Tag Archives: backpacking

Mount Rainier National Park

Overview

Only 3 hours from Seattle, 14,410-foot tall Mount Rainier dominates the skyline in all directions.  It spends many days cloaked in clouds, so your best view might be out a tiny airplane window before landing at Sea-Tac Airport.  It is an active volcano, uncomfortably close to a population of millions, but it provides recreational opportunities year round.  The park truly contains the wonderland for which its 93-mile circumnavigating trail is named.

Highlights

Paradise, Sunrise, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, Wonderland Trail

Must-Do Activity

Despite receiving an average of 680 inches of snow annually, the road to Paradise is open all year.  Even in July, you should pack your snowshoes to follow the 5.5 mile Skyline Loop or the 1.2 mile long Nisqually Vista Trail.  This is the jumping off point for most mountaineers attempting to summit the volcano.

Best Trail

A really fun (or scary) swinging footbridge grants access to the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip), where giant Douglas-fir trees tower to more than 300 feet in height.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Reflection Lake is right off the main park road east of the Paradise turnoff.  When there is no wind, it offers a stunning mirror view of Mount Rainier.

Peak Season

Summer, but expect heavy snowpack through July and at least 9 months a year.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads to Paradise and Sunrise are paved, though the latter is closed October to July, as is the dirt road that accesses Mowich Lake.  The Carbon River Road in the northwest corner was washed out in 2006, but is still walkable for 5 miles one-way to access Ipsut Creek Campground.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds that accept reservations, but White River Campground near Sunrise has 112 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. 


This design we created to celebrate Mount Rainier National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How many different glaciers cling to the sides of the Mount Rainier volcano?

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Overview

There are currently three National Lakeshores in the National Park Service system, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of two in Michigan.  It encompasses 31 miles of mainland shoreline and 34 more miles on two large islands that give the park its name.  The park receives over a million visitors annually and is known for its fishing and canoeing.

Highlights

Dune Climb, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Glen Haven Village Historic District, 1871 South Manitou Island Lighthouse

Must-Do Activity

Much of this National Lakeshore is forested and surrounds several small townships (marked “Twp” on many maps).  For a backcountry experience on the mainland, take the winding 7-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive that becomes a cross-country ski trail in winter.  Trails and overlooks provide stops along the route, which is not recommended for long vehicles or trailers.

Best Trail

Dune Climb is more than 100 feet tall and the best place to play in the sand.  This is a perched dune where sand accumulated atop glacial moraines left from the last ice age.  From the top there are great views and you can continue on several other trails.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Glen Haven Village Historic District maintains a former general store, blacksmithy, and cannery, which now contains a museum dedicated to small watercraft.  The Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum is open Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but some beach access is only by dirt road.  Ferries in the summer leave from Leland, Michigan to either North or South Manitou Islands where there are no roads.  Unless you are doing a day trip, camping permits are required before departure.

Camping

Platte River Campground is open year round and takes reservations.  Backpackers can enjoy more than 100 miles of trails, including some on the two wilderness islands.  Backcountry camping requires a permit.

Explore More – What were they canning at the old cannery in Glen Haven Village Historic District?

Sequoia National Park

Overview

In 1890, Sequoia became the second National Park in the United States in order to protect its famous groves of giant sequoia trees, not to be mistaken for California’s coast redwoods.  The park’s hub in the Giant Forest contains the General Sherman tree, the largest by volume in the world.  Most of the park is in the High Sierra and includes Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet. 

Highlights

General Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mt. Whitney

Must-Do Activity

The remarkable giant sequoia tree can live over 2,000 years, reach three hundred feet in height, and grow the largest wood volume of any single-stemmed tree on the planet.  They are only found in 75 protected groves scattered throughout California’s Sierra Nevadas.  Bring your whole family to see how many people it takes arms linked to reach around the base of one of these massive trees.  With circumferences reaching over 100 feet, you are going to need a big family! 

Best Trail

Crescent Trail starts near the General Sherman tree, winds up the hill, and then connects with the Trail of the Sequoias, which passes the dense clusters of the Senate and House Groups.  It is especially nice when there is snow on the ground.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Any time of year is great to visit, but the winter is perhaps the prettiest as the snow contrasts nicely with the orange bark of the giant sequoia trees.

Peak Season

Summer due to the high elevation

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but steep, winding, and narrow.  The rough Mineral King Road is closed in winter.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds near the Giant Forest, as well as two on the rough road to the remote Mineral King section of the park.  All backcountry camping requires a permit and is on a quota system during the summer.


This design we created to celebrate Sequoia National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why do park rangers recommend you wrap your car with chicken wire when you visit Mineral King?

Top 10 National Parks for Dispersed Backcountry Camping

These National Park Service units do not require you to camp in a designated site, so much the better for privacy and quiet.  These are our 10 favorite spots to go backpacking and commune with nature in the backcountry.  Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles.

10. Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Georgia to Maine)

With the exception of some National and State Parks, camping is dispersed along the A.T.

9. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Most parks in Alaska offer dispersed camping and this is the largest of all National Parks.

8. Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

While floating downstream, you can pull your boat to the shore and set up wherever you like.

7. Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

Bison will be your only companions on the prairies and forests above the caverns.

6. Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

This park has designated sites along its trails, but you can also get an off-trail permit by zone.

5. Sequoia National Park (California)

Much of this park has designated campsites, but the Mineral King section does not.

4. Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

Incredible views can be found in Conata Basin and other free backcountry areas.

3. Death Valley National Park (California)

It is a hike to the Panamint Dunes, but you will likely have the place to yourself.

2. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Take a ferry to these barrier islands and set up on the beautiful sandy beaches.

…and finally our #1 National Park for dispersed backcountry camping!

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)

A free permit allows you to set up camp anywhere in the dune field not visible from the road.

Honorable Mention

Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Missouri)

Find the perfect spot along the shores of the Jack’s Fork or Current Rivers

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Overview

East of Provo, Utah in Uinta National Forest lies tiny Timpanogos Cave National Monument.  Accessing the cave requires a guided tour (fee) and a one-and-a-half mile hike that climbs 1,092 feet, but the destination is completely worth the effort as it has an amazing collection of helictites and other cave formations.

Highlights

Cave tour, Canyon Nature Trail, Alpine Scenic Drive, Timpanogos Peak, camping

Must-Do Activity

The cave tour actually takes you through three caves that were connected by manmade tunnels after the National Park Service (NPS) took over management in 1922.  It is a bit strange to find yourself turning a door handle when inside of a mountain, though. 

Best Trail

Most caves run by the NPS have an elevator, but Timpanogos Cave requires a one-and-a-half mile hike that climbs 1,092 feet, which might not sound too bad until you consider it starts above 5,600 feet in elevation.  The paved trail has many scenic overlooks at which you can stop to catch your breath.  Canyon Nature Trail is a flatter option near the visitor center if you are not hiking up to the caves.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Timpanogos Cave has the best collection of gravity-defying helictite crystals we have ever seen. 

Peak Season

Summer, closed October to May

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/tica/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

There is an entry fee ($6) for Alpine Scenic Drive through American Fork Canyon, which is covered by the America The Beautiful Pass.  Tickets ($8 per person) for cave tours often sell out on weekends, so reservations are recommended (they can be made 30 days in advance).

Road Conditions

Alpine Scenic Drive is paved, but parking is limited at the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds (both developed and primitive) along the 20-mile Alpine Scenic Drive through Uinta National Forest.  They can fill up due to its proximity to Salt Lake City, Utah, but backpacking is free and does not require a permit.

Explore More – How do helictites form in twisted shapes that defy gravity?