What’s better than challenging, long day hikes? A great aspect of playing outdoors is the unlimited number of ways to test your spirit. To go the distance. Sure, smelling the wildflowers is nice, but so is crushing miles. Push yourself to new limits and revel in the new person you become.
For some inspirational ideas on what big-distance trails to nab, why not peruse the list below. Take note, however, all these trails lead directly into wilderness situations where proper training and skills are needed. Plan accordingly, and perhaps buy a mouth-guard so you can really grit your teeth as you tackle the endless switchbacks.
Rim to Rim Hike, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
An absolute American classic, the journey from the South Rim to the North Rim (or vice versa) has challenged hikers from across the world. It takes roughly 24 miles to descend and climb out. Being the nation’s most scenic hole, it’s filled with technical terrain, exposed elements and plenty of ups and downs.
The best seasons to go for it are the shoulder seasons between the blistering heat of summer and the North Rim closures of winter. Going point-to-point, hikers will need to figure out transportation options before their trek. Doubling down is also an option, making for a 48-mile, rim-to-rim-to-rim hike and no need for a shuttle.
Cactus to Clouds Trail, Palm Springs to San Jacinto, California
This trail is well known by avid hikers and Search and Rescue teams alike. The Cactus to Clouds Trail of Southern California has a record for being dangerous. Beginning at the Palm Springs Art Museum, this trail climbs from the desert floor to the summit of the 10,834-foot San Jacinto.
Hikers ascend at least 8,000 feet in the first 12 miles, crossing through a highly exposed and completely arid desert along the way. A pre-dawn start is one of the key elements of completing the hike safely, as is packing enough water. After bagging San Jacinto, hikers can either reverse their tracks, hike to Idyllwild, or hike five miles to catch an aerial tram ride back down the mountain.
The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
For those fortunate enough to obtain the hard-to-get overnight permits for the Enchantments, good for you. For everyone else, to explore this mountain-carved area, it’s a free, self-issued permit, and a strenuous 19-mile hike to see it all.
Heading either direction on this point-to-point route involves a lot of elevation gain, including the climb-into-the-sky Aasgard Pass. You’ll find plenty of sore-leg distractions alongside herds of mountain goats, craggy peaks, and a water infused-landscapes. For lack of better words, this trail is simply enchanting.
Timberline Loop, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Beginning and ending at the historic Timberline Lodge, this trail circumnavigates the base of Mt. Hood with a nearly 40-mile route. Also known as the Timberline National Historical Trail #600, backpackers often tackle this route over the course of 3–4 days.
Logistically speaking, considering the distance and nearly 9,000 feet of total incline, it’s a tough go in just one day. Blaze past PCT thru-hikers, cross the eye-catching Ramona Falls and appreciate the abundance of PNW peaks. Just take your time with the fast-moving river fords found en route.
Crow Pass Trail, Chugach State Park, Alaska
As one of the best hikes in the 495,000-acre Chugach State Park, this trail exposes stunning Alaska terrain at every mile. This point-to-point trail measures in at roughly 23.1 miles, with elevation gain ranging from 2,100 to 3,100 feet, making for a stout day hike guaranteed.
Competitive backpacking permits are not an issue when considering the Crow Pass Trail though. Because the stunning scenery is worth stopping for frequently, a slower pace spread out over a few days is a viable option.
Paintbrush Canyon / Cascade Canyon Loop, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
To appreciate a slower pace, hike the stunning scenery of Grand Teton and the Teton Crest Trail. If you don’t have the time/permit, you can find a healthy slice of the alpine action via the 19-mile Paintbrush and Cascade Canyon Loop.
Hit the trail early to avoid the summer crowds near Jenny Lake. You should also utilize all the daylight you can for this epic incline of a hike. Paintbrush Divide and Lake Solitude serve as worthy semi-midway points. And the incredible mountain landscape stands as inspiration along the way.
C&O Canal Towpath, Washington D.C. to Harpers Ferry
For the last 35 years, the Sierra Club has hosted an epic day hike from Washington D.C. to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia, following along the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath. This One Day Hike (ODH) has two non-competitive lengths for patrons to follow, including a 100 and 50-kilometer route.
Along the evenly graded towpath, as part of this registered event, aid stations and volunteer bike patrols help any hiker signed up to go the distance. Anyone going for the 100k route (62.14 miles) has a 21-hour time limit to complete the course, not leaving much in the budget for naps along the trail.