7 Best Thru Hikes in the US

The United States offers so many great hiking and backpacking opportunities that it’s hard to decide which trails to explore. In this post, we’ll be taking a virtual tour of the best thru hikes in the US, from coast to coast, desert to alpine, and everything in between.

We’ll journey through trails that sprawl across thousands of miles and others that, while shorter, still deliver an intense dose of awe and adventure. We’ll delve into the unique features of each trail, what makes them worth the blisters and the sweat, and why they’re considered among the best in the US.

So lace up your virtual hiking boots, and let’s get started on this exploration of the scenic, challenging, and downright breathtaking hikes that the US has to offer!

1. Appalachian Trail (AT)

There’s so much to talk about the Appalachian Trail, one of the best thru hikes in the US. For starters, imagine this: one day you’re tying your boots at Springer Mountain in Georgia, and months later you’re standing atop Mount Katahdin in Maine, having traversed through a huge chunk of America. It’s not just any chunk either, but 2,200 miles of varied terrain, taking you through an impressive 14 states. And it’s not a walk in the park – the AT has it all, from steep ascents to tranquil flatlands. It’s an adventurer’s paradise!

And speaking of nature, let’s dive into that a bit more. The AT is often referred to as the “green tunnel” by hikers, and for good reason. It’s a winding trail through thick, verdant forests that seem to stretch on forever. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s all the same view. One moment you’re enveloped by leafy canopies, the next you’re greeted by panoramic vistas from a mountaintop. Each bend in the trail brings something new. And the seasons? They transform the AT into a dynamic display of nature’s artistry, from spring’s burst of blossoms to the riotous colors of fall.

Trail NameLengthStart PointEnd PointStates CrossedUnique Features
Appalachian Trail (AT)2,200 milesSpringer Mountain, GeorgiaMount Katahdin, Maine14Known for its “green tunnel” of dense eastern forests. Each season offers different scenic views, from vibrant spring wildflowers to autumn’s fiery foliage.

But the AT isn’t just about nature, it’s also a journey through history and culture. Walking its length, you’re tracing a path that has been trodden by generations of hikers, each with their own stories. You’ll pass historic sites, quaint towns, and get a feel for the diverse cultures that make up the eastern U.S. And don’t forget the camaraderie – whether you’re a solo hiker or with a group, the sense of community on the trail is something special.

So, if you’re up for a challenge and ready to swap the daily grind for a few months of adventure, the AT is the place to be. It’s not just a hike, it’s an experience. The kind that leaves footprints on your heart, and the kind that lets you casually mention at parties that you’ve walked across 14 states. How many people can say that, right? The Appalachian Trail isn’t just a path through the woods – it’s a journey of a lifetime!

2. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

pacific crest trail

The Pacific Crest Trail, or the PCT as it’s fondly known, is truly the stuff of legend. Starting at the Mexican border, it stretches an astounding 2,650 miles all the way to Canada. Along the way, you’ll be crossing through California, Oregon, and Washington. Yeah, you heard that right – three states, three diverse landscapes, and countless memories waiting to be made!

Let’s talk about diversity, shall we? The PCT is a buffet of ecosystems. It serves up a platter of scorching desert terrain, then switches to alpine wonderlands, and even tosses in lush, verdant forests for good measure. Imagine walking under the sweltering sun amidst cacti and lizards one week, then trudging through snow-capped mountains the next, and finally, losing yourself in misty, fern-laden woods. The PCT isn’t just a trail, it’s an all-access pass to Mother Nature’s grand theater.

Trail NameLengthStart PointEnd PointStates CrossedUnique Features
Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)2,650 milesMexican BorderCanadian Border3 (California, Oregon, Washington)It offers an incredible variety of environments, including deserts, alpine regions, and lush forests. The trail also presents a test of character, endurance, and self-reliance, but with the reward of a great sense of accomplishment at the end.

But the PCT, one of the best thru hikes in the US, is more than just its landscapes. It’s a test of character, endurance, and self-reliance. It can be brutal and unforgiving, with extreme weather, challenging terrain, and the ever-present need to manage resources and health. But guess what? It’s also intensely rewarding. Nothing quite matches the feeling of accomplishment when you stand at the end, looking back at the epic journey you’ve just completed.

So, if you’re itching for an adventure, one that will take you through a kaleidoscope of American wilderness, and one that you’ll be telling your grandkids about, look no further than the Pacific Crest Trail. Sure, it’s a mammoth task that demands respect, but it’s also a journey that gifts you with an indomitable spirit, and of course, the bragging rights of having hiked from Mexico to Canada.

