8. Hit Your Plateau

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Traffic in Yellowstone     Photo: Courtesy of Wilderness Pack Trips

You've seen the geysers and spotted a bison or two. But have you played in Yellowstone without the 3,640,185 other annual visitors? Between July 1 and August 14, the Park Service awards permits for 14 nights of camping on the Mirror Plateau—a trailless block of wilderness on the Wyoming side of the park that takes three days to traverse. It's too late to apply this year, but next spring mail in your application before April 1 ($20; nps.gov/yell). Can't wait that long? Book Wilderness Pack Trips' six-day horseback ride through the plateau (July 17–22; $2,850; yellowstonepacktrips.com). Guests hike and ride 35 backcountry miles from the Lamar Valley's Soda Creek Butte to Pelican Creek Trailhead, just north of Yellowstone Lake, crossing lupine-rich meadows and stopping at teardrop-shaped Mirror Lake on the way. Stay quiet when you're not hiking. "The elk, bison, wolves, bears—they're all skittish on the plateau," says Ivan Kowski, Yellowstone's backcountry program manager. "They don't see many humans."

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