Measuring more than 2,800 miles coast-to-coast, the USA has an incredible range of landscapes and natural wonders to explore. The best way to truly experience these varied terrains is on foot, and thankfully the country has a great network of established hiking trails. Start with an easy single-day trip and work your way up to the months long journeys that traverse the entire country.
1. Crow Pass Trail, Alaska
Winding through the Chugach State Park, this trail is considered one of the best for exploring the area. At 23 miles long, this hike is usually done over two days, but you can opt for shorter forays – even the first four miles offers some incredible scenery. The full trail takes you from Girdwood to the Eagle River Nature Center past glaciers, waterfalls and alpine lakes. This picturesque hike is not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced however, you’ll need to be prepared for inclement weather, uphill travel and crossing the Eagle River.
2. Sunrise Rim Trail, Washington
The state’s most iconic peak, Mount Rainier, can be best viewed from the Sunrise Rim Trail. Les strenuous than most of the hikes on this list, the trail is considered moderate difficulty and is a 5-mile, 3-hour loop that offers 360-degrees views of the surrounding landscape. On clear days you can see not only Mount Rainer but Mount Adams and the Emmons Glacier. The trail is best visited from mid-July to September when wildflowers abound and the trail is usually clear of snow.
3. Grinnell Glacier Trail, Montana
Montana is a state known for its breathtaking scenery, and Glacier National Park is no exception, with stunning mountain scenes and incredible lakes filled with floating icebergs. The Grinnell Glacier Trail is the best ways to access this natural beauty, via an 11-mile round trip that can be shortened by taking a ferry ride across Lake Josephine. Keep an eye out for some of the park’s wildlife including mountain goats, moose and grizzly bears.
4. Ocean Path Trail, Maine
Following the coastline between Sandy Beach and Otter Cliff, this is one of the more family-friendly walks on this list. The 2-mile track (or 4-mile round trip) is a relatively flat walk that gives unequalled views of the ocean. There are plenty of scenic spots along the way to stop for a picnic or photo opportunities, and some side trails off the main path for those looking for longer walks.
5. Pacific Crest Trail, California, Oregon and Washington
Made famous by Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, the Pacific Crest Trail is an epic walking track that crosses three states and more than 2,600 miles. If you plan to take on the entire PCT, you’ll need to allow four to six months to the journey as well as six to eight months preparation beforehand. Most people only complete a small section of the trail, but still get an idea of the stunning wilderness that’s available to explore.
6. John Muir Trail, California
Another of the USA’s great long-distances hikes, this 211-mile trek takes in some of the country’s best mountain scenery, through the High Sierras. Most people take the trek from north to south, starting in the Yosemite Valley and winding through the Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks before ending up at Mount Whitney. The trail is somewhat rugged and more suitable for experienced hikers, who will need to allow three weeks to complete the full journey.
7. Mist Trail, California
If you’re looking for a much more manageable way to explore Yosemite National Park, the Mist Trail can be competed in a single day. One of the parks more popular short hikes, it can be done as a 3-mile or 7-mile loop. The shorter option leads you to Vernal Fall, while the longer trail takes you to Nevada Fall, with both offering plenty to see along the way. Stop for a photo at the footbridge, or continue to the end of the trek for jaw-dropping views down the full drop of the waterfall.
8. Harding Icefield Trail, Alaska
Located within the Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, the Harding Icefield is an incredible 300-square mile sheet of ice and snow that feeds more than 30 glaciers in the surrounding area. You won’t need your snow shoes though, the trail itself takes you through forest and meadow landscapes, ending with a view over the white and blue of the icefield. The trail can be easily done in a day at just an 8-mile roundtrip and has views on route of the Exit Glacier and Resurrection River.
9. Wave Trail, Utah
The ‘wave’ part of this trail is one of Utah’s most famous natural monuments: an incredible red sandstone formation that mimics the waves of the ocean. Part of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, this trail is highly protected and potential hikers will need to obtain a permit in order to visit. The trip is only a 5.2-mile return journey, but be aware that much of the trail is cross country over sand and rock, so you’ll need a map and experience with navigation.
10. Appalachian Trail
This 2,185-mile trek is another of America’s most well-known long-distance walking trails. Starting at Mount Katahdin in Maine at one end, the trail passes through 14 different states to arrive at Springer Mountain in Georgia. Despite its impressive length, it is somewhat user friendly, due to the many access points via towns and crossroads. It’s also easy to navigate, with good signage the entire length of the trail and 250 sleeping shelters dotted along the track. Which could be why more than 2 million people are said to walk part of the trail each year.