White Cloud Mountains

Sunset at Idaho's City of Rocks National Reserve.

Why I Never Miss a Wilderness Sunset or Sunrise

By Michael Lanza

The June evening was more than a few hours old when, without warning, the sky suddenly caught fire. The kids, teenagers and ’tweeners, and some of the adults in our group scrambled up onto a nearby rock formation at least 50 feet tall to observe the sunset from high off the ground. Like a wildfire swept forward by wind, hues of yellow, orange, and red leapt across bands of clouds suspended above the western horizon, their ragged bottoms edges, appropriately, resembling dancing flames.

For a span of just minutes that felt timeless, the light painted and repainted the clouds in ever-shifting, warm colors starkly contrasted against the cool, deepening blue of the sky—as if a vast lake had ignited. We stood hypnotized and enchanted on that evening during a long weekend of camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, until the last, dying flames of the celestial conflagration faded and were extinguished. For that brief time, the sunset had us all, adults and kids, completely in its thrall.

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Quiet Lake, White Cloud Mountains, Idaho.

Photo Gallery: Backpacking Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains

By Michael Lanza

Picture a chain of peaks rising to over 11,000 feet, some composed of chalk-like rock that looks, from a distance, like snow. Scores of crystal-clear lakes above 9,000 feet ripple in the breeze and creeks run with trout and salmon. Mountain goats, elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, even gray wolves roam this wilderness. And backpackers find the kind of solitude you can’t find in many wild lands.

That’s the White Cloud Mountains of central Idaho. Put this relatively new American wilderness on your radar—and get there before every other backpacker discovers how gorgeous and quiet it still is, as you’ll see in the photos below from the backpacking trips and one long dayhike I’ve taken in the White Clouds, including to Quiet Lake, below the range’s highest peak, 11,815-foot Castle Peak (lead photo, above).

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Fishing at Lake 8522, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.

Boy Trip, Girl Trip: Why I Take Father-Son and Father-Daughter Adventures

By Michael Lanza

On a morning when the late-summer sunshine sharpens the incisor points of every peak and spire in the jagged skyline of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, Nate and I step inside the Sawtooth National Recreation Area ranger station, south of the little town of Stanley, population sixty-three. I chat with the ranger behind the counter, mentioning that my son and I are heading out to backpack the 18-mile loop from Pettit Lake to Alice and Toxaway Lakes.

The ranger sizes up my six-year-old, 40-pound kid, and frowns skeptically. “You know, that’s a pretty rugged hike,” he tells me.

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Rock Slide Lake in Idaho's southern Sawtooth Mountains.

Photo Gallery: 30 Gorgeous Backcountry Lakes

By Michael Lanza Water makes up about 60 percent of our bodies—and, I suspect, 100 percent of our hearts. We crave it not only physically, for survival, but emotionally, for spiritual rejuvenation. We love playing in it for hours as children and we paddle and swim in it as adults. We’re drawn by the calming effects of sitting beside a …

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A hiker on Half Dome's cable route in Yosemite National Park.

Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes

By Michael Lanza Imagine this: You’re heading out on a long, beautiful hike deep in the backcountry, but instead of a full backpack, you carry a light daypack. You’ve avoided hassles with getting a backcountry permit and there’s no camp to set up and pack up. I love backpacking—and I do it a lot. But sometimes, I prefer to knock …

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