Utah backpacking

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

The 12 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 backpacker hiking above Death Hollow on the Boulder Mail Trail in southern Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Backpacking Utah’s Mind-Blowing Death Hollow Loop

By Michael Lanza

Like many desert Southwest hikes, southern Utah’s Boulder Mail Trail begins from its western trailhead with a lot of laboriously slow walking in soft sand—miles of it, up, down, over, across. When not walking in beach sand, or for brief, merciful spurts, firm sand, we’re hiking over slickrock, that most grippy of ground surfaces where we can move much more quickly—except where the slickrock tilts at severe angles, as it does much of the time. Then it begins an adventurous exercise in strenuous, calf-pumping ascents or cautious descents with backpacks, constantly zigzagging to avoid the impassable spots steep enough that a slip could result in a long slide and tumble for a possibly hurtful distance.

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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 backpacker on the Teton Crest Trail, Death Canyon Shelf, Grand Teton 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 personal top-10 list. Knock off every trip on this list and you will experience some of the finest landscapes not only in the nation, but on the planet.

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A backpacker in The Narrows in Zion National Park.

The Best Backpacking Trips in Zion National Park

By Michael Lanza

If you invited all of the major Western national parks to a big family dinner, Zion would sit at the kids’ table. At a bit over 148,000 acres, Zion is dwarfed by the iconic wilderness parks that are the most sought-after by backpackers, like Yosemite (which is five times larger), Glacier (nearly seven times larger), and Grand Canyon (eight times larger), all of them with hundreds of miles of trails for backpackers to explore. But what Zion lacks in size it more than makes up for in breathtaking scenery—and for backpackers, some of the most unique, wonderful, and relatively easy multi-day hikes in the National Park System.

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