This year the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its 100th birthday. Over the past century, the agency has protected and managed a system that has grown to now include 59 parks in 27 states and ranges from famed summer-vacation destination icons like Yellowstone and Yosemite to the remote 8.4 million wild acres of Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic and tropical paradises like Florida’s Dry Tortugas. Of course, the parks can be popular, but don’t let that scare you away this summer. The best way to truly immerse yourself in these wild landscapes is to get away from the gawking roadside crowds and spend days exploring their deep, primal secrets by foot. To that end, and to celebrate a hundred years of the NPS, we offer up these best ten backpacking trips in the parks.
Location: Washington State
Length: 93-mile loop
Days on the Trail: 7 to 14
All the attention at Mount Rainier National Park is on the 14,410-foot summit. For good reason: The active (though slumbering) volcano rises like an island in the sky above the rain clouds and evergreens of the surrounding Cascades, and routes to the top range from the standard slog up Disappointment Cleaver to more difficult alpine ascents up Liberty Ridge. But the park encompasses more than the peak, and the nearly hundred-mile-long Wonderland Trail circles the mountain and makes for what just might be the best life-list backpacking trip in the national parks.
Along the way, the route explores a wilderness far different than the snowfields and crevasses high above. Down here you’ll be immersed in a world of green and meadows rife with wild flowers, as well as foraging herds of elk and the occasional black bear. But that iconic peak is always towering above it all, a massive sentinel of snow and rock that dominates the skyline.
Dive Deeper: There are 20 designated campsites that the park maintains along the route. Be sure to stay at the serene Golden Lakes site, named for the chain of lakes here that catch the glow of sunset.