Best Long-Distance Hiking Trails
Combine serious wanderlust with a hunger for scenic views, and what do you get? The best long-distance hiking trails in the US. From the Big 3 to lesser-known gems, these trails are made for walking.
Pacific Northwest TrailThe 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. 960 1280
Appalachian TrailThe 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. 960 1280
John Muir TrailNaturalist 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. 960 1280
Hayduke TrailUber-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. 960 1280
Pacific Crest TrailThe 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. 960 1280
Sierra High RouteThe 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. 960 1280
Arizona TrailThe 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. 960 1280
Long TrailKnown 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. 960 1280
Continental Divide TrailAt 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. 960 1280
Superior Hiking TrailEveryone 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. 960 1280
Florida TrailAlligators 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. 960 1280
Colorado TrailHikers, 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. 960 1280
Crown Fountain, ChicagoDesigned by Jaume Plensa, the Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park consists of 2 50-foot glass brick towers facing each other across a black granite plaza. LED screens project the faces of smiling Chicago residents who take turns spurting water into the 1/8th-inch deep reflecting pool. 960 1280
Central Park, New YorkWho says you can't keep cool in the city? Park yourself alongside the Bethesda Fountain in Central park or to take to the Lake in a rented rowboat from Loeb’s boathouse. 960 1280
Noah's Ark Water Park, WisconsinFamilies visiting Noah's Ark, America's largest water park, have over 51 exhilirating slides and 2 giant wave pools to choose from. 960 1280
Schlitterbahn Water Park, TexasOpened in the heart of Texas Hill Country in 1966, Schlitterbahn may now have bragging rights to the world's tallest water slide, Verrückt, but it hasn’t sacrificed its family-first atmosphere such as allowing visitors to bring in their own picnics into the park. 960 1280
Wet 'n Wild Water Park, OrlandoMinutes from Universal Orlando, Wet 'n Wild has the requisite lazy river and wave pool expected of any water park worth its salt as well as new thrill rides like the Aqua Drag Racer where visitors can go head-to-head in 4 lanes of high-speed slides. 960 1280
Brownstone Park, ConnecticutThis adventure center in Portland, CT, provides an adrenaline-pumping plunge into the water from a zip line. Spend the rest of the day rock climbing, cliff jumping, swimming, kayaking and more. 960 1280
Best Places to Cool Off in the US 13 Photos