With approximately 420 national park sites spread across over 84 million acres of accessible public land, the U.S remains one of the most popular hiking destinations. And with diverse terrains featuring majestic landscapes like breezy coastlines to rocky mountains, rainforests to deserts, it’s easy to see why the U.S attracts millions of hikers every year. From the lava fields of Hawaii to the verdant woodland forests in Texas, the glaciers of Alaska to the Great Canyon in Arizona, it’s easy to get lost in the vast wilderness areas of the U.S. Having said that, here are some of the most exceptional hikes in the U.S.
The Appalachian Trail
This is one of the oldest backpacking trails in the U.S. It runs from the Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Established in 1937, this trail attracts millions of hikers every year, who assemble at Springer Mountain, hoping to complete this through-hike. It will take approximately 8 months to complete this hike. Most people tackle it from March to October, when the conditions are a bit friendly. The entire trail is highly accessible, and beautiful. Also, you don’t have to tackle it in its entirety. If you’ve just started hiking, you can choose to tackle the sections that align with your skills and capabilities. Some forest parks along this trail such as Baxter State Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Shenandoah National Park will require you to have permits if you intend to spend the night. Therefore, ensure you have acquired the necessary permits before you embark on this hike. The southern section of this trail is comfortable and passable between March and November while the middle section is most comfortable between April and October. Higher elevations can be tricky to tackle during spring and fall. The northern sections are muddy, wet and icy the majority of the year. Therefore, ensure you have the right pair of hiking boots if you intend to tackle these sections. Accommodations should not be a problem on the Appalachian Trail, since there are thousands of cabins, huts, and campsites along this trail. Campsites in the national parks cost approximately $5 to $30 per night.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Located in Michigan, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore features a wide range of landscapes, including sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, blue lake waters, dense woodlands and beaches. It’s arguably one of the most scenic hiking trails in the upper Midwest. This trail also is also home to a section of the North Country National Scenic Trail. Therefore, there is a high chance that you will encounter a number of through-hikers who are tackling the North Country National Scenic Trail. This park has approximately 14 campgrounds, which are accessible and available to the public. The 4.4-mile lakeshore section between the Mosquito and Chapel Rivers tends to attract the highest number of hikers. This section of the trail runs through sandy sections and deciduous forests, while providing great views of the Lake Superior and the Grand Portal Point. Most day hikers start and end their trip at the Grand Sable Visitor Center. And if you are looking for a challenging hike, then you can check out the southern section of the trail, which runs between the Covers Group and Munising Falls. Regardless of the section you tackle, you are assured of a great adventure.
The Trans Catalina Trail
Located on the Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of California, this trail offers great opportunities, both for backpackers and hikers. It runs for approximately 39 miles, with a total elevation gain of 8,329 feet. If you are a beginner, it will take approximately 4 to 7 days to complete this hike. Campground reservations will be required for those who will be spending several nights in this area. Most people start their journey in the town of Avalon, then then trek across the entire island, while camping in the reserved campsites. As much as the terrain is quite rugged, it’s definitely worth the effort. One of the biggest challenge that you will encounter when planning for this trip is getting in and out of the island, since you will have to use a series of ferries. Therefore, ensure you do proper research on their schedules before you embark on your journey. But all in all, if you are looking for a trail that is both beautiful and challenging, then you should check out the Trans Catalina Trail. It’s a one-of-a-kind trail that you will not forget any time soon. From hilly sea-side views to amazing boat rides over the island, this trail offers a great backpacking trip for outdoor enthusiasts who are looking for a short hike.
