National scenic trails of the United States are a symbol of this country’s possibilities. Spreading across tens of thousands of miles and reminding the world about this country’s natural and cultural heritage, they lure us to leave our mundane lives and dive into the world of natural beauty and serenity.
Remarkably, the US National Trails System was established by the US government and in 2018, it marked its 50th anniversary. There are 200-mile-long trails and there are national scenic trails that are longer than 4000 miles. We’re going to take a look at the top 10 American trails that are totally worth a backpacker’s attention.
Appalachian Trail, 2190 miles.
This trail starts from Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Mount Katahdin in Maine. It has many highlights such as the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine.
We start our list with a rather long but one of the most ‘user-friendly’ trails. The trail goes through 14 states and an impressive estimate of three million travelers hike some of its parts annually. Only 2,000 people a year manage to dedicate five or seven months of their life to walk it fully. The Appalachian Trail is close to big cities such as New York, Richmond, Atlanta, Boston, and Washington DC. So if you don’t want to start from Springer Mountain in Georgia, you can choose one of these cities as a starting point. You can take rest in one of the 260 shelters along the way, located in a day walking distance from each other.
Ice Age Trail, 1200 miles.
Starting from the Interstate State Park on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, this amazing trail ends in the Potawatomi State Park on Lake Michigan. One of its greatest highlights you’ll be able to see is its Ice Age topography.
This trail was named in such a way because it follows a line of rock pile ‘moraines,’ giant boulders ‘glacial erratics,’ and ridgelines ‘eskers,’ all of which are regarded as the relics from The Ice Age. The trail starts in the mature forests of Wisconsin, continues to the Lake of Michigan, and crosses many rural counties and state parks. Parts of the trail marked yellow are designated only for experienced hikers, while others can be walked by any backpacker. As you walk the Ice Age trail, you’ll have the opportunity to go back in time and imagine what life was like when all you could see around was wilderness.
John Muir Trail, California, 210 miles.
This amazing trail starts from the well known High Sierras of Yosemite National Park. Through the trail, you can see the beautiful scenery and each picture is worth a thousand words. However, all good trails come to an end. So, this trail ends at the summit of Mount Whitney. Not to worry, there are many highlights. Some highlights include Mount Whitney, The Golden Staircase, Thousand Island Lakes, Squaw Lake, and Woods Creek Suspension Bridge.
Also, some say that the John Muir Trail is one of the most beautiful treks on Earth. What we can say for sure is that it’s a real hiking delight because this trail runs through some of the most pristine and beautiful places in the United States. Located in California, it covers a little more than 200 miles through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. You will not find any shelters along the trail, which makes it impossible to cover the distance without a tent. There’s also a 100-mile section of wilderness with no houses and places to buy food. So if you decide to walk the John Muir Trail, you need to plan and consider a lot.
Arizona Trail, 800 miles.
Another wonderful trail in the US, the Arizona Trail starts from Coronado National Memorial near the US–Mexico border. It ends at the edge of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument near Utah border. Here, there are highlights for everyone at the borders to view and admire. These highlights include the Grand Canyon North Rim, Colossal Cave, Roosevelt Lake, and Blue Ridge Reservoir.
This trail covers 800 miles from northern to southern Arizona. It’s an incredible route, full of diverse and breathtaking landscapes that will change as you continue your journey. This non-motorized path links deserts, lakes, mountains, forests, canyons, people, and communities. The trail is divided into 43 passages and 3 sections that open different ways to explore it.
New England National Scenic Trail, 215 miles.
The New England National Scenic Trail starts from Long Island Sound and features an amazing end at the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. Its highlights include traprock ridges, quiet streams, historic village centers, and waterfalls.
Also, the New England Trail goes through more than 40 communities in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The trail includes 3 famous shorter trails known as the Triple-M trail (Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, Metacomet Trail, and Mattabesett Trail). Additionally, walking along this trail, you will see the classic New England landscapes, historic village centers, beautiful rural towns, marvelous river valleys and traverse diverse ecosystems, forest glades, waterfalls, and mountain ridges.
Continental Divide Trail, 3100 miles.
This historic trail is one of the most popular trails in the United States. It passes through a number of states, starting from the Canadian border in Glacier National Park. Amazingly, this trail ends in Mexico. Hence, that’s how it got its name as the Continental Divide Trail. It passes through an entire continent. Some of it’s amazing, not-to-be-missed highlights include Yellowstone National Park, Fremont Lake, Saratoga Hot Springs, and South Pass City State Historic Site. At night, the bright stars are visible in the sky.
