Pacific Crest Trail

A backpacker hiking the John Muir Trail above Helen Lake in Kings Canyon N.P., High Sierra.

High Sierra Ramble: 130 Miles On—and Off—the John Muir Trail

By Michael Lanza

All day, clouds the color of a bruise pile up across the sky, conceding the sun only brief, teasing appearances before blocking it out again. Carrying packs bursting with nine days of food, we hike past lakes, each one higher and prettier than the last. More than seven miles from where we began our walk, we stroll into the basin of a sprawling lake whose image captured in historic Ansel Adams photographs has in many ways come to define the public’s mental picture of what is arguably America’s finest mountain range, the High Sierra: Speckled by scores of rocky islets below the distinctive profile of aptly named Banner Peak, Thousand Island Lake today bares whitecapped teeth pushed up by strong gusts of wind.

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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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A backpacker hiking to Burro Pass above Matterhorn Canyon, Yosemite National Park.

The 7 Best Backpacking Trips in Yosemite

By Michael Lanza

After more than three decades of exploring all over Yosemite on numerous backpacking trips, I’ve learned two big lessons about it: First of all, few places inspire the same powerful combination of both awe and adventure. And Yosemite’s backcountry harbors such an abundance of soaring granite peaks, waterfalls, lovely rivers and creeks, and shimmering alpine lakes—plus, over 700,000 acres of designated wilderness and 750 miles of trails—that you can explore America’s third national park literally for decades and not run out of five-star scenery.

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A backpacker hiking Buckskin Ridge Trail 498 in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington.

Backpacking the Pasayten Wilderness—On and Off the Beaten Track

By Michael Lanza

Within minutes of starting our hike north on the Pacific Crest Trail from Harts Pass in Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness, one truth quickly crystallizes: This northernmost section of the PCT stays true to its middle name—Crest. A well-maintained footpath, it traces a long ridgeline for miles, gently rising and dipping with the contours of the land but never falling off the mountains. Luckily for us, the PCT’s excellent condition probably saves us from injuring ourselves tripping and falling as we keep panning our eyes over classic North Cascades panoramas of endless, jagged ridges stretching to far horizons.

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