Best backpacking trails in all 50 states
Inspiring destinations to stoke your hiking dream factory
If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for new places to hike. But maybe you don’t know where to begin. Here are my suggestions for the
Pinhoti National Recreation Trail — 170.7 miles in Alabama. The Pinhoti Trail is part of a 337-mile trail system combining the Pinhoti and Benton MacKaye trails to create a
Resurrection Pass Trail — 38 miles. This US Forest Service maintained trail starts in the town of Hope on the Kenai Peninsula and climbs Resurrection Pass (elev. 2,600) towards the south before descending to a trailhead near Cooper Landing. There are 19 tent camping spots and 8 public use cabins along the way. alaska.org.
Grand Canyon Rim to Rim — 47 miles. The most famous long distance trail in the state is the aptly named Arizona Trail, which runs 800 miles from north to south. But there are many smaller trips to choose from including the beautiful Rim-to-Rim hike of the Grand Canyon. If you plan on this one, be prepared for lots of climbing (elevation gain is over 10,000 feet along the way) and one 19-mile day. The Outbound Collective has a good overview.
Ouachita National Recreation Trail — 233 miles (177 miles in Arkansas, 46 miles in Oklahoma). The trail traverses the pine- and oak-covered Ouachita Mountains, the highest peaks between the Rockies to the Appalachians and unusual because the range has an east-west orientation. The trail features wide valleys, rock outcroppings with spectacular views and clear streams. Bests time to hike it are spring and fall. The U.S. Forest Service offers this overview.
Tahoe Rim Trail — 165 miles. This beautiful trail circumnavigates Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border and ranges in elevation from just over 6,000 feet to over 10,000 feet. About 50 miles of the western loop of the trail is also part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Because of the trail’s elevation, snow pack lingers. Prime hiking season here is typically July through September. For more information visit the Tahoe Rim Trail Association website.
Maroon Snowmass – Capitol Creek Circuit — 40 miles. Thirteen miles longer than the much heralded 4-Pass Loop, this scenic, mostly above tree line mountain trail leads through four mountain passes and past four alpine lakes (Snowmass, Geneva, Avalanche and Capitol). The views and solitude make for a spectacular hike. Trail overview here.
New England National Scenic Trail — 215 miles. The New England Trail stretches over 200 miles across Connecticut and Massachusetts. The Connecticut section was created by combining the Metacomet Trail (45 miles in CT), the Mattabessett Trail (52 miles) and newly created trail sections. The NET in Connecticut mostly follows a “traprock” mountain formation along its entire route. This low range makes for great views of the New England landscape below. It’s a really fun walk, which I completed by doing sections each spring and fall. New England National Scenic Trail website. If you are thinking of doing any hiking in Connecticut, I highly recommend the Connecticut Walk Book, the definitive guide to over 800 miles of trails throughout the state.
Northern Delaware Greenway Trail — 10.4 miles. Hiking options are limited in Delaware. There are no backpacking possibilities, although there are plenty of day hiking trails in state parks, state forests and wildlife refuges. The longest hike I could find is the 10.4 mile Northern Delaware Greenway Trail, which is also open to cyclists. Map and trail description by DelawareGreenways.org.
Myakka Hiking Trail —29 miles. The Mayakka River lends its name to one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. Located just southeast of Sarasota, this wonderful area filled with unspoiled wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pinelands also boast the Myakka Hiking Trail. The longest loop hike within a state park, the Myakka Trail offers five designated camping spots along the way as it alternatively winds through oaks and open prairies. All Trails provides a map and overview.
Pinhoti National Recreation Trail — 166.4 miles in Georgia. The Pinhoti Trail is part of a 337-mile trail system combining the Pinhoti and Benton MacKaye trails to create a
Honorable mention goes to the Benton MacKaye Trail, a 300-mile footpath from Springer Mountain to Big Creek Campground on the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. According to the BMT Association, “the BMT passes through some of the most remote
Sliding Sands Trail — 19.8 miles. Located within Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui, this spectacular trail leads from the summit of the volcano’s crater down across the valley. A popular way to experience the hike is to book stays at cabins along the way. The cabins are maintained and reservations administered through the National Park Service.
[Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance at 10 AM EST. Reservations are made using Reserve America’s website at www.recreation.gov. Reserve America’s call center phone number is 1-877-444-6777.]
Recommended route —
Day 1: Sliding Sands Trail to Palikū Cabin (9.8 miles)
Day 2: Palikū Cabin to Holua Cabin (6.3 miles)
Day 3: Holua Cabin to the Halemau’u Trailhead (arrange for pick-up or have
Alice-Toxaway Loop — 17.8 miles. Looking for a classic high mountain hike where you can camp near lakes every night? This is the one. The Alice-Toxaway Loop in the Sawtooth Wilderness is backcountry hiking at its best. With jaw-dropping views as standard fare it’s a popular route, so you may see other hikers and campers along the way. If you travel counterclockwise around the loop you’ll have a slower, steadier elevation gain than if you travel in the other direction. Most hikers allow for three days. Overview at HikingProject.com.
River to River Trail — 160 miles. A hike from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River? Who knew? I didn’t, until I found this gem. Located in southern Illinois, it passes through the Shawnee National Forest, home to some of the most scenic areas of southern Illinois.You’ll encounter upland forests, wetlands, grasslands and bluffs along the way. Wildlife often sighted includes 250 bird species (bald eagle and red-tailed hawk among them), bobcat, armadillo and red fox. More info courtesy of U.S. Forest Service.
Knobstone Trail — 60 miles. Indiana’s longest footpath winds through Clark State Forest, Elk Creek Public Fishing Area and Jackson-Washington State Forest. Along the way are exceptional views from the 300 foot high Knobstone Escarpment. More info courtesy of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Cedar Valley Nature Trail — 67.8 miles. Open to cycling and hiking, this historic rail trail through Eastern Iowa between Waterloo and Cedar Rapids to Ely follows the former right-of-way of the Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern Railway. Along the way, it traverses wetlands, forested land, and farmland. The trail’s surface is asphalt from Evansdale to McFarlane Park, just 2½ south of La Porte City. From the Park to Center Point, the trail’s surface is compacted limestone. More information courtesy of CedarValleyNatureTrail.com.
Flint Hills Nature Trail — 117 miles. The longest trail in Kansas travels the route of the defunct Missouri Pacific Railroad across east-central Kansas. The centerpiece of the trail is the Flint Hills, one of the last remaining tallgrass prairie ecosystems in the world. In addition to abundant prairie plant and wildlife species, the trail boasts a number of recreational areas, national historic sites and spectacular views. The trail is also part of the coast to coast American Discovery Trail. More information available at Kanza Rails-Trails Conservancy website.
Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail — 319 miles. The Sheltowee Trace Trail traverses the Daniel Boone National Forest and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. Along the way, this rugged trail meanders along narrow ridges and dips into gorges surrounded by towering cliffs. More information available courtesy of the US Forest Service and SheltoweeTrace.com.
Wild Azalea Trail — 31 miles. Yes, there’s a long distance hiking trail in Louisiana! The Wild Azalea Trail is known for its lovely woodlands and outstanding views. Plenty of access points make doing the trail in a series of short day hikes possible. But because most of it is located within a national forest, you can also camp along the way. More info courtesy of US Forest Service.
International Appalachian Trail — 138.4 miles. There is so much great hiking in Maine including the 288 miles of the Appalachian Trail that lead to the trail’s northern terminus in Baxter State Park and the low mountain scrambles in Acadia National Park. But fewer people know about the trail that extends past Katahdin to create the start of the International Appalachian Trail. The IAT route in Maine passes through boreal forests and follows trails, old logging roads, an abandoned railroad bed, and rural public roads to the potato fields of Aroostook County. Beyond Fort Fairfield, the trail enters New Brunswick, Canada. Info at InternationalATMaine.org.
