THE 10 BEST BACKPACKING TRIPS IN THE SOUTHWEST

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By Michael Lanza

Everyone remembers his or her first visit to the desert Southwest. The bizarre, vividly colored geology of southern Utah and Arizona ignites wildfires of the imagination that burn permanent impressions. I recall staring at rock formations sculpted in ways I’d never observed before and thinking, “How can this be?” And you’ll find very worthy dayhikes and roadside eye candy in classic parks like Grand Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands. But leaving civilization for days to probe more deeply into those parks—and other canyon-country gems you may not know much about—opens invisible doors to experiences that amplify the feelings inspired by these mystical landscapes.

After a quarter-century of chasing the best backpacking trips in southern Utah and the Grand Canyon area, I’ve put together this list of what I submit are the 10 best.

The descriptions and photos below all link to stories at The Big Outside that have more images and information about these trips—including when to apply for a backcountry permit, which is coming up soon for many of them.

I’d love to read your thoughts about my list—and your suggestions for trips that belong on it. Please share them in the comments section at the bottom of this story.backpacking,backpacking,backpacking

Todd Arndt hiking the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park.

Hiking Across the Grand Canyon

Most multi-day hikes, including some of the best, feature stretches of hours at a time that are ordinary. Not the Grand Canyon. With huge physical relief and so little vegetation to obstruct views in this desert environment—except for forest at the South and North rims—there’s never a dull moment as you traverse a cross-section of a chasm stretching 277 miles long and averaging a mile deep and 10 miles across (as the crow flies—hiking distances on winding trails are much greater). It’s undoubtedly one of the most unique and spectacular treks in the world.

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.

Although most trails here are quite rugged, the three so-called “corridor” trails, while strenuous, have better footing and moderate grades. The typically three-day hike south to north (one-way, can be done in either direction) via the South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails is 21 miles with 4,780 feet of descent and 5,761 feet of ascent; via the Bright Angel and North Kaibab, it’s 23.5 miles with 4,380 feet of descent and 5,761 feet of ascent.

See my story “A Grand Ambition, or April Fools? Dayhiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim,” and all of my stories about South Rim backpacking trips and Ask Me posts about the Grand Canyon.

David Gordon on day one in The Narrows, Zion National Park.

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