If you haven’t walked four to 16 miles on a trail lately, set up a tent, slept under the stars, woken up, drank coffee, and watched the world wake up around you, and then walked four to 16 more miles back to your car, well, you’re missing out.
In no particular order, here are a few places to remedy that.
1. Pemi Loop, New Hampshire
The Pemi (as in “Pemigewasset Wilderness”) Loop is one of the hardest day hikes in all of New England, but if you split the eight-summit, 32-mile, 9,000-foot-elevation-gain loop into two days, it’s pleasant. Well, it’s still hard, but it’s absolutely stacked with scenery-the Twin and Franconia Range mountains are high, and some would argue even more scenic than the uber-famous Presidential Range. Multiple camping options are available along the loop.
2. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
If you’ve heard of one trail in Hawaii, it’s likely the Kalalau Trail, above, traversing five valleys along the Na Pali Coast before dead-ending at Kalalau Beach, a secluded, mile-long beach with multiple caves and a waterfall. The hike in is an up-and-down 11 miles, and is considered one of the toughest hiking trails in Hawaii.
3. Mt. Colden via Trap Dike, New York
Mt. Colden is the classic Adirondack mountaineering route-a fourth-class scramble above Avalanche Lake on exposed blocky terrain past a waterfall, then up a slide to the summit. Break it up into two days by grabbing a lean-to spot at Avalanche Camp, climbing Trap Dike the next morning, and looping back down the east side of Colden to Lake Arnold before grabbing your gear from Avalanche Camp on your way out. Thirteen miles total.
4. Mt. Whitney, California
Yes, you’ve heard of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the Lower 48. It’s no secret that it’s a great hike. It’s also no secret that it’s 22 miles round-trip and 6,100 feet of elevation gain to the 14,495-foot summit, a crusher of a day hike. Backpacking means you’ll have a heavier pack, but just for the first 6.3 miles to Trail Camp, where you can sleep for the night at just over 12,000 feet and tackle the last five miles to the summit the next morning.
5. Half Dome, California
The legendary Half Dome Cables Route is so sought-after that the National Park Service has instituted a permit system for day hikers wanting to climb to the summit, a 14.2-mile, 4,800-foot-elevation-gain day. If you break it up into two days (and you can get a permit for the Little Yosemite Valley backcountry campsites), you can make the summit day less grueling (2,700 vertical feet instead of 4,800), and with an early start, beat most of the crowds to the cables.
6. Conundrum Hot Springs, Colorado
Conundrum Hot Springs is Colorado’s most famous backcountry hot springs, and it’s a solid backpacking trip to get to it: 8.5 miles one way, gaining 2,500 vertical feet, and ending above 11,000 feet-with an unbeatable view of the Elk Mountains while you soak. It’s popular, however, so if you want (relative) solitude, try to hit it on a weekday.
7. Havasu Canyon, Arizona
Maybe the most famous desert oasis in America, the Havasu Canyon Trail connects the village of Supai to the rest of the world (mail is still delivered there by mule) and gives hikers access to the blue-green fantasy-world waterfalls at Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls. The hike is 20 miles round-trip, losing almost 3,000 feet of elevation down to Beaver Falls, so the hike back out is the real grind.
8. Bright Angel Trail, Arizona
The Bright Angel is the most popular trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon for more than one reason: It’s less steep than the neighboring South Kaibab, it has water (literally several water spigots along the trail) and the shady oasis of Indian Gardens at roughly the halfway mark. Plenty of folks split the trek down to the bottom and back out into three days, taking two days to climb back out the 4,400 vertical feet to the South Rim, but it’s easily doable in two days.
9. Longs Peak, Colorado
Longs Peak is one of Colorado’s most majestic 14,000-foot peaks, with the sheer Diamond dropping down a thousand feet into Chasm Lake, and views from the top into the Colorado’s high peaks. Thousands of hikers summit via the non-technical Keyhole Route every year, a route the NPS warns “is not a hike. It is a climb that crosses enormous sheer vertical rock faces, often with falling rocks, requiring scrambling, where an unroped fall would likely be fatal. The route has narrow ledges, loose rock, and steep cliffs.” Sound good? Instead of tackling the whole thing in a long day, hike into the Boulderfield and grab one of the nine campsites there, giving yourself a six-mile, 3,300-vertical-foot head start on your summit day.
10. Paintbrush/Cascade Canyon Loop, Wyoming
This 19-mile hike in the Tetons takes you through two of the most scenic glacial canyons in the park, climbing 3,800 feet through Paintbrush Canyon to the 10,720-foot Paintbrush Divide, then drops down into Cascade Canyon, under the shadow of the jagged Teton peaks almost the entire way.
