Hello backpacking season! As the weather cools down, we’re getting ready to hit the trails. We figured that you would be, too. So we thought we’d put together a list of the best hiking trails in North America.
The Grand Canyon looks like a painting the first time you see it (and let’s be honest, the second and third times, too). Those beautiful strata, that crazy sunrise… it’s incredible. But you know what makes it better? Snow. It does actually snow in Arizona and yes, we’re suggesting backpacking the Grand Canyon in the winter. Sure, there are a few precautions to take (you’ll want some snow-ready boots for starters), but the scenery makes it 100 percent worth it. If it sounds like your kind of backpacking trip, check out the Grand Canyon trip planner, heed the guide to winter hiking, find out what to wear, and get to the South Rim!
John Muir Trail (JMT)
“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” – Ansel Adams Named after John Muir and made famous by Ansel Adams, this section of the Pacific Crest Trail starts at Yosemite Valley and crosses through Yosemite, King’s Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. It’s 211 miles of lakes, canyons, and beautiful peaks, all in some of the most ideal backpacking conditions you can find anywhere in the world. For most of its length, the JMT follows the Pacific Crest Trail with just a few variations. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, you can also slackpack to Half Dome and back (but you’ll need a separate permit). Get started with the right gear for the trip, then plan your trip with this guide from the Pacific Crest Trail Association!
Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park
The trails on this list are beautiful, but the Iceline Trail is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Located in Yoho National Park (Banff’s next door neighbor), it’s one of the most awe-inspiring hikes in the Canadian Rockies, with views of snow-capped peaks and green valleys. Not far into your hike you’ll see Takakkaw Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada, and then you’ll get up close and personal with some sparkling glaciers. It’s definitely a must-see. Start your trip planning here.
Superior Hiking Trail (SHT)
As the nationally recognized backpacker Todd “Tman” McMahon said in Lake Superior Magazine, “You can’t beat the SHT.” Inspired by the Appalachian Trail, the Superior Hiking Trail stretches 310 miles from south of Duluth, Minnesota up to the Canadian border. The trail seems to be constantly expanding, with new sections being added nearly every year. If you want to take on the Superior Hiking Trail, get ready for a few weeks of rugged terrain that carries you from tree-covered paths to bare mountainsides to waterfalls, all with Lake Superior as a constant companion. And when you’re ready to set up camp, you can find backcountry fee-free campsites every 5 to 10 miles. Ready to hike? Order a trail map from the Superior Hiking Trail Association, reserve your spot on the Superior Hiking Shuttle, and get going!
Pacific Northwest Trail
The first thing to know is that the Pacific Northwest Trail is insanely difficult, both physically and mentally. The second thing to know is that it’s completely worth it. Not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail that runs north to south, the Pacific Northwest Trail runs from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. It crosses three national parks and seven national forests, which means that the terrain you encounter is wild and fascinating. Get started on this designated National Scenic Trail with a preparation guide from the Pacific Northwest Trail Association!
Does this trail need an introduction? The Appalachian Trail (or A.T.) is 2,180 miles long, crosses 14 states, and is truly a backpacking trip of a lifetime. Bugs, sore feet, and cramped shelters are standard on a thru-hike of the A.T., but so are camaraderie, incredible scenery, and self-discovery. It would be impossible to list all the incredible things you’ll experience along your six-month journey, but we’ve put together a guide for hiking the Appalachian Trail that can help you get started! Pro tip: Got crazy endurance? If you hike the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, AND the Continental Divide Trail, you’ll be eligible for the American Long Distance Hiking Association’s Triple Crown Award!
This is our backpacking bucket list. What’s on yours? Share in the comments below!