By Michael Lanza
What makes for a great backpacking trip? Certainly top-shelf scenery is mandatory. An element of adventurousness enhances a hike, in my eyes. While there’s definitely something inspirational about a big walk in the wild, some of the finest trips in the country can be done in a few days and half of the hikes on this list are under 50 miles. Another factor that truly matters is a wilderness experience: All 10 are in national parks or wilderness areas.
I’ve probably thought about this more than a mentally stable person should, having done many of America’s (and the world’s) most beautiful multi-day hikes over more than three decades (and counting) of carrying a backpack, including my 10 years as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. In the final analysis, though, the criterion that matters most is more simple and intuitive: that it’s undeniably a great trip. And that character shows itself over and over in my picks for the 10 best backpacking trips in the country.
Each hike here merits a 10 for scenery. The longest trips on this list can be chopped up into smaller portions. Each description below includes a difficulty rating on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the hardest in terms of strenuousness and challenge. You might also like my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip.”
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.
I’ve listed them in a random order that’s not intended as a quality ranking; I think that’s impossible. I regularly update this list as I take new trips that belong on it. If you have a trip to suggest, please tell me about it in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I hope to get to them all. It’s a tough assignment, but I’m on it.
Accompanying each hike in my top 10 are Close Runners-Up, trips that are exactly that. My advice: Do every one of these top 10 and runner-up hikes that you can, when you can—many of the top 10 are harder to get a permit for than the runners-up, so the latter group provide good backup plans. You won’t be disappointed with any of them.
See my affordable, expert e-guides to several of the trips described below and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan any of these classic adventures, variations of them, or any trip you read about at The Big Outside.
A backpacker in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Todd Arndt backpacking in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. Click photo to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.
” data-medium-file=”https://i1.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Yos12-044-Grand-Canyon-of-the-Tuolumne-River-Yosemite-NP-CA.jpg?fit=300%2C199&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i1.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Yos12-044-Grand-Canyon-of-the-Tuolumne-River-Yosemite-NP-CA.jpg?fit=900%2C598&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”598″ src=”https://i1.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Yos12-044-Grand-Canyon-of-the-Tuolumne-River-Yosemite-NP-CA.jpg?resize=900%2C598&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park.” class=”wp-image-35098″
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