June 6 marks the 2015 edition of National Trails Day, an annual event held by the American Hiking Society in order to celebrate the more than 200,000 miles of trails that are available across the United States. Countless hikers, bikers, horseback riders and paddlers take to their favorite trails in appreciation of the solitude, inspiration and opportunities for adventure that they provide. They're joined by thousands of volunteers who help maintain existing routes and build new ones for all of us to enjoy.
If you’re planning on joining in on the festivities, here are 10 iconic hiking trails that you should consider trekking yourself.
Angels Landing Trail, Utah
Located inside Zion National Park, Angels Landing Trail is a mere 5 miles in length round-trip. But don’t let its size fool you, as it is quite a demanding trek. The route takes hikers to the top of Angels Landing, a tall rock formation that provides spectacular views of the Zion Valley below. The initial approach is almost entirely uphill, but the payoff at the end is well worth the challenge.
Not for the faint of heart, the path at times follows a narrow, rocky ridge with steep drops on either side. This can be a bit unnerving for the unprepared, but support chains anchored along the route help to provide safety and support where needed.
Long Trail, Vermont
The aptly named Long Trail in Vermont stretches the entire length of the state, covering some 272 miles in the process. When construction on this hiking route first began back in 1910, it was the longest and most ambitious of its kind anywhere in the country. It took 20 years to complete, and today it has been surpassed in length many times, but it remains a true icon of hiking in the U.S.
The route follows the Massachusetts-Vermont state line all the way to the Canadian border, crossing Vermont’s highest peaks — including 4,393-foot Mount Mansfield — along the way. The Long Trail is a beautiful hike any time of the year, but in the fall the colors of autumn make it absolutely spectacular.
John Muir Trail, California
Named after the famed Scottish-American naturalist who was instrumental in driving the movement for preserving important natural spaces, the John Muir Trail runs for 200-plus scenic miles through the High Sierra mountains of California. The route passes through some of the most breathtaking environments in all of North America, including Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. It is also part of the epic Pacific Crest Trail, which was made famous by the recent Reese Witherspoon movie Wild.
Be warned, though: Most of the route is above 8,000 feet, so come prepared to deal with altitude even on a short day hike.
Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
While we don’t always think of Hawaii as being a great destination for hiking, the state is actually home to one of the best trails in the entire U.S. The Nā Pali Coast, located Kauai’s north shore, features an 11-mile path called the Kalalau Trail.
The route wanders its way through a remote and rugged region that is both strikingly beautiful and surprisingly difficult. Those who do walk the trail are treated to outstanding views of the Pacific Ocean, lush green forests, towering hilltops and stunning hidden beaches. It takes roughly two days to hike this out-and-back route, but it is a rewarding walk to say the least.
Appalachian Trail, East Coast
No list of iconic North American hiking trails would be complete without mentioning the Appalachian Trail. Stretching for more than 2,160 miles in length, the AT, as it's known in the long-distance backpacking community, is the ultimate hiking route for many.
Epic in scale, the trail passes through 14 different states as it follows along the length of the Appalachian Mountain Range from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin, Maine. It takes you through dense forests, scenic valleys and open meadows on a route that features enough elevation gain to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest more than 16 times. The AT offers numerous segments for day and weekend hikes, although it is also popular with thru-hikers who spend as long as six months walking the entire length in a single go.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the most amazing natural environments on the planet, drawing millions of visitors annually. Most are content to just take in the spectacular setting from the top, but the more adventurous visitors will actually hike down to the canyon floor more than a mile below.
It is an amazing walk that offers fantastic views of the massive gorge that has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. The climb back out is the toughest part of the hike, of course, often taking hours just for the return trip. The full hiking route actually traverses the canyon from rim to rim, covering a total of 22 miles over the course of about two to three days of walking. Some backpackers will actually hike rim to rim to rim to make a round-trip journey that is twice that length, however, giving them the opportunity to view the canyon from both sides while crossing the Colorado River twice along the way.
The Lost Coast Trail, California
California’s Lost Coast Trail follows 26 scenic miles along the Pacific Ocean and is so rugged that the famed Pacific Coast Highway had to go around the region entirely when it was first constructed. The trail runs through the King Range National Conservation Area, starting in Mattole and ending at Black Sands Beach, with most of the route hugging the shoreline the entire way.
A large majority of the hiking actually takes place on sand, which can make for slow progress — and wet feet — at times. But the beautiful scenery more than makes up for the demanding conditions, rewarding trekkers with one of the most spectacular coastal hikes found anywhere in the U.S.
The Hayduke Trail, Utah & Arizona
The Hayduke Trail in southern Utah and northern Arizona encompasses 800 miles of backcountry routes — all contained on public lands — that link up six different national parks including Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon and Zion. As if that weren't enough, it also passes through Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and up the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Primitive Area. In other words, it is big, remote, wild and oh so beautiful.
Superior Trail, Minnesota
The Superior Trail covers nearly 300 miles across northeastern Minnesota and derives its name from the fact that most of the route follows the shoreline of Lake Superior. Hikers pass through a number of dense forests teeming with wildlife as they make their way up and down the Sawtooth Mountains, which line the lake’s north shore.
Quiet, peaceful and with very little traffic, the Superior Trail is a thru-hiker’s dream. The abundant waterfalls along the route only add to the experience, bringing a dash of beauty in unexpected places.
Baxter Creek Trail, Tennessee
Located inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Baxter Creek Trail is another hike that looks deceptive on paper. At just 12 miles round trip, it doesn’t seem all that long or difficult. But the route runs to the top of Mount Sterling, gaining more than 4,000 feet in elevation as it goes.
That makes for a tough climb, but the views from the top are utterly spectacular. At the beginning, the route is lined with colorful rhododendron forests, which eventually give way to balsam and spruce trees on the way to the 5,842-foot summit capped by the highest fire-lookout tower found anywhere in the eastern United States. When you reach the top, be sure to take a much-deserved rest. You’ll have certainly earned it.
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