Overnight camping doesn’t have be a weeklong, use-all-your-vacation-days affair. Do it right, and you can pull off a solid one- or two-night trek into the wilderness during a weekend. This is true even for major cities like Denver or Boston. You just need to know where to go.
From: Denver, Colorado
Indian Peaks Wilderness
Towering above the town of Boulder in Colorado’s Front Range, Indian Peaks Wilderness is about 90 minutes from downtown Denver. Plan a two-night backpacking trip starting from the Fourth of July trailhead or the Buchanan Pass trailhead and you’ll have access to 133 miles of trails, dozens of lakes, and six mountain passes that cross the Continental Divide. Be sure to secure a permit to camp in the backcountry before you head out.
From: Seattle, Washington
Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness is as vast as it is accessible. Less than two hours east of Seattle, the area covers 394,000 acres, with 600 miles of trails and peaks that look like the Alps. Start at the Salmon La Sac trailhead and backpack eight miles and 3,000 vertical feet of elevation gain to Tuck and Robin Lakes. Both are downright gorgeous spots to pitch your tent, and camping permits will be easier to secure than the Cascades’ popular Enchantments area.
From: Boston, Massachusetts
Long Trail, Vermont
Vermont’s 272-mile Long Trail crosses the Green Mountains from the southern end of Vermont to the Canadian border. There are more than 70 first-come, first-served backcountry campsites along the way. For the closest trailhead from Boston—about three hours by car—start at the trail’s southern terminus, near Williamstown, Massachusetts, and point it north, hiking a section of the trail that coincides with the Appalachian Trail. Your end goal could be Bennington, Vermont, 18 miles away. Prefer a point-to-point over an out-and-back? Luckily, a few local taxi services and bus lines will provide a shuttle.
From: San Francisco, California
Desolation Wilderness, which spans 63,960 acres and is filled with granite slabs and crystal-clear lakes, isn’t that hard to get to. But once you approach the south end of Lake Tahoe, 3.5 hours from San Francisco, you’ll feel a million miles away. Start at the Echo Lakes trailhead and hike in six miles along the famed Pacific Crest Trail to Lake Aloha for an overnight destination. Be sure to reserve a permit in advance.
From: Salt Lake City, Utah
High Uintas Wilderness
This 456,705-acre zone—the largest wilderness area in Utah—features 545 miles of trails and endless backpacking options. You can set out for Utah’s highest peak—13,528-foot Kings Peak—or try an out-and-back section of the Highline Trail, which runs east to west for more than 70 miles and can be accessed via the Mirror Lake Highway trailhead. Both are about a 3.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City.
From: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Superior Hiking Trail
The 326-mile Superior Hiking Trail climbs along a rocky ridgeline above Lake Superior and has more than 90 backcountry campsites perfectly built for multiday outings. You can hike out and back or walk one direction and arrange for a shuttle back to your car. The closest trailhead from Minneapolis is about 2.5 hours away, near Duluth.