7 Best Backpacking Hikes in the USA

By Lisa Medeiros Nov. 05, 2021
(Credit: Chiociolla/Shutterstock)

From coast to coast, the United States encompasses miles of backpacking routes. Each trail exhibits stunning geological features and countless breathtaking vistas. To help you plan your next getaway, we’ve put together a list of the seven best backpacking hikes in the USA based on popularity and intriguing features. So load up your backpack, lace up your hiking boots and get ready to embark on an epic outdoor adventure.

Four Pass Loop

White River National Forest, Colorado

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Best Backpacking Hikes in the USA: Four Pass Loop in White River National Forest, Colorado (Credit: Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock)
  • Distance: 27-mile loop
  • Duration: 3-4 days
  • Elevation gain: 7,752
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Packing essential: Rain gear
  • Permit requirements: Backpacking permit required for overnight stays

Located outside Aspen, the Four Pass Loop takes hikers on a 27-mile journey through some of Colorado’s most picturesque valleys and meadows. The route provides some of the best backcountry hiking around, with plenty of spots to set up camp along the way. The trek travels through West Maroon Pass, Frigid Air Pass, Trail Rider Pass and Buckskin Pass. To avoid beginning the trek with an arduous climb up Buckskin Pass, take the counter-clockwise route around the loop.

Shi Shi Beach to Point of Archer Trail

Olympic Peninsula, Washington

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Best Backpacking Hikes in the USA: Shi Shi Beach to Point of Archer Trail, Washington (Credit: Pat Tr/Shutterstock)
  • Distance: 8-mile out and back
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Packing essential: Sun protection
  • Permit requirements: Backpacking permit required for overnight stays

Shi Shi Beach to Point of Archer Trail is a short 8-mile trek. Though the route is doable in a day, it makes for an ideal overnight hike for beginners. Hikers will set out on flat terrain and traverse several bridges and boardwalks before heading onto a potentially wet and muddy path leading to the scenic coast. The route includes a mile-long sandy walk on the eroded beach trail located on Shi Shi Beach. Continue on to Point of the Arches Trail to explore the tide pools while experiencing one of the best sunset locations Washington state has to offer.

Livermore Trail Loop

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

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Best Backpacking Hikes in the USA: Livermore Trail Loop in White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire (Credit: Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock)
  • Distance: 12.4-mile loop
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Elevation gain: 1,354 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Packing essential: Crampons for winter hikes
  • Permit requirements: None

New Hampshire’s White Mountains deliver scenic landscapes and pristine wilderness experiences rarely found outside the Rockies. The Livermore Trail Loop, located within White Mountain National Forest, begins with a tree-covered forest tour through Livermore Pass before passing a small campsite. As you continue on the trail the following day, you’ll be treated to The Fume, an 800-foot high natural gorge and the trail’s most scenic treasure.

Pinhoti, Chinnabee, and Skyway Loop

Cheaha Wilderness, Alabama

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Best Backpacking Hikes in the USA: Pin-Chin-Sky Loop in the Cheaha Wilderness, Alabama (Credit: JNix/Shutterstock)
  • Distance: 17.7 mile loop
  • Duration: 2 day
  • Elevation gain: 3,149 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Packing essential: Bright colors during hunting season (mid-Oct to late Jan)
  • Permit requirements: Hiking permit required (mid-Nov through Jan)

From scenic overlooks and old-growth forests to stunning waterfalls, the Pinhoti, Chinnabee and Skyway Loop (known as Pin-Chin-Sky Loop ) embodies the natural beauty found in the southern states. The trail begins and ends at the Adam’s Gap Trailhead and provides breathtaking panoramic views and scenic attractions like  Devil’s Den waterfall and Cheaha Falls.

Pohono Trail

Yosemite National Park, California

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Best Backpacking Hikes in the USA: Pohono Trail in Yosemite National Park, California (Credit: lu_sea/Shutterstock)
  • Distance: 13-mile out and back
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Elevation gain: 3,700 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Packing essential: Trekking poles
  • Permit requirements: Permit required for backcountry overnight stays

Experience the best of Yosemite’s landmark attractions by backpacking the Pohono Trail, located within Yosemite National Park. The trail meanders along the park’s scenic southern rim, delivering epic views from several overlooks, including Taft Point, Dewey Point and Crocker Point. In addition to witnessing the cascading waters of Vernal, Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls, park favorites like Half Dome, Sentinel and El Capitan are also seen along the trail.

Manistee River Trail/N. Country Loop

Manistee National Forest, Michigan

Manistee
Best Backpacking Hikes in the USA: Manistee River Trail/N. Country Loop in Manistee National Forest, Michigan (Credit: Paul Massie Photography/Shutterstock)
  • Distance: 11-mile loop
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Elevation gain: 2,159 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Packing essential: Fishing pole for pike, bass and steelhead year round
  • Permit requirements: None

Head on an 11-mile adventure along the Manistee River Trail/N. Country Loop to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Beginning with the Red Hill Lookout, hikers can take in views of the Manistee River and surrounding forests. The path continues over the Manistee River via one of the state’s longest pedestrian footbridges. Then it passes a series of waterfalls feeding into the river below.

Alum Cave Trail, Mount LeConte

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

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The Best Backpacking Hikes in the USA: Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee (Credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
  • Distance: 11-mile out and back
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Elevation gain: 2,763 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Packing essential: crampons for winter hiking
  • Permits requirements: Permit required for backcountry overnight stays

Located in the Smoky Mountains near Gettysburg, Tennessee, the Alum Cave Trail has intriguing geological features, holds an interesting history and delivers breathtaking panoramic views. Its history dates back to 1838 when Alum Cave was established as The Epsom Salt Manufacturing Company. The original cave – though actually an overhang towering 80 feet high – is all that remains of its storied past. As you travel along the trail, you’ll hike under Arch Rock, a natural arch formed by years of wind and water erosion. This intriguing arch is one of the most notable geological features within the Smoky Mountains.

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