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.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


Wonderland Trailone of the most inspiring backcountry campsites 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.

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.

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Jeff WilhelmIn the Garden of Eden: Backpacking the Great Smoky Mountains,” and all my stories about Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hiking and backpacking in western North Carolina.

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e-guideI 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.

Get my expert e-guides to “The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon
and “The Best Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”

Wonderland TrailCustom Trip Planning page if you’d like me to do that for you in Yosemite or for any trip I’ve written about.

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.


Jeff WilhelmA 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.

e-guideLuck of the Draw, Part 2: Backpacking Zion’s Narrows” and “Pilgrimage Across Zion: Traversing a Land of Otherworldly Scenery.”

Get my downloadable, expert e-guide “Backpacking the Narrows in Zion National Park.”

Time for a better backpack? See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs
and the best ultralight packs.

Wonderland TrailPhoto Gallery: Backpacking Yellowstone’s Bechler Canyon,” and watch for my upcoming full feature story about that trip at The Big Outside.

Get the right synthetic or down puffy to keep you warm in fall. See my review of “The 10 Best Down Jackets.”


Jeff Wilhelmbackpacked with my family in Spring Canyon—where easy hiking and water availability were much appreciated with young kids—done an overnight camping on the rim above Upper Muley Twist Canyon, and made a stunningly beautiful and adventurous, mostly off-trail, three-day traverse of the park’s signature feature, the topographical maze of cliffs and canyons known as the Waterpocket Fold.

See my stories “The 5 Southwest Backpacking Trips You Should Do First,” “Plunging Into Solitude: Dayhiking, Slot Canyoneering, and Backpacking in Capitol Reef,” “Ask Me: Where Should We Backpack in Capitol Reef National Park,” and “The Most Beautiful Hike You’ve Never Heard Of: Crossing Utah’s Capitol Reef” at The Big Outside.

Get my expert help planning your backpacking or hiking trip and 30% off a one-year subscription. Click here now to get a premium subscription to The Big Outside!.


e-guideStill Crazy After All These Years: Hiking in the White Mountains,” “Being Stupid With Friends: A 32-Mile Dayhike in the White Mountains,” about dayhiking the Pemi Loop, and “Ask Me: What Are Your Favorite New England Hikes?

Has my blog helped you? If so, would you like to support my work by clicking here to leave a tip for The Big Outside?Thank you.


Wonderland TrailFull of Surprises: Backpacking Mount Hood’s Timberline Trail.”

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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of both stories for free, or download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and the lightweight backpacking guide without having a paid membership.


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