The most famous long-distance American trails are the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide, and Pacific Crest. They were even named the Triple Crown of America’s long-distance hiking. Appalachian Trail was the first on the list, but now we’re going to take a look at the latter two. Having an impressive length of 3,100 miles, the Continental Divide trail crosses 5 US states and showcases the awe-inspiring, high-elevation forests, snow-covered Rockies, and alpine wildflowers.
If you are lucky to walk this trail, the brightness of the stars at night will surprise you because they shine more vividly than anywhere in America. The Continental Divide is considered 70% complete, but it doesn’t deter hundreds of backpackers from walking it year after year.
Pacific Crest Trail, 2650 miles.
This trail is interestingly similar to that of the Continental Divide Trail. It starts from the Mexican border and ends at the Canadian border. However, it is less popular than the Continental Divide Trail. It’s highlights are Mount Laguna’s Foster Point, Forester Pass, Desolation Wilderness, Jefferson Park, Goat Rocks Wilderness, and the seven-mile High Trail.
Have you seen the movie ‘Wild’ featuring Reese Witherspoon? It’s a great biographical adventure drama film for backpackers and people looking to change their lives. It’s where a recent divorcée, Cheryl Strayed, hikes 1,100 miles of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. It shows the challenges Cheryl faces both as a backpacker and human being along her path. As for the trail itself, it dips into 19 vast canyons, crosses through 57 major mountain passes, and goes through more than 1,000 lakes. If you don’t want to walk the whole trail, there are plenty of options for shorter treks within the route.
The Superior Hiking Trail, 310 miles.
Superior to other hiking trails in some of it’s scenery, this trail starts from the Martin Road Trailhead in Northern Duluth. It then ends in the Grand Portage in Minnesota. This trail’s highlights include the wonderful aurora borealis, Cascade River State Park, Crow Creek, and Temperance River State Park.
At the end of 2000, Superior Hiking Trail was called the trail having the “Best Trail/Camp/Shelter conditions” and the “Best Signage” in the whole America by the Backpacker Magazine. In addition to this, the Superior Hiking Trail is also one of the most scenic trails of the United States. These qualities make it one of the most desirable candidates for those who want to complete the whole trail (compared to the Continental Divide Trail, this one is 10 times shorter) while enjoying maximum comfort. Additionally, every 10 miles, you will find car accessible trailheads and there are more than 90 backcountry campsites. This then makes this route great both for hiking and camping.
Florida Trail, 1300 miles.
The Florida Trail starts from Big Cypress National Preserve and ends at Pensacola Beach. This trail is a completely different experience compared to the Superior Hiking Trail. This is because the former is one of the most challenging trails on the list. Many of those who hiked this trail report having ‘surprising difficulties and eccentricities.’ They’ve encountered panthers, alligators, aggressive water moccasins, and bears. They were also forced to withstand the difficulties of traveling through swamps. Even though this trail attracts 350,000 people each year, it’s not for the newbies. However, it does have highlights. These highlights include Clearwater Lake, Ocala National Forest, and Ocala’s 75-mile section.
Wonderland Trail, 93 miles.
Like it’s name, this trail is full of wonders as you hike through it. The trail is uniquely different from all other trails. It circumnavigates Mount Rainier in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. So, the starting and ending points are the same — the village of Longmire. The highlights of this trail can be seen in the Cowlitz Divide portion of the trail and forests of Douglas Fir.
This is the shortest trail on the list and it’s one of the best options for those who love mountains. To be more precise, it’s for those who love to contemplate mountains rather than climb them. On Wonderland Trail, you will walk around the majestic 4,392-meter Mount Rainier. Amazing in all ways, that’s the highest snow-clad volcano of the Cascade Range. Additonally, on this trail, you will walk both beautiful forests and green valleys and the realms of snow and ice above the trees and greenery. The elevation is quite high and hiking conditions are challenging; one has to be well-prepared physically for this hike. In terms of length and amounts of scenic beauty, the Wonderland Trail brings the biggest reward compared to the effort and time dedicated to hiking it.
From a short and scenic Wonderland Trail to the Superior Hiking Trail with the best shelter conditions and to the Continental Divide Trail that stretches across 5 US states and 3,100 miles, the United States national scenic trails have a route for every type of hiker.