The best backpacking trip for beginners is one that is planned. This way, you can learn your strengths and limits at your own pace. This will also help you enjoy your outdoor adventures and create great memories.
Don’t let someone talk you into a “wilderness adventure” your first time out. This idea will come from a backpacking purist, who will tell you day hikes aren’t real backpacking trips. That you need to hike the backcountry, surviving with only the things you can carry in your backpack.
For advanced hikers this is true, but not for people who have never been on a backpacking trip or set foot in a national park. If you take your friends on this kind of misadventure, they will never go back.
In reality, as beginner backpackers, your own safety will be your primary concern. Then, enjoying your time with nature and friends who are also backpackers will be something to look forward to.
So what exactly is considered to be real backpacking?
Backpacking is enjoying nature, hiking a trail, and taking the things with you that make the day comfortable. That’s it. There are no other rules. Don’t let anyone make you think you have to endure a wilderness survival test or spend weeks in the backcountry to call yourself a real backpacker.
There are much better reasons to go hiking and backpacking than survival training:
- Something Different to Do
- Backpacking Date
- Wholesome Family Activity
- Breath of Fresh Air
- Meet New People
- Spend the Day Outside, Away from Technology
- Exercise That’s Fun
- Beautiful Scenery
- Great Memories
Stay where it’s crowded in the beginning (a lot of national parks will meet this criteria!). Although you may have to fight for a parking space, you don’t want to go out into the isolated backcountry (like where you might have to be rescued and make an appearance on the local news). Plus, fellow hikers and backpackers can give you information on better trails – and lend you the sunscreen you forgot.
A United State National Park Is the Perfect Destination for Your First Backpacking Trip
The staff at a national park know what they are doing. And when you get there for the first time, you will also see signs explaining everything. Read and follow them.
If you don’t understand something, ask. There are plenty of knowledgeable rangers (and even other hikers and backpackers) to help.
Park rangers can also help you find a beginner trail to get to a backcountry point of interest. Keep in mind, these parks are set up for all levels to enjoy the breathtaking scenery through rated hiking trails.
As you will also notice, there are many trails to the backcountry, and many of them are for beginners and hikers who are exploring for the first time. Each trail is marked with the elevation gain and miles round trip. This way, you can decide if your group is fit enough to complete the hike.
You do not need a permit or any hiking experience to use them. You will, though, need a permit to camp if that is part of your backpacking trip.
Many of the trails are even designed for beginner backpackers as day hikes. Something you will notice about many of them is that they are designed as “loops.” What this means is that the path goes in a circle and brings you back to where you started. Other trails are “thru-hikes” that do not loop.
When you’re halfway done, you’re already on your way back. If anyone is lagging, they will be encouraged that the car is waiting at the end of the trail. There is plenty of parking near the beginner trails, which is another good thing about hiking in these parks.
There are also campsites for tents and RVs, as well as traditional lodging is someone wants it. Let everyone move at their own pace. Remember, with beginner campers, you want everyone to have a good time so they come back!
Popular National Park Hiking Trails (Miles Round Trip)
- Lassen Peak Trail Hike, CA, 5miles
- Glacier Point Hike, Yosemite Valley, CA, 1 mile
- Frozen Niagara Cave Hike, Mammoth Cave, KY, .25 miles
- Templeton Trail Hike, AZ, 7 miles
- Hoh River Trail Hike, WA, 6 miles
- Canyon Overlook Trail Hike, UT, 1 mile
- Fairy Falls Trail Hike, WY, 5 miles
- The Highline Trail Hike, MT, 7.6 miles
- Base Loop Trail Hike, Devils Tower, WY, 1.3 miles
There are many more activities at these hiking destinations, so plan ahead to take advantage of them!
Take your first hike around a city park. Use a walking app to measure the distance before you are tired. Then add in the fact that you will have a backpack out on the trail. Everyone in your group should do a test to see how far they can walk before they are exhausted.
You do not want to get stuck on a trail with someone who succumbs to fatigue. Especially when there is no way to get back but to walk.
Best Backpacking Trips for Beginners with More Experience
Once you have some experience with day hikes, there are more advanced trails you can explore. Here are some more challenging hikes that will test you, but are still enjoyable. Many can be hiked in one day, but all have access to camping if you have the time.
Dewey Point Trail, Yosemite National Park
If this is your first trip to this national park, you’re in for a treat. The brilliance of backpacking through Yosemite is that there are more than 800 miles of hiking trails in one place. These are trails for all levels of hikers – from nice even hikes to hikes with plenty of feet of elevation gain. Of course, you can stay for a day, camp in your sleeping bag, or get a hotel room with advance reservations.
Then there’s the natural beauty of the park. With waterfalls over 2,000 ft. tall, incomparable meadows, over 100 sparkling lakes (which make great water sources during a hike), and majestic mountains, it’s a backpacker’s bucket list.
