The United States has no shortage of fantastic backpacking routes in virtually every corner of the country. They include, of course, some of the best-known long-distance hiking trails in the world, including the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails. In this roundup of some of the very best backpacking adventures in the country, we’re only including one of the formally designated National Scenic Trails and otherwise focus on shorter, but no less spellbindingly beautiful routes.
Take it from us: A Mountain House meal tastes delicious amid the backcountry scenery of any of the following multi-day traverses!
This famous trek follows the up-and-down crest of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains—the highest peaks in the Northeast—bagging all the summits named for U.S. presidents along the way. In cresting Mounts Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce, you’ll cover some 23 miles and tackle roughly 9,000 cumulative feet of elevation gain, and soak up some of the best views in the East. While some try to bang out the Presidential Traverse in one day, two or three days of backpacking, staying in mountain huts along the way, sweetens the experience and lessens (a little) the physical exertion.
Some 1,000 miles long, the Florida Trail is a unique National Scenic Trail introducing you to the ecological variety and surprising wildness of the Sunshine State. From palm hammocks and bald-cypress swamps to prairies and pinewoods, a full traverse of the Florida Trail shows off the subtropical to downright tropical beauty of this southeastern toe of the country, and offers the chance to glimpse such thrilling wildlife as alligators, wood storks, black bears—maybe even the elusive puma variety called the Florida panther.
Among the least-visited national parks in the Lower 48, Isle Royale encompasses the biggest island in Lake Superior. The 43-mile-long Greenstone Ridge Trail gives backpackers the chance to walk through the heart of the park and along the very spine of the island, hitting up its high point of 1,394-foot Mount Desor. You’ve got a healthy chance of spotting Isle Royale’s heftiest residents, moose; if the National Park Service’s plans to reboot the island’s naturally dwindled population of wolves go according to plan, you may also enjoy—as many Isle Royale backpackers have in the past—the serenade of throaty howls along the way.
The Thorofare Trail in the far southeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park explores some of the most remote country in the conterminous U.S., following the upper Yellowstone River between the Two Ocean Plateau and the Absaroka Mountains. You can make a 70-mile odyssey by backpacking the Thorofare from the East Entrance Road and then the South Boundary Trail, which leads westward along the (you guessed it) southern boundary of Yellowstone to—finally—blacktop again at the South Entrance. You need to know your way around river crossings and bear safety to tackle this far-flung route through grizzly-roamed wilderness.
You’ll cover close to 100 miles walking the tundra path of the Highline Trail in the mighty Uinta Mountains, one of the rare west-east ranges in the Western Hemisphere and host to some of the most extensive alpine terrain in the Rockies. No grizzlies here, but plenty of thunderstorm risk—and some absolutely gorgeous high-country panoramas.
Hike the 10 miles down to Havasu Falls in the depths of the Grand Canyon, and you’ll experience some of the most otherworldly, dreamily beautiful countryside on the planet. Situated on the lands of the Havasupai (People of the Blue-Green Waters) tribe and accessible to backpackers with a tribal permit, 100-foot Havasu Falls is only the most celebrated of a series of waterfalls in the redrock depths of Havasu Canyon. You’ll brave scorching temperatures and a rugged descent to get here, but Havasu Creek and its falls boast an almost tropical lushness. (Learn more about reserving a permit for a Havasu Falls backpack here, and check out some footage of the area from Devin Supertramp, whose trip we sponsored with Mountain House meals.)
Several of the great Cascade Range stratovolcanoes have designated backpacking trails circumambulating them, the highest-profile of which loops around the biggest volcano of them all: the Wonderland Trail circling 14,411-foot Mount Rainier. Most hikers take the better part of two weeks to make the full 93-mile journey, which offers dazzling up-close looks at the different faces of mighty Tahoma and immersion in the glorious timberline meadowlands and subalpine forests below the icy edifices of this glacier-blanketed volcano.
Roughly 60 miles long, the Lost Coast Trail offers backpackers the opportunity to experience one of the wildest oceanfronts in the Lower 48, where the high and rugged King Range has kept the aptly named Lost Coast roadless and primal. The hiking is not easy—tiring beach slogs and up-and-down slope traverses—but the rewards immense: Northern California temperate rainforest, elk and gray whales, spectacular sunsets.
Easily one of the most celebrated mountain footpaths in the world and definitely a legendary backpacking bucket-list item, the roughly 214-mile-long John Muir Trail—which partly shares the same route as the Pacific Crest Trail—serves as a stunning introduction to the alpine glories of the High Sierra. It links Yosemite National Park in the north to Kings Canyon-Sequoia, where the southern terminus is composed of the highest peak in the conterminous US: 14,505-foot Mount Whitney.
The 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail in Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park in the Coast Mountains of southeastern Alaska and adjoining British Columbia lets you tread the infamously challenging overland trek followed by gold-hungry prospectors in the 1890s. A complete traverse takes you from temperate rainforest to high snowfields, and may land you more than one glimpse of both black and brown bears.