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TRIP DOCTOR: How do I know if I'm ready for my first big park trip?

Make sure you've got the skills for your first national park trip. Here's what you need to know.

We'd like to take a five or seven day hike in a big Western national park, or maybe even Denali. How do we know if we're ready for it, and where should we go?
--Nicole, Binghamton, NY

Backpacking Denali National Park is an adventure-of-a-lifetime that should be on everyone's tick list. But it's definitely not for rookies. Besides having no trails--you'll hike cross-country, be route-finding in big, sometimes confusing terrain--there are multiple challenges, including serious river crossings, weather that can deliver snow or cold rain and shut down visibility at the height of summer, and brown bears. This is advanced wilderness travel with many possibilities for trouble, demanding high self-sufficiency.

So how do you assess your own readiness for Denali, or anywhere else? Read Full Story...
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Destinations
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TRIP DOCTOR: Is There Such a Thing as Adventure Insurance for Outdoor Pursuits?

Let's face it. Some sports are dangerous. Our Trip Doctor lays out some options for getting insured on the trail.

I’m climbing a peak this summer. Does anyone offer outdoor insurance in case something happens to me? How do I get it?
--Bill, Lander WY

Most insurers still haven’t wrapped their brains around outdoor sports—especially those that entail some degree of risk, like mountain climbing. Typical health insurance policies won’t cover an expensive evacuation from a wilderness setting in the event of an injury that’s immobilizing or life threatening. Unless you get travel insurance that specifically covers circumstances that could slam the door on your trip—such as weather preventing you from getting to your destination—you’ll eat the entire cost.

Read Full Story...
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Destinations
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TRIP DOCTOR: Where Will I See The Most Big Wildlife on a Dayhike?

Want to see bears, moose, and everything in between? Our trip doctor has the hikes for you.

Where will I see the most big wildlife on dayhike? I'm interested in moose, bears, and anything else bigger than me.
--Nick, Newburyport, MA

That’s an easy one. The two national parks in the Lower 48 that retain the full range of America’s non-extinct original mega-fauna are Yellowstone and Glacier.

In Yellowstone, you could dayhike almost anywhere to see elk, bison, moose, and possibly even a grizzly bear or wolves, but the best spot is probably the Lamar River Valley in the park’s northwest corner. Hike out-and-back as far as you want up the Lamar River Trail from the trailhead on Northeast Entrance Road, 13 miles east of Tower Junction and 16 miles west of the Northeast Entrance. It’s hot in summer and there are enough people around to keep the animals away, so if you’re heading there from June to August, get an early start—and carry pepper spray in case you get a little too close to a bear. Better yet, hike in September, when there’s fewer people around, meaning more animals, and temps are cooler. Read Full Story...
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Destinations
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TRIP DOCTOR: Backpacking the Tetons for Beginners

The perfect Grand Tetons hike is at your feet thanks to our trusty Trip Doctor.

I want to backpack in the Tetons this summer but I’ve never been there. Where should I go? 
--William, Lincoln, NE

The Tetons are one of my favorite mountain ranges in the country. I think I’ve been there 15 or more times—backpacking, climbing, dayhiking, backcountry skiing, canoeing. The place is an adventure playground (and, in my opinion, one of our most photogenic parks; see my story “Life’s Short, Hike More,” in the upcoming August issue of BACKPACKER). For backpackers, there are a number of route options. Read Full Story...
Wednesday, June 09, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Destinations
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TRIP DOCTOR: Where Should I Go Beach Camping This Summer?

There's nothing like falling asleep to waves crashing on shore. Our trip expert shares some inside knowledge on the best spots for beach camping. Don't forget your longboard.

Where can I go wilderness beach camping this summer that won't be crowded or overly regulated?  I'd like to camp, hike, and have a campfire.
--Bella, Boulder, CO

Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if we all had a strip of wilderness coastline to ourselves? There’s not much of that left in the U.S. but the quintessential multi-day wilderness-coast backpacking trip is on Washington’s Olympic coast, the longest stretch of wilderness coastline in the Lower 48.

The 73 miles of pristine shoreline on the Pacific within Olympic National Park feature endless sand and cobblestone beaches backed by rainforest; cliffs plunging into the sea in spots; tide pools brimming with sea life; bald eagles, whales, sea otters, and other wildlife; amazing sunsets; and bizarre sea stacks, pinnacles of rock jutting from the ocean, often capped by a few trees. Read Full Story...
Wednesday, June 02, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Destinations
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Trip Doctor: How Do I Plan For Thru-Hiking the JMT?

Our resident trip planning expert shares where to camp, how to plan, and other tips for the John Muir Trail.

Q: I’m planning to thru-hike the John Muir Trail this summer. How many days should I plan on, what do I need to know, and where are the best campsites?

A: Thru-hiking the JMT should be on every backpacker’s tick list—its amazing scenery really earns it the nickname “America’s most beautiful trail.” And at 221 miles total—when you include the 10-mile hike off Mt. Whitney’s summit, where the JMT ends (or begins, depending on your perspective)—it can be done in three weeks or less, so you don’t have to quit your job or abandon your family for it.

I took this shot of my friend Todd Arndt above Marie Lake, near Selden Pass:

Read Full Story...
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Skills
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Michael Lanza shows you how to plan your perfect mind-blowing hike in Lord of the Rings land.

Going to New Zealand, mate? Good on ya! One of the most famous routes is the Routeburn Track, a classic for a few reasons: it’s not too hard to hike and has incredible scenery going from lush forest to an alpine path with expansive views and nice huts. In fact, at 19.8 miles, fit people could dayhike it (though being a point-to-point traverse complicates transportation logistics for doing it in one long day).

Gary Kuehn hiking above the Dart River.

But it’s so well known that the big challenge is getting a hut reservation. And once you have one, you’re committed you to dates, allowing no flexibility to delay for a day or two if New Zealand’s characteristically fickle and very wet weather goes south.

As an alternative, I prefer the Rees-Dart Track...
Read Full Story...
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Destinations
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TRIP DOCTOR: How Do I Plan My First Glacier National Park Backpacking Trip?

Always wanted to go to Glacier? Our resident trip planning expert shows you how.

I want to backpack in Glacier National Park for the first time but I'm a little intimidated by the place...and the grizzlies. What do I need to know and where should I go?
—Shannon, Columbus, OH

Great choice. BACKPACKER readers consistently rank Glacier as one of their favorite backpacking destinations (it repeatedly comes in first) because of amazing scenery and the likelihood of seeing lots of mega-fauna: mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, and maybe even black and grizzly bears. Backpacking there does pose some challenges, but nothing beyond the abilities of anyone with some experience. For starters…
Read Full Story...
Tuesday, May 11, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Destinations
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TRIP DOCTOR: How Do I Plan a Family Backpacking Trip to the Grand Canyon?

Our resident trip planning expert drops some beta on planning the perfect Big Ditch vacation for you and your family.

Welcome to the inaugural Trip Doctor blog, in which I’ll answer your questions about how to pull off any outdoor trip. My name is Michael Lanza and as a field editor for BACKPACKER, I’ve hiked, climbed, backcountry skied, and paddled for years around much of the U.S. and far-flung parts of the world (Iceland, Patagonia, and New Zealand, to name a few). If there’s a place you want to see, odds are, I’ve been there or it’s on my tick list, so I’ve done most of your planning for you. If you have a question about a place you’d like to go, I’d love to hear from you. So, let’s get started.

How do I plan a family-backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon? How hard will it be, how much water should we carry, and where and when should we go?
--Anthony, Boulder, CO
Read Full Story...
Wednesday, May 05, 2010 in: Trip Doctor, Destinations
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