In nearly every corner of the world, the United States has no shortage of spectacular backpacking trips. Of course, these have some of the world’s best-known long-distance hiking trails, including the Appalachian and Pacific Crest paths. And inside our National Parks is where some of the best backpacking that the United States has to offer is located.
Although you can absolutely develop a profound admiration for the parks by navigating the main roads and stopping at the most popular attractions, we agree that spending a night or two in the backcountry is the perfect way to interact with these extraordinary lands. You will not only find more silence and quiet, but you will also cover more ground and get a greater sense of the untouched scenery of the park. In all 10 of these trails, you might plan an awesome road trip or start scratching them off one-by-one, but whatever you do, make sure these backpacking trips are on your list.
1. The Long Coast Trail – California
Distance: 25.3 miles one way | Length: 3-4 days | Elevation Gain: 1578 ft
The Lost Coast is a stretch of the coast of California so rugged that it has not been conquered by highways. A remarkable respite from the rest of the state is the remoteness. There are no mansions tucked along the cliffs or congested road lines running along the hillsides. Here, the gashes of the King Range Tower are collapsing from the sea, barring everybody’s way not on foot.
The Lost Coast Trail runs between the cliffs and the shore in a small band of tortured beaches. It is the hiker’s domain, a barren and extreme wasteland lined with a pristine ecosystem. At dizzying heights above the waves, the road leads from hidden beaches to vast vistas. Hikers discover utter isolation, aside from sea lions and the odd Scout troop. One of the finest beach backpacking trips located in the United States is the Lost Coast Trail, and over the years it has slowly increased in fame and popularity.
The best time of year to hike the Lost Coast Trail is usually between the end of May and the beginning of October. For the rest of the year, the Pacific Ocean buffers coastal temperatures to comfortable amounts.
2. The Narrows – Zion National Park
Distance: 16 miles one way | Length: 1-2 days | Elevation Gain: 334 ft
One of Zion’s prime hikes is The Narrows. The 3.6-mile day hike or the 16-mile overnight trek can be selected for you. You’ll go from the top down to the narrowest section of the Virgin River for a 16-mile walk. The hiking starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch, and you can make your way down to Sinawava’s Temple. The top-down hiking can be done in a day, but many hikers want to enjoy the experience and spend a night in the canyon.
Although the trek is not on steep terrain, it is strenuous. For the rest of the trip, you will be hiking in the Virgin River. The water is muddy, making it impossible to see the bottom hidden by the rocks. Proper footwear is important for this walk, and trekking poles are recommended by many to preserve your balance on the slippery rocks.
For visiting the Narrows, summer is an ideal season. The air and water temperatures are warm, and the days are longer. Shuttles run until about 9 p.m., leaving you plenty of time in one day to finish the top-down hike. Bear in mind, though, that the most common season is summer. The Narrows could be busy, so you can expect to share the trail, especially between Riverside Walk and Big Springs, with many other hikers.
3. Teton Crest Trail – Grand Teton National Park
Distance: 35-45 miles one way | Length: 3-5 days | Elevation Gain: 10695 ft
Moose, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, black and grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, and several other animals are found in the Grand Teton Mountains. But they also highlight one of the most scenic hiking routes in the nation: the Teton Crest Trail. Including breathtaking wide-angle views of majestic granite peaks, glacier-carved canyons, crystalline lakes, and wildflower-pocked meadows of penstemon, lupine, paintbrush, monkshood, and western coneflower, this elevated road path crosses ridges.
Depending on the path, the serpentine trail passes through the Jedadiah Wilderness Area, two national forests, Bridger Teton and Caribou-Targhee, as well as Grand Teton National Park, barely dipping below 8,000 feet, with mileage ranging from 35 to 45 miles. You can enter at least three ecological zones along the way and circumnavigate a classic glacier with well-defined terminal and lateral moraines, crevasses, and a proglacial lake. The path can be widened to 75 miles for adventurous backpackers, using some imaginative sidetracks.
The best time to hike the Teton Crest Trail is July through September, although you will also be able to comfortably hike as late as early October in some years. Snowpack is a crucial factor in this region for trip preparation, as snow will remain on passes until late in the year. Rain and snow can fall here at any time of year and freezing temperatures are also likely. Temperatures can hit the 80s during the day during the summer months and drop down to the 30s at night.
4. The Wonderland Trail – Mount Rainier National Park
Distance: 93 miles one way | Length: 12-14 days | Elevation Gain: 22000 ft
With so many incredible hiking mountains and backpack trails in the Pacific Northwest, it’s impossible to believe that there might be one trail above the rest. The Wonderland Path around Washington’s Mount Rainier, at least in elevation, does exactly that, circling the PNW’s only peak over 14,000 feet.
Like most advanced backpacking journeys, the trail itself is not as long but acts as a short-but-tough alternative to many other trails. Climbing over 22,000 feet along the Wonderland Trail in total elevation rise, you can enjoy thick evergreen forests and year-round snowy peaks.
As dry air will wear on hikers who are not accustomed to these conditions, the high height of the trail is a significant concern. When starting and finishing the ride, take care, as acclimation will be important for a relaxed hike. Although special permits are not necessary to hike the trail, backcountry camping along the way requires a general wilderness permit.
Mid-July to September is the perfect time to hike on the Wonderland Trail. While the park will be open earlier than that, it will be the best bet for a backpacker to skip any snow on the higher elevation trails. August on the trail happens to be one of the busiest months, so it might be tough to get a permit.
