Best Beginner Backpacking Trips in the Southwest

Needles Backpacking trip in the Southwest

For the newbie backpacker, the Southwest comprises a few of the greatest trails within the nation. The purple rock deserts and rocky mountains comprise a few of the most distant and huge wildernesses within the nation. The canyons and peaks dappling the cruel panorama comprise a quiet majesty, ready for probably the most affected person to find magnificence hidden behind each nook. The southwestern United States is a superb place for newbie backpackers, as a result of lots of the greatest trails are simple. Plus, you’ll discover limitless locations to discover.

The Southwest features a nice range in landscapes, from rugged peaks to slender slot canyons. Discover a variety of ecosystems from the 14-thousand-foot peaks of southwest Colorado to the underside of the Grand Canyon with this information to the most effective newbie backpacking journeys within the Southwest. 


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What’s Completely different concerning the Southwest?

The Solar

A lot of the Southwest consists of desert or excessive mountains. If you hike within the desert, you’ll discover little or no shade, so the solar feels even hotter than it often does. Elevation additionally makes the solar extra intense than it could be at decrease elevations. Be sure that to carry sufficient water and solar safety to maintain your self protected from the solar’s scorching rays. 

The Soil

When some folks consider the desert, they suppose nothing can survive. However as an alternative of a barren wasteland, the desert is, the truth is, teeming with life. Even the soil is alive! Have you ever ever been mountaineering within the desert and seen black or brown bumps on the filth? That iscryptobiotic soil, which is made up of dwelling organisms like algae and fungi. 

Cryptobiotic soil crusts make up a lot of the land within the desert southwest. With out the soil crust, the sandy soil would actually disappear — winds would blow it away or flash floods would wash it down into the canyons. With out this soil, no vegetation would bloom, and with out vegetation, many animals would even be unable to outlive. 

Cryptobiotic soil actually makes up the spine of desert ecosystems, so it’simportantto journey and camp on sturdy surfaces like trails, rocks, roads and established campsites whereas backpacking within the southwest. Mountain climbing off-trail on delicate cryptobiotic crusts can destroy tons of of years of development with just one footstep. 

What’s the Greatest Time of Yr to Hike within the Southwest?

Spring and fall are usually the most effective instances of 12 months to backpack within the southwest. The summer season might be extremely scorching, and though winter can have prime mountaineering climate, it’s much less dependable than March by way of April and October by way of November. The temps within the spring and fall hover between 60-70 levels, though experiencing considerably hotter and colder intervals will not be out of the query. Be sure that to test the climate earlier than planning your hike. Put together for the potential of close to or under freezing mornings and nights, particularly within the early spring and late fall. 

What Gear Ought to You Convey?

Having correctbackpacking gearmakes or breaks your journey. Whereas the gear it is advisable to carry backpacking within the southwest largely mirrors the gear you’d carry on any backpacking journey, be aware of some desert specifics: 


When mountaineering within the desert, the rule of thumb is to have a gallon of water per individual per day. Many of the hikes included on this information have water sources at campsites or alongside the best way, so that you don’t must pack in all your water. However as a result of water sources might be seasonal — in addition to few and much between — within the desert, be sure that to test that water is flowing on the time of 12 months you may be visiting. Additionally, carry one thing to filter or purify water!


Similar to you must carry sufficient water, you additionally must ensure you are profiting from the water you do have! Bringing electrolyte tablets or powders like NUUN helps you replenish your physique with important vitamins. Sweating causes a lack of electrolytes, and with out electrolytes, you (and your muscle tissue) can’t hydrate correctly. Personally, I’ve discovered that ingesting water with electrolytes helps me drink much less water whereas staying hydrated.

For those who don’t wish to purchase an electrolyte complement, carry loads of salty snacks! Sodium is a vital electrolyte that the physique loses by way of sweat, so consuming salt helps replenish it. 

Solar Safety

Hats, sun shades, sunscreen, lengthy sleeve shirts, and lengthy pants are all methods to guard your self from the solar. Seemingly contradictory, carrying lengthy pants and sleeves whereas mountaineering retains you nicely protected against the solar and warmth. Search for light-weight clothes that features UPF safety. 

how to decide on an acceptable path

Whereas every new backpacker is getting into into the game with a special set of expertise and health ranges, we’ve crafted an inventory of journeys with all newbie backpackers in thoughts. These journeys match a couple of standards:

  1. You’ll hike comparatively low mileage for the size of the journey.
  2. The paths don’t have excessive elevation acquire for the area (Nonetheless, Washington mountains are recognized for being steep and rugged as a result of intense quantity of rainfall, so you possibly can’t escape elevation acquire right here!) 
  3. You’ll journey on well-maintained trails and keep away from tough terrain like boulder fields. 
  4. You’ll get lots of bang on your buck, whether or not within the type of peaks, alpine lakes, or lush meadows. (Many individuals neglect this significant issue.)

