Utah backpacking

A campsite in Painter Basin, below 13,538-foot Kings Peak (right) in Utah's High Uintas Wilderness.

Photo Gallery: Backpacking the High Uintas Wilderness

By Michael Lanza

Early on the third morning of a six-day hike through Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness, I walked to the shore of the Fourth Chain Lake at 10,900 feet, where we had camped. Its waters sat absolutely still, offering up a perfect, inverted reflection of the mountains. By that afternoon, we reached 11,700-foot Trail Rider Pass, our second high pass of the day, with a view that took the edge off our weariness. Behind us, the valley of Lake Atwood, which we had hiked up, stretched for miles; ahead lay our destination, Painter Basin (photo above), an expansive, almost barren plain at 11,000 feet below the highest peak in Utah, Kings Peak.

In those first three days of hiking, we encountered a grand total of two other people.

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A backpacker in The Narrows in Zion National Park.

The Best Guide to Backpacking the Zion Narrows

By Michael Lanza

The sound of rushing water increased in volume and the canyon walls pressed in close and reached toward the sliver of sky overhead as we walked downstream in the calf-deep North Fork of the Virgin River in The Narrows of Zion National Park. Turning a bend in the canyon, we came upon one of the most incongruous sights in the desert: a waterfall pouring from cracks in the canyon’s sandstone wall. Known as Big Spring, this oasis of cascading water and a hanging garden clinging to a redrock cliff is just one of the many wonders awaiting backpackers in Zion’s Narrows.

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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 backpacker enjoying the view from Maze Overlook in the Maze District, Canyonlands National Park.

Photo Gallery: Backpacking the Maze in Canyonlands

By Michael Lanza

With our first steps on the descent from Maze Overlook into the labyrinth of mostly dry desert canyons that comprise one of the greatest geological oddities in the National Park System—the Maze in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park—we had to remove and pass our backpacks over a ledge drop of several feet. But that was nothing compared to what lay ahead. Following a wildly circuitous trail marked by cairns but otherwise unobvious and not visible on the slickrock, we passed below redrock cliffs and towers, traversed the sloping rims of giant bowls of rippled stone, and several more times passed our packs to scramble through tight crevices and downclimb a ladder of shallow footsteps chiseled into a sandstone cliff face.

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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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