18 Great Backpacking Trips You Can Still Take in 2024

By Michael Lanza

So you didn’t plan months in advance to reserve a permit for backpacking this summer in Glacier, Yosemite, on the Teton Crest Trail, Wonderland Trail, or John Muir Trail or in another popular national park? Or you tried to reserve a permit but failed? Now what? Where can you still go this year?

You’re in luck. This story describes 18 backpacking trips you can still plan and take this year—because most of them don’t require a permit reservation, and in the case of Yosemite, North Cascades, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Olympic, and Capitol Reef national parks, where one is required, you can still obtain a backcountry permit for this summer or fall.

Six of these trips are in top-tier national parks, and the others are all multi-day wilderness hikes with national park-caliber scenery. They all possess qualities that make them stand out in personal memory among the countless adventures I’ve enjoyed over the past three-plus decades, including the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.


A backpacker hiking the Shannon Pass Trail, Wind River Range, WY.
My wife, Penny, backpacking the Shannon Pass Trail in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

If you don’t want to miss your opportunity to get into the wilderness this year, scroll through this list and start the gears turning to make one of these trips happen. You know that you’ll be glad you did.

Each trip described below includes a link to my full story about it, which has my expert tips on planning each one (and those stories require a paid subscription to read in full).

And I can help you plan any of them. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how.

Please share your thoughts on any of these trips in the comments at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

Teenage girls backpacking in Utah's High Uintas Wilderness.
My daughter, Alex, her friend, Adele, and my wife, Penny, backpacking in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness.

The High Uintas Wilderness

This first sign that this was going to be the sort of trip we desperately needed in July 2020 appeared as we pulled into the dirt parking lot at the Uinta River Trailhead in northeastern Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness: There were just two other vehicles parked there. For most of the six-day, roughly 59-mile loop we backpacked, that degree of loneliness prevailed. And even the one day that we shared the trail with other hikers—hiking Utah’s highest peak—never felt overly crowded.

Teenage girls hiking Utah's 13,528-foot Kings Peak.
Alex and Adele hiking Utah’s 13,528-foot Kings Peak.

That hike took us to alpine lakes well above 10,000 feet—we camped by one of them—and our highest campsite in sprawling Painter Basin at 11,000 feet, at the foot of Utah’s high point, 13,528-foot Kings Peak. We spent two nights in Painter Basin and dayhiked Kings, a strenuous ascent with a summit ridge that involves scrambling and some route-finding, but a fun adventure that delivers the payoff of scenery worthy of the effort.

We also enjoyed brilliant sunsets and inky night skies streaked with the luminescence of the Milky Way. Our trip concluded with two days of hiking through forest down the Uinta River Trail, descending a pretty canyon, often hiking along the tops of cliffs that plunged to the whitewater river’s edge. And the High Uintas Wilderness requires no permit reservation.

Before you wave off this relatively unknown mountain range, see my story “Tall and Lonely: Backpacking Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness” and all stories about backpacking in Utah at The Big Outside.

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Larch trees glowing with fall color, reflected in Rainbow Lake in the North Cascades National Park Complex.
Larch trees glowing with fall color, reflected in Rainbow Lake in the North Cascades National Park Complex.

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 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.

A backpacker at Park Creek Pass, North Cascades National Park.
Todd Arndt at Park Creek Pass in North Cascades National Park.

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.

How wild is this place? Scientists have long believed a remnant population of grizzly bears still inhabits the North Cascades ecosystem, an area larger than New Jersey; and in April 2024, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a plan to reintroduce grizzlies to the North Cascades over a period of several years.

Get there as soon as you can: Researchers project that 70 percent of North Cascades glaciers will likely be gone by mid-century.

The park accepts backcountry permit reservations at recreation.gov/permits/4675322 for up to 60 percent of backcountry campsites, for trips from May 19 through Oct. 7—and there are summer dates and campsites still available. Plus, permits for the other 40 percent of backcountry campsites are issued only on a walk-in/first-come basis no more than one day in advance.

