Off The Beaten Path: The Southwest
Part 4 of a 5 part series:
We’re getting close to the end of our journey across the country. We’ve talked about mountain ranges in the northwest, all sorts of hidden gems near our home here in Cincinnati and snow retreats up in the northeast. You won’t find any National Parks on this list, but you will find some of the most amazing car camping spots, backpacking destinations and many more hidden gems.
This week we’re talking about our adventures in the Southwest. Some of my favorite places are down here, there’s awesome desert retreats, amazing mountain ranges and many memories.
Knolls Recreation Area & Salt Flats, Utah
Car camping, Hiking, Off Roading
Located about an hour to the west of Salt Lake City just off I-80, Knolls encompasses 36,000 acres of sand dunes, hills and mud flats. The Bonneville Salt Flats, a little further to the west, protect an additional 30,000 acres both managed by the BLM (my favorite). In the winter months, the area can be covered by up to an inch of water and becomes a sludgy mess, in the heat of summer, the temperature can reach up to 110°F. Definitely a tough place to be, but it’s an off-roader’s paradise. Salt Flats is home to some of the world’s top land speed records and on top of that, Knolls provides an awesome place to get off the road for the night if you’re
passing by and hike around as well as setup camp under a beautiful night sky. Expert advice, don’t explore too far south, there’s bombs leftover in the military testing range…
Best time to go: March-June, August-November
Maroon Bells Wilderness, Colorado
Backpacking, Hiking, Mountaineering
The Bells, also known at the Death Bells, are a 181,535-acre wilderness area surrounded by 6 of Colorado’s legendary 14ers and 9 other 12,000’ peaks. There’s also over 100 miles of trails and several beautiful alpine lakes. Dalton from our RRT Crew visited here in August of 2019, he completed the entire twenty-seven-mile Four Pass Loop in a day and climbed several of the 14ers with some partners. Here’s what he had to say:
“The Maroon Bells-Snow Mass Wilderness is a must see (and do) for anyone with even a slight interest in the outdoors. A roughly 27-mile backpacking loop circles the looming 14ers (Maroon Peak and North Maroon peak). The loop goes up and down over and over again reaching elevations of over 12,500’ several times and has some of the best views I have ever seen. If you want a little more thrill try climbing some of the surrounding 14ers (Pyramid Peak, North Maroon, and Maroon peak), be warned all these summits are extremely difficult and have a rating over class 3. The area can easily be accessed from the 4-Pass Loop parking lot where you can also obtain a permit.
Best time to go: June-September
Superstition Wilderness, Arizona
Backpacking, Hiking, Climbing
Located just outside of Phoenix, the Superstition Wilderness is as mysterious as it sounds…. With legends of gold hidden in the mountains and petroglyphs scattered around the canyon walls, it’s a mystical place to be. The wilderness area protects 159,757 acres of scrub land, dessert canyons and saguaro cacti, it’s also home to over 100 miles of trails including a section of the 800-mile Arizona Trail. The place can be absolutely brutal during the summer, and water typically doesn’t return in the fall, best time to visit, is definitely the spring. For the past two years, the springs have been magically green, with more water than they’ve had in the area in 20 years. My recommendation is to start your hike from the Peralta Trailhead, hiking up to Weaver’s Needle. From there you have endless options for day hikes, or you can begin a several days long journey into the wilderness, be warned, you probably won’t see many others, so have fun! If you need a spring retreat, definitely recommend…
Best time to go: March-June, August-D
Kiavah Wilderness, California
Car Camping, Backpacking, Off-Roading
The Kiavah Wilderness located in the Sequoia National Forest about three hours north of Los Angeles is the final push through the Mojave Desert on the way into the Sierra Nevada Mountains and just a few days short of Kennedy Meadows. In total there are 88,290 acres of protected land and 20 miles of trail
with several off-road routes open to recreation as well. For those long-distance hikers, this makes a great section to test your metal in the desert, its 20 miles from Bird Spring Pass to Walker Pass Campground, from there you’re only 50 short miles from the mecca of Kennedy Meadows. The area provides a beautiful intro to the Pacific Crest Trail. If you’re not into backpacking and just want an easy hike, basecamp at Walker Pass and wander your way into the mountains for the day. Pro-tip, bring extra snacks, the PCT hikers you pass will love you forever and point out all the cool stuff.
Best time to go: May-October
Monument Rocks, Kansas
Hiking, Car Camping
Monument Rocks is an other worldly place, sticking 70’ up out of the grassland of Kansas. It’s an area rich in fossils, cool to kick off the side of the road for and a great place to spend the night between points A and B. Professional tip, checkout the area around sunrise or sunset, the sky is amazing. Not a place to plan an entire trip to, but again, good place to pop off the highway between point A and B. We wanted to get Kanas included on this too…. You’re welcome Colleen…
Best time to go: April-September