great Smokies have 1,600 species of flowering plants, including 100 native tree species, with over 300 species of native vascular plants considered rare. Good news for procrastinators: GSMNP only accepts permit reservations up to 30 days in advance of the first night of your trip. Put one on your calendar for early summer, when streams and waterfalls are full, or in mid-autumn, when fall foliage reaches peak color.
See my feature story “In the Garden of Eden: Backpacking the Great Smoky Mountains,” about my solo, 34-mile backpacking trip through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hiking a loop on the North Carolina side that took me from lower elevations near Fontana Lake up to a stretch of the Appalachian Trail over 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome and the park’s highest bald, 5,920-foot Andrews Bald. See also all of my stories about the Great Smokies at The Big Outside.
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