See my story “Primal Wild: Backpacking 80 Miles Through the North Cascades.” I can help you plan this trip or shorter versions of it and other trips in the North Cascades. See my Custom Trip Planning page.

Got an all-time favorite campsite? I have 25 of them.
See “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”

A backpacker above Overland Lake on the Ruby Crest Trail, Ruby Mountains, Nevada.
My son, Nate, backpacking above Overland Lake on the Ruby Crest Trail in northern Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

The Ruby Crest Trail

A backpacker on day two on the Ruby Crest Trail, Ruby Mountains, Nevada.
My son, Nate, backpacking on day two on the Ruby Crest Trail.

Nevada’s not on your list of much-see backpacking destinations? Time to edit your list.

Having eyed the Ruby Crest Trail (lead photo at top of story) for several years, I decided the coronavirus-impacted summer of 2020 seemed like the perfect time to finally explore a trail that requires no permit reservation in a wilderness that sees relatively few backpackers and dayhikers compared to marquis parks and mountain ranges around the West.

My family backpacked a four-day, approximately 36-mile traverse of the Ruby Crest Trail in mid-July, a nice time of year for it, with wildflowers blooming, moderate daytime temperatures and comfortably cool nights, and relatively few bugs at a time of year when you’d see clouds of mosquitoes in many mountain ranges (and there are even fewer bugs as you get into August).

The Ruby Crest Trail goes from a high-desert landscape speckled with granite monoliths to aspen and conifer forests and barren, alpine terrain spotted with stunning mountain lakes. Much of the traverse remains high above treeline, with sweeping views of craggy peaks.

Read my feature story “Backpacking the Ruby Crest Trail—A Diamond in the Rough.”

Get my help planning your Ruby Crest Trail or High Uintas hike or any trip on this list.
See my Custom Trip Planning page.

A backpacker hiking above Death Hollow on the Boulder Mail Trail in southern Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Todd Arndt backpacking above Death Hollow on the Boulder Mail Trail in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Death Hollow Loop

Backpackers hiking down Death Hollow in southern Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
David Gordon and Todd Arndt backpacking down Death Hollow in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

We began this adventure by following the Boulder Mail Trail’s wildly circuitous, up-and-down route over a slickrock plateau of rippling Navajo Sandstone and across steep-walled canyons.

But that was mere prelude to an overlook at the rim of Death Hollow that steals your breath away, where the trail abruptly plunged into that Escalante River tributary.

On the sometimes narrow and constantly surprising descent of Death Hollow, we hiked in cold water ranging from ankle- to thigh-deep—avoiding the even deeper pools—while encountering a succession of challenging obstacles (the poison ivy is crazy) almost as frequently as scenes as pretty as any canyon in the Southwest. Then we ascended the drier upper Escalante River canyon between soaring walls of red, brown, and cream-colored rock painted with desert varnish.

Hit the 22-mile Death Hollow Loop in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in good weather and safe water levels—it poses challenges to take seriously. And it will blow your mind.

See my story “Backpacking Utah’s Mind-Blowing Death Hollow Loop.”

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A backpacker in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park.
Todd Arndt backpacking in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite

Having backpacked numerous trips all over Yosemite, I can say this about one of America’s most iconic national parks: Every hike you take here will be one of the most inspiring you’ve ever taken—and you can spend a lifetime exploring it and never get enough.

A backpacker hiking Indian Ridge, overlooking Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm backpacking Indian Ridge in Yosemite. Click photo to read about Yosemite’s “best-kept secret backpacking trip.”

Here’s the thing about Yosemite: You can enter the lottery for a wilderness permit up to 24 weeks (168 days) in advance of your trip’s start date and popular trailheads get booked up that far in advance.

But there are plenty of lower-demand trailheads that still have availability for summer dates—especially after Labor Day, an ideal time to hike in Yosemite—and this is Yosemite, so you’re certain to enjoy a beautiful trip anywhere in the park. Plus, 40 percent of wilderness permits are available on a first-come basis at recreation.gov up to seven days in advance.

