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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)

Great Sand Dunes, CO
44,246 Trail miles 25 2010 backcountry campers 2,171
Each day—nearly without fail—scouring winds wipe away footprints in the 19,200-acre dunefield at the base of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The result: a feeling of quiet solitude amid the country’s highest dunes. Go during a full moon for silver-glowing sands, or a new moon for a laser-sharp Milky Way. Season Spring and fall Contact

Kenai Fjords, AK
669,984 Trail miles 15 2010 backcountry campers 1,692
This moody swath of glacier-trenched coast harbors grizzly bears by the hundreds. Pick a clear day for the 7.4-mile hike on the Harding Icefield Trail for Pacific views. Season Summer through autumn Contact Trip ID 10249

Joshua Tree, CA
789,750 Trail miles 100 2010 backcountry campers 8,041
The rising sun in this desert park ignites the granite formations in hues from black cherry to peach. Hike to Lost Palm Oasis on a 7.4-mile out-and-back and pass spiky yuccas and crooked Joshua trees to a spring-fed oasis. Season Spring and fall Contact Trip ID 338185

Everglades, FL
1,508,571 Trail miles 120 2010 backcountry campers 12,991
Hike (yes, hike) through this otherworldly landscape, where moss hangs like drapes, orchids and birds flash neon colors, and you might just catch a glimpse of reptilian eyes peering out from the swamps. See it all on the 15-mile out-and-back Coastal Prairie Trail. Season Early spring and late fall for fewer bugs. Contact

Guadalupe Mountains, TX
86,415 Trail miles 80 2010 backcountry campers 2,494
This range rises from the west Texas salt flats like a limestone shiv. Reach the top of Texas (8,751-foot Guadalupe Peak) on an 8.4-miler with long-distance views of scrubland stretching to Mexico and New Mexico. Camp at the summit site to extend your stay. Season Fall to winter Contact Trip ID 1089414

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO
30,750 Trail miles 18 2010 backcountry campers 1,146
Light barely enters this snaking, 2,722-foot-deep Colorado canyon, and the almost perpetually dark, cracked gneiss and schist walls give this park its name. Hike the seven-mile North Vista Trail, then descend the S.O.B. Trail on ropes and chains to the inner canyon. Beware poison ivy. Season Summer; or fall for river campsites Contact

Lake Clark, AK
2,533,079 Trail miles None official 2010 backcountry campers 5,149
The convergence of three mountain ranges (the Alaskan, Aleutian, and Chigmit), two active volcanoes, glaciers, and arctic rainforest makes for diverse and challenging terrain. A lack of roads makes for unmatched solitude. Hire a bush pilot to drop you at the Tanalian Falls Trail, a network of glorified user paths, to access roaring waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and jagged mountains. Season Summer to mid-autumn Contact

Hawaii Volcanoes, HI
323,431 Trail miles 150 2010 backcountry campers 4,501
Lava crowns from the edge of 4,091-foot Kilauea and steams into the Pacific. Hike the landscape creation in reverse on the 43.5-mile trip up 13,679-foot Mauna Loa, and see grasses give way to creases of black, volcanic rock. Season Late spring or mid-autumn Contact

Great Basin, NV
77,180 Trail miles 60 2010 backcountry campers 613
In eastern Nevada, a Sierra-like mountain range harbors ancient bristlecone pines, azure mountain lakes, and the subterranean cathedral of Lehman Caves. Connect the South Fork to Johnson Lake and Baker Lake Trails for 24 miles, with lakeside camping near the 2,000-year-old bristlecone groves. Season Spring through early autumn Contact

Channel Islands, CA
249,350 Trail miles 90 2010 backcountry campers 37,171
This five-island park holds sanctuary for elephant seals, island foxes, and scads of soaring seabirds. Explore Santa Cruz’s northern shore on a 24.5-mile paddle and trek to sea caves and peaks. Season Year-round Contact Trip ID 54412

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