9 Best Backpacking Trips in the U.S. + Tips on Gear

The John Muir Trail

From the rugged coast of California to the serene beauty of Alaska, the United States is full of incredible backpacking destinations. Whether a beginner or an experienced hiker, you’ll have plenty of backpacking trip options in the U.S. In this article, we’ll cover some of the best backpacking trips throughout the U.S. so you can confidently plan your next great adventure!

1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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Grand Canyon National Park is an iconic destination for anyone planning to go backpacking in the U.S. This natural wonder stretches a whopping 277 miles long and 18 miles wide. It proceeds through Arizona and offers stunning views of the Colorado River and colorful rock formations.

One of the most popular backpacking trips takes you from South Rim to North Rim (you can start at the north or south end), over 21 miles long. We recommend planning to backpack Rim to Rim over three or four nights.

2. Pemigewasset Loop, New Hampshire

White Mountains of New Hampshire

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The Pemigewasset Loop in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is an unforgettable backpacking trip for experienced adventurers. This 33-mile loop crosses four mountain ranges, with several challenging ascents and descents along the way.

The trail passes scenic waterfalls and other beautiful natural features as it makes its way through the mountains.

Backpacking Pemigewasset Loop can take up to four to five days to complete. It’s far more strenuous than the Grand Canyon backpacking trip, so plan ahead.

3. The John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail

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The John Muir Trail is one of the most iconic backpacking trails in the U.S. The trail runs from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney and spans 211 miles through some of California’s most beautiful wilderness areas, including Sequoia National Park and Ansel Adams Wilderness.

If you decide to hike the John Muir Trail, a great starting point is in the town of Big Pine. From here, you can backpack up to Temple Crag, one of the most iconic rock formations in the U.S.

4. Kesugi Ridge in Denali State Park, Alaska

Mt McKinley from Stony Hill Overlook

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Kesugi Ridge in Denali State Park offers some of the most stunning views to be found anywhere in Alaska. Kesugi Ridge is a must-see for any backpacker looking for a challenging yet rewarding experience.

This is the home of Denali, also known as Mount McKinley. It is the tallest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet.

You’ll definitely want to hike the Kesugi Ridge during summer; as you can imagine, winters in Alaska are harsh.

The hike begins at Byers Lake Trailhead and winds through forests, meadows, and tundra before reaching an elevation of 3,400 feet. Along the way, hikers are treated to breathtaking views of Denali and Mount Foraker on clear days. You can also spot wildlife such as moose, bears, caribou, and marmots from the ridge.

The trail spans roughly 24 miles and takes two to three days to complete; however, you can take shorter day hikes instead if you wish. Camping sites abound near Byers Lake so that hikers have plenty of places to rest overnight along their journey up Kesugi Ridge.

5. The Lost Coast Trail, California

The Lost Coast Trail, California

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The Lost Coast Trail in Northern California is one of the best backpacking trips in the U.S.

Backpacking this route takes you along the rugged coastline of the King Range National Conservation Area, providing some incredible views. The trail spans 24 miles, so prepare for a two or three-day hike.

The trailhead is located near Shelter Cove, and hikers must pass through several rivers throughout their journey. So it’s essential to be prepared with appropriate gear. Use this guide to hiking backpacks to find what you need.

It’s also possible to camp along the way – there are official campsites you can reserve in advance or free camping spots found further inland from the coast at various points throughout your hike. You’ll also need an overnight permit, which you can apply for online at Recreation.gov.

6. Lake Aloha Trail, California

Lake Aloha Trail

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If it seems like we’ve included a lot of trails in California, it’s for a good reason. California has some of the most beautiful backpacking trails in the world; Lake Aloha Trail in central California is another.

It offers an excellent opportunity to explore the Sierra Nevada mountain range, with its stunning alpine lakes and lush meadows. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy to navigate, making it perfect for beginners or families looking for a weekend getaway.

The trail begins at the base of Pyramid Peak near South Lake Tahoe, then passes through Desolation Wilderness before arriving at its terminus at Lake Aloha.

Along the way, hikers will be treated to views of pristine alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, and stunning meadows dotted with wildflowers. Numerous side trails can be explored during your journey, including routes up nearby peaks or around subalpine lakes.

Overall, Lake Aloha Trail provides an excellent opportunity to explore nature without venturing far away from civilization. With plenty of backcountry camping options along the route and several nearby fishing spots, this trail will surely be a memorable experience for any passionate or beginner backpacker.