All of this means you could still get a permit reservation to backpack in Yosemite this year.

See “How to Get a Yosemite or High Sierra Wilderness Permit,” “The 10 Best Backpacking Trips in Yosemite,” my e-books describing three great backpacking trips in the park, and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help plan your trip there.

Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite and other parks using my expert e-books.

A backpacker above Royal Arch Canyon on the Grand Canyon's Royal Arch Loop.
Kris Wagner backpacking the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop.

The Grand Canyon

A hiker cooling off below Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon.
Jeff Wilhelm cooling off below Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon.

I’ve taken enough multi-day hikes in the Big Ditch—most recently a six-day hike just last month (April 2024) where, even at a peak time of year, we experienced probably the most solitude I’ve ever had in the canyon (I’ll write about that trip soon)—to understand two fundamental truths about it.

First, nowhere else compares, period—there’s only one Grand Canyon. And second, every trip there deserves five stars, each so scenic and unique that it’s hard to imagine ever getting enough of this place.

Backpackers with the impression that any multi-day hike into the canyon will basically resemble any other learn through returning again and again (as I have) that the differences far outnumber the similarities—from hidden side canyons with oases of greenery and waterfalls plunging from great heights or bursting explosively from a cliff face to carpets of wildflowers extending as far as you can see and idyllic campsites where at night you gaze up at an inky sky riddled with stars.

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. But most backpackers apply for permits in the peak months of April, May, and October, while weather remains good often well into November, when competition for permits tapers (a bit).

Reserve an October trip backcountry permit by June 1 and a November permit by July 1.

See “8 Epic Grand Canyon Backpacking Trips You Must Do,” “5 Reasons You Must Backpack in the Grand Canyon,” “How to Get a Permit to Backpack in the Grand Canyon,” and all stories about backpacking in the Grand Canyon at The Big Outside.

Get my expert e-books to “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon,”
and an easier alternative, “The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”

A backpacker in Titcomb Basin in Wyoming's Wind River Range.
Todd Arndt backpacking into Titcomb Basin in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Click photo to read about this trip.

The Wind River Range

Besides the High Sierra, there may be no mountain range in the country with as much sprawling wilderness or as many towering, jagged peaks and lovely alpine lakes and tarns as Wyoming’s Wind River Range—at the least, you will lose count of the lakes you regret not camping beside.

But unlike many popular areas of the High Sierra, in much of the Winds, you just might hike past more lakes than other people—if you’re willing to put in a little extra effort to walk a bit deeper into the backcountry—and advance backcountry permit reservations are not needed.

A backpacker just north of Jackass Pass in the Cirque of the Towers. in Wyoming's Wind River Range.
Chip Roser just north of Jackass Pass in the Cirque of the Towers. in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Click photo to read about the best backpacking trip in the Winds.

I’ve explored throughout the Winds on several trips over the past three decades.

On one 41-mile loop, two friends and I hiked past a constellation of beautiful lakes, enjoyed a camp near lakes at over 10,000 feet in Titcomb Basin—where granite peaks rise to over 13,000 feet—and took a spicy off-trail route over a 12,000-foot pass.

On long stretches of a lonely, 43-mile loop in a less-visited area of the Winds, we enjoyed one of the best backcountry campsites I’ve ever had, crossed four high passes, and walked one stunning trail after another past numerous alpine lakes, including two of the prettiest backcountry lakes I’ve hiked past without camping at.

I’ve hiked through the famous Cirque of the Towers multiple times, including a 27-mile, east-west dayhike across the Winds and a 96-mile, south-north traverse of the Wind River High Route. But most recently, a friend and I hiked across the Cirque to cap off a four-day loop from Big Sandy that crosses four passes and features camps by beautiful lakes—a route I consider the best multi-day hike in the Winds.

Start exploring the Winds and you may never want to stop. In fact, I’m already scheming my next trip there.

