Heart Lake is a 9 mile out and back with 1,952 ft of elevation gain in James Peak Wilderness in Colorado. The trailhead starts at Moffit Tunnel (which is pretty cool in itself). There is quite a bit of parking but it can get busy.
The trail follows a stream and passes by a handful of lakes until you finally reach the gorgeous alpine lakes: Heart Lake and Rogers Pass Lake. There are beautiful camp spots at both lakes. And both lakes are stocked with cutthroat trout if you're into fishing. You can also continue hiking up to the continental divide for amazing views of Winter Park.
If you are not acclimated to hiking in Colorado it's important to consider the altitude and be aware of signs of altitude sickness. Colorado also tends to have thunderstorms roll in during the afternoons so keep an eye on the weather before you go!
Conundrum Hot Springs is an 8.5 mile out and back with 2,400 ft of elevation gain in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in Aspen, Colorado.
The hot springs are at 11,200 ft elevation so the best time to visit is July-September otherwise the trail might be snowpacked. We visited in the fall when the Aspens turned gold and it was a dream. Even in the warmest months nighttime is chilly at 11,000 ft so be sure to pack all of the warm layers. Overnight permits are required to help minimize disturbances to the wilderness and are only $6 but there are limited campsites.
The best part about the hot springs is meeting all of the soakers. We enjoyed chatting with a group of Aussies who were working in Aspen for the season. The hot springs is also a fun spot to enjoy the bagged wine or camping flask you hike in. Make sure to always pack out what you pack in to keep the hot springs in the same condition for future backpackers!
The other highlight of this backpacking trip was the moose that legit walked straight through our campsite less than 20 ft from our tent!
Havasupai Reservation is a remote area outside of Grand Canyon National Park. It is full of red canyons, lush greens, & the most stunning blue-green water you won’t believe is real until you see for yourself.
The Supai Campground is a 10 mile out & back with 2,155 ft of elevation gain. There is no shade on the trail. We recommend starting your trek early, while it’s still dark to avoid as much of the desert heat as possible, especially on the way back as it’s all uphill!
Havasu Falls is the iconic waterfall you have seen in so many photos, but honestly no photos of this magnificent place can ever do it justice! The blue-green color of the water is due to chemical reactions between minerals in the water & carbon dioxide. The stunning color reflects even brighter against the limestone found in the canyon. We brought inflatable floats to splash around in the turquoise waters.
Mooney Falls is gorgeous & only half a mile past the campground. Getting there is quite the adventure. It involves a cave, slippery steps, & chains to help you climb down the cliff to the falls. Beaver Falls is full of fun swimming holes & cliffs for jumping. You have to cross the creek multiple times on your way so comfortable water shoes is a must.
We camped in hammocks this backpacking trip & it was SO comfortable. You can find our hammock, rainfly, mosquito net, & backpacking gear that we used here! Beware of the squirrels! They are vicious & will rip your bag open in search of food!
Havasupai is a bucket list trip & has become extremely popular. Permits are $100-125/night per person & have a 3 night minimum. They go on sale February 1st & sell out quickly! It’s a bit more of a production than your average backpacking trip with the price tag & option to helicopter out but it’s definitely worth it.
The Kalalau Trail is an 11 mile out & back with 6,177 ft of elevation gain on the Napali Coast of Kauai, HI. I did this backpacking trip with some of my nurse friends while on a travel nurse assignment in Hawaii. Most probably don’t think to pack their backpacking gear along with their swimsuits when they plan a trip to Hawaii but you 100% should!
The first half mile has one the most EPIC views of the Napali Coast. Hanakāpīʻai beach at mile 2 is the farthest you can go without a camping permit. Permits are $15-20 per person per day & are available in January for the entire year. Hanakāpīʻai is a beautiful sandy beach & a good break spot but swimming isn’t recommended due to dangerous rip currents. Here you can also choose to do a 4 mile detour to Hanakāpīʻai Falls.
Napali actually means “The Cliffs” in the Hawaiian Language. The trail continues with steep switchbacks climbing cliffs & descending into hanging valleys. A short 1 mile detour gives you views of Hanakoa Falls. We had this waterfall all to ourselves!
The trail shifts from tropical jungle to a drier & more open landscape as you approach Kalalau Valley. There is a very narrow & technical section infamously known as “The Crawlers Ledge” between mile 7 & 8.
When you descend down the Red Hill, you know you’re close! We were rewarded with the most epic sunset as we arrived at Kalalau Beach.
I tend to have a strong independent woman attitude but nature has a way of making you humble. Toward the end of the hike, we were tired & I stepped over limbs that were placed to mark the trail sending us into a detour down a steep cliff. This hike can be very dangerous & the Hawaiian elements deserve respect. Be prepared, be vigilant & if you do make a mistake in the wilderness, stay calm, make a plan, & stay positive!
Denali National Park in Alaska is one of the most wild & authentic wilderness experiences! There are no marked trails & pretty much guaranteed wildlife sightings. The park is broken up into backcountry units & with limited backpackers allowed in each unit per day. Units can be reserved 48 hrs in advance at the Visitors Center. There you will watch a backcountry safety video that teaches you what to do in different bear encounter scenarios, how to safely cross rivers, & to set up your campsite in a triangle with your bear box, cook site, & camp site. Then you study your topography 𝐦𝐚𝐩 & plan your route!
We hopped on the backpackers bus & waited for our stop at Unit 13: Mt Eielsen. By some crazy coincidence, 2 other backpackers got off at our stop. We chatted as we bushwhacked our way down to the gravel bar below us. This is how we met @the.vandersons, our first real life vanlife friends who happen to have the same year Promaster as us!
We continue hiking together across the valley crossing cold glacial rivers. We watched a caribou run away from 3 grizzlies together, adrenaline rushing as we waved our hiking poles over our heads & made noise to let the grizzlies know we were there.
Parker & I set up camp & let me tell you, the weirdest thing is sleeping in a tent in the land of the midnight sun that never gets dark.
The next morning we day hiked to a glacier where we saw 4 more grizzlies from a distance. Another crazy thing was the stream we camped by (& our water supply) completely disappeared during the day due to the heat. Luckily it came back in the evening. We cooked dinner by the stream & had just closed the bear box when a grizzly came into our view 25 yds from us. I jumped up & started waving & yelling while Parker grabs our backpack & bear spray. The grizzly cocks his head, looks at us, & then changes his direction & walks off.
Denali is WILD y'all!