Best Backpacking Trips in the US

Whether you have a day or a year for a backpacking excursion, here are 5 hiking trails to consider.
By: Jennifer Plum Auvil
young woman standing on top of mountain overlooking various mountains

young woman standing on top of mountain overlooking various mountains

Photo by: Izf / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Izf / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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.

view from cliff down the appalachian trail

view from cliff down the appalachian trail

Appalachian 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.

wide shot of the continental divide trail and mountains during the day

wide shot of the continental divide trail and mountains during the day

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.

hiker with mountains in background

hiker with mountains in background

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!

scene from top of mountain of pacific crest trail

scene from top of mountain of pacific crest trail

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.

Grand Canyon's Attractions
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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.

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