Resurrection Pass Trail
Kenai Mountains, AK
Climb from spruce-birch forest to tundra on the 38-mile Resurrection Pass Trail. With 19 designated campsites and eight cabins, each with outhouses and bear-resistant lockers, finding a place to stay isn’t a problem, but convincing yourself to leave might be; between the wide-open Alaskan views of tundra slopes and snowfields and the wildlife around every corner, you’ll want to spend all summer in this wilderness haven. The trail can be hiked north-to-south or south-to-north, and shuttles to the trailhead are available for those who don’t want to take two vehicles. Starting at the southern trailhead brings you to a series of lakes earlier in your trip and finishes most of the climbing by mile 13, but starting from the north stretches the climb over a longer distance for those who prefer a gradual approach to the pass. The campsites are first-come first-serve, but the cabins require reservations.
Permit none Contact Chugach National Forest
The Press Traverse
Olympic Mountains, WA
Running from south to north across Washington’s Olympic Mountains, the 48.9-mile Press Traverse follows the 1890 route of the Press Expedition. The original explorers took six months to bushwhack through the rainforest and snow-fed rivers; today most hikers take less than a week. The traverse is good trip for deep snow-pack years, with no passes higher than 3,650 feet, but there are some challenging river crossings—a pair of river shoes is recommended. Check with the ranger station for current river conditions before your trip and keep an eye on the weather. The trail ranges from emerald moss carpets beneath old-growth rainforest to the alpine meadows and waterfalls of Low Divide, the headwaters of the Quinault River. Most of the campsites are at established backcountry campgrounds with bear wires and composting toilets.
Permit wilderness camping permits are required for all overnight stays ($8 per person per night), and are available at some self-registration boxes or at the Wilderness Information Center Contact Olympic National Park
Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, UT
Thread the border of Utah and Arizona in a remarkable slot canyon. Kept mostly empty by the BLM permit system, Paria Canyon winds between enormous sandstone walls, running from the White House Trailhead to Lee’s Ferry. Most hikers take four days to finish the 38-mile hike, although if water levels in the riverbed are high your pace might drop. One section, the Paria Narrows, closes to only six feet across, while the lower echelons of the canyon broaden to accommodate brush and small trees beside the riverbed. Late spring and early fall have the best desert hiking temperatures. Make sure to check the weather for flash flood risk before your trip.
Blue Ridge Mountains, SC
The 77-mile Foothills Trail runs from upstate South Carolina to Western North Carolina, crossing through hardwood forests, past waterfalls and rivers, and over 3,563-foot Sassafras Mountain—South Carolina’s highest peak. This National Recreation Trail was established in the early 1980s by hiking enthusiasts who wanted to link local trails into a single route through the Blue Ridge Mountains; today there are almost thirty miles of well-maintained spur trails in addition to the main route. Most hikers take 5-10 days to thru-hike the entire trail. Those with only weekends free can section hike instead from one of the many trailheads dotted along the length of the traverse. While the many creeks and occasional lakes make great spots to cool off during the summer, the best time to hike the Foothills Trail is in the fall, when the forest turns bright red and gold.
Permit all hikers must fill out a trip card at the trailhead registration kiosk; the state park and USFS trailheads require parking fees ($5 per day at the state parks, $2 per day in forest service parking lots) Contact Foothills Trail Conservancy
Clark State Forest, IN
Indiana’s longest trail at 60 miles, the Knobstone Trail follows the winding uplands of the Knobstone Escarpment through hardwood forests perched above acres of farmland. Narrow ridges—the “knobs” of Knobstone—dip up and down along its entire length. The resulting trail is steep enough that many hikers use it to train for serious mountain trips, but it’s far more than just a training site; with views over Indiana’s wooded hills and farmland and thick forests of oak, beech, and maple that wrap this backcountry route in wilderness, the Knobstone Trail is a Midwest gem for thru-hikers. The trail is well-marked with both mile-markers and navigational blazes. Water along the route can be unpredictable, especially in the summer, so check the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ website for current conditions and be prepared to carry extra water.
