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Exploring a new destination through backpacking is a singular experience. You not only get to see your destination, but you also live and breathe it, appreciating each detail of the landscape with every one of your senses. The hiking opportunities in the U.S. are as varied as they are expansive. Regardless of what part of the States you inhabit, there is an opportunity for backpacking from coast to coast. Each area contains multiple trails, allowing you to craft a trip that fits your own abilities, whether you're a seasoned hiker or backpacking for the first time.
Keep reading to discover six of the best backpacking trips in the U.S. and experience a new way to travel.
One of the best-known places to backpack, California's Yosemite contains numerous hiking trails, all with varying intensities so you can choose whatever level is best suited to your abilities. There's really no wrong choice here. Each offers up stunning views of lakes and waterfalls—when it comes to beauty like this, it's an experience to savor. Half Dome, a 14-mile trail, is the park's best-known (and most difficult) area to explore. For an easier and less populated alternative, backpack through Tuolumne Meadows, which includes a variety of breathtaking trails.
Located along the coastline of Hawaii's Kauai island, Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile hike that runs from Ke'e Beach to Kalalau Valley. Boasting magnificent views of waterfalls, beaches, and valleys, there is no hike quite like this. Adventurers traversing this trail will have to cross three streams and five valleys before reaching the end where it meets the sea. For novice hikers, you can set your sights on the first two miles of the trail, which begins at Ke'e Beach and ends at Hanakāpīʻai and provides gorgeous views of the coastline along the way.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan's Pictured Rock National Lakeshore is a waterside hike that's more than 40 miles long, tracing the shoreline of Lake Superior. Waterfall after waterfall makes an appearance along this trail, along with cliffs, dunes, and forests. The Chapel Basin is one of the most popular areas to hike, boasting picturesque views of coves and arches. Mosquito Falls Trail is also a popular hiking destination, and the spectacular waterfall at the end is well-worth the trip.
Harding Icefield Trail
A unique backpacking trip the U.S. has to offer is Harding Icefield Trail, located within Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. This eight-mile round-trip trail contains stunning views of the Harding Icefield, composed of more than 40 glaciers. Venture through cliffs and meadows until reaching the trail's end. This hike's high elevation means that this is a tough trail and should be covered little by little. With stunning views like this, you won't want to rush through.
Have an appetite for adventure? The Appalachian Trail is the backpacking trip for you. This hike goes from Georgia to Maine with a path more than 2000 miles long. Like the other hikes on this list, you can choose from a variety of trails that are meant to be completed in various time spans from hours to days, so you can choose a trail that fits your experience. Springer Mountain is at the trail's southern point in Georgia and is a 75-mile hike that can be completed in about seven days. If you're looking for a shorter trail, the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee can be traversed in about four days.
West Coasters looking for a breathtaking getaway have to cross Mount Rainier National Park off their bucket list. There may be no other backpacking destination in the U.S. that is more varied than this one, which includes every landscape from glaciers to meadows to forests. Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile hike that encircles Mount Rainier, is one of the most enjoyable areas for backpacking within the park. Following this trail will allow you to experience many of the park's main sites. Stops include Mowich Lake, the largest lake in Mount Glacier; Paradise, a popular meadow filled with wildflowers; and Longmire, the park's headquarters that's in close proximity to waterfalls and glaciers.
One of the most famous places in the U.S. to backpack is Yellowstone—and for good reason. Yellowstone crosses Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, and its expansive terrain encompasses a wide host of sights. The Old Faithful area is a great place to start. Here you'll find one of the park's most spectacular waterfalls at Fairy Falls. Afterward, visit the geysers with a hike through Lone Star Geyser, a five-mile round-trip, and yes, this geyser does erupt—about every three hours to be exact. For more waterside hikes, set your sights on the Grant Village and West Thumb areas, which include multiple lakes in their radiuses.