Nonetheless, backpacking isn’tstraightforward(or else we’d by no means do it!)— so,  if you wish to maximize your enjoyable, you should definitely prepare on your backpacking journey.

1. The Narrows, Zion Nationwide Park, Utah

Narrows Zion National Park

Mileage:16 miles roundtrip| Size:1 – 2 days | Problem: Reasonable (relying on water stage)

Mountain climbing the Narrows is a must-do backpacking journey for anybody who loves the Southwest. The principle issue of the journey? You’ll be mountaineering by way of the water the complete approach. The problem fluctuates relying on the extent of the river while you hike it. However the alternative to discover this stunning canyon is well worth the variable problem. You may full this path as a protracted day hike, however for a newbie backpacker, this can be a good in a single day journey.

Study extra about mountaineering the Narrows in ourFinal Information to the Zion Narrows Hike, and if you wish to hike a part of the Narrows as a part of a guided journey, take a look at ourZion Basecamp Mountain climbing Tour

logistics and permits

One main threat to keep away from is flash floods. When it rains within the desert, canyons are probably the most harmful locations to be. One of many issues that makes the Narrows a great newbie canyon backpacking journey is that it’s situated in Zion Nationwide Park. The Park Service closes the Narrows when there’s a threat of flash flooding. Nonetheless, you must nonetheless test the climate forecast whereas planning your journey.

Permits are essential for backpacking the Narrows. You mayreserve your permit online, however they go very quick. Each month on the fifth at 10 AM Mountain Time, reservations for the subsequent month grow to be accessible, and sometimes, they disappear inside minutes. Half of all permits are stored open for walk-ins on a first-come, first-serve foundation. For those who’re hoping to snag a walk-up allow, you possibly can head to the Zion Wilderness Station the day earlier than your journey (however arrive early!) For those who do wish to take this opportunity, ensure you have a backup plan.

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2. The Needles District, Canyonlands Nationwide Park, Utah

Druid Arch in Canyonlands Needles District

Mileage:varies | Size:2 – 6 days | Problem: Reasonable

Canyonlands Nationwide Park contains three distinct sections: Island within the Sky (probably the most accessible from Moab), The Maze (a backcountry-only space filled with 4×4 roads and trails), and the Needles (a distant however simply accessible community of trails and backcountry exploration). Whereas backpacking alternatives abound all through the Park, the Needles District comprises many path choices for something from a two to four-day backpacking journey. The gorgeous purple rocks dominate your views as you discover trails that weave previous towering hoodoos, arches, and canyons.  

If you’re planning your journey, you must think about ranging from both Squaw Flat Campground or Elephant Hill trailhead. Plan your route forward of time to ensure you see Druid Arch (pictured above), Chesler Park, and different attention-grabbing sights; a part of the enjoyable is selecting your trails and making your personal route! Trails in Canyonlands are nicely marked, however you must nonetheless come ready with a map and a GPS (there are many free or low cost mapping apps that present off-the-grid navigation).

logistics and permits

The Needles backcountry campsites are divided into completely different useful resource areas and are recognized by letters and numbers (CP1=Chesler Park 1). You’ll want to order every website in your journey, so select your most well-liked campsites when you’re crafting your itinerary.Reservationscan be found 4 months forward of time, and do go rapidly for the busy spring and fall seasons. Nonetheless, they’re simpler to get than in different widespread Southwest backcountry areas like Havasu Falls or the Narrows. 

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3. Havasu Falls, Havasupai Reservation, Arizona

Havasu Falls in Arizona, best beginner backpacking trip in the southwest

Picture by Daniel Hernandez on Unsplash

Mileage:25 miles out-and-back | Size:3 days | Problem: Reasonable

Backpacking to Havasu Falls transports you to the long-lasting oasis that has been popularized by social media. The intense blue water cascading over purple rocks takes your breath away, and whereas the images appear to be they should be overedited, it’s actually simplythatstunning. 70 diploma water fills the paradise-like swimming pools interspaced between tumbling falls, a welcome refuge from the recent desert hike to get there. 

