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Backcountry camping is serious business—it means campers are opting to leave essential amenities behind. It takes rigorous preparation and planning, like evaluating water sources, anticipating wildlife threats and knowing which emergency items are vital to pack. But we all have to start somewhere, and venturing into the wilderness is both rewarding and life-changing. Be sure to follow the NPS guidelines, such as bringing a buddy and leaving a detailed itinerary behind with someone. We gathered a list of more approachable experiences that will take you further into nature. Be certain to make sure which sites are open, and don’t forget the permit.
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Acadia National Park is both wild and well equipped for camping, but does not exactly offer backcountry camping. This is why we are starting with this one. While the park offers a variety of sites and lesser crowded grounds, there is a boat only accessible option, Duck Harbor, that can give campers a taste of more remote style adventures. The island is rugged and tucked away, while lean-to shelters are available at sites.
The beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park does pose its risks, but the terrain is more hospitable than the more dramatic peaks out west. Trails can be relatively easy to traverse, but crossing streams is strongly discouraged as the water can be dangerous and turbulent. Designated backcountry camping sites feature safety fire rings and hoist to keep food away from bears. Maximum, campers can stay three nights, which is probably all a beginner would want to commit to anyway. Water can be consumed if properly boiled or treated.
Shenandoah National Park houses part of the Appalachian Trail, which is the famous stretch avid hikers dream to dominate, running from Georgia to Maine. It’s cool to say you’ve been on a portion of the trail, but know that hikers buzz through these veins all summer. Overall, Shenandoah is highly versatile, offering a detailed online backcountry experience chart that ranges trips from easy to super tough. The Big Meadows and Rose River route comes in under 15 miles and allows hikers to spend two nights in the wilderness. More people trickle in during weekends, which can be a comfort for newbies.
Olympic National Park is vastly different throughout its sections, ranging from coastline, rainforest to glacial mountains. That being said, picking one environment isn’t easy. But if you fall in love with Olympic National Park (which is likely), coming back to delve into more remote adventures will become a priority. Seven Lakes Basin is one of the shorter loops, at 20 miles, and delivers a lot in one dose. Once traversing through trails filled with wildflowers and goats, backpackers can camp lakeside under vivid night skies.
Glacier National Park is conveniently split down the center by the Continental Divide, making it a little simpler to identify more approachable terrain. To keep things extra chill, know that “East is easier” in the grandeur landscape of Glacier, which bursts with beauty from lakes, mountains and breathtaking trails. Western terrain is more dense and forested, while also being at a high elevation, making everything more challenging. Bears and wolves do roam this territory, so educate yourself thoroughly and keep a significant distance.
Along the coast of Maryland is Assateague Island National Seashore, where backpacking meets beach life. Ocean or bay campsites can be as little as two and a half miles away, or as far as 13 miles. Either way, these routes are shorter than some of our northwestern picks. If you are an experienced paddler despite being a beginner backcountry camper, paddling into the sites is a fun, out of the box option. It’s extremely important to note that all water must be carried in, so this will likely impact significantly the amount of time someone would want to stay, especially with the first go at it.
Garden Key is located within Dry Tortugas National Park and is an island to which campers will have to ferry. The site is considered primitive, giving campers the opportunity to learn the importance of carrying in water and other vital supplies. We love Garden Key because they work a bit harder to ensure people don’t get turned away while ensuring tents are well spaced from each other. Snorkeling and swimming are amongst the highlights of making the journey out.
Big Bend National Park in Texas enables folks to bypass backpacking—certain primitive camping sites can be reached by rugged vehicles. Basically, you’ll need 4-wheel drive to get to these beautiful desert nooks. Being able to bring a car along is a fantastic option for beginners who want to experience the backcountry. Be prepared to pitch a tent because any form of an RV is out of the question.