Sometimes we need to go deeper into the woods—farther off the proverbial beaten path. The only way to accommodate this is to plan for an overnight backpacking adventure. Here, we have highlighted some of the best overnight backpacking trails in America’s national parks.
1. LYELL CANYON-VOGELSANG LOOP, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
19.6 miles, 2,270 feet of elevation gain, moderately difficult
The Lyell Canyon-Vogelsang Loop Trail takes two to three days. The trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, so you’re likely to see thru hikers on much longer hikes than this.
This particular trek through Yosemite’s Cathedral Range takes you through stunning landscape while it’s accessible, from May until October. To do it as a backpacking trip, begin at the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Permit Station and head toward the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. After crossing the river, turn east (you’ll run into the returning trail here, coming down from Vogelsang). Continue along the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail toward Lyell Canyon and Donohue Pass through fields of wildflowers within the flat canyon. When you reach the junction at Ireland Creek, you’ll leave the John Muir Trail and turn toward Vogelsang and Ireland Lake.
Here the trail becomes a lung buster as you climb through the forest to the top of the ridge between Lyell Canyon and Rafferty Creek, gaining an expansive view of the Cathedral Range. You can find spots for camping here, but only a few have access to water. Other favorite campsites are under Fletcher Peak near Vogelsang, near an unnamed lake, and near Evelyn Lake.
From the top of the ridge, a slow hike downward past several lakes leads to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. From here the trail drops to Tuolumne Pass, then descends into the valley of Rafferty Creek before one last drop to the Tuolumne River and, incidentally, the trail you started on.