Sawtooth National Recreation Area

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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Baron Lake, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.

Mountain Lakes of Idaho’s Sawtooths—A Photo Gallery

By Michael Lanza

I may be risking an impassioned debate here, but I think there are very few mountain ranges in America with as many drop-dead, gorgeous high mountain lakes as Idaho’s Sawtooths. Yes, a few mountain ranges clearly outnumber the Sawtooths in that department, like the High Sierra, Cascades, and Wind River Range. But I believe the Sawtooths deserve similar recognition, and I’ve seen many of those watery jewels over more than 20 years of wandering around Idaho’s best-known hills. This gallery of photos of many of them may persuade you to agree with me—and to see them for yourself.

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A backpacker above the Redfish Valley of Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.

Idaho Wilderness Trail Maps and Overview

By Michael Lanza

Want to hike the most remote and wild long-distance trail in the Lower 48? The Idaho Wilderness Trail stretches for 296 miles across three central Idaho wilderness areas that comprise nearly four million acres. If these three wildernesses were contained within one national park, it would be America’s third largest and the biggest outside Alaska. This article offers a primer on the IWT and links to digital maps of its four stages.

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A young girl hiker at Imogene Lake, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.

The Best Hikes and Backpacking Trips in Idaho’s Sawtooths

By Michael Lanza

Our group of three adults and six teenagers crossed the 9,200-foot pass on the Alice-Toxaway Divide, separating Alice and Twin lakes from Toxaway Lake, on our third straight bluebird August afternoon backpacking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. Before us, an arc of spires and jagged peaks wrapped around a pair of alpine lakes appropriately named Twin Lakes. And although I had hiked over this pass many times before, I stopped in my tracks and just stared at our vista. Perhaps most impressively, even the jaded teens with us found themselves awestruck, too.

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A backpacker hiking the Italy Pass Trail through Granite Park in the John Muir Wilderness, High Sierra, California.

Big Scenery, No Crowds: 10 Top Backpacking Trips For Solitude

By Michael Lanza

We all want our wilderness backpacking trips to have two sometimes conflicting qualities: mind-blowing scenery, but also few other people around. A high degree of solitude somehow makes the backcountry feel bigger and wilder and the views more breathtaking. However unrealistic the notion may be, we like to believe we have some stunning corner of nature to ourselves. But in the real world, if you head out into popular mountains in July or August or in canyon country in spring or fall, you’ll probably have company—maybe more than you prefer.

Not on these trips, though.

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