The Dewey Point Trail is located off Glacier Point Road, which is the gateway to the Yosemite Valley and the most photographed terrain of the park. Ansel Adams has famously captured the views here, which is surprisingly only 7 miles long and 1 mile wide.
Like most of the trails on this list, Dewey Point is a medium-level hike with views that pay off. It’s a total of 7.8 miles roundtrip and mainly flat. If you continue on past Dewey Point, you can hit Crocker Point and Stanford Point. If you go a little farther, you can see Bridalveil Falls and McGurk Meadow, with spectacular views.
Conveniently, you can have someone meet you with a car at Tunnel View (the end of the trail). This way you don’t have to hike back.
Not having to walk back is the main point of these easier trails. They are designed so that you can do the whole trail – or just part of it. Or more if you have the energy. You will find these easier trails are also planned to get the same incredible views as the harder trails. So don’t feel like you have to rock climb to the top of a mountain to get a view.
Hiking in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains
You may not hear a lot about the Eastern part of California. Nevertheless, there is an incredible amount of diverse terrain here. And while there are some very advanced, week-long backpacking trips here, there are also some awesome day hikes. Hikes that can all be extended if you want to spend more time.
Mammoth, Bishop, Convict, and June Lakes are all ideally situated so you can establish a base camp. This is really convenient if you want to extend your trip in this backpacking paradise.
Trailheads in this part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are accessible from any of the lakes. As well, there are endless places to camp here, in fairly close proximity. The summer is the most popular, but in the fall you can experience a lot of turning leaves. There is also skiing in the winter.
Beginning Trails in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains (Miles Round Trip)
- Big Pine Lakes, 14.3 miles
- South Lake Day Hikes (Near Bishop) – 5 miles
- McGee Creek Canyon, 6.6 miles
- Convict Lake & Campground, 3 miles
- Fern Lake Trail, 3.4 miles
- Agnew Lake, 4.4 miles
- Gem Lake, 6.6 miles
Convict Lake is probably the easiest place to hike. It also has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains at an elevation of 7,500 ft. The trail is 3 miles of flat terrain, with a loop that takes about an hour around the lake. Also, there’s access to the Pacific Crest trail which will turn into a more challenging day.
It’s good planning to backpack in an area where there are many trails and campsites. This way, you can make alternate plans if a campsite or trail isn’t what you were expecting.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado is another little known backpacking destination. This is an incredibly trail-packed park. One where beginning hikers can easily spend a week – camping and enjoying beginner trails.
Gunnison, located in central Colorado, is a fascinating geological study, two million years in the making. It is a wonderland of craggy spires, harrowing steep cliffs, and amazing views. It’s a stark contrast to many other beginner backpacking trips, and it has much to offer the beginning backpacker.
Trails inside the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Park (Miles Round Trip)
- Rim Rock Nature Trail, 1 mile
- Oak Flat Loop Trail, 2 miles
- Cedar Point Nature Trail, 2/3 mile
- Warner Point Nature Trail, 1.5 miles
- Chasm View Nature Trail, 1/3 mile
- North Vista Trail, 3 miles
- Deadhorse Trail, 5 miles
There are trails for every level, with 3 campgrounds, rock climbing, fishing, kayaking, rafting, wildlife watching, and horseback riding.
Lake Aloha Trail, Desolation Wilderness Area, California
The Lake Aloha Trail is an approximately 14-mile loop in the Desolation Wilderness. It is located south of Lake Tahoe in one of the most beautiful parts of California. This is a heavily-trafficked trail, so it is good for beginners as there are always people around.
Here is where you will find untouched forested areas, alpine-inspired lakes, and granite rock formations. There are five sparkling lakes in all, and the trail provides stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The hike is mainly level, with only two sections of elevation gain. You will have to watch your footing, though. The trail has a lot of loose stones and rocks. This is considered a fairly challenging trail, but the views are worth it.
Another nice thing about the Lake Aloha Trail is that many people use it as a day hike. You can even bring your dogs. Also, because of the established campgrounds and other outdoor activities, the trail is perfect for first time overnighters.
So if you want an area to try out your backpacking and camping skills, this is the place. Bring a hammock, a flotation device for the lake, and something for mosquitos at night.
Features of Lake Aloha Trail
- Camping (permit required ,plus $)
- Bird Watching
- Horseback Riding
- Dogs on leash allowed
Thoroughly research your destination before you go! You are going to the wilderness, so everything is subject to change. For example, Lake Aloha is actually a man made reservoir. It was created by damming Pyramid Creek in 1875 and the electric company drains it every fall. So it literally won’t be there if you make the 7-mile hike to see it in late September!
Final Pro Tip
Part of the responsibility of using the outdoors is to leave no trace. One of the first things to learn if you are new to the wilderness is the Leave No Trace principles:
Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Following the Leave No Trace principles will show other campers that you’re a team player with Mother Nature. No one likes a noisy, littering, bonfire-starting maniac running around the outdoors. Most people want to enjoy the clean, pristine wilderness – just as it is. By following the Leave No Trace principles, you can become a welcome part of that experience.