Staying in hotels and traveling on a tight itinerary through a travel agent is organized and convenient, but it’s not everyone’s style. Some people crave the action, the adventure involved in just showing up and taking each day as it comes.
Backpacking trips are a whole world of fun. The excitement of not knowing what you’ll do the next day, the freedom of being able to do anything and go anywhere, and the experience of visiting places few tourists get to…it’s a heady feeling. Once you go down that route, you won’t think of going back.
If you live in America you’re doubly fortunate, because the US is one of the best countries in the world for backpacking. It’s beautiful, safe, and immensely large. You can see just about everything here. Today, we’ve listed some of the best backpacking trips in the US – because everyone needs a starting point!
The home of sun, sand and surf! Of course, there are hundreds more things you can do in Miami, but do you really want to? The water’s crystal clear and the beach sand is a beautiful white.
Don’t miss South Beach – it’s a stunning beach with gorgeous people. Everything there is costly – from parking to food and entertainment – but it’s well worth it if you enjoy people-watching and want a solid tan. Bring a book, get a nice spot, and lie down and read while you get a good all-over tan. Your body will appreciate it.
Remember to bring sunscreen with you, and try to make sure you get an even tan. If you’re paying the expensive parking fees, you want to make sure the result’s worth it. Your hands and feet tend to be a lot fairer, for instance, while your back is often darker. Take that into consideration.
2. The Thorofare in Yellowstone
Backpacking trips in the USA’s national parks are great because they’re peaceful, don’t cost half as much (since there are no “attractions” requiring tickets), and they’re safe and exciting. Of course, they’re not for everyone, but for naturalists and the like they’re practically heaven.
The trail’s 68 miles long, and should take you 1-2 weeks. It’s a breathtaking trail, and you’ll come across plenty of interesting flora and fauna along the way. It’s great for photographers, naturalists, or for anyone looking for a break from the daily grind. It’ll serve as an intense detox, and you’ll be back home with beautiful memories.
The Thorofare is a very remote region, however, so make sure you go prepared – travel in a group with a guide, and be prepared for emergencies (wildlife encounters, injuries, allergies, whatever).
3. Los Angeles
LA equals fun! It’s not the place to go if you’re looking for a tranquil atmosphere and scenery. However, if you enjoy liveliness, tourist attractions, convenience and people-watching, this is the place to go. With Disneyland, Universal Studios, the Griffith Observatory and Hollywood Boulevard, LA’s packed full of fun things to do.
Admittedly, Hollywood Boulevard isn’t the most fun place – it’s a little dirty, and overhyped. Universal Studios, Disneyland and other paid tourist attractions, however, are immaculate – as you’d expect them to be.
There are lots of things you can do here for free, and it’s easy to find affordable dorms and eateries. Sketch out a detailed itinerary before you go, find out when you’ll get the best rates (often during the work week), and take all the stuff you’ll need. Backpacking in LA is actually very affordable.
Flight fare to Honolulu will cost a bit, so it’s only affordable if you either live in Hawaii, have loyalty points with an airline, or can find really cheap tickets. If it’s the last one, don’t hesitate to buy – ever. You’ll have great fun. Honolulu’s good at all times of the year (although you might not want to swim in the ocean during winter).
Lodging and restaurants can be found for cheap if you stay away from the heart of the city. Avoid touristy places. As for things to do, try Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head volcano, and the Honolulu zoo. We found the local wildlife very interesting, so we’d really recommend the bay and zoo – the cost is minimal, and you’ll get to see stunning scenery (with crystal clear water, as expected) and cute little creatures – from turtles to flamingos to secretary birds.
5. Brown Pass in Glacier
Glaciers are absolutely beautiful, but they’re disappearing. Do all you can to reduce your carbon footprint (and educate others on the subject), and go see America’s glaciers before they’re gone completely.
Located in Montana, this 39-mile one-way trail should take you just 3 days. Not a very lengthy trip, sadly! But during these 3 days you can expect to see sights worth a lifetime. Majestic mountains, enormous glaciers, serene lakes, rolling wildflower meadows, breathtaking waterfalls, and some fantastic wildlife. You could very well spot a grizzly bear or two (take bear spray with you).
You’ll get to spend time out in nature, meditate and observe wildlife, relax, and get exercise (and sun) – can there possibly be a better combination?
The best backpacking trails in the US
If you’re a nature-lover, you’ll love some of the trails around the country. Trails are great for killing time once you’re at your destination. Wherever you’re planning on going, plug the location into AllTrails, and it’ll show you a list of places nearby with difficulty levels, lengths and reviews.
Based on our experience, here are some of the best backpacking trails in the US for birdwatchers and scenery-lovers:
- Gainesville, FL – The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, and the La Chua Trail
- Colorado Springs, CO – The Palmer Trail, and the Seven Bridges Trail
- Danville, CA – Ringtail Cat, Madrone, Las Trampas Ridge and Corduroy Hills Loop
- Ellicott City, MD – Soapstone Trail Loop and the Avalon Loop Trail
There’s no way to pinpoint which of these is the “best”, since all these places have their own charm. The fun atmosphere of Gainesville, the breathtaking beauty of Colorado Springs, the laid back people of Danville, and the easy charm of Ellicott City. These are all incredible places, and until you’ve visited them you’ll never know what you’ve been missing.
Packing for backpacking trips
The key is to travel light, and take things that can be put to multiple uses. Versatility and flexibility are key, as are toughness and quality. You don’t want to bring along cheap tees that’ll tear if rolled too tightly. You want tees that can double as a towel or head cover, which won’t tear, wrinkle, get stained, or take forever to dry. Here’s a short list of things you want to bring on backpacking trips in the USA:
- Versatile clothes (for all weathers – something for blazing sunny days, and something for cold nights)
- Toiletry bag with toiletries (don’t go overboard, just bring basic personal hygiene stuff. Soap, conditioner, nail clippers, toothbrush. You don’t want to be unhygienic, but you don’t want to lug around your hair protein treatments either)
- A first-aid kit
- Sandals or shoes – you’ll probably have to walk a lot!
- A good towel
- Water bottle
- Cash (not cards) in a secure wallet
- A hat and sunscreen if it’ll be sunny. Mosquito repellant if the local weather calls for it. Research your destination.
Some of the best backpacking trips have been ruined by uncomfortable luggage. Don’t make that mistake. Take good-quality, light luggage with compression cubes, make sure it’s all waterproof and durable, and that the shoulder and hip straps are padded. Aim to keep it as light as possible – and then some.
This was a brief guide on backpacking in the USA. Want more? Let us know! Your feedback is very important to us, and we’d love to write on subjects our readers are interested in. For more articles about travel, subscribe to our blog.