7. Mount Sterling Loop Trail, Tennessee

Mount Sterling in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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The Mount Sterling Loop Trail is one of the best backpacking trips in the U.S., located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

This loop trail takes hikers up to a stunning overlook at an elevation of 5,842 feet on Mount Sterling. Along this 12-mile round-trip hike, there are plenty of scenic views of mountain streams and dense forests with diverse wildlife to enjoy.

The most popular way to take the loop is via Low Gap, which allows you to make your way up to the summit with minimal steep inclines. Once at the top, you can take in spectacular views of some of Tennessee’s highest peaks before descending through an old-growth forest filled with hemlocks and rhododendrons.

This hike can be completed in two days or less, depending on how quickly you want to go.

8. Jordan Hot Springs, Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Gila National Forest New Mexico

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The remote and stunning Gila National Forest in New Mexico is home to the impressive Jordan Hot Springs. It is a great first hike if you or your family is getting into backpacking. The trail is only 6.8 miles and is rated beginner to intermediate.

Nestled in the heart of a forest of ponderosa pine, juniper, and Douglas fir, this natural hot springs pool is an oasis for nature lovers seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. Visitors can explore the area’s other sights, including a petroglyph site, an abandoned homestead from the 1800s, and the Chloride Mine Trail.

9. Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park Highline Trail

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Glacier National Park is an awe-inspiring destination in Montana that offers a variety of breathtaking landscapes and outdoor activities. With over two million acres of protected land, Glacier National Park is home to pristine forests, alpine meadows, majestic glaciers, and towering mountains.

Hikers of all ages and skill levels can find trails that offer beautiful views, peaceful solitude, and plenty of opportunities to observe the area’s diverse wildlife.

There are two popular big hikes here. They are over 90 miles long but have short variations if that’s your chosen route.

The “Northern Loop” is a 90-miler through northern Glacier, was divided up into 65- and 25-mile legs. You can follow the path to see some of Glacier’s most scenic locations, including the entire Highline Trail, the Many Glacier areas, Piegan Pass and Stoney Indian Pass, the Ptarmigan Wall and Tunnel, and some of the park’s finest lakes and most remote locations.

The second hike can be backpacked approximately 94 miles from Glacier, across the Continental Divide Trail, from Chief of the Canadian border in the park’s northeast corner to Two Medicine, combining parts of the standard and alternate routes. It also includes the high alpine trail from Pitamakan Pass to Dawson Pass, above Two Medicine.

Backpacking Gear Guide

Backpacking

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Besides taking in the beautiful scenery during your backpacking trip, you’ll need the right hiking gear. In this section, we’ll cover some of your primary and non-basic needs along the way.

Backpack

After deciding on a location, you’ll need to consider your backpack. There has been a long discussion on internal vs. external frame hiking backpacks. We typically recommend using an internal frame backpack unless you have a heavy load you need to carry.

Dry Bag

Most areas in our list of the best backpacking trips in the U.S. have heavy rain. A dry bag is an excellent way of keeping all your belongings dry and clean. You can check out this guide to dry bags to get an idea of what’s recommended. Having two on hand are better than one. A smaller 5 liter size and larger 10 liter will do.

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots should be next on your list. You don’t have to go overboard in this area of gear, but a nice pair of hiking boots will save you in the long run. Higher-end boots can protect you from injury, and they will also last longer. Spend time to find (and invest) in your perfect pair.

Camping Tent

After considering the equipment above, the next big item is a camping tent. These come in all different sizes and weights for anything you’ll need. Single-person tents are great for solo backpacking, but consider larger tents if you’re on a trek with your whole family. Larger tents are a great way of keeping all your gear dry at night, even if you’re hiking alone.

Wrapping Up

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The U.S. offers an array of incredible backpacking trips with something for everyone. From the Appalachian Trail to the Grand Canyon, these breathtaking hikes and destinations will provide lasting memories and adventures you won’t soon forget. It’s no wonder why so many people are drawn to backpacking.

The trips mentioned here are just a few of the best backpacking trips; countless others are waiting to be explored. Pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and hit the trails – you won’t regret it!

This article originally appeared on Travel Binger and was syndicated with permission.

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Troy De Ville

Troy De Ville is an outdoor backpacking enthusiast and founder of Core Mountaineering. His passion for the outdoors began when he was young and has only grown over the years. He's been able to explore some of the wildest and most beautiful places on earth. His mission is to inspire others to get out there and experience nature in all its glory.