Tonto Trail

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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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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A young teenage girl descending from the Fenetre d’Arpette on the Tour du Mont Blanc in Switzerland.

The 10 Best Family Outdoor Adventure Trips

By Michael Lanza

As a parent of two college-age young adults who’s taken them outdoors since before they can remember, I’ll share with you the biggest and in some ways most surprising lesson I’ve learned from these trips: Our outdoor adventures have been the best times we’ve had together as a family—and not just because the places are so special. The greatest benefit of these trips is that they have given us innumerable days with only each other and nature for entertainment—no electronic devices or other distractions that construct virtual walls within families in everyday life.

For my family, our experiences together outdoors make up most of our richest and favorite memories. They have brought us closer together.

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A hiker on the Tonto Trail by Monument Creek in the Grand Canyon.

One Extraordinary Day: A 25-Mile Dayhike in the Grand Canyon

By Michael Lanza

There’s not another hiker in sight as my friend David Ports and I start down the Hermit Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, even though it’s nearly 8 a.m., hardly an early hour to hit the trail. And that’s just the first conspicuously unusual circumstance at the outset of our hike. The second obvious oddity this morning is that it’s overcast—a welcome sight here—and actually chilly enough that we’re wearing the light jackets we brought.

But most unusual aspect of this hike is that we’re only carrying light daypacks—and cruising along almost effortlessly—for a walk of nearly 25 miles, with some 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. That’s because we’ll do it all today.

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A backpacker above Royal Arch Canyon on the Grand Canyon's Royal Arch Loop.

Not Quite Impassable: Backpacking the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop

By Michael Lanza

Hiking just ahead of my three companions in Royal Arch Canyon, a remote chasm off the South Rim the Grand Canyon, I stop before a dead end: a 15-foot pour-off dropping away in front of me and towering cliffs to either side. It looks impassable. After a moment of scanning the walls more closely, though, I notice a stack of narrow ledges—some only as wide as one of my feet—leading across and down the cliff to my left, around the pour-off. The traverse is exposed—a slip could result in a really bad tumble off this cliff. But it actually looks fairly easy, and it’s clearly our route. So I start inching across as David and Kris come up behind me and watch.

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