Category Archives: Family Adventures

Stories, photos, and videos from our family’s many wilderness adventures hiking, backpacking, skiing, kayaking, rafting, and climbing, including in many U.S. national parks.

October 24, 2016 The Wonderland of Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park.

Photo Gallery: Exploring Joshua Tree National Park

In Family Adventures, Hiking, National Park Adventures   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment

By Michael Lanza

In the Southern California desert, where the Mojave and Colorado-Sonoran deserts overlap amid a sea of hundreds of granite monoliths, lies one of America’s most unusual outdoor playgrounds: Joshua Tree National Park. Long known as a mecca for rock climbers, with some 8,000 established climbing routes, the park also has miles of trails for hiking, running, and horseback riding, beautiful camping among rock formations where kids can scramble around, and a vast backcountry to explore within its nearly 800,000 acres, more than half of which is protected as wilderness. Continue reading →

October 23, 2016 Big Spring Canyon-Squaw Canyon pass, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

5 National Park Backcountry Trips to Put on Your Radar Right Now

In Backpacking, Family Adventures, National Park Adventures, Paddling, Skills   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment

By Michael Lanza

Your next national park backcountry adventure may seem far off your planning radar at this time of year—but this is precisely the time to start looking into backcountry permits if you have your sights trained on the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Yosemite, or Grand Teton. For all of them, the time to apply for a permit for a trip during the prime season next year is fast approaching. And in Great Smoky Mountains, the prime season is here; get out there now. Here’s what you need to know and do.

To get a permit for a multi-day backcountry trip in popular areas of the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Yosemite, and Grand Teton, the best strategy is to apply as early as possible—which means months in advance, and the dates are coming up soon at each of those parks, as I explain below. If you instead wait until shortly before your trip dates, you’ll typically find that all permits made available in advance are already reserved, leaving no option but to try for a walk-in permit—and there are usually more people waiting in line than there are permits available each day.

My “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit” provides more detail on how and when to apply for permit reservations in popular parks, and the best strategies for success that I’ve learned over the years.

It’s not too early to start laying the groundwork for a big adventure next year. The very first piece of advice in my “10 Tips For Getting Outside More” is: Plan trips weeks or months in advance. Getting a permit is one of the first steps.


The view from high up the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park.

The view from high up the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon

Backcountry campsites along the Grand Canyon’s corridor trails—the South and North Kaibab and Bright Angel—are among the most sought-after in the entire National Park System: Some 75 percent of people who apply for a permit for campsites along those trails are unsuccessful—and that includes one of the greatest trips in the National Park System, hiking across the Grand Canyon. Apply for a permit reservation beginning on the first of the month four months prior to the month in which you want to start a trip—for example, on Dec. 1 for a hike beginning in April.

See all of my stories about trips in the Grand Canyon, including my many stories about various backpacking trips beginning at the canyon’s South Rim.


Above a campsite in Squaw Canyon, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

Above a campsite in Squaw Canyon, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.


Backpacking in the Needles District of Canyonlands (lead photo at top of story) and a multi-day float trip on the Green River (one of my top 10 family adventures) are both uniquely beautiful as well as beginner- and family-friendly—and for those reasons, very popular. Apply for a permit up to four months in advance of your starting date, which means that December is the time to apply for a permit for a trip starting in April.

See my stories “No Straight Lines: Backpacking and Hiking in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks” and “Still Waters Run Deep: Tackling America’s Best Multi-Day Float Trip on the Green River,” and all of my stories about Canyonlands National Park at The Big Outside.

The Big Outside is proud to partner with these sponsors. Please help support my blog by liking and following my sponsors on Facebook and other social media and telling them you appreciate their support for The Big Outside.

Todd Arndt backpacking over Clouds Rest, Yosemite National Park.

Todd Arndt backpacking over Clouds Rest, Yosemite National Park.


Yosemite issues backcountry permits based on a trailhead quota system, and permits for backpacking trips within the park’s core—that is, beginning at trailheads in Yosemite Valley and the Tuolumne Meadows area—are in greatest demand. That includes Happy Isles, the John Muir Trail, and Half Dome. You can (and should) apply up to 24 weeks (168 days) before the date you want to start hiking, which, for example, would be Jan. 15 for a trip beginning July 15.

