Let's figure out a good backpacking trip
March 11, 2009 4:14 PM   Subscribe

[BackpackingFilter] Dear Mefi, My brother and I our planning a week long backpacking trip for the end of the summer (August/September), but do not know where to go. Help!

We our fairly open as to the where, except for the following preferences:
  • In the continental US / lower 48
  • Nothing stupidly strenuous - no "spend 7 days in the desert and then rappel down a sheer cliff"
  • Should include some decent and/or unique sights
  • Freedom to camp where and when we want - no campsite to campsite garbage
What do you suggest?

Recently, we started talking about finding something that's only 2-3 days out that we could do to and stay at that site for more than a day, doing smaller day trips from there, such as summiting a smaller mountain. But, we're open to most things.
posted by phrakture to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: OMFG. My brother and I *are* planning

posted by phrakture at 4:17 PM on March 11, 2009

In national parks you're supposed to limit your camping to established camp sites. In national forests, you can camp pretty much anywhere you want. State parks are a grab bag of camping regulations.

My favorite place to backpack is the Great Smoky Mountains NP in Tennessee/North Carolina. I don't mind the site to site business, though. There's plenty of trails that wind all over the place so it would be easy to set up a base camp and go from there. The trick to the park is avoiding the really touristy areas which isn't too difficult if you're willing to hike a few miles (which it sounds like you are). You'll be late enough that you'll avoid most of the summer vacation families.

There are national forests around the park where you'll get similar views but I don't know how extensive the trails are.

Oh, and it's BEAUTIFUL down there. If you haven't seen the lower Appalachians/ Blue Ridge mountains, you are missing out on something spectacular.

The Coronado National Forest in Arizona is another great place. To a northeastern girl, the cacti there are a delightful novelty (ymmv). What's neat about there is that you start in the desert and hike up through different ecosystems. And it's much warmer.
posted by thewestinggame at 4:36 PM on March 11, 2009

Isle Royale is pretty amazing. Not sure about your camping requirements, though.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:51 PM on March 11, 2009

Well there's always the national trails of your country.
They run near towns, you'll meet other people and they are relatively safe.
Here's the two most famous ones:

Appalachian Trail is on the east coast.
Pacific Creast Trail which I heard of one of the most awesome trek ever.

You can find a list of all of them on wikipedia
posted by PowerCat at 5:02 PM on March 11, 2009

In national parks you're supposed to limit your camping to established camp sites.

Not true. Once you get away from the roads you can back country camp anywhere you want (except for some rules about being next to a creek).

Anyways there are about a billion places you can go. My preference that time of year is the northern Sierras (no bugs!) but if you're not used to altitude it's probably not the best place to go.
posted by fshgrl at 5:03 PM on March 11, 2009

Some previous recommendations
posted by TDIpod at 5:08 PM on March 11, 2009

The Wonderland Trail is spectacular as well.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:29 PM on March 11, 2009

I live in washington and can second any recommendation for North Cascades, Olympic or Mt. Rainier national parks
Glacier National park was built with backpacking in mind (unlike yellowstone)
Canyonlands NP and the surrounding BLM land in Utah is desert, but spectacular and so big you will lose sight of people in a matter of minutes if solitude is what you want
I'm partial to guidebooks myself, I find planning is half the fun. Falcon guides are a good starting point for most of the western states, they are clear about mileage, altitude gain and loss, and how busy an area can be and what sights and wildlife can be found.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:49 PM on March 11, 2009

My understanding from the national parks I've visited and the park employees I've worked with is that to camp in the backcountry you are expected to fill out your camp site permit (if the park uses that system) and carry your stub with you. Larger and more popular parks have backcountry patrolmen that go around and make sure people are staying on the established tent sites.

fwiw, using established camp sites also cuts down on damage to fragile vegetation and soil, reduces the chances you'll accidentally destroy something's habitat by moving logs or rocks or whatever around.

fshgrl, good call on camping 100 feet from water
posted by thewestinggame at 5:51 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wind Rivers.
posted by H. Roark at 6:20 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great Sand Dunes national park in Colorado.

It's got these weird, giant, Sahara-esque sand dunes, bounded by a river and some 14,000-foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. It's really pretty and unique.
posted by spatula at 6:35 PM on March 11, 2009

If I'm ever competent enough to undertake a multiday backcountry trip, I'd want to go here:
The most remote river canyon in the Lower 48, the headwaters of the Kern runs through this mountain cradle. A trek here can reveal the towering canyon rims, ancient virgin forests, pristine lakes and creeks, waterfalls and hot springs, and wildlife for which each visitor is a curiosity, not a threat. The trout fishing in the remote Kern can be the best of any in the American wilderness. The streams are the purest in California. People are scarce and litter nonexistent.
posted by rtha at 6:35 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I spent two weeks camping in the Moab area several summers ago, and it was pretty spectacular.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:45 PM on March 11, 2009

The Kern is amazing but it'll be really hot in August and again it's high altitude. It takes me about 3 days just to acclimate to being over 8000'. If you don't already know what your reaction to altitude is it's a gamble going that high. You could spend your entire trip puking and feeling like hell.

Honestly, my recommendation is to stay fairly close to home. It'll be cheaper, you won't have to buy a bunch of new gear you'll never use again and it'll be easier to get recommendations from people you know. Dealing with flying. renting a car etc with all your gear is a pita too.
posted by fshgrl at 7:34 PM on March 11, 2009

OP, do you want altitude? Forrest? Desert? Proximity to water? Our country is pretty damn big, so narrowing it to one coast or the other, or one type of geologic feature, or even one quadrant, would help a lot.

Personally, I would chose one of the various loop hikes in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The headwaters of the Kern, which rtha describes, is one such epic trip, but there are others, too. My personal favorites are Florence Lake to Evolution Valley (and beyond, if you have the time) on the John Muir Trail, and Florence Lake to French Meadow to Bear Valley drainage (via Merriam Lake and cross-country over Feather Pass) back to Florence Lake, which is pretty much the best 50 mile/one week backpacking trip I've ever done.

Based on reputation, the Rae Lakes Loop and the Gardiner Basin Loop, both in the southern Sierras, are also supposed to be absolutely spectacular. They are on my todo list, as son as my kids get are ready...which is 7 or 8 years out.
posted by mosk at 7:58 PM on March 11, 2009

I've packed through California, Utah, and Colorado -- and for me some of the coolest backpacking is in one of the most unlikely places: Minnesota! Check out the Superior Trail. You can go for weeks, days, or hours. There are awesome camp sites. You never have to climb any mountains, but the terrain and scenery is top-notch. There are moose and other awesome wildlife. And, what really sets it apart is the water! There's just water everywhere - lakes, rivers. It's just beautiful stuff.

Other than that - the Pacific Crest Trail is also world class, but more difficult. Go through Tahoe's Desolation Wilderness and you'll be loving life.

But, give Minnesota a shot. It's great stuff.
posted by crapples at 8:09 PM on March 11, 2009

The Long Trail in Vermont, which runs the length of VT from the Mass. border to the Canadian border, is great for hiking. There are many points at which you can start and end, and choose the length you want accordingly. I haven't done much of it, but some of the nicer peaks I've experienced (in order of impressiveness) are Camel's Hump, Mt. Mansfield, and Jay Peak. The weather in Vermont will be perfect for the time at which you're planning to go, too. Shouldn't be too hot or cold.

But it doesn't satisfy your Freedom to camp where and when we want - no campsite to campsite garbage stipulation.
posted by Simon Barclay at 10:13 AM on March 12, 2009

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