Tahoe Rim Trail
If you are looking for a hiking trail that offers amazing views of dense alpine forests, mountain peaks, and blue waters, then you should hike the Tahoe Rim Trail. This 165-mile loop trail is also popular with winter skiers and trail runners, which means you will have plenty of company along the way. Part of the western section of this trail cuts through the Desolation Wilderness, which offers amazingly beautiful views. Open fires are not permitted in the Desolation Wilderness. If you have ample time on your hands and the weather is perfect, then you should hike the entire trail. Experienced and skilled hikers can finish this loop within 12 days or less – weather permitting. Snow is quite prevalent in the higher elevations. It clears around June or July and may return in early October. Just like other alpine trails, consider hiking in the early morning hours, since you might encounter rogue thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Half Dome California
Located in the Yosemite National Park, this out and back hike runs for approximately 14.5 miles if you follow the Mist Trail or 16.5 miles if you opt for a round trip using the John Muir Trail. You also have the option of trekking up via Mist Trail for approximately 7.25 miles and then descending via the John Muir Trail for around 8.25 miles. Ascending via the John Muir Trail will be easier on your knees, since the Mist Trail is mainly stair steps almost the entire hike. The Half Dome hike presents one of the most unique hiking experiences. Therefore, ensure you plan to spend at least a week or more there. As noted above, the Mist Trail is mainly composed of stair steps. Therefore, it’s quite a demanding hike, especially if you are tackling it during the summer. Make sure you carry plenty of water, since you need to be adequately hydrated throughout the trip. Backpacking this trail for several days instead of attempting to tackle it within a single day will make it more manageable. And of course more enjoyable, especially if you are a beginner hiker. As much as this trek might not be the easiest, it will be one of the best hiking trips in your life. In short, you will not regret tackling the Half Dome hike.
Isle Royale National Park
If you are going for your first solo backpacking trip or you are a beginner backpacker, then the Isle Royale National Park will be a great destination for you. What makes it one of the best backpacking destinations is that most of the campgrounds on this trail have boat docks, making it perfect for swimming, relaxing and having a good time with friends and family. All trails are clearly marked with only a few intersections. Therefore, finding your way around this trail should not be a problem. Also, you don’t have to worry about any predators, since there are none at all on this island. While moose and wolves might be present, there are no cougars or bears to disrupt your sleep at night. Since the trail is located on an island, you will have plenty of clean, fresh water to quench your thirst. Autumn is usually the best time to hit this trail. There is also a lodge on this island, where you can take a shower for a few dollars. Even if you don’t intend to stay at this lodge during your trip, it’s a great place to enjoy your lunch at the end of your hiking trip, as you wait to catch a ferry back to the city.
North Country Trail
The North Country Trail is an extended backpacking hike, which runs from the Adirondack Mountains in New York all the way to the Missouri River in the western part of North Dakota. This 5,000-mile trek cuts across seven states, namely New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and then ends in North Dakota. Most sections of this trail pass close or along the Great Lakes. Also, there are numerous other smaller lakes along the way, which means you will enjoy plenty of water views, regardless of where you are. As much as there no permits required or fees payable to hike this trail, you will have to secure some permits to spend the nights in some of the national and state parks. This trail connects and overlaps with several other trails such as the Superior Hiking Trail and the Finger Lakes Trail. Just like the name suggests, the Superior Hiking Trail runs through the Superior National Forest, and then runs along Lake Superior. This section of the trail is not only manageable but exceptionally beautiful. There are several wineries around the Finger Lakes section. Therefore, feel free to stop by and purchase some wine, before you proceed with your trip. The best time to go for this hike is between June and September. However, muggy weather and summer thunderstorms can prove problematic especially when you are hiking in the afternoon. Due to the trail’s expansiveness, you don’t have to worry about crowds, regardless of the time of the year.
The Presidential Traverse
The Presidential Traverse is a 23-mile, moderate to difficult hike, which will take you through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It’s best trekked from north to south, if you want to have a chance of tackling the highest of the peaks first. If you only have a few days to spare, then you will have to tackle this traverse from dusk to dawn. It will take you approximately 1 to 2 days, depending on your skills and the trail conditions. Most of the sections of this trail are above the treeline, where you will come across plenty of whiteout conditions. Therefore, it’s important to be adequately equipped with the right apparel, a compass, a map and other essential items. The first day of this hike is usually the most demanding, where you will ascend 4,000 feet from Valley Way Trail all the way to the peak of Mount Madison. From there, you will head south following the Gulfside Trail. Most backpackers tackle the Adam and Jefferson peaks, before proceeding to the Monticello Lawn. The trail will then take you to Mt. Washington. Bad weather is common in this section of the trail. It’s best hiked between May and September.
Whether you are going for an extended backpacking adventure, a mountaineering trip or a one-day hiking trip, the U.S has plenty of amazing and exceptional wilderness areas to explore. But wherever your hiking trip takes you to, always take care of the environment. Play your part and keep the forest parks and the campsites clean and beautiful. And most importantly, always ensure you are adequately prepared, before you embark on a hiking or backpacking trip.