Chesapeake and Ohio (C & O) Canal National Historical Park — 184.5 miles. Originating in Washington, DC and ending in Cumberland, Maryland, this hiking and biking trail draws thousands of visitors a year. For almost 100 years, barges that were towed down the canal brought coal, lumber, and agricultural products to market. Now the canal and adjacent path are gateways to personal discovery instead. For an even longer hike, hop on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail in Cumberland, Maryland and continue to Pittsburg, PA. Chesapeake and Ohio (C & O) Canal National Historical Park info available from National Park Service.
Midstate Trail — 92 miles. This great trail crosses the entire state from the Rhode Island border in Douglas State Park to its intersection with the Wapack Trail in southern New Hampshire. Along the way, the trail leads over low mountains and past streams and ponds. It is one of the three trails that crisscross the state of Massachusetts from north to south (the others being the Appalachian Trail and the New England Trail (also known as the
Honorable mention: Taconic Crest Trail — 37 miles. This really cool trail crosses back and forth through New York, Massachusetts
High Country Pathway — 75.72 miles. This woodland trail through Pigeon River Country is accessible from (count ‘em) SEVEN state campgrounds. That means no shortage of flat spots to pitch your tent. Be sure to bring cash and/or checks to pay for campsites along the way. More information at UpNorthTrails.org. Want to do a longer hike in Michigan? Check out the North Country National Scenic Trail. The Lower Peninsula section is 99 miles and the Upper Peninsula section is 167 miles.
Superior Hiking Trail — 310 miles. This exceptional trail (which is also part of the North Country Trail) stays close to the shore of Lake Superior all the way from just south of Duluth at Jay Cooke State Park to the Pigeon River near the Canadian border. The trail is well maintained thanks to an exceptional staff and dedicated volunteers. Expect gorgeous views of waterfalls, streams and, of course, Lake Superior throughout your hike. More information available at SuperiorHiking.org.
Black Creek National Recreation Trail — 39 miles. This trail along the Black Creek River climbs over rolling hills and meanders down through the flat land of the flood plain. Over 100 bridges and boardwalks provide easy crossing over small streams and ponds. Approximately 10 miles of the trail is located in the Black Creek Wilderness. Note: According to the Forest Service website there is no drinking water available on the trail. Please plan accordingly.
Ozark Trail — Over 350 miles of the Missouri section of the Ozark Trail have now been completed, which enable the hiker to set off from just south of St. Lous and hike to the Arkansas border. From here the trail will eventually connect with the Ozarks Highland Trail to create a 700-mile through
Triple Divide Pass Trail to Red Eagle Lake — 23.5 miles. Solitude and stunning views await in this lesser used corner of Glacier National Park. You will need to spot a car at either end, arrange for someone to pick you up or hike back to the starting point via road walk, but the advance planning is worth it. The three-day trip consists of a 4.4 mile day, a 10.5 mile day and an 8.7 mile day. Full details at TheOutbound.Com. If you’re looking for a longer hike, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail offers many options.
Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail — 205 miles. The Cowboy Trail is one of the country’s longest rail-trails. It currently runs between the Nebraska towns of Valentine and Norfolk (beginning at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park south of town). The trail is mostly surfaced in fine crushed gravel and open to hiking, cycling and horseback riding. When complete, the trail will continue west another 126 miles to Chadron. For more information visit TrailLink.com.
Jarbidge and Emerald Lake Loop — 20 miles. A gorgeous hike including dense forests, a raging river, two alpine lakes and alpine meadows. What’s not to love? The sunrises also get rave reviews. Detailed description at trails.com.
Cohos Trail — 170 miles. New Hampshire is a hiker’s paradise. The White Mountain National Forest contains hundreds of miles of trails including part of the Appalachian Trail, which traverses the Presidential Range. Those seeking more solitude will love the Cohos Trail, a 170-miler that leads north from the White Mountain National Forest and over 40 peaks on its way to the Canadian border. It is said you may see more moose than people along the way. More info at CohosTrail.org.
