10 GREATEST BACKPACKING TRAILS IN NORTH AMERICA

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If you’re living in the US, you don’t even need to go too far to find a trail. The United States is blessed with tens of thousands of miles of trails scattered throughout its great land. With so many backpacking trails to choose from, you’re bound to find one that fits your skill level, schedule, and budget. 

Find Your Backpacking Trail

If you’re looking for some ideas on where to go, read through our list of the 10 greatest backpacking trails in the US. We’ll leave it to you to decide which one you think is the greatest. 

1. APPALACHIAN TRAIL CONSERVANCY, WEST VIRGINIA

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is located in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was established nearly 100 years ago in 1925 to protect, maintain, and celebrate the Appalachian Trail. 

The trail itself has been touted as an essential trail for hikers from all walks of life — not just the long haulers. 

That said… 

The Appalachian trail runs nearly 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Feel free to choose which section of the trail you want to go backpacking in. 

With such a long trail to backpack in, expect to find majestic views all around including that of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. 

2. PACIFIC CREST TRAIL 

If you’re looking for a challenge, then the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is the right choice. It’s America’s 2nd longest trail that takes you from Mexico to Canada through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington stretching approximately 2,650 miles. 

The high route through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade is not for the faint of heart. This trail offers scenic and varied terrain and takes you from arid deserts to frigid mountains along the way. Needless to say, only take this route if you’re a more experienced backpacker and feeling adventurous. 

3. CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TRAIL 

The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is one of the hardest and most significant trail systems in the world. It holds the record for being the highest, remotest, and most difficult of all the National Scenic Trails.  In fact, we only suggest this trail for the most experienced backpackers.

Spanning 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, the trail mixes spectacular panoramic views with the deep solitude of being fully immersed in true wildness. Expect to find lots of solitude, inclement weather, snow, questionable water sources, and the need to bring a lot more water than you usually do. 

4. HALF DOME TRAIL, YOSEMITE

The Half Dome Trail in Yosemite stretches just 16 miles with the end goal of reaching the summit of Half Dome. The trail is well-maintained but challenging because of the occasionally wet and steep rocky sections that lead up to the top. 

You’ll need to hold onto two parallel cables raised on metal posts if you want to traverse the 45-degree sloped final 400 ft to the summit. 

Expect to find panoramic cliff views, waterfalls, and many more wonders of nature out on the trail. 

5. GREENSTONE RIDGE TRAIL, ISLE ROYALE NATIONAL PARK

Isle Royale National Park is a remote island cluster on Lake Superior. It owes its remoteness to being on an island in the world’s largest freshwater lake. 

The Greenstone Ridge Trail is approximately 35 to 42 miles long and is located on the main Isle Royale island. The park is open from April through the end of October. The best times to go are spring and fall. 

Expect to find scenic views of the lake and the island provided by the trail’s high vantage point. 

6. LITTLE RIVER TRAIL, GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

The Little River Trail is an approximately 12-mile out and back trail. You can cater your trip according to your desired camping location as designated by the park authority. 

The trail is a reclaimed railway bed and is renowned for the area’s history, fireflies, and river scenery. It’s a fairly moderate trail with just 412 feet of elevation. Be prepared to get your feet wet, though, as there will be the occasional river crossing. 

You can enjoy the wildflowers by visiting from Mid-March to April. Summer and Fall also provide comfortable hiking temperatures, although you may want to forego a summer visit as that’s when the park is most crowded. 

7. SUPERIOR HIKING TRAIL, MINNESOTA

If you’re a beginner looking for an easier backpacking trail, then the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is a good place to start. While the SHT is approximately 310 miles long, you can always pick a section that suits your current skill level.

With over 50 trailheads to choose from, you can customize your trip as much as you want. You’re also never far away from a designated campsite so you know you’re always near a place to rest. It’s also easier to resupply since some trail sections pass through towns. 

Expect to find scenic views of Lake Superior, deciduous forests, deep gorges, picturesque waterfalls, and even the odd swimming spot or two.

8. POINT OF ARCHES TRAIL, OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

Point of Arches is another great beginner backpacking trail. An 8-mile out and back trail, you can have fun exploring the numerous tidepools and viewing the various wildlife in the area. 

The Point of Arches Trail is relatively flat and close to the beach. You don’t need to worry about difficult terrain or elevation gain. You don’t even need to bring water as the creek near the campsite plus a water filtration device can provide all the water you’ll need.

9. ANCIENT LAKES TRAIL, EASTERN WASHINGTON 

The Ancient Lakes Trail is a heavily trafficked 4.6-mile trail located near Quincy, Washington. This trail can be the perfect weekend trip if you live in or near Seattle. 

The Ancient Lakes Trail is perfect for beginners looking for low mileage and low elevation gain. Additionally, every campsite you find offers great views of the dark night sky away from the city’s light pollution. 

10. GOLDEN CATHEDRAL TRAIL, GRAND STAIRCASE, UTAH

The Golden Cathedral Trail is a 10-mile round-trip that starts at basecamp along the Escalante River. With such low mileage, you can spend more time exploring the slot canyons and washes then spend the nights between the narrow canyon walls. 

Expect to see lots of sandstone, beautiful Slickrock formations, experience labyrinthine canyons, and endlessly dark night skies. 

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