Picture yourself exploring some of the gorgeous, awe-inspiring US National Parks, of which there are 61. Now imagine visiting these parks without a large crowd of people around.
Backcountry hiking allows you to check out the beautiful areas and scenery without the large crowds of people often encountered on more accessible day hikes (front country). The challenge, solitude, and adventure of a backcountry hiking trip away from crowds leaves you with a feeling of having seen some of nature’s hidden, not-easily-forgotten treasures, as well as a remarkable sense of accomplishment.
In order to enjoy a safe, fully-outdoor backcountry hiking trip you must plan ahead and do some research on the area as well as invest in some important lightweight gear. And consider this: What you invest in gear will certainly be less than what you would spend on a vacation with hotel and excursion costs, especially if you get hooked on this type of trip. More information on the right type of gear will follow in this series.
1.) CHOOSE A PARK YOU’D LIKE TO EXPLORE
Many states have parks that are protected by National Park Services, but are not actually considered National Historical Parks. National parks were created to preserve the vast wilderness areas discovered in the American West as those areas were becoming settled. The East Coast was already developed by the time the concept came to exist, so there are more national parks on the West Coast than the East.
Many national parks require an entrance fee, and you can look the amount up online. This is typically $15-20 per person with some parks offering a “per vehicle fee” around $30 as a potentially cheaper option. You can also invest in a national park annual pass: $80 gets you into 2000 parks, monuments, and battlefields across the US.
2.) STAY THE NIGHT WITH A CAMPSITE PERMIT
Some parks allow backcountry camping in any suitable “non-established” location, while others provide designated backcountry campsites. These consist of little more than a campfire ring with perhaps a pit toilet, and perhaps a pole for hanging food in bear country (more on that later in this series). A free or low-cost permit is usually required.
Some parks’ backcountry permits are quite difficult to get during prime hiking season. Get around this by researching permit deadlines and costs for the park you’d like to explore ahead of time. Backpacking permits typically require you to reserve specific campsites. You provide backup options in case your first choice is unavailable on your desired trip dates. Most parks reserve some established backcountry campsites for walk-ups on a first-come/first-served basis the day before your trip. It is typically easier to get permits for smaller groups than larger ones.
3.) GRAB A MAP AND MAKE A PLAN
Research the online map of the park you want to explore. You can download and print it, order one online, or wait and get a physical park map at the entrance if you want.
Know your limits and your level of experience, as well as those in your party when deciding how far you’ll travel each day. Take into consideration the elevation. Don’t forget to ask at the ranger’s station about potential environmental concerns like rockfalls or avalanche debris that can slow your pace.
Share your detailed itinerary with someone at home. Often you’re required to share this trip log at a ranger station. Stick to your travel itinerary. Once you have backcountry permits at specific camping sites, there are often no open sites at other locations either.
A note from the author: Get excited about trying a backcountry adventure. I invite you to connect with me and follow this series. Please message me directly with any questions. I also invite you to share your own backcountry hiking experiences. Diana