The Needles District

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 at a waterfall on the Deer Creek Trail in the Grand Canyon.

The 10 Best Backpacking Trips in the Southwest

By Michael Lanza

We all love the majesty of mountains. But the vividly colored, sometimes bizarre, occasionally incomprehensible geology of the Southwest canyon country enchants and inspires us in ways that words can only begin to describe. And while you will find very worthy dayhikes and even roadside eye candy in classic parks like Grand Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands, you really have to put on a backpack and probe more deeply into those parks—and other canyon-country gems you may not know much about—to get a full sense of the scale, details, and hidden mysteries of these mystical landscapes.

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A hiker on the Taylor Creek Trail in Zion National Park.

The 17 Best Uncrowded National Park Dayhikes

By Michael Lanza The best-known dayhikes in America’s national parks are certainly worth adding to your outdoor-adventure CV. Summits and hiking trails like Angels Landing in Zion, Half Dome in Yosemite, the North Rim Trail overlooking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Glacier National Park’s Highline Trail, the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail and many others represent the highlights …

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A backpacker in The Narrows in Zion National Park.

The 5 Southwest Backpacking Trips You Should Do First

By Michael Lanza

You want to explore the best backpacking in America’s desert Southwest, but you’re not sure where to begin, or how some of these trips you’ve read about compare for scenery and difficulty. You’ve heard about the need to carry huge loads of water, and environmental challenges like dangerous heat, rugged terrain, flash floods and even (gulp) quicksand. Or maybe you’ve taken one or two backpacking trips there and now you’re hungry for another one and seeking ideas for where to go next.

Well, I gotcha covered. The five trips described in this story comprise what might be called a Southwest Backpacking Starter Package. They are all beginner- and family-friendly in terms of trail or route quality, access, and navigability, and some have good water availability. But most importantly, regardless of their relative ease logistically, they all deliver the goods on the kind of adventure and scenery you go to the Southwest hoping to find.

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A hiker below the Wall of Windows on the Peek-a-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.

The 12 Best Hikes in Utah’s National Parks

By Michael Lanza

From natural arches, hoodoos, and hanging gardens to balanced rocks and towering mesas, slot canyons and vast chasms, the desert Southwest holds in its dry, searing, lonely open spaces some of America’s most fascinating and inspiring geology. The writer “Cactus Ed” Abbey no doubt had this region in mind when he said there “are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” Much of it sits protected within southern Utah’s five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

The good news? Many of the best sights can be reached on dayhikes of anywhere from a couple hours to a full day.

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