The Most Beautiful Backpacking Trips In The United States

Getting the opportunity to see America’s great outdoors is the chance of a lifetime. There are areas all over the country that are surrounded by peaceful nature, scenic landscapes, and exciting wildlife. One of the best ways to travel around the United States is backpacking.

It’s great for those who are on a budget because it’s a low-cost form of travel and all essentials can be found in a backpack. Backpacking has resurfaced as a mainstream form of tourism favored by people of all ages. Anyone who considers themselves even a little bit adventurous will find fulfillment after backpacking through these stunning American trails.

Rim To Rim Offers Views Of The Grand Canyon

people sitting on the edge of the grand canyon
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Backpackers can easily make a four-day trip out of a visit to the Rim to Rim trail at Grand Canyon National Park. The trail is about 24 miles long with overhead views of the famous Grand Canyon. The trek includes views of billions of years of rock formations and concludes at the sandy banks of the Colorado River.

Experienced backpackers suggest starting from the north end because it’s about one thousand feet higher than the south end. Before heading out it’s important to note that you will need a shuttle for the return trip and a permit that can only be granted by entering a lottery.

Lake Aloha Trail At South Lake Tahoe Is Great For Beginners

lake aloha trail in south lake tahoe with a snow-covered mountain, forest, and lake
George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

If backpacking seems like it will be too extreme, there are certain areas that are perfect for beginners. One of those locations is the Lake Aloha Trail in South Lake Tahoe. The entire trail is about 12 miles and shouldn’t take longer than two to three days to complete.

Backpackers will get picturesque views of the alpine lakes and vibrant wilderness as they travel up to 1,800 feet above sea level. Those who know the area suggest getting a camping reservation early and going during the off-season. The end of the trail surrounds the water at Lake Aloha where backpackers can go for a refreshing swim.

Long Trail In Vermont Is America’s Oldest Long-Distance Trail

colorful trees along the long trail in vermont
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Long Trail starts at the Massachusetts border to Canada but goes through the Green Mountains of Vermont. It’s America’s oldest long-distance trail, built between 1909 and 1930. Backpackers should expect to pass rugged peaks, woodland ponds, hardwood forests, alpine sedge, and swift-flowing streams.

This is one of the most difficult treks in the country because it goes on for almost 185 miles and can take up to a month to complete. Even the most experienced backpackers should be aware of the exposed terrain that can become muddy after harsh weather.

Visitors Must Receive A Permit Before Entering Zion National Park Traverse In Utah

backpackers stepping across stones in the water at zion national park
George Frey/Getty Images
George Frey/Getty Images

The Point-to-Point Trail at the Zion National Park Traverse in Utah is the classic American backpacking adventure. It stretches almost 50 miles and backpackers will end up traveling upward of 8,200 feet in elevation. Here, visitors will see narrow canyons, lush valleys lined with red rock, and gorgeous vistas that overlook the best spots of the park.

Backpackers should start at Lee Pass trailhead and take an optional side trip to climb Angel’s Landing. It’s crucial that everyone obtains a backcountry permit before entering the park.

Teton Crest Trail In Wyoming Offers Many Activities

a lake in front of the mountains at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming
Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images
Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

This backpacking trip isn’t for beginners. Teton Crest Trail at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is one of the hardest treks in the country, but it’s worth it. It offers beautiful views of the mountains and local wildflowers. The trail starts at the top of a 10,000-foot mountain and suddenly drops into a valley. Then, it climbs up the opposite ridgeline.

The entire trail is over 25-miles long and is steep all the way through. There are also numerous activities to try while backpacking the trail such as rock climbing, backcountry skiing, and canoeing.

North Carolina’s Art Loeb Trail Is Highly-Ranked By National Geographic

a waterfall in the wilderness of the art loeb trail in north carolina
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

National Geographic ranks the Art Loeb Trail at Pisgah National Park in North Carolina as one of the best backpacking trips of all time. It’s named after Arthur Loeb, a conservationist and avid hiker who loved to be surrounded by the mountains in North Carolina.

Some of the highlights of the trail include the Black Balsam region and the Shining rock wilderness with exposed quartz that shines brightly in the sun. It spans a total of 30.1 miles and is usually traveled south to north. The trip takes about two to three days with plenty of campsites along the way.

