White Cloud Mountains

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 off a weekend-length—or longer—hike in one big day.

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A backpacker above Liberty Lake on the Ruby Crest Trail in Nevada's Ruby Mountains.

The 27 Nicest Backcountry Campsites I’ve Hiked Past

By Michael Lanza

It is one of those unfortunate inevitabilities of life, like death and taxes: Occasionally on backpacking trips you will hike past one of the most sublime patches of wilderness real estate you have ever laid eyes on, a spot so idyllic you can already see your tent pitched there and you standing outside it, warm mug in your hands, watching a glorious sunset. But it’s early and your plan entails hiking farther before you stop for the day—not camping there. Or your permit isn’t for that site. Or even worse, you are looking for a campsite, but someone else has already occupied this little corner of Heaven.

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A backpacker on the Continental Divide Trail in Glacier National Park.

12 Expert Tips for Finding Solitude When Backpacking

By Michael Lanza

Solitude has always reigned as one of the holy grails of backpacking: We all dream of finding that lonely campsite deep in the wilderness with an amazing vista, or hiking for miles or days encountering few or even no other people on the trail. Unfortunately, reality often conflicts with expectations for many backpackers when they discover that the dream trip they’ve been anticipating for months was apparently a dream trip for an awful lot of other people, too.

But the truth is that there are many ways to find backcountry solitude because the odds work in your favor: Most wilderness trails have few or no people on them most of the time. The search for solitude is less a needle-in-a-haystack conundrum and more a matter of thinking outside the box: You simply have to understand where and when to look for it—and stop thinking like everyone else thinks.

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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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Alice Lake in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.

Photo Gallery: 36 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 stream or lake in a beautiful natural setting, an experience that possesses a certain je ne sais quoi—a quality difficult to describe, but that we can all feel.

And nothing beats taking a swim in a gorgeous backcountry lake.

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