Can’t wait until the parks open up and you can head out on a multi-day trail? From the West Coast’s Yosemite National Park to the East Coast’s Great Smoky Mountains, here are the seven best U.S. National Parks for backpacking trips that allow you to experience all the natural beauty this country has to offer. So strap on your boots, learn how to pack a backpacking pack and get ready to explore.
#1 Grand Teton National Park | Teton Crest Trail
The Teton Mountain Range, situated in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, offers an incredible wilderness begging backpackers to explore its landscape. Adventure along the Teton Mountain Range via the Teton Crest Trail, which traverses through gorgeous granite peaks, serene alpine lakes and cavernous canyons.
The Teton Crest Trail is TK MILES LONG and can be accessed from several different points, giving you options for how long and how many days you’d like to backpack. We recommend hiking 39-miles FROM TK POINT TO TK POINT and tackling the trek over the span of six days. You can start at the Granite Canyon trailhead, and camp at the Granite Canyon, Death Canyon Shelf, Alaska Basin, South Fork, and Holly Lake campgrounds, ending at Leigh Lake. Luckily, this park offers a shuttle system that runs throughout the day, so once you’ve completed the trail, find the nearest shuttle stop and ride back to your car.
As with any mountain pass backpacking trip, plan accordingly for unseasonably below freezing temps and check the weather conditions before starting out. Make sure to dress appropriately. Merino wool base layers and socks will help regulate your temperature and wick sweat on hot and sunny days, and keep you warm on cool nights as you camp at high altitude
#2 Grand Canyon National Park | Rim to Rim
Within the majestic Grand Canyon National Park is the nearly 24-mile long Rim to Rim trail. The Rim to Rim trail is considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience and is on many hikers’ bucket lists. You’ll likely want at least four days to properly explore the canyon. Want a more serious challenge? Hike from rim to rim to rim, ending where you started for a total of roughly 47 miles. If you choose to hike in one direction only, make sure you set up a shuttle system ahead of time so you can get back to your car safely.
Flagstaff, Arizona, makes a great jumping-off point for starting on the North Kaibab Trail trailhead. Along the way, you can camp at Cottonwood, Bright Angel and Indian Garden. Enter the backcountry permit lottery system as soon as possible to increase your chances of finding available dates that work for you.
#3 Rocky Mountain National Park | Thunder Lake
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Rocky Mountain National Park has tons of hiking trails, but one that truly stands out is Thunder Lake. This backpacking trip takes hikers two to four days to complete and offers a wilderness adventure into complete solitude.
Starting at the Wild Basin trailhead, the 22-mile Thunder Lake trail offers scenic alpine landscapes and reaches elevations of over 12,000 feet. If you like, you can even hike to the summit to see breathtaking views from Tanima Peak at 12,420 feet. If you’re coming from a low-elevation area, you may want to take the trail slower and spread out the hike over four days, allowing your body time to acclimate along the way. You can even spend a day or two in Estes Park to get accustomed to the elevation.
#4 Zion National Park | The Narrows
One of the absolute best U.S. National Parks for backpacking trips is, hands down, Zion National Park. 1The 6-mile trek within The Narrows, which winds from the top down and through the Virgin River, is a dream hike for many. Proper footwear and trekking poles are crucial.
Start this magnificent hike at Chamberlain’s Ranch and head down to the Temple of Sinawava. Experienced hikers often choose to make this a long dayhike, but we recommend backpacking it as a one-night trip to fully appreciate the canyon’s beauty.
#5 Olympic National Park | Enchanted Valley
If you want to embark on a moderate hike, look into the Enchanted Valley area of Olympic National Park. Known as the “Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls,” the Enchanted Valley located in the East Fork Quinault River Valley area of Washington will make you feel like you’re entering a magical old-growth rainforest filled with streams and mountain-topped meadows.
Starting at the East Fork Quinault River Trail trailhead, you can expect the Enchanted Valley hike to take around four to five days. We encourage taking five days to fully enjoy the show-stopping beauty and enjoy a leisurely pace. Along the way, set up camp at the O’Neil Creek campsite and Enchanted Valley campsite. Eventually, you’ll ascend Anderson Pass, where you’ll turn around and back track.. Take care to check the weather forecast and pack for all conditions. Weather can change suddenly.
#6 Yosemite National Park | Half Dome Trail
Yosemite National Park is in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, and is known for its giant redwood sequoias, Bridalveil Fall and the cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome. Half Dome is one of the most incredible hikes in Yosemite, and for good reason. This 16-mile backpacking trip offers two nights of camping into Yosemite Valley, reaching the summit of Half Dome at 8,842 feet.
Make sure to wear proper footwear on this strenuous trail, as there are rocky regions that can get slippery – not to mention the final 45-degree steep, 400-foot climb to Half Dome, reachable only by gripping path cables. Starting at the Happy Isles Trailhead, give yourself three days and set up camp in the Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley, where you will head for the summit and return for a second night.
#7 Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Little River Trail
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSM) has150 official hiking trails, for all levels, from easy and kid-friendly to strenuous multi-day hikes. One on nearly every backpacker’s radar is the 12-mile out and back Little River Trail, located in the Elkmont region of these gorgeous mountains. The hike is a gradual t with only about 412 feet of elevation gain. Be prepared to cross a river or two.
The Great Smoky Mountains is a highly visited area, so make sure you stay on the trail to minimize your impact on fragile ecosystems. Don’t forget to bring a fishing pole to catch dinner along the river.