Thinking about taking an epic hike in the near future? As much as Iowa has to offer, there is limited long-distance hiking options within our borders. Instead, why not head south, north, east or west to some of the greatest established trails in America. Whether you are looking for a great week in the backcountry, or a lifestyle change with a 6+ month trip, here are some great long-distance hiking trails worth checking out:
Experience the grandeur of Mt. Rainier with a trip on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail and its 360 degree views of this majestic mountain. The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mt. Rainier, winding its way up and down the Pacific Northwest terrain and bringing you back to exactly the spot you started, making driving logistics at least a little easier to figure out.
If New Hampshire isn’t on your adventure radar, it should be, that’s because New Hampshire has the white mountains, unforgettable scenery and a culture unique to its geographic region. A great representation of this note-worthy adventurism is the Cohos Trail which extends for 165 miles throughout the state, and over 40 mountain peaks surrounded by surreal Northeastern United States scenery. For those international travelers looking to get a little more action, you can cross the Canadian Border on the northern terminus and continue on the Sentiers Frontaliers Trail well into Canada.
Perhaps the epitome of backcountry travel, the John Muir Trail paints a brilliant picture of western wilderness including dramatic alpine peaks, serene mountain lakes and vistas that will take your breath away. Primarily located within Yosemite National Park, this trail is adventurous for sure, and for us low-lying midwesterners the altitude is drastic. If you’re planning on taking this epic trip, be sure to plan ahead, because getting your permit for this unforgettable experience might be the hardest part of your journey.
Following the northern shore of Lake Superior for 310 miles, the Superior Hiking Trail offers users a concentrated dose of state parks and wilderness areas, making this for a jammed-pack adventure worth taking your time with. Easily accessible by the road, many people tackling the Lake Superior Trail do it in “segments” (one section at a time), but if you are in it for the long haul, the trail, the sights and the community will surely help you along.
Stretching from Durango to Denver, the Colorado Trail is touted as the mile-for-mile most beautiful hiking trail in the United States. Whether you subscribe to that or not, know that it is in the running, because this 500 mile trail does exemplify all the reasons people are moving to Colorado by the truck load. Big mountain peaks, stunning alpine lakes and enough elevation to get you feeling light-headed, put this amazing hike on your short list for 2016.
If you have a taste for the southwest, the Hayduke Trail can give you a full serving of sandstone scenery. Winding through Utah’s five National Parks, as well as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, this trail promises some of the biggest and most brilliant scenes of any other trail out there. With good reason, your number one concern on the Hayduke Trail should be water, and while you zig-zag along these primal corridors, at least your thirst for adventure will always be satisfied.
The Ice Age Trail may have been a volunteer-led effort beginning in the 1950’s, but the glaciers that carved their way through the land over 12,000 years ago were the runs that initially created this route. The Ice Age Trail represents one of 11 National Scenic Trails in the country, and this one isn’t even fully complete. To hike the Ice Age Trail all the way through (only 100 people have done this), you will have to use your wits and resources as not the entire trail is properly marked or mapped out.
The Pacific Northwest Trail, not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail, winds its way east to west along the northern border of the western United States. Spanning across such signature landscapes as the Rocky Mountains, the Cascade Mountains, the Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula, this trail is sure to give you a few Kodak moments. If you like the northwest scene, this is the trail for you, and once you’ve finished your incredible journey, you can tell people you traveled all the way from the the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Crest Trail – Appalachian Trail – The Continental Divide Trail
The American dream team of National Scenic Trails; combined the Pacific Crest Trail (west coast), Appalachian Trail (east coast), and the Continental Divide Trail (Middle of the country, Rocky Mountains) make up the Triple Crown of Hiking. For those willing to hike the 7,000+ miles of the three most notable National Scenic Trails in our country, expect to see the whole array of environment the country has to offer as you turn your calf muscles into pure steel.
Had enough of those easy 2,000-3,000 mile thru-hikes? Perhaps you’d be interested in the American Discovery Trail, which stretches coast-to-coast, from east to west (or vice-versa), connecting 15 states (including Iowa). While not many people thru-hike this entire trail, and most stick to just days or perhaps weeks at a time, two 50-year plus trekkers completed the entire hike in 2013, some 17 months after they started.