By Michael Lanza
The imminent end of summer always feels a little melancholy. After all, it marks the close of the prime season for getting into the mountains. But it also signals the beginning of a time of year when many mountain ranges become less crowded just as they’re hitting a sweet zone in terms of temperatures, the lack of bugs, and fall foliage color. Autumn also stands out as an ideal season for many Southwest hikes, with moderate temperatures and even some stunning color.
From Yosemite to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon to Grand Teton, the Great Smokies to the White Mountains, North Cascades (lead photo above), Zion and more, here are 10 backpacking trips that get even better in fall—all of them favorites among the innumerable trips I’ve taken over the past three decades, including 10 years as
Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine and many years running this blog.
Don’t stay home and lament the end of summer—get out and make the most of autumn, an ideal time of year in the backcountry.
I’ve ever slept in). But not many backpackers know this place: It’s one of America’s least-visited national parks. That’s good if you like to have a beautiful wild place to yourself.
one of the most inspiring backcountry campsites
See my story “
Primal Wild: Backpacking 80 Miles Through the North Cascades,” which has my tips on how to plan and take this trip, including shorter variations of the 80-mile route.
I can help you plan a backpacking trip of almost any length in the North Cascades. See my
Custom Trip Planning page to learn how. Want to read any story linked here? Get full access to ALL stories at The Big Outside, plus a FREE e-guide.
,” and all In the Garden of Eden: Backpacking the Great Smoky Mountains my stories about Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hiking and backpacking in western North Carolina.
I backpacked there with my 10-year-old daughter
Backpacking permits for the corridor trails—the South and North Kaibab and Bright Angel—are in high demand. Sure, grab those campsites if available; but if not, I recommend
the 29-mile hike from Grandview Point to the South Kaibab Trailhead, or the 25-mile hike from Hermits Rest to the Bright Angel Trailhead—or even combining or overlapping them. Both feature sublime campsites, stretches of flatter hiking along the Tonto Trail with views reaching from the Colorado River to the South and North rims, and crossings of deep side canyons with flaming-red walls shooting straight up into the sky.
And backpackers ready for a bigger canyon route should see my story “
The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon,” a trip that is described in this e-guide.
See my story “
5 Epic Grand Canyon Backpacking Trips You Must Do,” or scroll down to Grand Canyon on my All National Park Trips page for a menu of all of my stories about the Grand Canyon.
if you’d like me to do that for you in Yosemite or for any trip I’ve written about.
Custom Trip Planning page
With the population pressure eased up in late summer and autumn, you can often score a walk-in permit—without a reservation—for a five-star hike of almost any distance, hitting top Yosemite summits like Clouds Rest and Mount Hoffmann, and the incomparable Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, plus remoter areas like Red Peak Pass, the highest pass reached by trail in Yosemite.
Then the only hard aspect of the hike will be… you got it: the hike.
See my stories “
Best of Yosemite, Part 1: Backpacking South of Tuolumne Meadows,” “ Best of Yosemite, Part 2: Backpacking Remote Northern Yosemite,” “ Ask Me: Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite,” and “ Ask Me: Where Can I Hike in Yosemite in Late Fall?”
See also my downloadable e-guides “
The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite,” “ The Best Backpacking Trip in Yosemite,” and “ The Prettiest, Uncrowded Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.” Want my help planning any trip you read about at my blog?
Click here for expert advice you won’t get anywhere else.
,” “ A Wonderful Obsession: Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail American Classic: The Teton Crest Trail” and “ Walking Familiar Ground: Reliving Old Memories and Making New Ones on the Teton Crest Trail.”
See also my bestselling, downloadable e-guides “
The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park” and “ The Best Short Backpacking Trip in Grand Teton National Park.” Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite, Grand Teton, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and other parks using
my expert e-guides. ” and “ Luck of the Draw, Part 2: Backpacking Zion’s Narrows Pilgrimage Across Zion: Traversing a Land of Otherworldly Scenery.”
Get my downloadable, expert e-guide “
Backpacking the Narrows in Zion National Park.” ,” and watch for my upcoming full feature story about that trip at The Big Outside.
Photo Gallery: Backpacking Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon Get the right synthetic or down puffy to keep you warm in fall. See my review of “
The 10 Best Down Jackets.”