See all of my stories about Yosemite National Park, including this Ask Me post offering a reader advice on where to backpack on a first trip in Yosemite, and my stories about long, more-remote backpacking trips south of Tuolumne Meadows and through northern Yosemite.


Teton Crest Trail, Death Canyon Shelf, Grand Teton National Park.

Teton Crest Trail, Death Canyon Shelf, Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton

The Teton Crest Trail, step for step one of America’s classic backpacking trips (and one of my top 10 favorites), is increasingly popular, and advance reservations for permits can disappear soon after they become available on the first Wednesday in January (starting at 8 a.m. Mountain Time). The 18-mile Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon loop from String Lake is nearly as popular (and a great one for beginners or anyone with limited time—as well as a super dayhike). Mark your calendar to apply for a permit reservation right away in January.

See my story “American Classic: The Teton Crest Trail,” my story about a family backpacking trip on the TCT, my several Ask Me posts about Grand Teton, and all of my stories about Grand Teton National Park and the Teton Crest Trail at The Big Outside.


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. Subscribe for 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.

This blog and website is my full-time job and I rely on the support of readers. If you like what you see here, please help me continue producing The Big Outside by making a donation using the Support button at the top of the left sidebar or below. Thank you for your support.


Silers Bald shelter, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Silers Bald shelter, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains

While Great Smoky Mountains National Park accepts permit reservations up to 30 days in advance of the first night of your trip, there are permits available now even for the most popular shelters along the Appalachian Trail—and there’s arguably no better time of year to backpack in the Great Smokies than right now. I know: I was just there.

My recently posted “Photo Gallery: Fall Hiking and Backpacking in the North Carolina Mountains” includes pictures from my backpacking trip in the park. I’ll write more about that trip in another blog post coming this Tuesday.

See my All National Parks Trips page at The Big Outside and these stories:

Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites
My Top 10 Favorite Backpacking Trips
10 Tips For Getting Outside More
My gallery of photos from every national park I’ve visited

Having a backpack that fits your body and backpacking style makes every trip better. See my favorite packs for backpacking.


October 16, 2016 Our rafting and kayaking party in Lodore Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument.

3-Minute Read: Rafting Through Dinosaur National Monument

In Family Adventures, National Park Adventures, Paddling   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment

By Michael Lanza

Our flotilla of five rafts and two kayaks drifted lazily toward what looked like a geological impossibility: a gigantic cleft a thousand feet deep where the river appeared to have chopped a path right through the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah. Cracked cliffs of burgundy-brown rock framed the gap. Called the Gates of Lodore, its’ a canyon as famous today for its scenery and whitewater as it was once infamous for the crises that befell its first party of explorers, led by a one-armed Civil War veteran, who set out in wooden boats a century and a half ago to map the West’s greatest river system.

Continue reading →

October 11, 2016 Above Baron Lake in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.

3-Minute Read: Backpacking With Teens in Idaho’s Sawtooths

In Backpacking, Family Adventures   |   Tagged , , , , , , , ,   |   Leave a comment

By Michael Lanza

Take three 15-year-old boys backpacking in the mountains and you never quite know what will happen. When my son, Nate, told me that he wanted to take two buddies out on their first backpacking trip, I agreed to it without hesitation. Over the course of three late-August days in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains—where we camped at two of the range’s numerous, beautiful mountain lakes—we saw one puncture wound (minor, from walking around barefoot), one case of diarrhea (I recommend against a diet consisting primarily of Slim Jims), and one pair of boots inadvertently dunked in a creek they were being carried across (I still don’t quite understand how that happened).

We also possibly created two new backpackers, and almost certainly forged some memories that three young men will carry perhaps for the rest of their lives, laughing hard whenever they recall this trip together. Continue reading →

October 3, 2016 Above Crack-in-the-Wall, Coyote Gulch

Photo Gallery: Hiking and Backpacking Utah’s Wild Escalante

In Backpacking, Family Adventures, Hiking   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments

By Michael Lanza

Explore slot canyons so narrow you have to take off your daypack and turn sideways to squeeze through. Dayhike to a waterfall that pours 126 feet over a multi-colored cliff into a perfect swimming hole. Backpack one of southern Utah’s most achingly gorgeous and family-friendly canyons. And that merely scrapes the surface of this weeklong adventure in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The photo gallery below offers a peek behind the curtain of this less-busy corner of the Southwest’s canyonlands.

Continue reading →

← Older posts