Utah backpacking

A backpacker above Crack-in-the-Wall, Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

Playing the Memory Game in Escalante, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon

By Michael Lanza

Below a deep gash in a 50-foot-tall cliff of golden sandstone, shaded from the low, late-afternoon sun of early spring, I scramble up a steep slab using in-cut holds carved into the soft rock. Ten or 12 feet off the ground, I pull myself over the lip of a ledge to peer into a narrow cut in the earth, a hidden geologic oddity that lures in a certain type of hiker for one reason: because it’s barely wide enough for humans to squeeze through. And I have to smile.

I’m grinning first of all because I’ve found just what we had hoped to see. Water sometimes pools in a couple of potholes near the mouth of this slot canyon, and the air temperature today feels a little too cool to soak ourselves in cold water. Today, though, the sandy-bottomed, giant stone teacups are dry. But secondly, touching me on a more personal level, this canyon’s entrance looks much as I remember it from the first time I hiked through here, 16 years ago this month.

In less than two hours, my impression of this place will be almost completely remade.

Read onPlaying the Memory Game in Escalante, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon

A young girl hiking in Spring Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Plunging Into Solitude: Dayhiking, Slot Canyoneering, and Backpacking in Capitol Reef

By Michael Lanza

We stand on the rim of an unnamed slot canyon in the backcountry of Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park, in a spot that just a handful of people have seen before us. We’ve arrived here after hiking about two hours uphill on the Navajo Knobs Trail, and then heading off-trail, navigating a circuitous route up steep slickrock and below a sheer-walled fin of white Navajo Sandstone hundreds of feet tall, stabbing into the blue sky. Now I peer down at the narrow, deep, and shadowy crack that we have come to rappel into, and feel a little flush of anxiety.

Read onPlunging Into Solitude: Dayhiking, Slot Canyoneering, and Backpacking in Capitol Reef

Backpackers in the narrows of Paria Canyon, in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Take a Top 5 Southwest Backpacking Trip: Paria Canyon

By Michael Lanza

Walls of searing, orange-red sandstone towered hundreds of feet overhead in a chasm at times no more than a dozen strides across. A shallow river flowed like very thin chocolate milk down the canyon, spanning it from wall to wall in spots. And the spectacle had only just begun: We were mere hours into the first day of one of the most continually stunning, multi-day canyon hikes in the Southwest: Paria Canyon.

Read onTake a Top 5 Southwest Backpacking Trip: Paria Canyon

An overlook along the Beehive Traverse in Capitol Reef National Park.

The Most Beautiful Hike You’ve Never Heard Of: Crossing Utah’s Capitol Reef

By Michael Lanza

We enter a steep, claustrophobically narrow gully, looking up at boulders that appear barely glued in place by a mortar of dried mud. Ready to rain sandstone jihad upon us, they send a silent message that we have taken a wrong turn in this unnamed side canyon in the wilds of southern Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park and should retreat—immediately. This seems about as likely to be our route as we are likely to run into a fish plucking a harp out here in the high desert.

Read onThe Most Beautiful Hike You’ve Never Heard Of: Crossing Utah’s Capitol Reef

A backpacker in The Narrows in Zion National Park.

Luck of the Draw, Part 2: Backpacking Zion’s Narrows

By Michael Lanza

We step into the ankle-deep North Fork of the Virgin River, in the backcountry of Zion National Park, and water at refrigerator temperature immediately fills our boots. Until sometime tomorrow afternoon, we’ll walk in this river almost constantly, crossing it dozens of times—with the 50° F water, at its deepest, coming up nearly to our waists. As we splash downstream, the canyon walls of golden, crimson, and cream-colored sandstone steadily creep inward and stretch higher, soon eclipsing the sun. We’ll see very little direct sunlight as the sheer walls of Zion’s Narrows eventually tower a thousand feet overhead and, at times, close in to the width of a hobbit’s living room.

Read onLuck of the Draw, Part 2: Backpacking Zion’s Narrows