There’s a certain moment on any long-distance backpacking trip where everything just seems like it’s in its right place.
The moment can be found wafting up from the aromas of your camp stove at the end of the day, or in the familiar rhythm of your feet touching the ground as you bag long miles, or perhaps in that first eye opening moment in the day as you stretch out in a smelly sleeping bag. It’s the feeling of being in your backpacking rhythm.
It’s hard to achieve this sort of outdoors lifestyle on a single weekend trip; and you’ll just start to scratch the surface with a week-long excursion. The best approach to find yourself thriving in the outdoors is to spend some quality time on a quality long-distance backpacking trail, where you’ll always be surprised as to what you’ll find along the way.
The Colorado Trail, Colorado
Stretching nearly 500 miles from Durango to Denver, the Colorado Trail sticks to the mountains as it traverses across rugged landscapes. While this sub and high alpine environment is most appealing for those who can take the 4-6 weeks off work to hike the whole thing, the Colorado Trail welcomes day hikers and weekend travelers alike.
Tahoe Rim Trail, California
Connecting with the cross-country Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California, the Tahoe Rim Trail takes the scenic route around Lake Tahoe. Measuring out to be a 165-mile loop, most hikers who set out to complete the entire span of this water-lined hiking trail plan for roughly two weeks. If you are aiming for a shorter adventure, the Tahoe Rim Trail is easily accessed to do small chunks at a time.
Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota
Spanning from 270 miles from Duluth to the Canadian border, the Superior Hiking Trail features state parks dotted along the entire route, dense forests to emerge into, and an ever-changing view of the Lake Superior shoreline. Whether you hop on the Lake Superior Trail for a long weekend or the long stretch, be prepared to experience A+ backpacking and trail memories to last a lifetime.
Cohos Trail, New Hampshire
Whether you are looking to day hike, section hike, or thru hike the whole thing, the Cohos Trail of New Hampshire has enough to explore for a lifetime of adventure. Spanning for 170 miles through the scenic White Mountain National Forest, every inch of this relatively quiet trail provides breathtaking views and wilderness scenery that will leave you in awe. Ambitious hikers can continue their quest once they reach the Canadian border via the Sentier Frontalier trail system.
The Ice Age Trail, Wisconsin
Highlighting the ancient footpath of glaciers that formed part of our country, the Ice Age Trail spans 1,000 miles across the northern Wisconsin backcountry. The Ice Age Trail is yet to be officially completed, which doesn’t limit access to all that there to see, but means that some of the trail requires more orienteering and knowledge of backcountry travel.
The John Muir Trail, California
Stretching over 270 miles from the peak of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain peak in the contiguous United States, up north to the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite National Park, the John Muir Trail isn’t for the unmotivated. Included along the route is Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, numerous mountain passes, mesmerizing alpine lakes, and some of the most dramatic mountain landscapes that would have John Muir stroking his beard with approval.
The Arizona Trail, Arizona
There are many different ways to explore the 800 miles that comprise the Arizona Trail—and whether you bike, hike, or ride a horse, you’ll experience firsthand why the Southwest is just not like the rest. Stretching from the U.S./Mexico border up to Utah and traversing the entire state of Arizona, the Arizona Trail is defined by a wide range of ecosystems and geological features including mountain peaks, canyon lands, plateaus, and desert drylands.
The Oregon Coast Trail, Oregon
Following the Pacific Coastline of Oregon the entire way, the Oregon Coast Trail gives a seaward approach to long-distance backpacking. Of the 382 miles that comprise the Oregon Coast Trail, a majority of them involve walking on the beach and enjoying the impressive tides and shoreline, and the rest meander into the forested canopies of nearby Oregon State Parks. Most of the trail is easily accessible for the long-haul and day hikes alike.
The Big 3: Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail
No best of backpacking list would be complete without mentioning perhaps the three most iconic long-distance backpacking trails in the country. Spanning the entire height of the United States, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and the Appalachian Trail (AT), all traverse over 2,000 miles across the most mountainous environments in the U.S.
It’s no short feat to hike any these trails in their entirety, which takes dedicated thru-hikers nearly half of a year to complete a single one. For those talented athletes and enthusiastic explorers who manage to hike all three of these long-distance hikes in their lifetime, they are worthy of saying they have completed the Triple Crown of Hiking.