5 Great Adventures You Can Still Pull Off in 2018
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 in 2018? Here are five backpacking trips that even slackers still have time to plan and execute this year. Four of them are in top-tier national parks for backpacking, and the fifth is a multi-day hike 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 much happier if you do. You can leave a comment at the bottom of this story to share your thoughts about these suggestions (or offer others), and write to me later to thank me.
Backpack Deep Into the North Cascades
Want to probe into the heart one of the most uncrowded, rugged, and wild national parks in the contiguous United States? On an 80-mile backpacking trip in North Cascades National Park and the adjacent Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, a friend and I crossed four mountain passes (see lead photo at top of story) while going from one of America’s most primeval and ancient rainforests to sub-alpine views of the most heavily glaciated peaks in the Lower 48. We saw waterfalls and thunderous whitewater creeks, swam in bracing and beautiful mountain lakes, and marveled at sunshine lighting up the larch trees turned golden with fall color in late September.
Want to talk about wild? Scientists believe a remnant population of grizzly bears still inhabits the North Cascades. Get there as soon as you can: Researchers project that 70 percent of North Cascades glaciers will likely be gone by mid-century.
See my feature story about that trip, “Primal Wild: Backpacking 80 Miles Through the North Cascades.”
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.
See my numerous stories about the Grand Canyon, including hiking across the canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim and back, 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.
The Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop is one of “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips.”
Explore the High Sierra of 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.
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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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Backpack Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
Since moving to Idaho 20 years ago, I’ve gotten to know the Sawtooths pretty well (although I have much more hiking and climbing to do there), and every time I explore a new corner of that range, I think it may be the most beautiful spot I’ve seen there yet. That’s the impact the Sawtooths have on you. My stories about Idaho’s Sawtooths consistently rank among the most popular reads at The Big Outside, so apparently a lot of readers concur with my opinion about them.
See all of my stories about Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, including my feature stories about a 57-mile hike in the southern Sawtooths and backpacking to three of the range’s most accessible and prettiest lakes, this photo gallery of some of the many gorgeous mountain lakes in the Sawtooths, and my Ask Me posts answering reader questions about the best long backpacking trip in the Sawtooths, where else to backpack in the Sawtooths, and the best dayhikes and backpacking trips there.
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