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Primitive camping is classified as “backcountry “ or “backpacking “. While it may seem daunting to give up amenities like RV hookups, showers, toilets and easily accessible grub, something deeper happens inside adventurers when they head out into the wilderness with nothing but the pack on their back. Forging beyond the trails reveals sites and beauty too often left undiscovered. Be sure to come very prepared, and also be ready to “leave no trace”. Ready to give primitive camping a try? From National parks to iconic mountain ranges, these places in the United States are perfect starting points.
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White Mountain National Forest
One of the best places to camp in the American Northeast, White Mountain National Forest resides in New Hampshire. It offers backcountry, or primitive, camping with some stipulations to keep both you and the land protected. Extensive detailing of considerations and guidelines can be found online. The mountains seem to extend forever and actually do tip over slightly into Maine. A large chunk of the famed Appalachian Trail runs through this scenic, expansive forest, which is also brimming with history.
Olympic National Park
Hiking to Enchanted Valley, Royal Basin or Quinault would all be recommended by an expert backpacker who has delved into Olympic National Park countless times. But as hard as one tries, it may be impossible to see all of the vastly diverse wilderness areas of the west coast wonderland. There are tons of things to see and do in Olympic National Park. Perhaps you’d like to traverse the beaches, rainforest, or maybe grounds wrapping around a milky blue alpine lake—it’s all possible in one single park. Olympic National Park requires adventurers to obtain a permit, so they can prevent too many people from concentrating into one area, while also making sure everyone comes back safely.
Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains reside near Stanley, an area that is more reminiscent of Switzerland than the United States. Towering jagged peaks beckon to be explored, as they are hiding scenic overlooks and an abundance of ideal alpine lakes perfect for casting a line or taking a swim. The route to Saddleback Lakes is absolutely gorgeous and is a primitive camping destination offering peace and painting worthy surroundings. Working your way to Imogene Lake will deliver the same euphoria, and the night sky is the icing on the cake.
Badlands National Park
If South Dakota isn’t on your backpacking radar, it should be. Because the state houses the intricate dips and rocky terrain of Badlands National Park. The rugged environment is met with visually stunning multihued rock, and immense exciting routes. The National Park Service strongly suggests wearing ankle supporting hiking boots when making your way to your spot, because it’s easy to twist or even break an ankle. Each hiker should also have a gallon of water per day on hand, as there are hardly any sources in the backcountry if any at all. Pretty primitive eh?
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park encourages backpackers to come to enjoy its rivers, forests and challenging trips through the wilderness. The Continental Divide separates the park into the east and west, the latter being a bit more remote and covered with trees. The NPS has recommendations and regulations listed on their website, which are extremely useful when planning a trip to this Montana gem.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park can be accessed from iconic Jackson Hole. In the winter it’s a frosted paradise draped in blankets of snow, and the summer brings fields of vibrant wildflowers fueled by the snowmelt. It’s always stunning. Experts advise to pace one’s self when advancing up the high elevation terrain, and park approved bear canisters are a must. Yes, this is bear country folks. But the park has put together an extensive page with links and information to help you plan your wilderness adventure safely.
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park covers millions of acres—you read that right. The Alaska haven is blessed with richly toned fjords, dramatic glaciers and most definitely mountains. The park is also part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site. As wild as it seems, camping in the lesser traversed areas is amazing, and most definitely primitive. Few trails lead the way and backpackers must be prepared when setting off. But waking up to glacial surrounded ocean water, and discovering once again what unobstructed silence sounds like, will become invaluable. Kayaking the various inlets is another way to reach secluded spots with mind-blowing park views.
North Cascades National Park
Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sequoia—these parks are great, but North Cascades National Park is an under-sung jewel of the National Park System. Its waters at this top-rated national park could compete with Banff, and wildlife viewing opportunities with any other well-known habitat or refuge. North Cascades is tucked at the top of Washington and is just screaming to be explored. While some of the “backcountry” labeled spots are more equipped than a primitive site, with toilets and other facilities, there are more secluded locations within this marvelous park.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is otherworldly with dramatic canyons that are somewhat comparable to the great Grand Canyon. But this Utah Park with its desert appeal has some of its own traits that make it a sought after bucket list trip for backpackers. A permit is required for all primitive camping trips, and more info is available on the site. Guided trips are a good option for the lesser experienced who want to learn more about camping, the real, gritty way.