See “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Wind River Range? Yup,” “Backpacking Through a Lonely Corner of the Wind River Range,” “Best of the Wind River Range: Backpacking to Titcomb Basin,” “Adventure and Adversity on the Wind River High Route,” and all stories about backpacking in the Wind River Range at The Big Outside.

After the Wind River Range, hike the other nine of “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips.”

Backpackers in Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona.
Backpackers in Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona.

Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

Backpackers in Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona.
Backpacking out to the West Trailhead on our last day in Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona.

At a mere 19,410 acres, the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, in southeast Arizona, may look like a featherweight when lined up beside places like Yosemite, the Wind River Range, and Aravaipa’s much more-famous neighbor to the north, the Grand Canyon.

But when it comes to scenery, Aravaipa punches above its weight, as four friends and I discovered when we backpacked into it for two nights, setting up a base camp and dayhiking to explore this lush green, 12-mile-long defile.

Aravaipa Creek flows strongly year-round, creating an unusual Southwest oasis of tall cottonwood, sycamore, ash, and willow trees in the hyper-arid Sonoran Desert, the greenery contrasting against redrock walls that rise up to 600 feet tall. On the upper canyon walls and rims, saguaro cacti abound.

With easy, nearly flat hiking often in the shallow river, no water scarcity typical of Southwest desert backpacking trips, abundant shade, the low elevation and southern Arizona climate, Aravaipa offers a relatively casual and beautiful adventure in spring and fall—with fall turning the foliage red and gold.

See my story “Backpacking the Desert Oasis of Aravaipa Canyon.”

Hike all of the “12 Best Backpacking Trips in the Southwest.”

 

Alice Lake in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.
Alice Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

The Sawtooth Mountains

Since moving to Idaho more than 25 years ago, I’ve gotten to know the Sawtooths quite well, 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.

A backpacker above Toxaway Lake in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.
My wife, Penny, backpacking above Toxaway Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

The Sawtooths remind me in many ways of the High Sierra and the Wind River Range, for their jagged peaks and abundance of stunning alpine lakes. But the Sawtooths aren’t as busy as the Sierra, nor as high as either of those two mountain ranges, which translates to less altitude-related challenges and often calmer weather patterns—not to mention avoiding the highly competitive permit systems throughout the High Sierra that often require making a reservation months in advance: In the Sawtooths, like most national forests, you need no permit reservation.

The prime backpacking season in the Sawtooths begins around mid-July and often extends well into September. Having hiked much of the trail system and many off-trail routes and climbed several peaks, I’ve helped many readers plan unforgettable trips there.

See “5 Reasons You Must Backpack Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains,” “The Best Hikes and Backpacking Trips in Idaho’s Sawtooths,” and my e-book “The Best Backpacking Trip in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.”

I’ve helped many readers plan unforgettable backpacking trips in the Sawtooths and elsewhere.
Want my help with yours? Click here now.

A backpacker on the Timberline Trail around Oregon's Mount Hood.
Jeff Wilhelm backpacking the Timberline Trail around Oregon’s Mount Hood.

Mount Hood’s Timberline Trail

While backpackers clamor for a popular permit to backpack the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, the 41-mile Timberline Trail around 11,239-foot Mount Hood offers comparable scenery just about every step of the way—without requiring a permit reservation.

Ramona Falls on the Timberline Trail, Mount Hood, Oregon.
Ramona Falls on the Timberline Trail, Mount Hood, Oregon.

As on the Wonderland, you will hike through vast meadows of wildflowers in riot in mid-summer, and past waterfalls in abundance and blow-you-away views of Hood around every bend. The Timberline also presents some challenges, most notably a few creek crossings that can be high and fast—though easier by late summer. But for backpackers comfortable with that sort of excitement, it’s an exceptional adventure.

Hiked in three to five days, the Timberline typically sheds most of its snow cover by late July or early August and its season can last well into September and sometimes into October.

