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Best Long Distance Hikes in the U.S. for the Active Traveler

August 22, 2023 | Lifestyle

The best long-distance hikes in the U.S. have one thing in common; you could spend a lifetime hiking the trails and not see everything. The National Park Service has established trails in urban and rural areas and divides them into three categories. 

National scenic trails are routes of 100 miles or more that traverse some of the country’s most beautiful terrain. Trails under the national scenic designation include the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide, Florida National Scenic, North Country Trail, and dozens more.

National historic trails celebrate our nation’s historical landmarks and diverse history. 

These trails follow past routes of explorers, settlers, and locations of historic battle sites. Examples of national landmark trails include the Trail of Tears, Lewis and Clark, and Selma to Montgomery.

So if you’re ready to go out to the backcountry to explore trails with unique topographic features, breathtaking vistas, and verdant forests, check out these long-distance hikes in the U.S.

River to River Trail

A man in hiking gear squeezes between two large, moss-covered rocks

The River to River Trail is a 160-mile-long hiking trail that passes through some of the most scenic areas in southern Illinois, including upland forests, wetlands, grasslands, and bluffs.

The trail spans from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River traveling through some of the most remote areas of the Shawnee National Forest (Shawnee).

The Shawnee is a 280,000-acre national forest with six distinctly different ecological regions. Managed by the Forest Service, Shawnee is also the only national forest in Illinois and the state’s single largest publicly owned body of land.

It’s worth noting that most of the trail is on public lands (national forests or state parks). However, some segments are along roads and across private land (where allowed). The River to River trail is famous for both horse riding and hiking. 

Visit the River to River Trail Society for trail maps and guidebooks to the trail’s campsites, orientation, safe water sources, and other helpful information. During your hiking journey, you may encounter one or more groups of equestrians, hunters, ATV riders, bikers, hikers, campers, and rock climbers enjoying the beauty of the Shawnee.

North Country National Scenic Trail

A sign in the forest that reads "North Country Trail," with the distance to North Country Trail and Rock River Road below.

The North Country National Scenic Trail is the longest point-to-point trail within the National Park System. It spans 4,600 miles across eight states – North Dakota, Vermont, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Minnesota

Like its sister trails, the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide, the North Country Trail was designated by Congress to conserve America’s outstanding landscapes. It is a remarkable opportunity for long-distance hikers looking to log high mileage or thru-hike. 

Visit the North Country Trail Association for trail maps and guidebooks to the trail’s campsites, orientation, safe water sources, and other helpful information. They also offer a trail-safe series in video format that hikers find useful.

The importance of planning and research is the first step to coordinating your hike on the NCT because of the numerous private and public lands the trail crosses. So depending on where you’re hiking, you must research information like permits, accessibility, camping and water availability, and more.

The Appalachian Trail

A small sign bears the symbol for the Appalachian trail in a forested area during autumn

Long-distance hiking on the Appalachian Trail is an awe-inspiring adventure that captures the hearts of countless outdoor enthusiasts. The trail spans 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine through rugged mountains and dense forests to picturesque valleys and tranquil streams. 

Embarking on this epic hike will require careful planning, physical endurance, and a deep appreciation for the natural world. The trail will challenge your physical strength and test your mental resilience. During your hike, you can expect unpredictable weather and steep ascents. 

However, the trail’s majestic landscapes and the camaraderie of the hiking community make the Appalachian Trail an extraordinary experience. For maps and information on long-distance hiking, visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website.

Begin Your Journey with a Single Step

“Take nothing but memories. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.”

-John Muir

If you’re planning a long-distance hike, there are many ways to prepare for the rigors of nature and terrain. Experienced hikers suggest starting with manageable daily distances at the beginning of your long-distance hike and gradually increasing the miles you walk daily to build strength and endurance.

Remember, built into the long-distance hiker’s creed is to practice Leave No Trace to minimize environmental impact, respect wildlife, and stay on designated trails. So lace up your hiking boots, weigh your pack, and choose your adventure today!

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