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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.

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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)


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 Trip ID 834764


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 Trip ID 55510


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 Trip ID 1083720


Kings Canyon, CA

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 Trip ID 28811


Wrangell-St. Elias, AK

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 Trip ID 24571


Zion, UT

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 Trip ID 477517


Isle Royale, MI

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 Trip ID 1084161


Sequoia, CA

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 Trip ID 25771


Bryce Canyon, UT

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 Trip IDs 477518/368608


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


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


Acadia, ME

47,390 Trail miles 125 2010 backcountry campers Not allowed

Tag 1,528-foot Cadillac Mountain (the highpoint of this craggy-cliffed park) on an 8.8-mile loop from Sieur de Monts Spring Nature Center. Tip: Hike it (early!) on New Year’s Day to be the first in America to see the sunrise on the new year. Season Shoulder seasons (for lighter traffic and pleasant weather) Contact Trip ID 55560


Badlands, SD

244,000 Trail miles 18 2010 backcountry campers 23,984

Devilishly balanced rock spires, a labyrinth of interconnected washes, pronghorn boneyards, and mesmerizingly endless scrub prairie await on a 22-mile backpack through the Sage Creek Wilderness. Pack water. Season Late summer to early fall Contact Trip ID 490492


Kobuk Valley, AK

1,669,813 Trail miles None official 2010 backcountry campers 503

The few who make the journey (there are no roads) to this remote Alaska park earn a vast wilderness of sand dunes, boreal forests, and stately stands of unnamed, unclimbed peaks. Season Late spring to mid-autumn Contact


Voyageurs, MN

218,054 Trail miles 53 2010 backcountry campers 35,650

Loons and howling wolves fill the silent spaces between your paddle strokes in this watery Minnesota wilderness. Tour it on the 27.9-mile Kab-Ash Trail. Season Late summer Contact


Haleakala, HI

30,183 Trail miles 30 2010 backcountry campers 1,260

Silversword plants dot a cinder-cone moonscape in the inner caldera of this 10,023-foot volcano. Descend from the rim on an 11-mile overnight, and camp at Holua (mile seven) as shooting stars score the ink-dark sky. Season Late spring for mild temps Contact


Saguaro, AZ

91,440 Trail miles 165 2010 backcountry campers 1,568

Climb to a “sky island” above the Sonoran Desert in this park flanking Tucson. Hike 13.8 miles (out-and-back) on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail to Juniper Basin, where saguaro cacti give way to hedgehog cacti and junipers. Camp near cottonwoods. Season Spring for water and wildflowers Contact


Congaree, SC

26,545 Trail miles 38 2010 backcountry campers 1,174

Red-eye Vireo flit in the cherrybark-oak canopy that frames the Congaree River. Hike the 10.4-mile River Trail to access the banks via mossy wetlands. Season Year-round Contact


Theodore Roosevelt, ND

70,447 Trail miles 100 2010 backcountry campers 732

Bison, elk, deer, and wild horses cross this protected swath of Great Plains prairie in North Dakota. Take in sweeping vistas along the 96-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail. Season Spring or fall Contact


Mesa Verde, CO

52,120 Trail miles 20 2010 backcountry campers 395

After visiting the famously well-preserved ruins of an Ancestral Pueblo castle tucked into a sandstone amphitheater, explore the nearby desert on the 7.8-mile Prater Edge Trail. Season Year-round Contact


Mammoth Cave, KY

52,835 Trail miles 70 2010 backcountry campers 4,981

Take a guided tour of the world’s largest mapped cave system, then stick around to hike on top. The 10.5-mile Sal Hollow Loop’s boulder fields and stream-crossed hills see few visitors thanks to the crowd-drawing chamber below. Season Spring and fall Contact Trip ID 26255


Petrified Forest, AZ

93,533 Trail miles 7 2010 backcountry campers 300

Trek the Painted Desert to piles of segmented petrified wood sprinkled amid clay sidehills showing muted shades of red and gray. Pack water and camp at least a mile from the road. Season Spring and fall Contact

How to Pack for Backcountry Skiing

Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.