Wonderland Trail

Backpackers passing a tarn along the Highline Trail/Continental Divide Trail in Wyoming's Wind River Range.

10 Awe-Inspiring Wild Places in America’s West

By Michael Lanza

Over more than three decades of backpacking adventures throughout America’s West, I’ve been fortunate to explore deeply into our most cherished national parks, wilderness areas, and protected backcountry. Many—indeed, all—are beautiful. But some places rise above the rest, inspiring a sense of awe that can motivate us to reorder our priorities and rearrange our lives—and they have that effect on us every time we return to them. This story spotlights those special places in the West and many trips that you can take in them.

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A backpacker above Elizabeth Lake in Glacier National Park.

How to Get a Last-Minute, National Park Backcountry Permit

By Michael Lanza

You really want to backpack in Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Teton, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, or another hugely popular national park this summer—but you didn’t apply to reserve a wilderness permit months ago? Well, you just may be in luck: Most parks have a system for getting a last-minute permit. It requires jumping through some hoops, understanding the system’s ins and outs, good timing, patience, and a bit of luck, but many backpackers get permits without a reservation every year.

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Backpackers west of Sunrise on the Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

The Best Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park

By Michael Lanza

Among hikers and backpackers, Mount Rainier National Park may be best known for the Wonderland Trail, which makes a 93-mile loop around Mount Rainier—the 14,411-foot volcano that Washingtonians refer to simply as “The Mountain.” The Wonderland constantly ascends to sub-alpine meadows exploding with wildflowers, with Rainier’s gleaming, white slopes repeatedly popping into view, and plunges into valleys carved by glacial rivers in a rainforest of giant trees.

But one doesn’t have to embark on a multi-day hike to enjoy those vistas. You reach some of the best scenery in America’s fifth national park on dayhikes.

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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.

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Backpackers on the Wonderland Trail west of Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park.

How to Get a Permit to Backpack Rainier’s Wonderland Trail

By Michael Lanza

Any backpacker making the substantial effort to hike the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Washington’s Mount Rainier soon discovers why it’s one of the most popular backpacking trips in the country. Those reasons include regularly wading through some of the best wildflower meadows you’ll see anywhere, the numerous waterfalls and raging rivers gray with glacial flour—and the countless times that the most heavily glaciated peak in the Lower 48, 14,410-foot Mount Rainier, suddenly pops into view, looking impossibly massive.

That’s also why few backcountry permits are harder to get than one for the Wonderland—unquestionably one of “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips” and “The 10 Best National Park Backpacking Trips.”

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