backpacking Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Backpackers hiking the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia National Park.

The 10 Best National Park Backpacking Trips

By Michael Lanza Olympic, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Glacier, Zion, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Canyonlands, Sequoia, Great Smoky Mountains. To backpackers, these names read like a list of America’s greatest cathedrals in nature—and no surprise, because these parks harbor some of the most scenic wilderness trails in the country. Hike any of them and it will earn a spot on your …

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

10 Awesome Fall Backpacking Trips

By Michael Lanza The imminent end of summer always feels a little melancholy. After all, it marks the close of the prime season for getting into the mountains. But it also signals the beginning of a time of year when many mountain ranges become less crowded just as they’re hitting a sweet zone in terms of temperatures, the lack of …

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

In the Garden of Eden: Backpacking the Great Smoky Mountains

By Michael Lanza

Late-afternoon sunlight tilts golden beams through the low canopy of spruce and fir trees as I hike alone up the Welch Ridge Trail, deep in the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I haven’t seen another person all day. Solitude in the mountains exerts many effects, small and large, on us, including that we instinctively listen more attentively. Our rational minds cannot erase from primal memory the instinctive knowledge that, in the primitive brains of some woodland creatures, we represent a boatload of calories.

I stop abruptly and stand perfectly still—listening intently, waiting. And then I hear it.

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Sunset at Idaho's City of Rocks National Reserve.

10 Photos From 2016 Adventures That Will Inspire You to Get Outdoors

By Michael Lanza

What trips did you take in 2016 that reinvigorated you and fired your enthusiasm for the outdoors? Looking back through thousands of photos I took over the past year, I’ve selected some favorite images I captured on 10 memorable adventures in 2016—including several with my family. The list ranges from multi-day backpacking, river, and climbing trips in five states to outings as short as a half-day within an hour of my home. These trips occurred in seven national parks and an equal number of places managed as wilderness, from Washington’s North Cascades to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado, from California’s Mount Whitney to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Perhaps more than anything, these pictures illustrate the diversity and wealth of natural beauty that we have many reasons to celebrate in America.

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Noland Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, N.C.

3-Minute Read: Backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

By Michael Lanza

In the last couple hours of a recent 34-mile backpacking trip through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was walking along Noland Creek when I saw yet another captivating scene of tumbling water, rocks, and fallen leaves. I stopped, set up my camera on my tripod, and captured the image above. I was hiking a loop on the North Carolina side that took me from lower elevations near Fontana Lake up to the park’s crest, traversing a stretch of the Appalachian Trail over 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome and the park’s highest bald, 5,920-foot Andrews Bald, where I enjoyed classic Great Smokies views of an ocean of blue ridges.

But well before I reached Noland Creek, I had already come to understand that these rounded, ancient mountains hold many of their best secrets below the treetops, in the cascade-rich streams that plunge energetically down through some of the most diverse forest found anywhere in America.

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