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.
By: Lisa Singh

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Pacific Northwest Trail

The Pacific Northwest Trail spans 1,200 miles -- including three national parks and seven 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

Appalachian Trail

The famed Appalachian Trail spans more than 2,180 miles. A thru-hike usually takes between five and seven 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superior Hiking Trail

Everyone loves Superior: Hiker Andrew Skurka ranks the trail among his 10 favorite U.S. hikes, Readers Digest ranks it among its top five. 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.

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, Florida, 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

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, Colorado, 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 four to six weeks to complete -- a feat accomplished by roughly 150 people per year. Best times to hike: Primarily July and August.

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