Permit hikers staying overnight are asked to register with the Indiana DNR Law Dispatch, at (812) 837-9536 Contact Indiana DNR
Isle Royale, MI
Looking for solitude on your thru-hike? This is the trail for you. Accessible only by a seven-hour ferry ride, the Greenstone Ridge route follows the spine of Isle Royale past remote lakes, grassy heights and more thimbleberries than you can possible eat. Start your 42-mile trek at Rock Harbor (take a water taxi from the visitor center to Hidden Lake Dock), then head into the island’s birch groves and bogs before climbing to the treeless ridge itself and views across the sunstruck water of Lake Superior to the distant mainland. Keep an eye out for orchids and other wildflowers during spring and early summer, especially in the bogs. If you’re lucky you might spot some wildlife, too; the wolves and moose of Isle Royale are unique in being the only large predator/prey populations on the island, and are the subjects of a long-term ecological study.
West Coast Trail
Pacific Rim National Park, BC, Canada
This trail is not for the faint of heart: over 100 ladders, hip-deep rivers, driving wind and notoriously wet weather await backpackers on Canada’s West Coast Trail, winding 47 miles along the edge of Vancouver Island. For those who persevere, though, the rewards are incredible. Pristine coastal rainforest, ocean views straight from cliff-tops to the open Pacific, and iconic wildlife (including orcas and migrating grey whales) await those who dare the coastal wilderness. This particular stretch of coastline is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” for the number of shipwrecks that have occurred there over the last two hundred years, but those very wrecks are part of the reason the trail exists; originally a First Nations trading route, it was converted to a trail and set of shelters for shipwreck survivors and their rescuers in the early 20 century. Most hikers spend 6 to 8 days on the route, but should be prepared for delays from floodwater, fog, and storms.
High Sierra Trail
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, CA
Hike some of the roughest—and most scenic—country in the Sierras on this 71-mile traverse. Wildflowers, rocky peaks and hidden alpine lakes await you in the mountains, though the price of entry is a steep 15,000 feet of total elevation gain. The High Sierra Trail runs from Crescent Meadow to Mt Whitney, crossing the Great Western Divide at Kaweah Gap and the Kern River Canyon on the way. Take advantage of the Kern Hot Springs along the way to soak away at least one cold morning; there aren’t any more backcountry soak spots along the way, but when every campsite is surrounded by the bare granite skyline of the High Sierra you won’t care about the chill. Bear canisters are recommended, and water can be scarce in some areas.
Toiyabe Crest Trail
Toiyabe Range, NV
Get unobstructed views of Nevada’s basin and range topology from the Toiyabe Crest, tracing some of the highest mountains in the region without ever dipping beneath 7,600 feet. This 72-mile National Recreation Trail is not the best maintained of the NRTs, with many sections overgrown by brush and occasional route-finding challenges, but that keeps it wild; you’ll rarely see another hiker. Spring and early summer bring an explosion of wildflowers to the Toiyabe Range for hikers getting out before the summer heat. The campsites along the route can be hard to find, but the views are worth a little bushwacking, soaring miles over the desert scrub and distant peaks of Nevada’s series of mountain ranges.
Permit none Contact Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
Loyalsock State Forest, PA
No need to head out west for steep climbs and wild views; the Loyalsock Trail has you covered. Running 59.2 miles between Williamsport and Dushore, this backcountry trek heads deep into the east’s hardwood forests, dipping from wide-open valley views to creek crossings and waterfalls. Linking together a combination of railroad grades, logging roads, and native American paths, the trail was extended to its current length in the early 1960s. Most of the campsites are well-established and have easy access to water. Fall hikers can catch the color show as the leaves change color, but spring hikers get the best of the waterfalls; the trail can even be hiked in winter, although thru-hikers should plan any cold-weather trips carefully to avoid hunting season.