Photo credit: Pablo Fierro / Unsplash (cropped)
Hit the Trail: 5 Seriously Adventurous U.S. Hiking Trips
May 2, 2019
Looking for a way to push your limits and explore new places? We’ve got three words of advice: take a hike! Incredible hiking trails crisscross the entire United States, and we’ve rounded up five of the most challenging—and rewarding—routes for experienced hikers to tackle this summer and beyond. These hiking trips offer up anything but your basic backyard stroll; they cover hundreds (and in some case thousands!) of miles through America’s striking scenery. While they’re certainly not for the faint of heart, the five iconic trails below provide a uniquely up-close-and-personal way to see some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. Read on to find your perfect hike, then lace up your boots for a new adventure.
1. Lost Coast Trail
Location: Northern California | Miles: 24.6 | Thru-hike Duration: 3-4 days
We’ll kick things off with the shortest hiking trip on our list: the Lost Coast Trail. Stretching around 25 miles along the coast of northern California, this trail will take you through a landscape so rugged that plans to build roads through it have failed. The dramatic terrain includes windswept beaches, grassy bluffs, dense redwood forests, and the towering peaks of the King Range. Even experienced hikers will find ample challenges on this remote expedition; dense fog, bear sightings, and high tides that obscure parts of the trail are common during the course of a Lost Coast hike. However, those who persevere are rewarded with incredible solitude and some of the best views on the Pacific Coast.
2. John Muir Trail
Location: California | Miles: 211 | Thru-hike Duration: 15-21 days
If the Lost Coast Trail has you yearning for more incredible California scenery—or if you’re up for a bigger hiking challenge on the West Coast—consider a trek along the John Muir Trail. Named for the naturalist who made the Yosemite Valley famous, this trail traverses some of America’s most iconic landscapes. Along its 211 miles, you’ll pass through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks, then cap off the experience with an ascent of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental U.S. You’ll simultaneously hike a segment of the longer Pacific Crest Trail; the two overlap for around 160 miles. High elevations, a short season of desirable weather conditions, rugged terrain, and limited restocking points make this hike best suited for accomplished backpackers, but those who take on the John Muir Trail laud it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
3. Long Trail
Location: Vermont | Miles: 272 | Thru-hike Duration: 20-39 days
The next trail on our list winds through the dense forests and craggy peaks of Vermont’s Green Mountains, stretching all the way from the bottom of the state to its northern border with Canada. The Long Trail has the distinction of being the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States, and even a short hike shows why its popularity has endured for more than a century. The trail includes 70 backcountry campsites for those interested in a multi-day expedition, but it’s equally popular as a day hiking destination if you’re seeking a more casual excursion. (We especially love the steep yet short-and-sweet jaunt to Sunset Rock for an afternoon hike.) In southern Vermont, the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail converge for 100 miles, so it’s possible to check two iconic hikes off your bucket list in one trip.
4. Appalachian Trail
Location: Eastern United States | Miles: 2,638 | Thru-hike Duration: 5-7 months
Speaking of the Appalachian Trail, it wouldn’t be possible to create a list of great American hikes without including the most famous one of all. Completing a trek along the Appalachian Trail is considered a crowning achievement for dedicated hikers; it can take more than 6 months of serious hiking to traverse the entire trail, which extends across 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The Appalachian Trail covers more than 2,500 miles of wilderness, filled with scenic vistas and home to an estimated 2,000 endangered species of flora and fauna. (Don’t worry, there are 262 campsites scattered along the way for much-needed breaks!) It takes serious determination (and a lot of vacation days) to tackle the entire trail in one go. In fact, only 20,000 people have thru-hiked the trail since it opened in 1936. Most hikers who want to complete the trek do so in segments over a number of years—a tactic known as section hiking. If you’re looking to explore a portion of the Appalachian Trail for just a few days, these 12 section hikes are a great place to get started.
5. American Discovery Trail
Location: Atlantic to Pacific Coasts | Miles: 6,800 | Thru-hike Duration: 1+ years
Just in case the Appalachian Trail doesn’t present enough of a challenge, there’s one more trek that’s sure to satisfy even the most ambitious backpackers. Stretching all the way from Delaware to California, you could hike the American Discovery Trail for an astounding 6,800 miles if you completed both the northern and southern routes. (The shorter single option, the northern route, still clocks in at a very respectable 4,834 miles.)
If you hiked the entire trail, you’d pass through 15 states plus Washington D.C., 14 national parks, and 16 national forests, plus hundreds of state parks, cities, towns, and historic sites. For much of its length, the ADT shares its route with affiliate trails, so it’s easy to plan shorter section hikes if you’re not quite ready for a multi-month excursion. You can also bike or horseback ride along large portions of the trail. Unsurprisingly, very few people have completed a continuous thru-hike of the ADT, but thanks to its exceptional length, an estimated 30 million people live within 30 minutes of the trail! Check out this state-by-state guide to the ADT to find a section close to you this summer.
Written by Caroline Lees for Knockaround.