3. Continental Divide Trail (CDT)

continental divide trail

If you’re a fan of challenges and breathtaking views, the Continental Divide Trail, or CDT, is your kind of adventure. Known as the toughest leg of the hiking Triple Crown (which also includes the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail), the CDT is no walk in the park. It sprawls for about 3,100 miles, following the Rocky Mountains all the way from New Mexico to Montana. Talk about a marathon of a hike!

But here’s the real kicker – the CDT doesn’t just have you strolling along gentle slopes. Oh no, it takes you on remote, high-elevation treks, often above the treeline. It’s you, the crisp alpine air, and panoramic views stretching as far as the eye can see. You’ll be crossing five states, each with its own set of landscapes and challenges, and a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Trail NameLengthStart PointEnd PointStates CrossedUnique Features
Continental Divide Trail (CDT)3,100 milesNew MexicoMontana5Known for its remote, high-elevation treks along the Rocky Mountains. It’s considered the most challenging part of the hiking Triple Crown.

The beauty of the CDT, considered one of the best thru hikes in the US, is that it’s as raw as it gets. You’re often far from civilization, engulfed in the wilderness. It can be tough and demanding, testing your endurance and survival skills. But every strenuous step, every night under the stars brings you closer to nature, to the core of what it means to be alive.

In short, if you’re seeking an experience that pushes your boundaries and deepens your connection with the great outdoors, the CDT is your trail. It’s not just about reaching the end, but about the journey itself, the stories you’ll gather, and the strength you’ll discover. And of course, you’ll earn the badge of honor of having completed the toughest part of the hiking Triple Crown. Now, that’s a story to tell!

4. John Muir Trail (JMT)

john muir trail

Ah, the John Muir Trail, or JMT. Sure, it might be a bit shorter than others on this list, clocking in at 211 miles, but let me tell you – it packs a punch when it comes to beauty! It’s like a greatest hits album of California’s natural splendor, taking you through three of its most stunning national parks – Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia.

Each step of the JMT offers something to gawk at. Towering granite cliffs, majestic waterfalls, serene alpine lakes, and vast meadows – it’s a nature lover’s dream come true. The star of the show, though, is its finale. The trail concludes at the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states. Trust me, standing at over 14,000 feet, looking over a sea of peaks – it’s an unforgettable experience.

Trail NameLengthStart PointEnd PointStates CrossedUnique Features
John Muir Trail (JMT)211 milesYosemite National Park, CaliforniaMount Whitney, California1 (California)It offers breathtaking scenery, passing through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. The trail concludes at Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.

Now, don’t let its shorter length fool you. The JMT is no cakewalk. There are steep ascents, rocky paths, and the altitude can be a challenge. But if you’re up for it, the rewards are tremendous. It’s not just the scenery, but the sense of achievement, the solitude, the stars at night – it’s an immersive wilderness experience.

In short, if you’re looking for – awe-inspiring vistas, challenging terrain, and a chance to explore one of the best thru hikes in the US – the JMT is your ticket. It may be less than a quarter of the length of its longer siblings, but it delivers just as much, if not more, awe and adventure.

5. Colorado Trail (CT)

colorado trail

Oh, the Colorado Trail! This one is a gem and certainly one of the best thru hikes in the US. The CT, as it’s often called, is a beautiful 486-mile journey from Denver to Durango, slicing right through the heart of the Colorado Rockies. It’s like a personal invitation from Mother Nature herself, offering you front-row seats to some of the most breathtaking landscapes Colorado has to offer.

The CT is a smorgasbord of ecosystems, each more stunning than the last. Imagine trekking through colorful wildflower meadows one day, and glacial valleys the next. You’ll encounter forests of aspen and pine, alpine lakes that mirror the sky, and peaks that scrape the heavens. It’s a trail that’s constantly evolving, with every turn, every crest unveiling a new vista to take your breath away.

Trail NameLengthStart PointEnd PointStates CrossedUnique Features
The Colorado Trail (CT)486 milesDenver, ColoradoDurango, Colorado1 (Colorado)Passes through stunning parts of the Colorado Rockies, offering an incredible variety of ecosystems from wildflower meadows to glacial valleys. It is also a test of physical endurance and mental resolve.

But the CT is more than just one of the best thru hikes in the US. It’s a test of physical endurance and mental resolve, with its rugged terrain and sometimes unpredictable weather. There are steep climbs and long stretches without resupply points. Yet, it’s precisely these challenges that make the CT such a rewarding experience. The sense of accomplishment that you’ll feel after navigating through it all is unparalleled.

