Castle Valley, UT
Fact: Water weighs more than eight pounds per gallon. Fact: In the desert, that number drives nearly all backpackers to the lowlands in search of creeks and pools for overnights. Fiction: You must follow them. Buck up to haul a heavy pack, and this southern Utah aerie will be all yours. The 400-foot-tall monolith rising overhead (behind the photographer who took this image) is listed in Steve Roper’s iconic 50 Classic Climbs of North America, and this ridge-crest spot deserves equal recognition among backcountry campsites. From a sandstone ridge barely wider than your tent, you’ll gaze across Castle Valley’s unimaginably complex panorama of towers, buttes, hoodoos, and rivulets, with the 12,000-foot-high La Sal Mountains, the Fisher Towers, the Colorado River Canyon, and a universe of spires in the distance. The route up is short and steep: about 1.5 miles and 1,000 feet. From US 191 south of Arches National Park and north of Moab, follow UT 128 east for 15 miles. Turn south at the sign for Castle Valley, then continue about four miles to the campground and trailhead below Castleton Tower. Summer broils, and there is no shelter; target October to April.