By Michael Lanza

You want to explore the best backpacking in America’s desert Southwest, but you’re not sure where to begin, or how some of these trips you’ve read about compare for scenery and difficulty. You’ve heard about the need to carry huge loads of water, and environmental challenges like dangerous heat, rugged terrain, flash floods and even (gulp) quicksand. Or maybe you’ve taken one or two backpacking trips there and now you’re hungry for another one and seeking ideas for where to go next.

Well, I gotcha covered. The five trips described in this story comprise what might be called a Southwest Backpacking Starter Package. They are all beginner- and family-friendly in terms of trail or route quality, access, and navigability, and some have good water availability. But most importantly, regardless of their relative ease logistically, they all deliver the goods on the kind of adventure and scenery you go to the Southwest hoping to find.

I base this list on my more than three decades of backpacking throughout the Southwest, including many years running this blog and previously the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine for 10 years. I present these five trips in no particular order of priority; in reality, competition for a backcountry permit will dictate when you’re able to take the most-popular ones, such as those in the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands—and those are trips you need to plan up to four or five months in advance to get a permit reservation for the prime seasons of spring and fall. Learn more in my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

See my affordable, expert e-guides to several classic backpacking trips, including “The Complete Guide to Backpacking the Narrows in Zion National Park” and “The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon” and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan any of these adventures or any trip you read about at The Big Outside.

Please share your comments, questions, or tips about any of these trips or another you believe belongs on this list in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

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A hiker near Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.
” data-image-caption=”David Ports hiking the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail on a rim-to-rim dayhike. Click photo for my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in the Grand Canyon.”
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ width=”900″ height=”600″ src=”″ alt=”A hiker near Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.” class=”wp-image-44007″
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