Best Backpacking Trips

Explore the Best Hiking Trails in the US

young woman standing on top of mountain overlooking various mountains

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Are you ready to up the ante on your next outdoor adventure? It’s time to go backpacking. A true backpacking trip promises head-clearing solitude on the trails. Outdoorsy types have plenty of options, such as shorter jaunts over a long weekend or a thru-hike from state to state. Check out these choices to explore breathtaking views and long stretches of unspoiled wilderness along the way.

Appalachain Trail
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 tree line for optimal views of surrounding 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 southwestern Colorado. Families can explore trails where the CDT meets Glacier National Park. Pack cold-weather gear, as ice and snow are a possibility any time of the year. And stay hydrated and make gradual ascents to avoid altitude sickness, a common ailment, since the trail is above 8,000 feet in elevation most of the way and soars to 14,270 feet 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, which is nearly 75 miles of paths that pass 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, where there are 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 die-hard hikers complete the 2,650-mile thru-hike each year. Still, thousands of others embark on shorter expeditions. In California, the 270-mile stretch from Mount Whitney to Sonora Pass offers a monthlong 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 close-ups of volcanoes along the Cascade Range and clear mountain lakes.

hikers walking down south kaibab trail in the grand canyon

NPS photo by Michael Quinn

Grand Canyon National Park
Get up close with 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 temperatures of more than 100 degrees during summer days and in the 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.

Hiking and Backpacking Vacation Ideas

Pacific Northwest Trail
Pacific Northwest Trail

Pacific Northwest Trail

The Pacific Northwest Trail spans 1,200 miles -- including 3 national parks and 7 national forests. To tackle this route, which runs through Montana, Idaho and Washington, you'll have to keep a pace of 20 miles per day. That'll get you to the trail's end in about 60 days.

Best times to hike:Year-round at lower elevations, summer and fall at higher elevations.
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Andy Porter, flickr   

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

The famed Appalachian Trail spans more than 2,180 miles. A thru-hike usually takes between 5 and 7 months, cutting through 14 states between Georgia and Maine. Along the way, enjoy views of pink rhododendrons along the trail’s Tennessee-North Carolina state line and in southwest Virginia, from late spring to early summer.

Best times to hike: Spring to fall.
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John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

Naturalist John Muir loved this area of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Today, the trail named in his honor runs 211 miles, from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney (the highest point on America’s mainland). Most hikers start their trek at Yosemite’s Happy Isles or Tuolumne Meadows.

Best times to hike: Generally July to September.
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Steve Dunleavy, flickr  

Hayduke Trail

Hayduke Trail

Uber-hiker Andrew Skurka calls Hayduke Trail “one of the finest ways to discover the Colorado Plateau … and get away from it all.” No wonder. The 800-mile trail running through Utah and Arizona covers the area’s big national parks: Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches.

Best times to hike: Spring and fall.
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Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail

The massive Pacific Crest Trail covers more than 2,600 miles, from California, Oregon and Washington to British Columbia. The trail is among the “Big 3”: If you hike the Pacific Trail, as well as the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail, you’ll get the American Long Distance Hiking Association’s Triple Crown Award.

Best times to hike: Late April to late September.
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Marshmallow, flickr  

Sierra High Route

Sierra High Route

The Sierra High Route is one of pro hiker Andrew Skurka’s favorite trails. The 195-mile trail in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains offers amazing views of meadowlands, lake basins and mountain peaks. Keep a pace of roughly 20 miles per day, and you’ll complete the trail in a little over a week. Also, keep in mind logistical considerations.

Best time to hike: Depends on skill level.
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Arizona Trail

Arizona Trail

The 800-mile Arizona Trail runs north and south through the state, and showcases some of the region's most unspoiled terrain: ridges, mountains and wilderness areas that have remained untouched since Arizona became a territory in 1863. That remoteness also means hikers must stay current on Arizona Trail conditions.

Best times to hike: Year-round at lower elevations, summer and fall at higher elevations.
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Rick Hall, flickr  

Long Trail

Long Trail

Known simply as the Long Trail, this route runs 273 miles through Vermont -- the whole length of the state. The trail also happens to be America’s first long-distance hiking trail. Construction began in 1912 and continued for nearly 20 years. Today, hikers can enjoy short day hikes and extended treks (including to Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain).

Best times to hike: Late spring through late fall.
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dvs, flickr  

Continental Divide Trail

Continental Divide Trail

At 3,100 miles, the Continental Divide Trail is not for the faint of heart: Only about 25 people a year attempt to hike the entire trail, which runs between Mexico and Canada. Some areas can only be traveled by bushwacking, aka make-your-own-trails, and roadwalking.

Best times to hike: April to October.
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Getty Images  

Superior Hiking Trail

Superior Hiking Trail

Everyone loves Superior: Hiker Andrew Skurka ranks the trail among his 10 favorite US hikes, Readers Digest ranks it among its top 5. The 275-mile footpath showcases scenic views -- boreal forests, rushing waterfalls and the 30-mile-long Sawtooth Mountains are among the attractions -- as well as 81 campsites for a little R&R.

Best times to hike: Late spring to early fall.
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Florida Trail

Florida Trail

Alligators are among the wild critters that hikers can encounter along the Florida Trail. The 1,400-mile trail starts at Big Cypress National Preserve (about 45 miles west of Miami) and ends in the Pensacola, FL, area. And if you see a gator along the way? Give it space, circling around its tail end so it doesn’t feel threatened.