In conclusion, if you’re in search of a trail that showcases the best of Colorado’s wilderness, and if you’re ready to push your limits, the Colorado Trail beckons. It’s not just a trail, but a journey of discovery – of nature’s wonders, and of your own untapped strengths. There’s something profoundly satisfying about setting foot on such a trail, and who knows, it might just be the adventure you’ve been waiting for.

6. Arizona Trail (AZT)

arizona trail

Have you ever wished to explore the best of the Southwest, all in one go? Well, meet the Arizona Trail, or AZT for short. This trail strings together 800 miles of the best landscapes Arizona has to offer, stretching from the Mexican border up north to Utah. If you’re looking for a hiking adventure that’s as diverse as it is challenging, the AZT has got your name on it.

As you journey along the AZT, you’ll encounter an astounding variety of landscapes. One moment you’re meandering through sun-soaked desert plains with saguaro cacti standing guard, the next you’re climbing snow-dusted mountain ranges. It’s a trail that keeps you on your toes, serving up surprise after beautiful surprise.

Trail NameLengthStart PointEnd PointStates CrossedUnique Features
Arizona Trail (AZT)800 milesMexican Border, ArizonaUtah Border, Arizona1 (Arizona)Showcases an incredible variety of landscapes, from deserts to mountain ranges. The trail includes a section passing through the iconic Grand Canyon.

But the jewel in the AZT’s crown is undoubtedly the Grand Canyon. There’s something truly humbling about standing on the rim of this natural wonder, looking out at its vast, rugged beauty. Hiking through it, feeling its immensity around you, is an experience that words can hardly do justice to.

So, if you’ve got the itch to embark on a trek that offers both variety and a touch of the iconic, the Arizona trail really is one of the best thru hikes in the US for you. It’s a trail that invites you to experience the magic of the Southwest, one step at a time. It’s tough, it’s beautiful, it’s unforgettable, and it includes a walk through the Grand Canyon – need I say more?

7. Florida Trail (FT)

florida trail

In the mood for something a bit different from the high-altitude mountain trails? Allow me to introduce the Florida Trail, or FT as it’s commonly known. This one-of-a-kind trail stretches for about 1,100 miles, beginning in the mystic marshlands of the Everglades and culminating at the sun-kissed sands of Pensacola Beach, Florida.

The FT is a love letter to Florida’s incredible biodiversity. As you traverse its length, you’ll journey through captivating cypress swamps and under the shade of towering pine forests. It’s not just the landscapes that make the FT special, but also the incredible wildlife. Don’t be surprised if you cross paths with alligators, manatees, and a symphony of bird species. It’s like stepping into a live nature documentary!

Trail NameLengthStart PointEnd PointStates CrossedUnique Features
Florida Trail (FT)1,100 milesEverglades, FloridaPensacola Beach, Florida1 (Florida)Showcases the biodiversity of Florida, including cypress swamps, pine forests, and numerous wildlife species. Unlike many other long-distance trails, the FT is largely flat, offering a unique hiking experience.

Unlike many other long-distance trails, the FT is largely flat. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s easy. Navigating the swampy terrains and braving the Floridian heat and humidity present their own unique challenges. Yet, for those who dare, the FT offers an unforgettable journey into the heart of Florida’s wilderness.

So, if you’re intrigued by the idea of a long-distance hike but want to try something a little different, consider the Florida Trail. It’s an adventure that will lead you through a spectrum of ecosystems and offer a unique window into the rich biodiversity that Florida has to offer.

Exploring the Best Thru Hikes in the US

Remember, whether you’re an experienced thru-hiker or just starting out, the journey is just as important as the destination. It’s about immersing yourself in the wilderness, testing your limits, and above all, discovering a profound sense of connection with nature.

Each of these trails, known as some of the best thru hikes in the US, offers its own unique set of challenges and rewards, scenery and experiences. Whether you’re drawn to the high-altitude trek of the Continental Divide Trail or the breathtaking scenery of the John Muir Trail, there’s a thru-hike out there with your name on it.

best thru hikes in the US

So, here’s to the call of the wild and the lure of the trail. May your hikes be challenging, your views breathtaking, and your spirit forever adventurous.

Jim Murphy

Jim's love for camping started at an early age. His parents would take him camping every summer, where he'd spend his days getting quality time in with his dad and his nights eating too many smores.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts