As it stands, backpacking is the closest we humans have to a time machine. You strap everything you need on your shoulders, leave everything you don’t and walk the same paths as the explorers, settlers and natives who traipsed around generations before (Also, DINOSAURS. You are definitely walking the same land as dinosaurs.)
Your money is no good here, your phone serves no purpose and those with four wheels shall not pass. Let the pine trees and rugged peaks block the ever-advancing creep of modernity while you gather a few close friends for the time of your lives. Just don’t forget to check for ticks.
Here are eight suggestions for world-class routes and a few crates that could help on the journey.
Tuolumne Meadows to Devils Postpile, Yosemite National Park, California
Distance: 31.3 Miles
Why: Iconic High Sierra views, crystal blue glacial lakes and pretending like you’re Reese Witherspoon in Wild. This is truly a world class backpacking route.
Big Creek Loop, Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina
Why: Swimming holes, waterfalls…and probably bears. This verdant trail on the Smokies is stunning and teeming with wildlife, so before you embark, set your crew up with the Outdoor Survival Crate, which includes a compass, shovel/hatchet, minimalist cookset, multi-tool, survival guide and other essentials you might need to ward off a large game animal.
Cottonwood-Marble Loop, Death Valley National Park, California
Distance: 27 miles
Why: Isolation, wildflowers, slot canyons. This park is the largest, and hottest, in the lower 48, but the Cottonwood-Marble loop is one of the few places in this desert that offers reliable access to water and numerous lush oases. Also, it only averages about 300 backpackers a year, so don’t expect to see many people. It’s best traveled in October through April. Bring sunscreen.
The Big Needles Loop, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Distance: 23.2 miles
Why: Otherworldly rock formations, narrow slot canyons, dramatic views of hoodoos (we know that sounds like a fake thing, but it’s real. Look it up).
Sandbeach Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Utah
Distance: 9.9 miles
Why: This short, achievable weekend loop is a stunner. Traverse ridges covered in ponderosa pines and aspen, or summit nearby Lookout Mountain, enroute to this subalpine lake and its fluffy shores. Real creative name, guys.
Skyline to Sea Trail, Castle Rock State Park, California
Distance: 29.5 miles
Why: Leave the Silicon Valley bros behind and head to Castle Rock State Park, which feels remarkably isolated despite being just an hour south of San Jose. This trail was the result of conservation efforts and some dedicated locals in 1976, and it courses a breathtaking path through redwoods to rocky, wild beach.
Timberline Trail, Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon
Distance: 38.4 miles
Why: This trail is a beast, and it covers a lot of highlights: views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainer, epic waterfalls, massive glaciers, wildflower meadows and more. With the beauty comes hype, so it’s not the quietest hike around. Still, tranquility will prevail when you light up a fire (yes, those are allowed here) and soak in the storybook views.
Mother Mountain Loop, Mount Rainier Wilderness, Washington
Why: So you can walk across a snowfield just hours after basking in a patch of wildflowers. The stark green landscapes in juxtaposition with the jagged mountains is downright Switzerland-esque (is that a thing?).