Up For a Challenge? Let These Long Day Hikes Test Your Spirit

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.

Day Hiker, South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona

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.

Day hike trail, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

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.

day hiking trail, Paintbrush Canyon, Wyoming

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.