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Backpacker Magazine – June 2011

National Parks: Best of the Rest (Acadia to Zion)

Your life-list only starts with the top 10 parks. Our favorite hikes from the next 40 will fill it with glacier-edge paddling, desert-oasis exploring, and more.

by: James Dziezynski

Sage Creek Wilderness, Badlands National Park (Kim Phillips)
Sage Creek Wilderness, Badlands National Park (Kim Phillips)
Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Photo by Tom Zuccareno)
Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Photo by Tom Zuccareno)

11
Mt. Rainier, WA

Acres 235,625 Trail miles 441 2010 backcountry campers 40,731
Alpinists (some 10,000 annually) flock to “everyman’s Everest” (about half reach the 14,411-foot summit), but train your eyes lower for the best backpacking. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail circles the glacier-hung massif, passing flowery meadows and frame after frame of mountain views. Don’t have two weeks? Hike the 15.4-mile highlight reel from Fryingpan Creek to Box Canyon. Season Spring to fall Contact nps.gov/mora Trip ID 834764

12
Canyonlands, UT

Acres 337,600 Trail miles 200+ 2010 backcountry campers 61,386
The maze of canyons here is famously complex, rugged, and awe-inspiring. To get the most of all three, hike deep into Salt Creek Canyon on a 23.3-mile loop that connects Salt Creek to Lavender Canyon via Big Pocket and Cedar Mesa. Start at Cathedral Butte trailhead in the park’s Needles district. En route, look for centuries-old pictographs, take in the view atop Fisheye Arch, and camp below massive Cleft Arch, which glows at sunrise and sunset. Season Fall to early spring Contact nps.gov/cany Trip ID 55510

13
Rocky Mountain, CO

Acres 265,769 Trail miles 355 2010 backcountry campers 33,405
Sixty snow-capped peaks and bighorns and bugling elk (September) make Rocky a life-list for the alpine-minded. And the park’s 300-plus annual bluebird days make hiking here sublime. Lose the day crowd on a 16-mile lollipop loop in Wild Basin. Overnight at Thunder Lake (10,676 feet), and tick off the class 3 summit of 13,310-foot Mt. Alice, where you’ll spy the blocky summit of 14,259-foot Longs Peak. Return by Lion Lakes. Season Summer (watch for storms) or fall Contact nps.gov/romo Trip ID 1083720

14
Kings Canyon, CA
Acres
462,901 Trail miles 350 2010 backcountry campers 15,203
The country’s longest road-free stretch of trail spans this central Sierra park and its southern twin, Sequoia. Cross it on the country’s best month-long hike, the 270 miles of Pacific Crest Trail from Mt. Whitney to Sonora Pass. You’ll pass beneath 14,000-foot granite peaks, traverse mile-deep canyons, and camp in lonely alpine-zone meadows. Season Early fall Contact nps.gov/seki Trip ID 28811

15
Wrangell-St. Elias, AK
Acres
13,175,901 Trail miles None official 2010 backcountry campers No stats kept
Even if the entire year’s worth of visitors (73,210 in 2010) came to this Alaska park during one weekend, there would still be 180 acres for every single person. If you go, pick a trip to match the enormity of this place’s mountains, forests, and rivers. A few years ago, our map scouts did just that, completing a 94-mile first-trek from Tebay Lakes to Iceberg Lakes. You could be next. Season Summer to early fall Contact nps.gov/wrst Trip ID 24571

16
Zion, UT
Acres
146,598 Trail miles 70 2010 backcountry campers 36,554
The Zion Narrows of the Virgin River slice through red-rock cliffs, creating one of the most spectacular slot canyons in America. Start at Chamberlain Ranch trailhead and drop into the river beneath 2,000-foot walls. Savor it: Camp above the river at mile 10. Season Spring and fall Contact nps.gov/zion Trip ID 477517

17
Isle Royale, MI
Acres
133,788 Trail miles 165 2010 backcountry campers 34,116
Go high for the best views and solitude on the 45-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail. You’ll cross the island from Windigo to Hidden Lake, summit Isle Royale’s highpoint (1,394-foot Mt. Desor), and camp deep in Northwoods forests. Season Late summer has crisp weather and few bugs. Contact nps.gov/isro Trip ID 1084161

18
Sequoia, CA
Acres
404,051 Trail miles 450 2010 backcountry campers 21,594
Take the long way to the Lower 48’s highpoint. Hike the 72-mile High Sierra Trail starting from Crescent Meadows trailhead, and you’ll pass Sierra snow-caps, 300-foot sequoias, and alpine lakes holding mirror reflections. Season Late summer Contact nps.gov/seki Trip ID 25771

19
Bryce Canyon, UT
Acres
35,835 Trail miles 59 2010 backcountry campers 52,279
Needle-point spikes rising from the canyon floor create a fierce pincushion in the desert landscape. Got a day? Do the eight-mile Fairyland Loop past a quiver of towers in a lesser-traveled section of the park. Got a few? Tackle the 22.1-mile Under the Rim Trail, the park’s only true backpack. Season Spring and fall Contact nps.gov/brca Trip IDs 477518/368608




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