Batona Trail — 51 miles. In addition to a nice stretch of Appalachian Trail, New Jersey boasts another distinctly different long distance trail. The Batona (short for Back To Nature) Trail leads over 50 miles through the famous Pine Barrens region and four forgotten towns. Camping (by permit only) is allowed along the way. More information available through the state of New Jersey and Pinelands National Reserve. (brochure here).
Wheeler Peak Loop — 19 miles. This spectacular loop includes opportunities to camp high in alpine meadows and climbing up and over the highest peak in New Mexico. At 13,161’ Wheeler Peak offers unparalleled views over the Sangre de Cristo range. More info at SummitPost.org.
Long Path — 358 miles. The Appalachian Trail, the North Country Trail and the hundreds of miles of trails through Adirondack Park get more notoriety, so I’m shining my spotlight on the Long Path instead. This amazing trail leads from the 175th Street Subway Station in New York City to John Boyd Thacher State Park near Albany in New York. Along the way it connects many of New York’s parks, preserves and state forests. More information (including trail section descriptions) courtesy of the NY/NJ Trail Conference.
Mountains to Sea Trail — 1200 miles. This walk across North Carolina takes you everywhere from the summit of Clingmans Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains to the Outer Banks. Along the way, you’ll experience the full diversity of the North Carolina landscape — mountain vistas, rolling farms, old textile villages, sand dunes and miles of seashore are among the sights. More info at MountainsToSeaTrail.org.
Maah Daah Hey Trail — 144 miles. Called “North Dakota’s best kept secret”, this magical trail traverses some of the most spectacular areas of the badlands. It crosses the Little Missouri River twice and traverses high ridges, deep drainages, rough badlands and rolling prairies. Speaking from experience, if you yearn for solitude and spectacular beauty, you will find both in abundance here. For more information visit the Maah Daah Hey Trail website at mdhta.com.
Buckeye Trail — 1444 miles. First envisioned in the 1950s as a trail from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, the Buckeye Trail has evolved into an iconic path traveling the perimeter of the entire state. 919 miles of the trail share the footbed with the North Country Trail. For more information visit BuckeyeTrail.org.
Ouachita Trail National Recreation Trail — 233 miles (46 miles in Oklahoma, 177 miles in Arkansas). The trail traverses the pine- and oak-clad Ouachita Mountains, the highest peaks between the Rockies to the Appalachians and unusual because the range has an east-west orientation. The trail features wide valleys, rock outcroppings with spectacular views and clear streams. Bests time to hike it are spring and fall. The U.S. Forest Service offers this overview.
Three Sisters Loop — 56.80 miles. This fantastic hike includes a stretch along the legendary Pacific Crest Trail and, if you’re lucky with the weather, a trip to the top of South Sister (10,358’). This hike has it all — alpine meadows, volcanic lava beds, mind blowing vistas and more. Trip description at OutdoorProject.com.
Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail — 70 miles. Pennsylvania has more long distance hiking trails than most people know — at least a dozen and counting! In addition to sections of the Appalachian Trail and North Country Trail, you’ll find the Mid State Trail, Baker Trail, Horse-Shoe Trail, Tuscarora Trail, Susquehannock Trail, Warrior Trail, Loyalsock Trail and Donut Hole Trail. In the southwestern part of the state you’ll find the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, which stretches along Laurel Mountain from the picturesque Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle State Park to the Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown. More information available from the Pennsylvania DCNR.
North South Trail — 78 miles. This mostly woodland walk from the Atlantic Ocean to Douglas State Forest on the Massachusetts border is exceptionally fun and makes it possible to traverse the entire state. My hiking partner, Wayne, and I did it in three trips. Free maps available here and trail section descriptions here. Please keep in mind that the trail descriptions appear to be sporadically updated.
Foothills Trail — 77 miles. Located in Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina, this gorgeous trail was ranked by Backpacker magazine as “one of the best long trails [fifty plus miles] in the country. The trail showcases the beauty and diversity of the Blue Ridge range in the northwest corner of the state. Learn more at FoothillsTrail.org.
