Best Wilderness Backpacking Trips

Carole Stephens
• Saturday, 14 November, 2020
• 9 min read

California’s Golden Coast gets visitors galore, with hotspots mostly south of the Bay Area. As a wilderness trail along some of the state’s rockiest beach terrain, this backpacking trip is relatively short, but the rock scrambles and sand dunes along the way make challenge and rewarding option for beginners.

yosemite tours hiking backpacking trips adventures guided wildlandtrekking
(Source: www.wildlandtrekking.com)


With one of the lowest elevation gains on this list, hikers looking to test their distance-per-day will find a perfect path ahead. A hike along this 12-mile loop trail takes you along a number of alpine lakes in the Desolation Wilderness, and brings you up 1,800 feet in total.

The loop will circle you back to Timberline Lodge, where you should relax après-ski with a warm drink indoors. With terrain and scenery pulled straight from Mars, hiking around Death Valley National Park (or the Mojave Desert in general) is as interesting as it is intense.

The trail, running close to 30 miles in a loop, will connect from the Stovepipe Wells trailhead, and can take about 3 days. The challenge of this trail lies mainly in the difficult conditions of the desert, so be sure to read Death Valley National Park’s tips on planning this hike in advance.

Length: 221 Miles Elevation Change: cumulative 47,000 feet Days: 20-30 Trailheads: (Southbound) Happy Isles, Sunrise Lakes, Glacier Point, Lyell Canyon Cutting more than 200 miles through central California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, the John Muir Trail is as legendary as it is scenic.

Plan for close to a month of hiking, camping, and exploring part of the state’s rocky, snow-spotted terrain, with an elevation gain more than 1.5 times the height of Mount Everest. At least in elevation, the Wonderland Trail around Washington’s Mount Rainier does just that, circling the PNW’s only mountain over 14,000 feet.

wilderness backpacking guide backpacker gift backpackers
(Source: backpackers.com)

Climbing over 22,000 feet in cumulative elevation gain along the Wonderland Trail, you’ll enjoy dense evergreen forests and snowy peaks year-round. The trail’s high elevation is a serious consideration as thin air can wear on hikers who aren’t used to these conditions.

Length: 272 miles Elevation Change: cumulative 69,000 feet Days: 20-30 Trailheads: Appalachian Trail Vermont/Massachusetts, Journey’s End Road What this hike lacks in dramatic views akin to the western U.S., it makes up for in greenery and ease with a relatively balanced elevation incline throughout.

Our guided backpacking tours take you into the heart of world-renowned wilderness destinations like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite. Enjoy solitude and adventure as you embark on a self-sufficient journey deep into America’s most stunning wild areas.

Stock/Porter Trips Experience the adventurous backcountry of America’s national parks and wilderness areas with the added joy of hiking with only a light day pack! Trips include all camping gear, meals, a professional hiking guide, and porters, llamas or mules to carry the supplies.

Basecamp Trips Our Basecamp tours are adventurous hiking trips that take you deep into the wilderness on challenging day hikes and return you to a comfortable, vehicle-accessible camp each afternoon for showers and exceptional meals around a campfire! These trips are excellent options for people who want a memorable outdoor experience with fantastic hiking and also access to showers, cold drinks, perishable foods…etc.

goat rocks wilderness washington backpacking beginner outings sierraclub
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Trips include local transportation, camping gear, meals, park entrance fees, and a professional hiking guide. Join us for an unforgettable hiking vacation featuring a variety of adventurous forays into the wilderness each day with cozy lodging and charming restaurant meals each night.

Learn about the amazing natural and cultural history of the area and challenge yourself on exceptional hikes. Trips include local transportation, lodging, meals, park entrance fees and a professional hiking guide.

Learn about the amazing natural and cultural history of the area, enjoy the peace of mind that results from hiking with a local expert, let us take care of the gear and food, and hear amazing stories that have taken place in the Park. We carry all of our food, kitchen gear, clothing, camping equipment, water filters and more on our backs in technical, multi-day backpacks.

Every backpacking tour is unique and all are hand-picked for their adventure, natural beauty, campsites, and amazing hiking. THE JOY OF BACKPACKING As every backcountry guide knows well, there’s a shift that happens to people after 2-3 days in the wilderness.

Our minds slow down and become quieter, our senses heighten, our appreciation of our surroundings expands, our bodies relax even while working hard, and the rhythms of the natural world begin to feel familiar. We wake at first light and watch the sun ease its way over cliffs, mountains or canyons; and at the end of the day we watch it set in an often brilliant light show before sitting around a campfire or crawling into our sleeping bags.

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All top-of-the-line gear is provided, which includes technical, multi-day backpacks; sleeping bags and pads; tents; trekking poles and more. Local transportation is included, which often involves shuttling to/from different trailheads, a logistic that can be very difficult to arrange if not on a guided tour.