See my story “Full of Surprises: Backpacking Mount Hood’s Timberline Trail.”

Trips go better with the right gear.
See “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs” and “The 10 Best Backpacking Tents.”

A backpacker above Crack-in-the-Wall, Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.
Cyndi Hayes backpacking above Crack-in-the-Wall and Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

Coyote Gulch

Backpackers in Utah's Coyote Gulch.
Backpackers in Utah’s Coyote Gulch.

On the roughly 15-mile hike through Coyote Gulch, in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, you’ll find some of the classic features of Southwest backpacking trips: a natural bridge, one of the region’s most distinctive natural arches—and one deeply overhung cliff with amazing echo acoustics that delighted the kids when my family and another spent three days exploring this canyon.

From one of the possible trailheads, you hike across ancient dunes hardened to rock to stand atop a cliff overlooking redrock towers and cliffs, including Stevens Arch, which spans 220 feet across and 160 feet tall—and then squeeze through a tight, 100-foot-long slot called Crack-in-the-Wall (not as hard as it sounds and quite fun).

Throw in a perennial stream that nurtures plenty of greenery and relatively few hazards and you have one of the Southwest’s most beginner-friendly backpacking trips that delivers the goods on scenery.

See my story “Playing the Memory Game in Southern Utah’s Escalante, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon.”

 

Make every family adventure better with my “10 Tips For Keeping Kids Happy and Safe Outdoors
and “5 Tips for Hiking With Young Kids from an Outdoors Dad.”

 

A backpacker hiking Buckskin Ridge Trail 498 in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.
My wife, Penny, backpacking Buckskin Ridge Trail 498 in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.

The Pasayten Wilderness

A backpacker hiking the Pacific Crest Trail north toward Rock Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.
My wife, Penny, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail north toward Rock Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.

Our trip commenced by following a 20-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail along a high ridgeline dappled with meadows and rich in North Cascades panoramas of jagged ridges stretching to far horizons. We then left the PCT to trace a less-traveled trail up a long, rugged ridge where the servings of solitude matched the big vistas and, at times, the steepness.

Overall, our nearly 45-mile loop north from Harts Pass illustrated how the Pasayten’s vast wilderness possesses many qualities that create solitude.

We backpacked the Pasayten in the first week of September—a glorious time to walk through the Cascade Range—meeting several PCT thru-hikers wrapping up their months-long journey by tagging the Canadian border. Worth noting: We had three of our four campsites entirely to ourselves, with no other parties within sight or earshot.

See my story “Backpacking the Pasayten Wilderness—On and Off the Beaten Track” at The Big Outside.

Planning a backpacking trip? See “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips
and “10 Tips for Taking Kids on Their First Backpacking Trip.”

 

A hiker on the Zeacliff Trail, White Mountains, N.H.
Mark Fenton hiking the Zeacliff Trail, White Mountains, N.H.

New Hampshire’s White Mountains

Admittedly, I have a personal bias for New Hampshire’s White Mountains: I first started hiking there (a long, long time ago in a faraway universe). I’ve hiked more miles there than I could estimate—I even authored a hiking guidebook to New England for several years—and I return almost every year.

Young teenage boy hiking in the Northern Presidential Range, N.H.
My son, Nate, at 14, on a 17-mile, four-summit dayhike in the Presidential Range, N.H.

Like jumping into an icy lake, the constant high-stepping and relentlessly arduous nature of trails in the Whites shocks me every time I return. But the rugged beauty of these little peaks, and especially the views from their rocky alpine crowns, keep me coming back.

The Appalachian Trail arguably reaches its full glory traversing the Whites. With a few road crossings along the way, you can plan trips of anywhere from a weekend to a week of backpacking or hiking hut-to-hut.

In my opinion, these mountains should be a destination for hikers and backpackers from outside the Northeast, too, especially during the fall foliage season. While some trails in the Whites remain enduringly popular, no permit reservation is required and you can find quieter areas to hike.