5. Little River Trail – Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Distance: 5 miles round trip | Length: 1 days | Elevation Gain: 412 ft
A gentle grade ascends over an old gravel railroad bed that parallels the river of the same name, the Little River Trail. A stunning cascading stream with massive boulders and many small waterfalls is the river itself. On the northern slopes of Clingmans Pyramid, just below the Appalachian Trail, the headwaters of the Little River are situated. The river runs for 60 miles from the tallest mountain in the Smokies to meet the Tennessee River near Alcoa. A vast spectrum of marine species, including the eastern hellbender, a giant salamander that can reach more than two feet in length, is protected by the Little River’s incredibly clean water.
The trail itself is a restored railway bed renowned for the river landscape, fireflies, and history of the area. On the trail, there are comprehensive remote camping options, so you can cater to your preferred camping spot for your journey. You should only camp in specified areas and all park rules and procedures should be complied with. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the nation’s most visited parks, making its rules and regulations stringent to ensure the welfare of patrons and to protect the natural space.
If you wish to see wildflowers, mid-March to April is the prime time to hike this trail. The summer and autumn, though, are still good temperatures for hiking. The most busy time of year in the park is expected to be the summer months, as well as the most humid. All year round, the trail is open, but winter temperatures and conditions are not always favorable.
6. The Long Trail – Vermont
Distance: 272 miles one way | Length: 20-30 days | Elevation Gain: 65370 ft
Although some of the most beautiful trails in the western U.S. do not rival it, Vermont’s Long Trail gives hikers a glimpse at one of the greenest states east of the Mississippi River with a spectacular diversity of nature. The oldest thru-hiking trail in the United States stretches 272 miles from the southern boundary with Massachusetts to the Canadian border to the north, sparing no glimpse of the entire Green Mountain State. What this hike loses in stunning views close to the western U.S., it makes up for with a moderately controlled height incline across in greenery and comfort.
It is pretty easy to schedule for this hike; no permits are required for hiking or camping along the way. Since its establishment in 1930, the Green Mountain Club has preserved the trail and provides online and written tips and guides for hikers looking ahead.
Although trail conditions can get muddy beginning in late summer and early fall, hiking through the fall foliage of New England is one of the backpacking trip’s most popular attractions. You receive the tag of “End-to-Ender,” a boast-worthy epithet that you can share at the breweries along the trail, by finishing the trail from north to south or south to north.
7. Kesugi Ridge Trail – Denali State Park
Distance: 29.2 miles one way | Length: 3-4 days | Elevation Gain: 5990 ft
The Kesugi Ridge trail provides days of amazing views of the Alaska Mountains, including Denali (also known as Mount McKinley), the highest peak in America. The hiking can be reached at many points with approximately 57.9km of the longest path. Researching the path is crucial as certain access points may be blocked due to floods or an excessive number of bears.
This is a trail that is better walked during the summer and autumn, which is called fall in late August and September. While fog can be a challenge, the trail itself is easy to navigate, so a compass is recommended. The views are unobstructed for days in fair conditions.
8. John Muir Trail – Yosemite
Distance: 211 miles one way | Length: 20-30 days | Elevation Gain: 40902 ft
Cutting over 200 miles into the Sierra Nevada mountains of central California, the John Muir Trail is as popular as it is scenic. Intend to hike, camp, and explore part of the rugged, snow-spotted landscape of the state for nearly a month, with an elevation increase of more than 1.5 times the height of Mount Everest.
One of the toughest aspects of this trip may be getting yourself a backpacking permit for the John Muir Trail. Hikers should prepare to join the online lottery system as early as possible, around 24 weeks before your scheduled ride, otherwise a first-come, first-served permit from the ranger station will be required. Hikers should also arrange resupply visits along the way at some campsites and viewpoints.
From July through September, most people hike the trail, while snow may remain in the higher passes into August. Early in the season, a strong snowpack, slippery slopes and overflowing streams are challenges. Since bears in certain places are abundant, it is advised to store food in bear-proof containers.
9. Presidential Traverse – New Hampshire
Distance: 20.4 miles one way | Length: 1-2 days | Elevation Gain: 8211 ft
The Presidential Traverse is an outstanding and well-traveled trip to some of the highest peaks in New England – nearly all at full visibility. This path is not meant for the faint of heart and can not be attempted in only one day – but it can be achieved with the right planning.
At Madison, and then at Adams, the official Presidential Traverse begins. On to Jefferson and Washington, next. Continuing with Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson at last. It is advised that you insert double layer socks in your shoes and, in case of blisters, carry band aids. Then, a thin layer, then a heavy wool sock, so you don’t have too much rubbing.
Two to three days of backpacking, sleeping in mountain huts along the way sweetens the trip and eliminates (a little) the physical exertion, while others attempt to hammer out the Presidential Traverse in one day.
10. Enchanted Valley – Olympic National Park
Distance: 26 miles roundtrip | Length: 2-4 days | Elevation Gain: 1700 ft
Since the early ’30s, when it offered a mountain refuge for climbers and horseback riders, the famous Enchanted Valley chalet has become a haven for tired travellers. The chalet served as an Aircraft Warning Station during World War II, and is officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also used as an emergency shelter and ranger station, but once it is relocated, the precarious location over the Quinault River has forced it to be closed to hikers.
Countless waterfalls cascade down the sheer valley walls in early summer. In the valley zone, bears are popular, so store your food carefully at all times. There are some special things to experience in this river valley, including an old-growth rainforest, several waterfalls, a historic chalet, and plenty of bears. Read up before your hiking on wilderness food storage and wildlife conservation.
The Olympic National Park is open year round, but June-September is the most common month to visit. Any services, highways, and campgrounds may either be closed or have shortened hours between October and May. You can keep up to date with the local weather patterns, regardless of the time of year you intend to travel. In every season, the weather can change quite abruptly in the park.