Some guests want to hike with a local, professional guide to increase the safety and enjoyment of backpacking in an unfamiliar area. Some people are new to backpacking and prefer to hike with experts for peace of mind and to learn best practices.

Some guests join our guided tours for the ease and convenience of letting us handle the logistics, so they can focus 100% on enjoying the hiking experience. Mountain trips feature forests, meadows, rivers, lakes, snow-capped peaks, glaciers, wildlife, and often higher elevation hiking.

The better question is probably, “I’d like to go on a backpacking trip in {month or season}; where should I go?” If you’d like to go in the spring, then it’s best to look toward canyon and high desert destinations like the Grand Staircase-Escalante or Canyon lands in Utah, the Grand Canyon, Southern California, and the Great Smoky Mountains (Smokes are a mountain destination but at lower elevation). Fall can still be great in the mountains (usually through September), and then in October and November the canyon and high desert destinations are going to be better.

Finally, winter is best in desert areas like Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Death Valley. In the mountains or in the desert in spring, fall and winter you’ll want to have plenty of non-cotton clothing.

wilderness eagle cap oregon alltrails
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

Enclosed within the Los Padres National Forest, this historical land also has the oldest sanctuary for condors. Its Mediterranean climate makes it perfect for spring visitors, especially since many areas are closed during fire season July through November.

Ln Cleveland National Forest near San Diego is Agra Tibia Wilderness. Summer temperatures can rise above 100 degrees, so spring is an ideal time to enjoy its normally dry slopes, which may even be flowering from recent rains.

In addition to stunning geographic features, its Million Dollar Spring is considered one of the most immaculate watersheds in southwestern California. In this fast-growing region, this spacious wild land offers spring visitors the chance to witness unique wildlife, including the endangered California snatcher and Quinn checker spot butterfly.

With the peaks of the Sanger de Cristo Mountains, the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests as well as canyons and mesas, the landscapes here are as diverse as its wildlife. Both pretty secluded and relatively accessible, this wilderness can be a great place for spring fishing, just be aware that there are camping restrictions on the lake shores.

In fact, it is one of the largest tracts of old growth forest east of the Mississippi River with many trees hundreds of years old, which should all be bursting with green in spring. Camping is permitted anywhere in the small Tennessee portion of the Wilderness, but sections in North Carolina are closed.

eagle cap wilderness oregon alltrails trails
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

In North Carolina, almost trails are challenging to find and to traverse, but well worth the backpacking adventure. Although Boulder River Wilderness rests in the North Cascades of Washington state, its lower elevation means the likelihood of snow in spring is diminished and waterfalls will likely be bursting with seasonal rains.

The Boulder River Trail is one of many that winds through the virgin Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Narrow spires known as Three Fingers sprout up in the center, and wildlife such as black bears, deer, elk and mountain goats roam its lands.

East of Seattle and west of North Cascades National Park, fourteen glaciers cover towering peaks like the volcanic Mt. Baker Wilderness is an ideal destination in spring for mountain climbers and winter recreationists who want to make the most of the end of the cold season.

Most of Everglades National Park is designated as Wilderness, and it's less humid to visit earlier in the year. These marshes are home to splendid wildlife such as alligators and numerous colorful birds like flamingos, egrets and ibis.

Or you can take a canoe on the Wilderness Waterway through the saltwater bay to see almost every creature that lives in the Caribbean, including sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and manatees. Winding for over 20 miles along Sycamore Creek, this is one of Arizona's most spectacular canyons with layered walls of red sandstone, white limestone and brown lava.

dolly sods west virginia wilderness alltrails map trails area parks
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

The creek supports habitat for ring-tailed cats, black bears, mountain lions, canyon wrens and rattlesnakes. Spring is peak time for hunting here, and wildlife sightings may include bears, elk, moose, deer and wolves.

Zion is renowned for its breathtaking geology, including canyons that host an oasis of desert plants, trees and wildflowers. Waterfalls and swimming pools are part of the blessings of spring runoff in Black Ridge.

While stunning views and amazing wildlife are here year-round, only in spring can visitors spy a plethora of desert wildflowers. Green hills boast pink phlox blooms and magenta flowers on cacti from late April to mid-May.

In addition to gorgeous plants, Spring Basin provides habitat for animals like bobcats, coyotes, cougars, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks. Hiking, horseback riding and hunting are other reasons why wilderness lovers enjoy this destination.

San Mateo Canyon receives most of its rain by early spring, ushering in a bounty of beautiful blossoms. The hottest place on Earth is quite pleasant in spring, and this is one wild destination that should be on every American’s bucket list.

maroon bells colorado snowmass wilderness aspen alltrails map trail parks hiking trails area near
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

This isn’t surprising as there are three springs, one of which produces an average of seven million gallons of water a day alone.

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