The primary day, you’ll hike 10 miles downhill to the campground the place you’ll keep all through your journey. On this path, you’ll stroll by way of 2500 ft of historical geologic layers till you resolve Havasu Canyon. On the second day, discover Mooney and Beaver waterfalls (about 5 miles roundtrip.) Nonetheless, you’ll solely want to hold a day pack and depart the remainder of your gear at camp. On the third day, you’ll hike again up the best way you got here on the primary day — so that you’re in for fairly a climb. If you wish to spend extra time within the space, you would camp an additional night time and hike to the Colorado River, discover the opposite surrounding falls, or simply calm down below the shade of a Cottonwood tree. 

Along with the serene fantastic thing about Havasu Falls, it additionally holds cultural significance. The Havasupai (people of the blue-green water) farmed the realm round Havasu Falls for hundreds of years earlier than they have been pressured onto a reservation by miners and ranchers within the 1800s. At the moment, the reservation has been expanded to incorporate Havasu Falls, and the Havasupai nonetheless farm the realm round Supai, the village close to the falls. 

logistics and permits

Getting a permit to hike to Havasu Falls is likely one of the most intricate elements about planning your backpacking journey. At present (as of 2021),  theHavasupai Reservation closedreservations for mountaineering to Havasu Falls till no less than February 2022. However prior to now, reservations for February-November opened at 8 am Arizona Time on February 1st. 

In case you are taken with a guided journey to the Havasupai Falls, take a look at ourchoices!

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4. Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon Recreation Space, Utah

Coyote Gulch

Mileage:26 miles roundtrip  | Size: 2 – 3 days | Problem:Reasonable

The Coyote Gulch backpacking journey winds by way of the desert panorama previous arches, pure bridges, and thru an interesting canyon. This space makes for a great newbie backpacking journey as a result of though you’ll encounter some difficulties, route discovering is extra simple than on many desert routes. Plus, water is available when you get to Coyote Gulch. 

Probably the greatest methods to discover these canyons is with a information!Guided Coyote Gulch backpacking journeyswill provide help to be taught the ins and outs of desert backpacking whereas experiencing this implausible area as a part of a small group. 


For those who backpack on this space, you can begin at one in all 4 completely different trailheads. Every journey itinerary gives a barely completely different expertise and issue stage. The extra easy possibility is an out and again, however in case you have two vehicles, you possibly can depart one at Pink Nicely or Hurricane Wash trailhead and one at Crack within the Wall trailhead. That approach, you possibly can hike by way of the entire canyon and have a automotive ready on the opposite aspect. There are additionally shuttle companies within the space to take you or your automotive from one trailhead to the opposite, however they are often costly. 

Campsites can be found all all through the wash, simply ensure you are tenting in an current website to keep away from damaging delicate riparian ecosystems! Additionally, you need to pack out all waste (human and in any other case) to keep away from contaminating the watershed. Wag Luggage or different comparable merchandise can be found on the Escalante Customer’s Heart the place you choose up the required backcountry allow. 

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5. Ice Lakes Path, San Juan Nationwide Forest, Colorado

Ice Lakes Colorado

Picture by Adam Baker (CC BY 2.0)

Mileage:8.5 miles roundtrip | Size:2 days | Problem:Simple to Reasonable

Hike to this stunningly blue alpine lake for a brief overnighter; it’s good for dipping your toes into backpacking. The Ice Lakes Trail is a well-liked day hike however for a newbie backpacker, turning a day hike into an in a single day hike might be a good way to discover ways to tackle longer trails The path winds its approach by way of forests and alpine tundra, previous waterfalls to the Ice Lakes Basin, the place the bluest lake you’ll ever see sits beneath 13 thousand-foot peaks. 

The problem of this hike comes within the type of 3000 ft of elevation acquire from the trailhead to the lakes. You’ll have a pack on, so take it gradual and benefit from the journey. Your reward for the exhausting work? A dip in one of many alpine lakes while you arrive, sweaty and exhausted from the climb!


Notice that this can be a very fashionable hike, and the parking space fills up early. If you wish to take your time on the hike, arrive early! Or, if you’re assured in your mountaineering expertise, you would get to the trailhead later within the day. A late-afternoon begin might present the right alternative for backpackers to snag a parking spot after the day hike crews depart. Additionally, the Forest Service recommends tenting within the decrease basin as a result of the higher basin (the place the lake is) comprises fragile alpine ecosystems that injury simply. Make basecamp down low within the timber, and hike as much as benefit from the lakes at sundown!

Ice Lakes Basin is at the moment closed attributable to a fireplace in 2020. It’s slated to reopen on September fifteenth, 2021. 


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