You don’t need to take a 6-month sabbatical to experience the world’s longest continuously marked footpath, which stretches from Georgia into Maine. Create a custom journey along the nearly 2,180-mile trail, which goes through 14 states. The 14-mile trek through Georgia's Blood Mountain Wilderness Area leads hikers up to the trail’s highest point in the state. A hilly hike through New Hampshire’s White Mountains reaches 20 miles above the treeline for optimal views of surrounding high peaks. Maine’s “100-Mile Wilderness” section never crosses a single paved road. Wherever you go, pack a compact tent as the trail’s lean-to shelters fill up quickly.
Continental Divide Trail
This 3,100-mile long trail cuts right down the middle of the United States. Expert hikers might tackle the Knife Edge, a 25-mile loop through the extreme Weminuche Wilderness area in Southwest Colorado. Families can explore trails where the CDT meets Glacier National Park. Pack cold-weather gear as ice and snow are a possibility along the trail any time of year. And stay hydrated and make gradual ascents to avoid altitude sickness, a common aliment as most of the trail is above 8,000 feet in elevation and soars to 14,270 at Colorado’s Grays Peak.
Uinta Highline Trail
This remote trail can be rough and rocky in places; you may even find stretches all to yourself. Set aside a week to conquer the Highline Trail, nearly 75 miles of trails past serene lakes along the peaks of Utah’s Uinta Mountains. Pick up the trail at Chepeta Lake and continue on to Hayden Pass for a trek that stays around 11,000 feet in elevation with spikes of 12,600 feet. Ascend the rocky slopes at Kings Peak for a view of Utah from the state’s highest point. Just brush up on your extreme wilderness survival skills as lightning is common above the tree line with few spots for shelter. Line up a shuttle to take you back to your car when you reach the trail’s end unless you’re up for walking the return trip, too!
Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail traverses diverse ecosystems along the west coast including dry desert land and high arctic-alpine country. So, it’s no surprise that just 300 diehard hikers complete the 2,650-mile hike-thru each year. Still, thousands of other hikers embark on shorter expeditions. In California, the 270-mile stretch from Mt. Whitney to Sonora Pass offers a month-long journey through the Sierra Nevada range with breathtaking views of deep canyons, towering granite peaks and rocky lakes. Oregon’s leg of the PCT is level and well-graded with few elevation shifts, making it suitable for beginners. And even though it’s easy strolling, there are rewarding views of close-ups of volcanoes along the Cascade Range and clear mountain lakes.
Grand Canyon National Park
Get up close to the Grand Canyon’s majestic beauty on any of the 15 trails that wind away from the main tourist points along the canyon rim. Apply for a permit, in writing, from the Backcountry Information Center 4 months before your journey. Then brush up on smart hiking tips to keep you safe on the trail. Hikers must be in prime physical shape and be physically and mentally prepared for extreme heat with highs of more than 100-degrees in the summer day and low 70s by evening. The Boucher Trail on the south side is the most difficult with steep descents to the river, while first-timers should stick to the Bright Angel Trail which promises a bit of shade, regular water stops and ranger stations along the way.