The best US national trails

Hiking is a truly special pastime. There are a lot of people who would dismiss it as unacceptably taxing – who wants to spend hours, days even, walking, being tired and smelly, constantly in danger of being bitten by insects, and eating trail mix for every meal? Well, obviously the answer to that is no-one – or it would be, if the joys of hiking didn’t make all of those things pale in comparison. Hiking offers rewards that are hard to explain, because they’re so intangible – but they’re nonetheless potent.

Walking across the land, reconnecting with the natural world and your place in it, seeing some of the most breathtaking sights available to a human – none of these things can be easily quantified, but they’re part of what makes a truly special hike, life-changing. As a large country with varied climates, terrains, and landscapes, America offers quite a few trails to hike along that will take your breath away.

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Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650 mile path that runs from Mexico to Canada, with detours through California, Oregon, and Washington. This trail involves hiking in the truest sense of the word, featuring over 50 mountains and 19 canyons – making for a journey of literal highs and lows. There are also a whopping 1,000 lakes across the trail, for anyone who enjoys waterside nature and rock skipping. The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the most popular in America, with people flocking there every year to walk the entire trail – which, if you were wondering, takes a mere 4 to 6 months. There are also smaller specific trails along the PCT for anyone who wants to spend just a few days hiking – one of the most popular spots is the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California.

Appalachian trail

If you ever wanted to walk from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail has you covered. Clocking in at 2,190 miles, the trail starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia, and ends in Mount Katahdin in Maine, taking hikers through no less than 14 states. As such, the sightseeing on the Appalachian Trail is hugely varied, with a mix of mountain ranges, sweeping plains, and dense woodland. Walking the trail is a very communal experience, with lean-tos placed at points across the landscape, where people can gather and share their experiences of walking the trail. The Appalachian Trail is also home to a very high amount of wildlife, but most animals are not very dangerous at all, and the ones that are can generally be avoided with proper caution. Appalachia is a misunderstood region, and hiking the trail can be an extremely rewarding way to learn more about it.

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Ice age trail

If you want a trail that doesn’t simply follow a route across the continent – impressive as that is – then the Ice Age Trail is the one for you. At 1,200 miles long it stretches from Interstate park on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border to Potawatomi State Park on Lake Michigan – following the path of the last ice age as it does. The trail is mapped according to the presence of colossal glaciers that stretched down into the U.S. from Canada during the last ice age. The terrain has therefore been greatly influenced by this, boasting such features as glacial erratics – giant rocks pushed hundreds of miles away from their origin by glaciers – which can be seen frequently along the trail, and eskers – large ridges of land pushed up by glaciers – among others.