Centennial Trail —111 miles. Created to mark the 100th anniversary of statehood in 1989, the Centennial Trail begins in the prairie grasslands near Bear Butte State Park, then climbs into the Black Hills high country, skirting lakes and streams until it reaches Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs. Antelope, big horn sheep and mountain goats are among commonly sighted wildlife. More information available from US Forest Service.
Cumberland Trail —210 miles completed (300 miles proposed). When completed, the Cumberland Trail will traverse Tennessee from north to south. It will also serve as part of the Great Eastern Trail, which will extend from the Alabama/Florida border to the Finger Lakes region of New York. With two substantial sections of the Cumberland Trail completed, the destination is worthy of multi-day trips and offer the chance to get out and enjoy the trail before it is fully “discovered.” More info at CumberlandTrail.org.
Lone Star Trail —96 miles of thru-trail, plus 32 miles of loop and cross-over trails. Located in southeast Texas, the longest continuous hiking trail in the state starts just south of Richards and ends northwest of Cleveland, Texas. The trail features rivers, creeks, lakes and streams that meander through and around the Sam Houston National Forest. Trail guide and downloadable section descriptions available through Lone Star Hiking Trail Club.
Great Western Trail —1,600 miles in Utah (4,455 miles overall). Like its brethren the PCT and CDT, the GWT is a Canada to Mexico trail. This one covers 4,455 miles through Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. The trail encompasses the most diverse vegetation, topography and wildlife in the western United States, ranging from stunning desert and canyon landscapes to dense forests and alpine meadows. More info at GWT.org.
The Long Trail — 272 miles. Established in 1910, the oldest long distance trail in the United States follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont border to the Canadian border, crossing Vermont’s highest peaks. The southern 100 miles of trail are shared by the Appalachian Trail, which veers east toward New Hampshire and Maine. As a section hiker of the complete trail I can attest to its beauty. The area north of Mount Mansfield is less traveled and offers more solitude. More information available from the Green Mountain Club.
Tuscarora Trail — 252 miles. The most famous long-distance trail in Virginia is rightfully the Appalachian Trail. After all, at 525 miles long, fully one quarter of the trail is in this state alone. But there are other great hiking trails in Virginia including sections of the Great Eastern Trail and the Tuscarora Trail. Established as an alternative trail to the AT, the Tuscarora departs from mile 21 of Skyline Drive in northern Virginia, scoots over to the Massanutten Range, then heads generally northeast through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The northern terminus of the trail is where it intersects with the Appalachian Trail ten miles south of Duncannon, PA, not far from Harrisburg. More information at HikeTheTuscarora.org.
Wonderland Trail — 93 miles. No doubt about it, the most spectacular trail through Washington is the Pacific Crest Trail. If you have the time and ability to do it, it’s a life-changing experience (editor’s note: I know). But if you can’t do the hundreds of miles through the Cascades, the Wonderland Trail is a great alternative. You will be in the grasp of Mount Rainier’s magnificence for the entire trip around the mountain. Beware going in that the Wonderland Trail is strenuous. 3,000’ climbs and descents are the norm. The payoff is a beautiful hike that takes you through lowland forests and valleys and into high alpine and sub-alpine areas. Details available through the National Park Service.
Allegheny Trail — 310 miles completed (20 miles left to build).The Allegheny Trail is a north-south trail that starts on the Mason-Dixon Line at the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border near Bruceton Mills and ends at its junction with the Appalachian Trail on Peters Mountain at the Virginia-West Virginia border. This gorgeous hike through the western Appalachian mountains is also part of the Great Eastern Trail.
Ice Age National Scenic Trail — 1,200 miles. In the 1950s, native Wisconsinite Ray Zillmer envisioned creating a linear park winding through Wisconsin along the glacier’s terminal moraine. Today the Ice Age Trail has evolved into a marvelous
Continental Divide National Scenic Trail — 550 miles. The CDT crosses some of Wyoming’s greatest places of wonder including the Wind Rivers Range and Yellowstone National Park. Along the way, you’ll hike through open desert plains, deep gorges and high mountain passes. More information available through the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.