By Daniel Mooers, Contributing Blogger
Over the past few years, there has been an influx of people starting to backpack and spend time outdoors. Now, it seems as if every trail is overcrowded. Many of us desire for our few days out in the wilderness to be secluded with minimal human interaction. This may seem to be impossible especially because of social media and the ability for people to share their adventures.
Thankfully, social media often draws novice backpackers to all of the same areas leaving thousands of miles of beautiful trails open to people who are willing to do a little more research.
Try National Forests
Yes, national parks have wonderful trails and ample backpacking opportunities. Depending on which park you visit, you will even be able to find some seclusion (i.e. Yellowstone Backcountry). However, many of these hikes and trails are heavily regulated and don’t allow the freedom that national forests offer.
There are 188 million acres of national forests across the United States that are protected for our enjoyment. Take advantage of these public lands. The majority of tourists spend time trying to hike the parks and leave the rest of the land for us.
Pick an area of the country you want to visit and see if there are any national forests there. Odds are, if you’re near a national park, there’s likely a national forest right outside of it. Grand Teton National Park and Bridger-Teton National Forest are a perfect example. Grand Teton NP is only 330,000 acres compared to the neighboring 3 million acres you find in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
National forests are also far less strict with camping and backpacking regulations compared to national parks!
Utilize Lesser Known Websites
We all know AllTrails is a helpful app and website for some of the more popular trails in outdoor communities. However, they rarely have information on many of the lesser known backpacking trails.
You’ll find that Summitpost.org and the forest service website are great places to learn about backpacking trails.
Summitpost is a website for diehard backpackers and mountaineers to provide information on all types of hikes. Often, there is detailed information on route finding, road conditions and campsites. Search a public land you would like to visit, and you’ll find what you need.
The forest service website gives info on trailheads, hike lengths and unique destinations. The website isn’t very user friendly, but you’ll find that the more searching and digging you do, the more maps and information you find on local trails.
Learn to Read Topographic Maps
Topographical maps are a backpackers best friend. For example, if you’re a fan of alpine lakes and are in the Montana area, then find a topographical map for the Custer-Gallatin and Shoshone National Forests. These forests are filled with alpine lakes that are accessible by backpacking, but you likely won’t find much information about them on the internet.
Learning to read maps, see the elevation gain, identify trails and determine distances will put you in areas that very few people have visited. If you aren’t sure how to read a map, a quick visit to a forest service ranger station will provide you with a lifetime of skills.
Speak With Federal Employees and Locals
Lastly, you’re going to want to speak with locals and forest service employees.
Locals likely know of dozens of spots that would make for great backpacking trips. Whether you’re at a local bar or in the grocery store, striking up a conversation with someone can provide you with a wealth of knowledge. They likely won’t share their favorite spots, but you never know what you can coax out of someone!
Also, be sure to speak with forest service, game and fish and park employees. They are in place to help us navigate our public lands. They love to share about beautiful hikes and places in the area. They know the land as well as anybody, so it’d be a shame if you didn’t take advantage of their knowledge!
Be sure to let them know of your physical ability. They may give you better hikes if they know you’re up to the challenge.
Don’t let social media and heavily reviewed trails ruin your opinion of the outdoors. There are several lifetimes worth of backpacking trails for you to explore in the United States. Take your time to research, and you’ll likely find yourself in a small piece of paradise.