Enchanted Valley In Olympic National Park Has 10,000 Waterfalls

a backpacker sitting by a river and trees in enchanted valley
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The locals near Washington’s Olympic National Park call Enchanted Valley the “valley of 10,000 waterfalls.” It’s almost as if you’re stepping into a fairy tale because this trail includes tons of waterfalls, mossy woodlands, streams, rivers, and spacious meadows. The length of the trail ranges from 26 to 30.6 miles, depending on the route you take.

It’s located in the East Fork Quinault River Valley, which has an old-growth rainforest (pictured), a historic chalet, and tons of bears. Wilderness camping permits are required for overnight stays, which should be made at least six months in advance.

View An Active Volcano At Mount Hood National Forest’s Timberline Trail

people kayaking in a lake in front of a forest and mountain in mount hood national forest in oregon
Greg Vaughn /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Greg Vaughn /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Many are drawn to Timberline Trail at Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest because it features an active volcano (pictured). The trail circles the mountain as backpackers climb an elevation of roughly 9,000 feet and go the distance of 38.3 miles over the course of four to five days.

It’s important to be aware of where you’re going because the trail has several merges where people can easily get lost. One of the most exciting parts of the trek is seeing how the plants and geology evolve as backpackers travel through deep forests, barren lava flows, and more.

Kesugi Ridge At Denali State Park Is A Backpacker’s Paradise

a man standing next to three tents in kesugi ridge in denali state park
Michael Hamrah/Getty Images
Michael Hamrah/Getty Images

Alaska is a backpacker’s paradise. Kesugi Ridge at Denali State Park has the most stunning panoramas of the Alaskan mountains including America’s tallest mountain, Mount McKinley. People who’ve backpacked here before say the most important thing to bring is bear spray. This is because the area is saturated with an excessive number of bears.

The best time to travel the trail is during summer and early fall and the heavy fog can make it difficult to see your surroundings. Kesugi Ridge stretches almost 30 miles and has a lake that’s perfect for water activities.

Visit McKittrick Ridge In Texas During Cooler Weather Months

a backpacker on a trail in mckittrick ridge in texas
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Those who want to be completely off the grid should check out McKittrick Ridge in Texas. It has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country with views high above the desert floor and breathtaking foliage during the fall. McKittrick Ridge is quite a strenuous trip because it reaches an elevation of over two thousand feet and has 10 miles of rough terrain.

Since it can get difficult, it’s best to do the hike in the fall or winter so as to not get overheated. Make sure to pack plenty of water as well because there are no water supply points anywhere throughout the trail.

Experience Solitude At Sawtooth Range In Idaho

sawtooth mountains underneath the clouds in idaho
Eric Zamora/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Eric Zamora/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One of the reasons people choose to go backpacking is to escape the stresses of daily life. Sawtooth Range in Idaho is one of the most isolated places where backpackers will most likely not see too many other people. The mountain range got its name from the jagged peaks and reaches a maximum elevation of 10,751 feet.

There are about 40 different trails to choose from that total about 350 miles and they can be used for backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, and cycling. Sawtooth Range is also home to hundreds of lakes that were created by vanished alpine glaciers.

Intermediate To Advanced Backpackers Will Enjoy Three Sisters Loop In Oregon

a blue lake near the cascade mountains of three sisters loop in oregon
Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Three Sisters Loop features the third, fourth, and fifth tallest mountains in Oregon, which exceed 10,000 feet in elevation. Here, backpackers will find about half of Oregon’s glaciers, three volcanic peaks, alpine tundra, lakes, lava fields, and dense forests. The 50-mile loop takes anywhere from three to six days to complete.

First-timers should be aware that it is often crowded with limited areas for camping. In order to beat the crowds and harsh weather, backpackers should go between late July and October. The trip is a good fit for intermediate to advanced backpackers and the trail is well-marked.

The Wonderland Trail At Mount Rainier National Park Is A True Wonderland

the wonderland trail at mount rainier national park with a lake, mountain, trees, and flowers in washington
Greg Vaughn /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Greg Vaughn /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Backpacking through The Wonderland Trail at Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park may actually feel like you’re in some kind of wonderland. This 93-mile trek goes through lowland forests, valleys, alpine mountains, rivers, and more. The constant changing of altitudes can make it a tough journey.

Most people complete the trail in five to ten days, depending on their personal pace. Since the hike is a loop, you can decide which way to go. The most popular way is to go clockwise because you’ll go downhill on the steepest sections. Backpackers should consider going between mid-July and September to miss the snow.