See my stories “The Best Hikes in the White Mountains” and “Still Crazy After All These Years: Hiking in the White Mountains,” and all stories about the White Mountains at The Big Outside.

Serious adventures demand serious gear. See “The 12 Best Down Jackets
and “The Best Rain Jackets For Hiking and Backpacking”.”

 

Early morning at Mirror Lake in Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Early morning at Mirror Lake in Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness.

Eagle Cap Wilderness

While these rugged mountains in northeastern Oregon may not be on the radar of many backpackers, many in the Pacific Northwest know them well for their rocky summits and beautiful lakes basins. Just don’t go to the Lakes Basin, the most popular corner of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, on a nice weekend in August expecting to discover solitude. You will be disappointed.

A young boy backpacking toward Hawkins Pass in Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness.
My son, Nate, backpacking toward Hawkins Pass in Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness.

That said, much of the 40-mile loop that my family backpacked traverses valleys and passes dappled with wildflowers and passes mountain lakes ringed by granite peaks—much of the terrain as lonely as it is pretty. You just might spot elk, black bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. Want to stand on one of those summits? Don’t pass up the three-mile, round-trip side hike to the 9,572-foot summit of Eagle Cap, with its cliff-top view overlooking the Lakes Basin and a huge swath of the Wallowa Mountains. And no permit reservation required.

See my story “Learning the Hard Way: Backpacking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness,” and all stories about backpacking in Oregon at The Big Outside.

Get a full wilderness experience. See “12 Expert Tips For Finding Solitude When Backpacking.”

 

A young girl hiking in Spring Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
My daughter, Alex, on a family backpacking trip in Spring Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park

Unlike most wilderness national parks, in Capitol Reef, you can just show up, get a free backcountry permit sans reservation, and immediately hit the trail in a park whose scenery compares with any park in Utah’s canyon country—but where you’ll see few other backpackers.

A young girl backpacking Spring Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park.
My daughter, Alex, backpacking Spring Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park.

On a two- to three-day, relatively easy hike into Chimney Rock Canyon and Spring Canyon, you will explore broad canyons with burnt red and orange walls that rise several hundred feet tall, and hike past slender spires and a narrow gorge with curved walls sculpted by flood waters.

It’s at least nine miles from the Chimney Rock Trailhead on UT 24 to the bottom end of Spring Canyon, where you have to ford the Fremont River. While it can be hiked in a day, spend a night camped near the natural springs below Spring Canyon’s soaring walls, looking up at a sky riddled with stars.

Peak seasons are spring and fall. To avoid the river ford, which can be dangerously fast and deep in spring and early summer but often not difficult in fall, hike out-and-back from Chimney Rock Trailhead, exploring farther down canyon from your camp in Spring Canyon.

See my stories “Plunging Into Solitude: Dayhiking, Slot Canyoneering, and Backpacking in Capitol Reef,” “Playing the Memory Game in Southern Utah’s Escalante, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon,” and “The Most Beautiful Hike You’ve Never Heard Of: Crossing Utah’s Capitol Reef.”

Bonus Trip: Visit Bryce Canyon, not far from Capitol Reef, to take “The Best Hike in Bryce Canyon National Park.”

Show up and hike. See “How to Get a Last-Minute, National Park Backcountry Permit.”

Backpackers on Trail 785 to Image Lake in Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Jeff and Jasmine Wilhelm on Trail 785 to Image Lake in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness.

The Glacier Peak Wilderness

Glacier Peak looming above Image Lake in Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Glacier Peak looming above Image Lake in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness.

My family and three adult friends set out to backpack the five-day, 44-mile Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass route in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness knowing its reputation for five-star mountain scenery and a more adventurous flavor, due to the off-trail stretch, on snow, over 7,100-foot Spider Gap.

Our kids, at age 12 and 10 already experienced backcountry hikers, had no problem getting over that pass—and we discovered that this almost-loop hike (the trailheads are a 15-minute drive apart) features stunning mountain cirques and alpine lake basins, plus jaw-dropping panoramas of Glacier Peak and the sea of jagged mountains surrounding. This hike exceeded even our high expectations.

