Even if part of our desire to walk the Earth is hardwired, there’s also the obvious – the beauty of Mother Nature. Vistas and waterfalls, giant redwoods and granite mountain faces aren’t typically visible from the interior of your car. And even when they are, it’s not the same as feeling the earth beneath your feet and standing on the edge of the cliff. There’s also a simplicity in putting everything you need to live on your back and walking into the woods to commune with your surroundings. With no distractions or modern conveniences, you can learn a lot about yourself on a hike. Henry David Thoreau went into the woods to live deliberately and you can, too. Here are the best hiking spots the United States has to offer.
Pacific Coast Trail
If you’re interested in seeing a large span of the western United States by way of a massive thru-hike, then the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is for you. Over the course of its 2,650 miles (4,264 kilometers) you’ll hike through three states, seven national parks, 24 national forests and past more than 1,000 lakes. You’ll also descend into 19 major canyons and make your way over 60 major mountain passes on this route from Mexico to Canada . You’ll even pass through some of the other places on this list that we’ll talk about in more detail later.
The PCT, first explored by hiking groups from the YMCA in the 1930s, was eventually secured as a single and complete border-to-border trail. The trail is so varied that it passes through six of the seven ecozones in North America, touching everything from the low desert to the arctic-alpine country. There are brave souls who thru-hike the PCT, but with accessibility from San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, it’s a popular choice for urban weekend adventurers as well.
What the Pacific Crest Trail is to the West, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is to the East. And like the PCT, the Appalachian Trail isn’t so much a “spot” but a series of spots. In this case, the trail stretches from Georgia to Maine, and passes through 12 other states along its 2,178 miles (3,505 kilometers), making it the longest marked trail in the Unites States. It was completed in 1937 and passes through six national parks and eight national forests [source:]. More than 6,000 volunteers help to maintain the trail and its 165,000 blazes – painted markers that show the way along the trail.
If you’re interested in a thru-hike you’ll need to plan ahead. The standard way of doing so is to mail care packages with your food and supplies to stops you’ll be passing through along the way. The A.T. Web site is a great resource when it comes to planning your thru-hike, with tips, itineraries and links to organizations that provide thru-hike workshops.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is the jewel of the national parks program in the United States. More than 5 million people pass through the gates each year to gaze upon the awesome vistas that only the Grand Canyon can provide [source: Northern Arizona University]. If you’re interested in hiking into the canyon, you should know a few things first. Most notably, you should realize that what goes down must come up. Day hikers that traipse into the canyon often find themselves worn out before facing the ascent back to the rim. Starting your hike with a brutal downhill descent makes the Grand Canyon hike different than any other and can challenge even experienced hikers who aren’t used to it. It’s also vital to carry plenty of water with you, especially during the summer months.
There are 15 official trails leading into the canyon. If you plan on spending the night you’re going to need to plan well ahead of time in order to secure your backcountry permit. The park only issues 13,000 permits against 30,000 requests each year For solitude, try out the North Rim – this gets about 10 percent the number of visitors as the more familiar South Rim.