Last Updated on March 2, 2020
The United States is, without a doubt, the best country in the world to live in if you enjoy hiking. With so much natural beauty and protected wilderness in every part of our nation, you have opportunities almost everywhere to get out and enjoy nature with nothing but the gear on your back and the friends at your side. Some trails, of course, offer better views and better experiences than others. Here are my top ten choices for longer hikes in the lower 48 states.
Best Backpacking Routes in America
10. The Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail is named not for its ego, but for the massive lake it runs alongside. The SHT is over 300 miles long and features treks through dense wilderness, over waterfalls and rock climbs, and some of the best untouched beauty in the entire Midwest. Minnesota has a reputation for the quality of its outdoor opportunities and wildernesses, and the SHT is arguably the most well-maintained and scenic stretch of trails in the whole state. If you’re local to the area or enjoy relatively cool weather even in the summer months, be sure to check out this route.
9. The Arizona Trail
The Arizona Trail stretches from the far southern border of the state all the way up to Utah, traversing over 800 miles of highly varied terrain. Much of the route goes through the Sonoran Desert, a lush desert that (due to blistering daytime heat) is probably best traveled in the spring or late autumn. Other sections of the route go through vast stretches of plains, gorgeous natural forest scenery, and even the city of Phoenix.
8. The Long Trail
As one of the oldest long-distance hiking trails in the country, Vermont’s Long Trail has helped generations of outdoor fanatics get a taste of some of the most magnificent wilderness our country has to offer. With over 270 miles of trail that passes through dense woods, pristine water sources, small mountains, and quaint towns, the Long Trail is a summer hike that touches on many of the most desirable facets of outdoor adventures.
7. The Appalachian Trail
Everyone knows the Appalachian Trail. This famous route stretches up and down the bulk of the eastern seaboard, crossing rolling hills and pristine river valleys the whole way through. Despite its extraordinary length and wonderful beauty (especially in and around Tennessee), I think the Appalachian Trail is eclipsed by many other long-distance hikes simply because it is so popular. Be aware that, even if you hike the entire trail, you’re not taking much of a break from civilization while doing so.
6. North Country Trail
The North Country Trail is another legendary route that, while just as long and beautiful as the Appalachian trail, sees considerably less traffic even in the best times of the year. Stretching from New York to North Dakota, this 4600-mile hike has too many sights and stretches to talk about all at once. Whether you take on a small stretch or the whole massive length, the North Country Trail is something that I think everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime.
5. Oregon Coast Trail
Far away from the business of California beaches lies the serene wilderness of the Oregon coast. With gorgeous seaside cliff faces and sandy beaches, the Oregon Coast Trail stands out as one of the greatest treasures of the Pacific coast. If you’re a fan of geology and rock formations, then I highly recommend you give this hike a try, as there are many unusual cliffs and sights along the way that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
4. Pacific Crest Trail
Arduously maintained year-round by a massive team of forest service employees and volunteers, the Pacific Crest Trail spans what is arguably the best wilderness in California and Nevada. Misty mountains, massive pine trees, and stunning river flows all await travelers who seek to partake in one of the West’s best hiking routes. Plus, if you’re looking to challenge yourself to a tough but enjoyable winter backpacking trip, you might find no better place than on the Pacific Crest Trail.
3. Long Coast Trail
You’ve probably never heard of the Long Coast Trail unless you’re an experienced hiker who’s already conquered numerous other routes. This hidden beauty is utterly cut off from civilization and extremely difficult to access relative to any other trail on this list. However, those willing to make the journey will find in the Long Coast an area of unmatched preservation and natural coastline beauty. While the trail is maintained, you should prepare to walk through a few treacherous spots along the way, so make sure to study the trek carefully before planning any trips. If you can master the rugged route, however, then this may be one of the best hikes you ever go on.
2. Pacific Northwest Trail
I love the Pacific Northwest. Few other places on earth have such a diverse array of natural beauty, stunning rock formations, and barely-touched wilderness. The Pacific Northwest Trail is a 1200-mile long journey through three states that touches on all the best parts of this stunning environment. Hiking along this trail entails trips across multiple mountain ranges, some stunning high-elevation environments, and finally a terminal endpoint at the forested shoreline of western Washington state. One curious aspect of this trail is the prevalence of “rain shadows” where one face of a mountain may be dry and almost desert-like, while the other face receives constant rainfall and may be covered in dense forest. It creates an atmosphere like no other, even among these long, beautiful hiking routes.
1. Colorado Trail
I’ve been all over this country, seen countless different environments and hikes, but no state has ever had the same effect on me as Colorado. In the Rocky Mountains, one can find some of the highest peaks on the continent, rich forested environments, gorgeous ice caps that extend well into the summer months (or may even be permanent), and a mixture of flora and fauna that astounds even the most weathered outdoorsmen. Honestly, there is nothing that can compare to the Colorado Trail, a 567-mile journey that is simply breathtaking to accomplish. There’s not much more to say – it’s just the best. I’m going this summer. If you’re smart, you’ll meet me there.
Our great nation has countless trails and hikes just like these, many of which we might not even know about yet. Take any piece of National Forest land, and you can guarantee that countless sights and scenic views abound throughout that area. But if you want to take the extra step and visit something truly special, then consider these trails for your next journey.