As a bonus, this route’s reputation helps keep the crowds down. And as with other national forest hikes in this story, no permit reservation is needed.

See my story “Wild Heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness: Backpacking the Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop,” and all stories about Washington’s North Cascades region at The Big Outside.

Click here now to plan your next great backpacking adventure using my expert e-books.

A view from the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
A view from the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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, from bracing dips in low-elevation streams that tumble through one cascade after another, to classic views of an ocean of blue ridges. This park is a true garden of Eden: 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.

Noland Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Noland Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Backpacking a solo, 34-mile loop on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I went 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.

I also enjoyed a surprising amount of solitude during the busy fall foliage season—even on the AT (by hitting it early for beautiful morning light).

Good news for procrastinators: Great Smoky Mountains National Park 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 better yet in mid-autumn, when fall foliage reaches peak color.

See my story “In the Garden of Eden: Backpacking the Great Smoky Mountains” at The Big Outside.

Want my help planning any trip you read about at my blog?
Click here for expert advice you won’t get anywhere else.

A young boy backpacking the wilderness coast of Olympic National Park.
My son, Nate, backpacking the wilderness coast of Olympic National Park.

The Wild Olympic Coast

Hiking along the coast of Olympic National Park, you may spot seals, sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles, tufted puffins, and many seabirds, and humpback, gray, minke, or blue whales. You will walk past scores of stone pinnacles—called sea stacks—that rise as much as 200 feet out of the ocean and walk through one of Earth’s largest virgin temperate rainforests, where Sitka spruce and western red cedar grow up to 15 feet in diameter, and Douglas fir and western hemlock stand over 200 feet tall.

A young boy backpacking the Olympic coast near Strawberry Point, Olympic National Park.
My son, Nate, backpacking the Olympic coast near Strawberry Point, Olympic National Park.

On a three-day, 17.5-mile backpacking trip on the southern Olympic coast, my family explored tide pools and boulders coated with mussels, sea stars, and sea anemones. We camped on or just above the longest strip of wilderness coastline in the contiguous United States.

It’s a relatively beginner-friendly hike—though one with the challenge of scaling and descending rope ladders—that will awe seasoned backpackers and one of my top 10 family adventures and top 10 backpacking trips. And the park’s southern coast has no quotas on wilderness permits.

See my story “The Wildest Shore: Backpacking the Southern Olympic Coast,” and all of my stories about Olympic National Park.

See this menu of all stories offering expert backpacking tips at The Big Outside.

Find ideas and inspiration in the All Trips List and all stories about national park trips and family adventures at The Big Outside.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my stories “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be,” “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”

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26 thoughts on “18 Great Backpacking Trips You Can Still Take in 2024”

    • Hey Daniel, did you miss the White Mountains of N.H. in the story? Great place, a personal favorite. Or certainly many other mountains in the Northeast from Maine’s Baxter State Park to New York’s Adirondacks and Catskills.

      Reply
  1. Hi Michael, I am thrilled to have discovered your articles and thebigoutside.com – wonderful content. I’ve done plenty of hiking and some guided backpacking trips, but I’d like to do some solo backpacking for the first time. I’m looking for a route that doesn’t require a permit (or where you can easily walk up and get one) and one that is well marked and easy to follow so I don’t have to stress about getting lost. Not afraid of strenuous, looking to do 10-12 miles per day, 4 or 5 days or more. Any that you’d recommend in Colorado, Montana, Utah, Washington, or Oregon? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for commenting and I’m glad you found my blog, too. I hear from many readers who discovered The Big Outside while researching trips. I’ve done quite a bit of solo backpacking and while there are certainly heightened risks associated with being alone, many people do it and I think I understand how to minimize those risks and I can advise you on trips that are safer for various reasons.

