If you're a diehard hiker looking to get out and about this year, but you can't quite manage airfare outside of North America, have no fear. Some of the greatest, most beautiful, and most challenging hikes in the world can be found right here. The diverse landscape of the North American continent means that you'll have a whole range of amazing views and unique experiences to choose from.
Grab your hiking boots and your backpack and set off for a great adventure. As always, practice Leave No Trace and show respect for the natural world.
Here are just a few of the most beloved trails in North America:
Yosemite National Park
Once declared unclimbable, the Half Dome is one of the most recognizable natural features on the continent and arguably the most well-known feature in Yosemite. Although the trailhead of this path and the end are only 2 miles apart, the trail winds around to a surprising 8.5 miles past several remarkable waterfalls and some of the sights that put Yosemite at the forefront of North American parks. What distinguishes this trail from all others is that at the end, hikers can climb the Dome without needing any sort of rock climbing equipment – two cables are set securely in the rock to guide hikers to the top. If you're a climber as well as a hiker, you're welcome to take one of many paths up the vertical face, but most hikers choose to take the cable route. Note that the cables can be very crowded during peak seasons, especially on Saturdays and holidays, so avoid the lines by hiking on a less popular day. The whole trip can be completed in a single day, but it would be a long (10-12 hours) and exhausting day. Break the hike into two parts and camp overnight in Little Yosemite Valley with a wilderness permit. The Dome has its own safety hazards, so be aware. Most importantly, never hike to the top during a thunderstorm because the Dome – and anyone on it – may be struck by lightning. Also, the cables are dangerously slippery when wet, so don't try to climb in wet weather. Use your common sense and take the hike seriously, and you'll be fine.
John Muir Trail
Named after John Muir, a naturalist and activist who helped save Yosemite Valley, the John Muir Trail is a 211-mile adventure through California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. The high-elevation trail begins in Yosemite Valley and continues through to Mount Whitney. Though you'll sometimes find snow as late as August, this part of the country has remarkably temperate weather for a mountain range. The trail runs through three national parks: Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia. Generally, the hiking season runs from July to September. You may encounter large animals like the California Black Bear along the way, but as long as you store your belongings properly and learn how to handle yourself around wild animals, there's no need to worry. Though the trail's record time is as little as four days, you'll probably want to set aside several weeks for the whole trek. This is an incredibly memorable way to spend an extended vacation if you've got the endurance and enough wanderlust. Note that you'll need to obtain a permit before you can set off on this trail. Rest up afterwards in a relaxing, comfortable California vacation rental where you can give your feet a break as you lounge around.
West Coast Trail
Located in Pacific Rim National Park, this 47-mile backpacking trail along Vancouver Island is a challenging, strenuous climb for hikers who want to stretch their skills without committing to weeks-long camping expeditions. The West Coast Trail is open from the beginning of May through the end of September; although heavily damaged in recent years, it bounced back after extensive work by the park team and reopened in May of 2007. If you choose to travel the entire 5-7 day trip, you'll need an overnight permit to stay at one of the designated campgrounds. This versatile trek can be made either north to south or south to north, depending on your preference and what's convenient to you. A warning to the inexperienced: this difficult trail might push you to your limits; some beach areas can't be passed through if the tide is wrong, there are cable car suspensions and boats to cross some waterways, and the trail has over 200 feet of very high ladders. If you want to participate but you don't trust your skills, consider a guided tour or a shorter day trip. Return home to a nearby vacation villa in British Columbia, a perfect place to relax with a hot shower and a view of Vancouver's beauty.
Bright Angel Trail
Grand Canyon National Park
This classic Grand Canyon trail is perfect for hikers of all skill levels, with novice-friendly day trip options and more challenging hiking farther down the trail. The trail has multiple stopping locations, including two campgrounds and an entire second trail if you're brave enough to take on the nearly shadeless North Kaibab trail. The Bright Angel Trail itself is very well-maintained and accessible to the less skilled, but it still has all the beauty you'd expect from the Grand Canyon. Start at the Canyon's southern rim and work your way down an over 4000 foot drop in elevation. If you'd like to camp overnight, get a permit and stay in the Indian Garden before turning back or moving on. Keep going and you'll pass the novices and the tourists into the more difficult section toward the Colorado River - but be careful as you approach the river, as it's extremely cold and rapid. Note that this hike may not be your best choice during the peak of summer because some parts of the valley can reach temperatures as high as 130 degrees. If you absolutely must come during the summer, try hiking the earlier parts near sunset as long as you're comfortable finding your way by moonlight and flashlight. Not only is this a romantic trip for two adventuring spirits, it's also a great way to avoid the summer heat.
Tahoe Rim Trail
Lake Tahoe (California and Nevada)
A relatively recent trail finished in 2001, the Tahoe Rim Trail loops around the entirety of Lake Tahoe. The trail is 165 miles long, passing through the states of California and Nevada at a high elevation due to the Sierra Nevada and Carson mountain ranges. If you choose to hike all or part of this trail, be warned that you'll have to share it - equestrians and skiers are welcome along the entire length of the trail, while mountain bikes are allowed everywhere except the wilderness areas. High season is July through September (though you can usually squeeze by in June and October), and while the trail doesn't close in winters, it is known for severe storms and lots of snow so you're better off avoiding it then. If you plan on thru-hiking around the entire lake, you have several choices of where to start. Hiking clockwise from Tahoe Meadows is the best choice for convenience, with Tahoe City a second choice. With a permit, you can camp in Desolation Wilderness, or you can take the trail in smaller pieces and rest in between at a beautiful rental cabin in Lake Tahoe.
Learn a little more about the national parks you can hike in by checking out our top ten national parks!