John Muir Trail

Sunrise reflection in a tarn above Helen Lake, John Muir Trail, Kings Canyon National Park, High Sierra, California.

Mountain Lakes of the High Sierra—A Photo Gallery

By Michael Lanza

It seems a fool’s wager to guess how many mountain lakes exist in the High Sierra, the range that reaches heights over 14,000 feet and spans some 200 miles through eastern California from Lake Tahoe to south of Sequoia National Park, including Yosemite and Kings Canyon national parks and several national forest wilderness areas. Some estimates place the number of named glacial lakes at around a thousand—but that omits the constellation of lakes and tarns identified by their elevation only or that remain completely anonymous. It’s a safe bet the total reaches into the thousands.

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Backpackers passing a tarn along the Highline Trail/Continental Divide Trail in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

10 Awe-Inspiring Wild Places in America’s West

By Michael Lanza

Over more than three decades of backpacking adventures throughout America’s West, I’ve been fortunate to explore deeply into our most cherished national parks, wilderness areas, and protected backcountry. Many—indeed, all—are beautiful. But some places rise above the rest, inspiring a sense of awe that can motivate us to reorder our priorities and rearrange our lives—and they have that effect on us every time we return to them. This story spotlights those special places in the West and many trips that you can take in them.

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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 bugs, and fall foliage color. Autumn also stands out as an ideal season for many Southwest hikes, with moderate temperatures and even some stunning color.

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A backpacker above Elizabeth Lake in Glacier National Park.

How to Get a Last-Minute, National Park Backcountry Permit

By Michael Lanza

You really want to backpack in Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Teton, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, or another hugely popular national park this summer—but you didn’t apply to reserve a wilderness permit months ago? Well, you just may be in luck: Most parks have a system for getting a last-minute permit. It requires jumping through some hoops, understanding the system’s ins and outs, good timing, patience, and a bit of luck, but many backpackers get permits without a reservation every year.

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A backpacker on the John Muir Trail overlooking the Cathedral Range in Yosemite National Park.

The Best Backpacking Gear for the John Muir Trail

By Michael Lanza

So you’re planning to thru-hike the John Muir Trail and making all of the necessary preparations, and now you’re wondering: What’s the best gear for a JMT hike? Having thru-hiked the JMT as well as taken numerous other backpacking trips all over the High Sierra—mostly between late August and late September, which I consider that the best time to walk the Sierra, to avoid snow and the voracious mosquitoes and blazing hot afternoons of mid-summer—I offer the following picks for the best lightweight backpacking gear and apparel for a JMT thru-hike.

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