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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)

Crater Lake, OR
183,224 Trail miles 100 2010 backcountry campers 1,815
From Mt. Scott, the park’s 8,929-foot pinnacle at the end of the five-mile Mt. Scott Trail, Crater Lake’s broad, blue waters extend in a sapphire plane. If the waters are tempting, go lakeside on the 2.2-mile (one-way) Cleetwood Trail and swim at the park’s only designated beach. Season Summer Contact

Redwood, CA
131,983 Trail miles 200 2010 backcountry campers 903 What’s standing next to a redwood like? The tree is 60 times your height, which is about how your height compares to an acorn. Bask in your puniness on the 16-mile Redwood Creek Trail, which passes through one of the planet’s largest groves. Season Summer to early autumn Contact Trip ID 52000

Death Valley, CA
3,373,042 Trail miles 200 2010 backcountry campers 1,617
Climb golden dunes to a hardpacked trail on the 28-mile out-and-back from Harry Wade Road to Ibex Spring. You’ll camp alongside this cool oasis in a park of extreme aridity, and witness the best star show of your life. Season Not summer Contact Trip ID 280079

Big Bend, TX
801,160 Trail miles 150 2010 backcountry campers 22,712
Red, sage-scented desert gives way to ephemeral waterfalls fed by snowmelt off the Chisos Mountains. See the transformation on the 29.5-mile Outer Loop Trail, which climbs to 7,832-foot Emory Peak, then plunges 2,800 feet to the floor of Juniper Canyon. Season Fall to spring Contact Trip ID 8572

Arches, UT
76,360 Trail miles 26 2010 backcountry campers 7,095
Delicate Arch is the easy-access showstopper, but bypass the worst-kept secret for one of the best. On the 7.2-mile Devils Garden Primitive Loop, you’ll hit the park’s deepest backcountry and pass eight major arches, including the implausibly balanced 290-foot-long, 77-foot-tall Landscape Arch. Season Fall to early spring Contact Trip ID 18410

Glacier Bay, AK
3,283,000 Trail miles 14 2010 backcountry campers 6,122
As the glaciers have retreated from this coastal park, calving blue-hued icebergs into the bay, they’ve revealed 800 miles of stone beaches backed by wet evergreen forests. Paddle this grizzly- and wolf-run wilderness on an experts-only, four-night kayak from Mt. Wright to McBride Bay. Guide Alaska Mountain Guides, Season Spring is best for whale watching; early summer is thick with mosquitoes. Contact Trip ID 612892

Shenandoah, VA
199,017 Trail miles 500 2010 backcountry campers 38,147
From skyline ridgetops to stream-laced hollows filled with mature ash trees, the 16.8-mile weekend loop around Mathews Arm offers a high-low Shenandoah show-all. Season October for fall foliage Contact Trip ID 17056

Gates of the Arctic, AK
8,472,506 Trail miles None official 2010 backcountry campers 7,175
You can’t reach the country’s northernmost park by car, which means unmatched solitude in a wilderness ruled by grizzlies and polar bears. The wide-open tundra rolls out beneath the sawtooth Brooks Range to the south. Hike anywhere. Season Summer (bugs can be fierce) to early fall Contact

Lassen Volcanic, CA
106,452 Trail miles 150 2010 backcountry campers 6,006
The volcanic activity here—last eruption, 1917—has created a landscape of olive- and aqua-colored hot springs, and features like Bumpass Hell (a 9.2-mile dayhike), where the limestone sheets ooze over steaming springs like melted marshmallows. Season Spring to autumn Contact Trip ID 10201

Katmai, AK
4,725,188 Trail miles 26 2010 backcountry campers 483
In the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, in Katmai’s mountainous interior, fumaroles and geysers exhale into the sky. View it from Mt. Katmai’s caldera, or snap some guaranteed griz shots from the two-mile Overlook Trail beginning at Brooks Camp. Season Summer Contact

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