      For starters, among the trips in this story, I’d suggest there are areas of Idaho’s Sawtooths, Yosemite, Sequoia, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Olympic coast and parts of the Olympic Mountains, and certainly the White Mountains where you can backpack solo with no trouble navigating trails and the likelihood of seeing other backpackers should you need any help.

      See also my stories “8 Perfect National Park Backpacking Trips for Beginners” and “The 5 Southwest Backpacking Trips You Should Do First.”

      I can also help you more directly figure out the perfect trip for you give you a personalized trip plan for it, if that interests you. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan your trip.

      I hope that helps get you started. Thanks for reaching out and keep in touch!

      Reply
    • Thanks, Rebecca. Sorry to hear you missed the Teton Crest Trail permit application date, but the park does set aside about two-thirds of available backcountry campsites for walk-in permits up to a day in advance of your trip. You’re likely to get some great itinerary if you’re willing to go take a chance. Good luck.

      And thanks for joining The Big Outside, I appreciate it.

      Reply
  2. Great article and much better than those found in magazines and other publications. It contains a wealth of first hand knowledge and more of it in one article than one would expect. I have backpacked in the High Uintas Wilderness and the Wind Rivers and they are beautiful. I am turning 74 next month, so I am not sure how much backpacking I will be doing in the future. I am living in Las Vegas and would love to visit the Ruby Mountains, the Sawtooth Range, Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands even if I just did some hiking or a short overnight.

    Keep up the great work. And your photographs add so much to you articles.

    Reply
  3. Got permits for 5 days 4 nights along the Bechler River in Yellowstone in late August/ early September and also 3 days 2 nights to Heart Lake with a day trip to Mt. Sheridan in July. Very excited! About a month ago did 4 days 3 nights in the Needles district of Canyonlands, which was fantastic! All of these trips are from your articles so thank you very much!

    Reply
  4. Great Article, makes me wish I would have started backpacking at a younger age, not enough years left to visit all the places I want to go! Got to keep moving!!

    Reply
    • Hey Barry, we all wish we’d started doing what we love at a younger age. (Except, maybe, my kids, who were doing these things before they had memory.) We can only go forward. Enjoy, and thanks.

      Reply
  5. Definitely looking forward to taking my kids to Zion, Arches, or Bryce (or two of the three, still working out options) this spring break. Thanks for making the research so easy! 🙂

    Reply
    • Good for you, Lynn. Zion and Bryce are, of course, closer to each other than to Arches. Although that doesn’t prevent combining, say, Zion and Arches in the same week, to reduce driving time, I have tended to pair Arches and Canyonlands together, and Zion and Bryce together. See a menu of my stories about those parks, as well as Capitol Reef and other public lands in southern Utah, by scrolling down to Utah at https://thebigoutside.com/all-trips-by-state/. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Visiting Arches, Canyonlands, and the other three National Parks in Utah, in 2 weeks! This post got me feeling much more excited. Thanks for sharing! Hope to get to visit the other suggested places this year, too.

    Reply
  7. I’ve always thought your Idaho trips, Sawtooth + others, consistently rank amongst your most popular stories because they’re not national parks. There’s so much information out there about trips to national parks that it gets repetitive. I enjoy reading about national forest trips because they appeal to me because of the lack of crowds, and there’s less information. I’ve been to Idaho twice in the past few years, which is a small feat considering I’m in NC, and I loved the Sawtooths and the Pioneers. Your hikes to Eagle Cap and Glacier Peak have put those at the top of my to-do list. Personally I’d love more posts on off the beaten path national forests in the NW.

    Reply
      • No problem this is one of my favorite outdoor sites. I went backpacking in the Pioneers up Broad Canyon in September for my friends mini-bachelor party, very awesome and I was surprised how remote it was and yet the trail system was excellent. There are so many interesting spots in Idaho, it amazes me.

        Reply
        • You’re reminding me that I’m overdue to get back to the Pioneers again. Lots of potential in there, and big, remote peaks with gorgeous valleys. Idaho has huge potential for exploring. Thanks again for writing.

          Reply