In an age where the world seems like such a small place and everyone is so closely connected thanks to technology and the Internet, sometimes all you want to do is get out to the middle of nowhere so you can breathe just a little bit. And there aren’t many experiences that beat that than simply taking a trip out into the wilderness – getting some fresh air or reconnecting with nature, some people might say – for the ultimate hike.
And when it comes to nature in particular, the venues are almost limitless in terms of places to explore. Forests, mountains, vast expanses of plains, deserts – all of these are within reach in the continental United States, and many of them are safe and easily accessible for the outdoors layman or the seasoned hiker or backpacker.
For those of you in the Pacific Northwest, the state of Washington boasts two of the best and most scenic wilderness trails the country has to offer: the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through the Pasayten Wilderness, and Olympic National Park, which sports a 34 mile trail from Dosewallips to Lake Quinault. Similar to its lengthy East Coast cousin, the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail sports a thru-hike that runs from Mexico all the way to Canada and can take an estimated 5 months to traverse in one span. For those of you who aren’t looking for quite that much adventure at one time, the Pasayten Wilderness still offers plentiful routes for comfortable day hikes while giving some of the best scenery the Pacific Northwest can offer, including North Cascades National Park where you can see glaciers – yes, glaciers.
Jumping across the country, I mentioned earlier the Appalachian Trail. Spanning nearly 2,200 miles and crossing through 14 different state borders, the Appalachian Trail is the crown jewel of American thru-hikes. It offers diverse levels of elevation (and traversing difficulty) at various points which makes for breath-taking and awe-inspiring views, and the immense stretch of hike-only foot paths is easily broken into dozens upon dozens of noteworthy day hike trails, not least among them the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee, Bear Mountain in New York and Baxter State Park in Maine.
For the ultimate hiker, however, going off the beaten path may just be the last resort you’ve been seeking. A trail that is not even a trail, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Mollie Beattie Wilderness offer the “Caribou Trail,” a real-to-life migration trail for Alaska’s wildlife. Exceedingly noteworthy is the park’s complete lack of actual trail heads or trails in general, so this sort of venture is best reserved for the most experienced and seasoned veterans among hikers and backpackers. However, to dismiss the beauty of Alaskan nature when discussing prime hiking and backpacking trails is virtually a crime in and of itself.
Many other trails and thru-hikes exist within the continental United States, each as scenic and inspiring as the last. The Anhinga Trail and Wilderness Waterway Trail will guide you through the Floridian Everglades, the Continental Divide Trail running from New Mexico to Montana navigates through the Rocky Mountain range and into Glacier National Park, and Utah sports the Zion Wilderness and Arches National Park, connecting with the Angel’s Landing Trail and Devil’s Garden Trail respectively.