Best western backpacking destinations

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    David Chenault
    BPL Member


    Locale: Queen City, MT

    Brainstorming for an article and would appreciate everyone's input. Though I grew up in the Midwest dreaming of western trips, I've lived out here long enough that I've probably lost some perspective.

    The idea is to present a problem solving flowchart for a seasoned backpacker from the northeast, Midwest, or south to use to select a destination for their first backpack out west. The criteria would be an iconic, dramatic destination which presents good options for on-trail routes of varying difficulties and lengths. No excessive logistical or physical difficulty. For example, the Grand Canyon would qualify because of the many route options available, but North Cascades would not because the exclusively on-trail options are somewhat limited, and the off-trail travel is burly.

    Let me know what I'm missing from the following list. New Mexico, California and Oregon are places in which I haven't spent much time. A list areas only.

    Bob Marshall complex
    White Clouds
    Canyonlands (Needles)
    Grand Canyon

    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    Trinity Alps
    The Lost Coast
    California Central Coast Ranges (Big Sur/Ventana Wilderness and Santa Barbara Area)
    South Warner Wilderness (this one is way out there and remote, but nice trails)

    I've never been desert hiking in southern california but I'm sure others will chime in on that.

    James Cahill
    BPL Member


    Locale: Norf Carl

    If southern California makes the list, I'd throw Joshua Tree in there. Maybe not as "dramatic" as somewhere mountainous, but it has own sort of desert splendor. It has everything from easy-to-follow trails to class 4 scrambling in boulder-choked ravines.

    It also presents an neat opportunity for the aspiring backcountry navigator (such as myself) in the sense that you could spend the entire time off-trail and practice navigating by substantial topo landmarks that are hard to lose in the desert landscape.

    Just my 2 cents

    Ben C
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kentucky

    I think that's a really good idea. I like your list too. I would consider possibly the Enchantments and Olympic. I have been to neither, but both look like great trips. Maybe you could pull from trip reports or get locals to contribute.

    BPL Member


    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    For the ultralight backpacker who may have a non-4wd rental, may need trails for ultralight footwear , all while avoiding being "cliffed out" if not familiar with an area, I'd recommend:
    The Gila
    The Pecos
    The Mogollon Rim
    The Superstitions

    Snow, water, and heat can be variable. Getting a little more moisture than normal right now, which is good.
    Ed: vehicle

    Jennifer Mitol
    BPL Member


    Locale: In my dreams....

    As a transplanted Austinite (I'll NEVER call myself a Texan…'cause I ain't!), I'll put my vote in for Big Bend National Park. It is an EPIC place and really quite easy planning-wise.

    David Chenault
    BPL Member


    Locale: Queen City, MT

    Thanks everyone, good ideas.

    rOg w
    BPL Member




    Curt Peterson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Washington's Premier Backcountry based on a 2+ decades wandering …

    Amazing, but logistic pains-in-the-ass:
    Rainier – inside the Park
    Olympics – inside the Park
    Enchantments – lottery based

    Amazing – in many cases more so than above:
    Glacier Peak Wilderness – super remote, extensive trail system, as wild as it gets, zero hassles
    Goat Rocks – less vegetatively dense version of the Cascades, monster views, zero hassles
    Pasaytan – long drive, but once you're there it's wide open tundra with zero hassles
    Alpine Lakes – close to the city, but surprisingly empty if you're off the PCT and no regulation drama

    I consider lotteries, quotas, absurd fees, canister requirements, high usage, and full-day travel to the trailhead as PITA things.

    Great idea, Dave!

    Elizabeth Tracy
    BPL Member


    Locale: Outside

    The two best places I've seen in Oregon are…

    Jefferson Park, and
    Three Sisters Wilderness.

    Both somewhat crowded, but for good reason.
    A bit limited in size, each.
    You can string the two together.

    – Elizabeth

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Someone once wrote:

    "Get a big-ass road atlas. A map of the entire state is preferred. Now look for large areas of land that have few roads on it. And if the road is designated “unpaved” that is a good sign!

    Now start drilling down to the large portions of vacant public land. The Internet is helpful. Your best bet are lands that are managed by the Federal Government such as the National Forest Service (NFS), National Park Service (NPS), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Often you can view maps online, but it is better to contact the agency and purchase a paper map. Many maps will indicate how the land is designated for use. For example, you cannot drive in designated wilderness areas."

    Seems this is the ideal way to find the best backpacking destinations. Why write-up the best destinations and then have hordes of people inundate the area? This is why I stopped subscribing to Backpacker Magazine about 30 years ago. Besides, trips are more fulfilling when you do this kind of research. My 2 cents.


    "Seems this is the ideal way to find the best backpacking destinations"

    Words of wisdom. Listen up, folks.

    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    For California backpacking, destinations are often seasonal. In the summer, people head up into the Sierras. In the winter, people go to low elevation places like the lost coast, los padres nat forest, point reyes, henry coe, ect.

    It would be good if your article was divided into summer/winter destinations, assuming your article is based around 3 season conditions.

    David Chenault
    BPL Member


    Locale: Queen City, MT

    That is the idea Justin.

    I try to write destination stuff with enough detail to work with, and enough ambiguity to not make it spoon fed. Thankfully there's a practical infinity of unknown stuff out there for "advanced" hikers.

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