Backpacking The American Southwest
There is never a shortage of outdoor activities to satisfy anyone’s thirst for the great outdoors while enjoying the sunshine and serenity of the American southwest. Always surrounded by controversy to determine which states are officially included as part of the “southwest,” most experts have concluded that Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas make up this breathtaking region, and prized destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Able to satisfy both the adrenaline junkies in search of their next strenuous workout and the families looking for an afternoon day hike, the southwest possesses an endless amount of natural treasures just waiting to be discovered. While backpacking these days still often refers to the rugged terrain, oversized backpacks and days surviving the wilderness; the southwest also offers a tremendous amount of amazing day hikes for the everyday hiker.
Regardless of the research done before arriving to your destination, you will find that the locals have all of the best-kept secrets, and are always very eager to share every last detail. When preparing for your own excursion, it’s important to also refer to the experts so that you are well informed of the region, weather, trails and wildlife, such as rattlesnakes and more; leaving yourself with a detailed plan of attack. Of course, we have apps for everything today, so a few to consider downloading would be: Backpacker Checklist, GoToAid, US Army Survival Guide, Park Maps and GPS Trip Journal.
What To Pack
Before hitting the trails, several items need to be packed without fail… even those times you think it will only be a short hike. Though obvious, having plenty of water packed is first and foremost. Energy-loaded foods are also important, especially when you need to replace the electrolytes lost when sweating in the heat (yes, it can be hot and dry in the desert). Dried fruit, nuts, granola bars and fresh fruit are always great options. Don’t forget to also toss-in your sunglasses, sunscreen and a small first aid kit before you zip up your bag. I’m always amazed when I see people out on the trails in sandals, especially knowing the dangers that exist from the rocks, sand, snakes and cactus. Don’t be a hero; wear smart hiking boots or shoes.
Arizona | The Grand Canyon State
Arizona is always a popular destination because of world-class destinations such as Phoenix, Scottsdale, Flagstaff and Sedona, combined with amazing hiking and backpacking opportunities, including the most famous of all, the Grand Canyon. A Rim-to-Rim hike at the Grand Canyon, or an exhilarating hike at Pinnacle Peak or Camelback Mountain in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area; either way, Arizona is a dream come true for anyone who loves the outdoors and appreciates natural wonders at their best.
Believe it or not, Pinnacle Peak is also very well known for runners looking for a challenge; having done this on several occasions, be prepared for a great run, but then an afternoon motionless in a pool or having your sore muscles revitalized with a massage. Full disclosure: though I love Arizona and especially the Scottsdale areas for many reasons, the hiking is more of a community affair, so don’t expect complete solitude – these locals and tourists love the outdoors, and the trails are extremely popular. On a good note, for novice hikers and families, this atmosphere is very enjoyable, and a safe alternative knowing you’re not venturing too many miles out into the unknown wilderness.
Nevada | A World Within. A State Apart
Nevada has more to offer than just the casinos and high-roller suites of Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Overlook has moderate trails, and provides the picture-perfect views of Red Rock Canyon and the Las Vegas Valley. Not far away, Red Rock Canyon is a hiker’s playground with 19 trails to provide a variety of difficulty and scenery. A unique experience is the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge just north of Las Vegas in Alamo, Nevada. This refuge was established to provide a natural habitat for migratory waterfowl and other resident wildlife; allowing for several refreshing trail options.
New Mexico | Are You New Mexico True
New Mexico is known for their pastel colored high desert landscapes. While often overlooked by many novice hikers, the enthusiasts know of the magic these trails possess. Albuquerque and Santa Fe are both fantastic destinations in their own right, but there are also sensational trails in these immediate areas. From Albuquerque, those looking for a hardcore trail often consider Gila Crest South to Hummingbird Saddle to tackle the Mogollon Mountains, take-in the 10,000-foot peaks and savor the serenity of Gila National Forest. Two other great out-of-the box options for Albuquerque include the Sandia Crest Trail where you can ride a tram to the top and then enjoy a hike down among the towering aspen groves and then don’t forget to check out Spence Hot Springs for a short hike and a long dip in these soothing waters. While Santa Fe has several shorter hikes available, there are some invigorating longer trails worth the mention. Caballo Mountain is a little over 14-miles, and contains a 10,000-foot summit over a huge volcanic bowl among the Jemez Mountains. Lastly, consider Santa Fe Baldy for a look at Lake Katherine while hiking the summit of Santa Fe Baldy among the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Breathtaking!
Texas | It’s Like A Whole Other World
Texas is obviously much better known for their football, oil and longhorn cattle, but great hiking and backpacking opportunities also exists. Big Bend National Park is in far west Texas; complete with great scenery, especially the sight from the top of the Chisos Mountains where you begin to realize just how big Texas is from this view. The Outer Mountain Loop is a great option here, where you can connect the Juniper Canyon, Dodson and Blue Creek trails to make a 21-mile loop among the transitioning environments. If you’re looking for a destination closer to civilization, Lost Maples State Natural Area is somewhat near Austin and San Antonio. Here you’ll find that the hills, maple tree groves and amazing wildlife combine to create a very extraordinary experience. The Sabinal River Canyon provides a unique look down onto the turquoise pools sparkling beneath the limestone bluffs, and the park also offers interpretive tours by park staff and volunteers, which is always a smart solution for those individuals or families looking to begin the wonders of hiking, backpacking and simply savoring the many magical moments waiting for you in the beautiful southwest.
About the author: Damon Banks is a freelance travel writer focusing on tourism, lifestyle brands, hotels, spas, cooking, fashion, golf, yoga and fitness. Damon is the founder of his own travel blog, LuxeGetaways, and contributes to a variety of international travel, hospitality and luxury lifestyle publications such as Global Living Magazine, EatLoveSavor, and Destinations Travel Magazine as well as Thunderbird Suites. You can stay connected with Damon directly via Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.