John Muir Trail In California Can Take 20 To 30 Days To Finish

backpackers crossing over a rock near a lake on the john muir trail in california
Tim Tadder/Corbis via Getty Images
Tim Tadder/Corbis via Getty Images

The John Muir Trail across California’s Sierra Nevada mountains is nothing short of a challenge. The trail stretches over 221 miles, reaches a cumulative elevation of 47,000 feet, and takes anywhere from 20 to 30 days to finish. One of the hardest parts of the trip isn’t even the trip itself, rather it’s getting a permit.

Backpackers should enter the online lottery for the trail at least six months in advance to secure a spot. It’s named after John Muir, a naturalist who advocated for the preservation of wildlife in the United States.

Continental Divide Trail At Glacier National Park Is One Of The Longest Trails In The World

a backpacker with a red backpack walking in a forest along the continental divide trail in glacier national park in montana
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Become one with nature while backpacking along the Continental Divide Trail in Glacier National Park. This is one of the longest trails in the world at 3,100 miles and runs through five states including Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. While there make sure to check out the gigantic glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and towering Rocky Mountain peaks.

Continental Divide Trail was designed by Congress as a National Scenic trail in 1978 and is considered to be America’s most dramatic and wild backcountry. Some hazards backpackers may encounter include falling, hypothermia, dehydration, lightning, and landslides.

Little River Trail At Great Smoky Mountain National Park Is A Gem

little river trail shows views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee
Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hidden away in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the majestic Little River Trail. It’s approximately 12 miles long with plenty of rivers, fireflies, and peaceful scenery. This trail only takes about two days to get across with the highest elevation point at 412 feet, so it is great for beginners.

Since this national park tends to attract a lot of tourists, experts recommend going between mid-March and April. This is also a great time to see the thousands of wildflowers in bloom. Reservations and permits are required for this backcountry trip.

The Appalachian Trail Stretches From Georgia To Maine

a man and woman backpacking through the appalachian trail in maine
Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

One of the longest backpacking routes in the world is the Appalachian Trail, which stretches all the way from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It’s about 2,200-miles long with at least two million visitors every year. The 14-state trail was completed in 1937 after over a decade of work and goes through mostly forests and other wildlands.

The Appalachian Trail, along with the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, are known as the Triple Crown of Hiking due to their long distances. Be aware that this trail can be dangerous to novice backpackers because it’s very isolated and has rugged terrain.

Pacific Crest Trail Extends From The California-Mexico Border To The Canada-United States Border

a backpacker walking along the pacific crest trail
Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images
Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images

Some may know the Pacific Crest Trail as the backdrop for the Oscar-winning Reese Witherspoon movie Wild. This long-distance trail extends across the Pacific coast all the way from the California-Mexico border to the Canada-United States border. It stretches about 2,653 miles long and reaches an elevation of 13,153 feet.

The route is mainly through forests and protected wilderness areas away from civilization, but features pristine mountainous backdrops and all kinds of wildlife. This is also one of the most difficult backpacking trails in the world, so travelers should watch out for hazards such as bears, mountain lions, landslides, forest fires, avalanches, and more.

Pemigewasset Wilderness Loop In New Hampshire Is A Challenge

a backpacker looking down a mountain on the Pemigewasset Wilderness Loop in new hampshire
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Pemigewasset Wilderness Loop is located in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest and is the state’s largest wilderness area. The trail was established in 1984 and takes up 45,000 acres. This trek takes about two to three days to finish with extraordinary views of the panoramic vistas and scenic summits.

It’s also a popular recreation area throughout the year where people come to hike, cross-country ski, and rock climb. This trip should only be done by experts because many of the sections of the trail are exposed, the weather can be harsh, and there are a lot of bears.

Half Dome In Yosemite National Park Is A Bucket List Adventure

half dome with rocky mountains, dandelion field, and trees at yosemite national park
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Backpacking Half Dome in California’s Yosemite National Park is a special bucket list adventure. This 16-mile trip takes about two days to complete. You’ll be sure to pass waterfalls, steep cliffs, the sub-dome, flower fields, and more. Although a two-day trip doesn’t seem like much, it’s actually pretty strenuous with rocky sections, granite slopes, and summits with high elevations.

The area is most suitable for backpacking anywhere from June to September, but summer rain is a possibility. Permits are required to enter Half Dome, which can be found through an online lottery system.