Best times to hike: Year-round.
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B A Bowen Photography, flickr  

Colorado Trail

Colorado Trail

Hikers, horse riders and bicyclists, the Colorado Trail is calling your name. The 486-mile trail runs from the Denver area to Durango, CO, with some of Colorado’s most beautiful scenery in between: wildlife (marmots, deer, sheep and more), as well as wildflowers, forests, lakes and streams ideal for fishing. A thru-hike generally takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete -- a feat accomplished by roughly 150 people per year.

Best times to hike: Primarily July and August.
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Kimon Berlin, flickr  

India
India

India

Increase your backpacker cred by touring this equally colorful and chaotic country. For all its frustrations, India provides far more soul-stirring moments, like seeing the peaceful birthplace of yoga, in Rishikesh; the spiritually cleansing Ganges River and the grandest monument to love, the Taj Mahal. 960 1280

franck camhi  

Chile

Chile

While Chile is more expensive than other countries in South America, it is full of dramatic and vastly different landscapes to explore. In northern Chile lies the otherworldly salt flats and driest desert in the world, the Atacama. In southern Chile the massive glacier peaks tower over Patagonia. And for a trip of a lifetime, fly to remote Easter Island from the lively capital Santiago in just 6 hours. 960 1280

Jose luis Stephens  

Australia

Australia

Australians are known for their “walkabouts,” the rite of passage for young Aussies to travel the world after they finish school. While young Aussies roam the world, they’re leaving an amazing country behind for tourists to enjoy their own “walkabout.” Down Under lures backpackers with the Great Barrier Reef, the rugged Outback and the youthful cities of Sydney and Melbourne. 960 1280

tiger_barb  

Peru

Peru

Seeing the breathtaking Machu Picchu should be on everyone’s bucket list. Trekking the Inca Trail is the ultimate way to see the famous ruins, named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This incredible 30-mile hike takes 4 days to complete as you trek high up into the Andes in search of the Lost City of Machu Picchu. Share your stories from the trail with other travelers in the nearby town of Cusco, a backpacker’s favorite pit stop filled with fun hostels. 960 1280

Jarno Gonzalez Zarraonandia  

Vietnam

Vietnam

Every tour of Asia should include Vietnam, a dynamic country changing by the minute. If you’re after stunning views, the jade green waters and limestone islands and caves of Halong Bay will dazzle you. For a taste of bustling city life, tour Ho Chi Minh City, with its mouthwatering street food and fascinating museums. 960 1280

Martyn Smith  

Cambodia

Cambodia

One of the most awe-inspiring sights on earth, Angkor Wat alone is worth a visit to Cambodia. The largest religious architectural site in the world, this complex of over 100 stone temples was known as “Heaven on Earth” by the Khmer kings who built it over the course of 6 centuries. Ancient temples aren’t all Cambodia has to offer, either; don’t miss seeing Phnom Penh, now one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Asia, with its bustling outdoor markets, exotic street food and lively nightlife. 960 1280

Michael Buckley  

Ireland

Ireland

Getting around the Emerald Isle is cheap and easy -- a perfect combination for budget travelers. Travel by bus or rent a car to discover all the natural beauty -- from the Cliffs of Moher to Giant's Causeway -- that’s packed into this little island country. Travel to the remote Aran Islands to see traditional Gaelic language and culture still thrive. Or hit youthful and lively Galway to hear live Irish music in friendly pubs. 960 1280

Agnieszka Guzowska  

Thailand

Thailand

This backpacker’s paradise rose tremendously in popularity after The Beach was filmed in Thailand’s Maya Bay in 1999. In the film, young backpackers search for a hidden paradise, inaccessible to tourists. Even though it’s hard to escape the tourists in Thailand, there’s still plenty here for the intrepid traveler to discover. From island hopping to elephant riding and jungle trekking, there’s no shortage of adventures to have here. And Thai food alone is worth a visit. Spicy and cheap, it’s perfect for the adventurous foodie. 960 1280

charles taylor  

Greece

Greece

A budget traveler’s dream, this Mediterranean hot spot offers ancient ruins and affordable islands to explore. Tour ancient wonders like the Acropolis and the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Then soak up Greek culture with a tour of the islands, from party-beach Mykonos to sparsely populated Gavdos. 960 1280

Adriana Cahova  

New Zealand

New Zealand

If you’re an adventure junkie or simply an outdoors lover, this country is sure to wow you. Cross off a bucket list challenge in South Island’s Queenstown, the mecca for nearly all adventure activities and the birthplace of bungee jumping. If you want to see the spectacular scenery with both feet on the ground, trek through New Zealand's Fiordland National Park on the 33-mile Milford Track. 960 1280

Natalia Minton  

Turkey

Turkey

If you want to backpack in a less tourist-trodden country, this Middle Eastern gem is a great option. Spend a few days marveling at the mosques in Istanbul (which happens to be a major flight hub for scoring cheap airfare). Once you get outside of Istanbul, prices drop tremendously. So you’ll be able to get the most bang for your buck as you crisscross the country, touring the underground caves and rock houses of otherworldly Cappadocia and the ancient ruins of Ephesus. 960 1280

Juergen Schonnop  

Southwest USA

Southwest USA

There’s no reason to leave the good ole US of A in search of adventure. Southwest’s Four Corners region -- Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona -- offers incredible hiking and jaw-dropping scenery. While the Grand Canyon is a must-see, don’t miss other natural wonders, too, like Utah’s Monument Valley, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns. 960 1280

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