11. Jefferson Park via Park Ridge Trail
Jefferson Park is one of Oregon’s classic hiking destinations-an alpine meadow with multiple lakes underneath the snow-covered flanks of the state’s second-highest peak, 10,495-foot Mt. Jefferson. Several trails access Jefferson Park, but the PCT along Park Ridge offers the best views along the way, 6.1 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain to the campsites around the lakes in the meadow.
12. Bigelow Range Loop, Maine
The Appalachian Trail covers some fantastic mountain terrain in Maine-the trail’s terminus on Katahdin, for one-and its traverse of the Bigelow Range is right up there one of the most scenic stretches of the trail. The Bigelow Range Loop climbs up to the ridge to campsites and lean-tos at Horns Pond, and the next day crosses the summits of the South Horn and the West Peak of Bigelow, almost 3,000 feet above Flagstaff Lake to the north, before returning down the Firewarden’s Trail off the south side of the mountain.
13. Tahoe Rim Trail: Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit, Nevada
Not many people have the chance to hike the entire 165 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail at once-but the 23-mile section from Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit packs in plenty of scenery, and maybe the best views of Lake Tahoe on the entire trail. A brief 1.2-mile spur trail gets you to the Christopher’s Loop overlook, the most photographed spot on the Tahoe Rim Trail, looking down 2,500 feet into the blue waters of the lake.
14. McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs, Virginia
Virginia’s “Triple Crown”-McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragons Tooth-are the three most iconic views along the Virginia stretch of the Appalachian Trail. To hike all of them, it’s a minimum 28-mile hike (with a car shuttle), or 37-mile loop. To get two of them, McAfee Knob (the rock outcrop that’s one of the most photographed spots on the AT) and Tinker Cliffs, it’s a far more manageable 13-mile weekend hike traversing Catawba and Tinker mountains and overnighting at the Campbell Shelter.
15. Standing Indian Loop, North Carolina
To get to a favorite locals’ section of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, this loop leaves the Standing Indian Campground heading up the Kimsey Creek Trail to the AT, and stays on the AT for 18 miles along the high, green ridgelines of the Nantahala and Blue Ridge Mountains before picking up the Long Branch Trail to close the loop.
16. Appalachian Trail: Carver’s Gap to Highway 19E, Tennessee
If you’re going to section-hike a part of the AT in Tennessee, this 14.5-mile chunk starting at Carver’s Gap is one of the best: Lots of ups and downs but staying almost a mile above sea level the entire time, crossing three balds, Hump and Little Hump Mountain, with views for days along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, and finishing with a 2,000-foot descent to Highway 19E.
17. Gunsight Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana
If you have two days in Glacier National Park and want to make the most of it, a shuttle hike on the Gunsight Pass Trail will pack it in: Soaring peaks, two high passes, wildflowers, mountain goats, the deep turquoise waters of Gunsight Lake and Lake Ellen Wilson, and some quad-busting hiking: 20 miles and 3,300 feet of elevation gain, and then 3,300 feet downhill in the last 6 ½ miles on your way to the Lake McDonald Lodge.
18. Heart Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The 16-mile round-trip trek to Yellowstone’s biggest backcountry lake, Heart Lake, doesn’t hammer on the knees with endless climbs and descents-there’s only 650 feet of elevation gain the entire time. But it does make the most of Yellowstone’s mountain valleys, and gives hikers the chance to see tons of fauna, and fish in Heart Lake, where the biggest lake trout ever caught in Yellowstone was landed.
19. Summerland Trail, Mt. Rainier National Park
Turns out there are other backpacking trips at Mt. Rainier besides the ones that head towards the summit: The Summerland Trail, arguably one of the best on Rainier, winds through forests before popping out to huge views of the mountain and Little Tahoma, and ends at the wildflower meadows at Summerland after a climb of 1,500 feet in 4.3 miles. The hike is popular, so it’s best to get an early start or do it on a weekday.
20. Kesugi Ridge, Denali State Park, Alaska
Unlike the trail-less terrain of Denali National Park just across the highway, Denali State Park’s Kesugi Ridge Trail is well-cairned and obvious, running along a tundra ridge with incredible views of Denali in your peripheral vision at all times (assuming it’s not socked in with clouds). The 29-mile trail is usually done in two to four days, but in mid-July, you’ll have 18 hours of daylight, which means plenty of light to get it done in two long hiking days.
Photo by Shutterstock
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