Fishing and camping have always gone hand in hand. Head to the dock of your local lakeside campground, and you’ll likely see at least a few lines in the water. And increasingly, thanks to improvements in lightweight materials and technology, backpacking and fishing go hand in hand. Rods are lighter, stronger, and more compact than ever before; making fishing possible on even the longest backpacking adventures.
Those who are willing to try this hands-on approach to fishing, and hike higher and farther than their fellow anglers, will be rewarded with pristine fishing, jaw-dropping scenery, and none of the crowds one might find at a more accessible spot. The fish will be smaller, especially in higher alpine lakes and streams, but they are also more likely to be wild. And more fun to catch.
Wenaha River, Oregon
Situated in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, the waters of this river in Eastern Oregon eventually flow into the Columbia River and out to the Pacific Ocean. This means that, unlike some of the other areas on this list, the Wenaha offers fishermen the chance to fight good-sized steelhead and salmon. Not bad considering the Wenaha trailhead begins at about 3,000 ft. in elevation. The Wenaha River Trail itself runs parallel to the river, leaving plenty of opportunities to stop and make a few casts.
Wind River Range, Wyoming
The Wind River Range of western Wyoming is a revered destination for high alpine fly fishing. There are more than 1,000 lakes in the area, which is part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Nearly 300 of these high alpine lakes were stocked with fish in the 1930’s, making Wind River a mecca for the trout-addicted. The fish populations in the area are now self-sustaining, thanks in no small part to the remoteness of the Wind River Range and the effort needed to reach the lakes.
Golden Trout Wilderness, California
The Wind River Range also sustains a stable golden trout population. But, if the goal of a fishing trip is to catch this endangered species, head to the Sierras. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through a portion of this aptly-named wilderness area, as do another 400 miles of barely touched trails. This is the original habitat of the golden trout, and as any angler can attest, there’s a certain added fulfillment that comes with catching a native species of fish.
Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
With a highest point that falls shy of 3000 ft., the Ozarks of Arkansas don’t exactly qualify as “high alpine.” But for all this national forest lacks in elevation, it more than makes up for with serene nature and great fishing. Rainbow trout and brown trout can be caught in many of the rivers and streams that wind through this region. Access to many of these spots is no problem thanks to the hundreds of miles of trails in the forest.
Hells Canyon, Oregon
The name is no joke. The hikes around the Snake River gorge, also located in eastern Oregon, can be downright grueling. But it’s a small price to pay once you factor in the fishing. Trout fishing is year-round, and steelhead opportunities really pick up in the fall. There are, of course, less challenging routes in the area. Hikes for all skill levels can be found in the more than 1,000 miles of trails in Hells Canyon. And elevation is low at the bottom of the canyon, making this a great first backpacking trip of the season for those of us who aren’t in peak physical fitness.
Estes Park, Colorado
Tucked away in Rocky Mountain National Park are some incredible spots to doing a little backpacking and fishing for trout. There are plenty of easy-access spots at various lakes and rivers along roads. But the wisest anglers will venture away from the asphalt in pursuit of rainbow, brown, and brook trout.