6 Long Trails That Are Perfect for Beginners

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Are you a passionate day-hiker looking to break into the world of overnight backpacking? It can be intimidating to contemplate your first multiday trip, but choosing the right trail for your needs can make all the difference. Terrain, navigation, infrastructure, and accessibility should be primary concerns for those new to long-distance trekking. The best long trails for beginners offer gentle terrain, frequent signage, access to help in emergencies, and, of course, beautiful scenery. Amenities like shelters, privies, and bear lockers can also help ease you into the rhythm of trail life. Fortunately, North America is chock-full of ideal starter hikes for long trail newcomers. Read on to discover our top picks.

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Distance: 35 miles
Location: Washington
Difficulty Level: 3/10
Time: 3-4 days

Why You’ll Love It

Short and sweet, this classic Olympic National Park hike has a little bit of everything, from rain forests to glaciers and everything in between. Also called “the valley of 1,000 waterfalls,” Enchanted Valley itself is the crown jewel of this action-packed trek. Pro tip: while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out the world’s largest western hemlock between the valley and Anderson Glacier.

What Makes It Great for Beginners

Consider this your long trail warm-up. This point-to-point hike from Graves Creek to Dosewallips Trailhead measures just under 35 miles in length. It’s the shortest trail on our list by far, but it makes a perfect introduction to long-distance hiking. Other than one big climb up and over Anderson Pass, this trail is gentle and relatively easy.

Water sources and campsites are abundant, and during hiking season there will be plenty of fellow humans around should you need a helping hand. Overnight food storage is also a simple matter on this hike: bear canisters are required in Enchanted Valley and bear poles are provided elsewhere. Finally, this trail is short enough that you’ll be able to carry all your supplies in with you, eliminating any worry about getting off trail to resupply.

Other Considerations

This trail is in Olympic National Park, so you’ll need to apply for a permit through their backcountry office and pay the nightly campsite fee in addition to your park entrance fee. We recommend contacting the park well in advance for details about this hike and the permit application process.

Enchanted Valley and other Olympic National Park Trails are maintained by the National Park Service.

Sunshine Coast Trail

Distance: 112 miles
Location: British Columbia
Difficulty Level: 2/10
Time: 2 weeks

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Why You’ll Love It

Immerse yourself in all the mountainous, old-growth glory BC has to offer on this 95-mile adventure. If you need more convincing to check this one out, remember that it’s “The Sunshine Coast” for a reason. Although wet weather is still a definite possibility, the region receives less rainfall than most of British Columbia because it lies in Vancouver Island’s rain shadow.

What Makes It Great for Beginners

The route is well-marked and well-maintained, making for easy navigation. Twelve primitive huts along the way simplify the logistics of looking for a place to make camp every night. Note that hut space is available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you start up north, you’ll ease into the hike with lower elevations and gentler terrain, then work up gradually to the more mountainous stuff down south. Road crossings make most of the trail fairly accessible without compromising its wild, remote feel.

Other Considerations

There is limited public transportation to the trailhead, but if your planned departure doesn’t fit the bus schedule, you can also reach it via ferry or water taxi. There are no bear poles at the huts, so be sure to practice hanging a bear bag and bring all necessary supplies with you. The 50 southernmost miles of the SCT are less well-traveled and therefore the most rugged of the whole trail. Most people hike from north to south, so you’ll have had a decent warm-up by the time you hit this stretch.

The SCT is maintained by the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society.

Tahoe Rim Trail

Distance: 165 miles
Location: California/Nevada
Difficulty Level: 4/10
Time: 3 weeks

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Why You’ll Love It

You’ll get to spend a handful of weeks looking down on sapphire-blue Lake Tahoe, one of America’s most sought-after vacation destinations, from a peaceful vantage point high in the Sierra Nevada. This might sound like a tough sell, but try to keep an open mind. It’s actually pretty nice.

What Makes It Great for Beginners

The terrain is moderate—not exactly a cakewalk, but not crushing, either—and the trail surface is mostly smooth. It’s a loop hike, which simplifies travel logistics dramatically, and there are several resupply options along the way.

Other Considerations

You’ll need a thru-hiker permit, as well as a California Campfire Permit if you plan to cook on a stove. Water availability is an issue on portions of this trail, so study up on your water sources and be sure to carry several liters at all times.

The TRT is maintained by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.

The Long Trail

Distance: 272 miles
Location: Vermont
Difficulty Level: 6/10
Time: 4 weeks

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Why You’ll Love It

Thoroughly steeped in long-distance hiking lore, this is one of America’s quintessential backpacking trails. It is, literally, the Long Trail—oldest in the United States, and the model that inspired Benton MacKaye’s dream of an even longer Appalachian Trail. It runs south-north through the state of Vermont, following the spine of the Green Mountains. As you might imagine, it boasts some of the best scenery the Northeast has to offer. The first 100 miles of the Long Trail are concurrent with the Appalachian Trail, so in completing the former, you’ll also score a section of the latter for your hiking resume. Keep in mind that while the distance is shorter than other long-distance trails, your mileage will likely be lower in the northern half thanks to more rugged terrain.

What Makes It Great for Beginners

Truthfully, the terrain is challenging.  Plan for low mileage, especially once the Long Trail splits with the Appalachian Trail at Maine Junction.  It’s kind of like a mini-AT (it’s even marked with white blazes), making it a perfect proving ground for those toying with the possibility of an AT thru-hike or LASH. The terrain in Southern Vermont is relatively mild, giving northbound hikers a chance to build their trail legs before reaching the more rugged terrain up north. Although the terrain is quite difficult overall, the trail is very well marked and offers hikers frequent options to hitch to nearby towns. The Long Trail would be a great option for those seeking frequent bailout points, or those who want a taste of the challenging parts of the AT.

Other Considerations

When planning a hike of the Long Trail, keep in mind that May and June is mud season in Vermont, and Mother’s Day to Father’s Day is black fly season. Have you ever been engulfed in a blood-sucking carnivore cloud while struggling to make forward progress on a sludge treadmill? No? Keep it that way by avoiding the Long Trail until late June at the very earliest.

The Long Trail is maintained by the Green Mountain Club.

Superior Hiking Trail

Distance: 310 miles
Location: Minnesota
Difficulty Level: 4/10
Time: 4 weeks

superior hiking trail

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Why You’ll Love It

The SHT meanders through beautiful northern hardwood and evergreen forests as it loosely follows the north shore of Lake Superior. This is hike is off the beaten path with a little bit of northern wilderness adventure flavor thrown in.

What Makes It Great for Beginners

There’s relatively little net elevation change on the SHT, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are plenty of little ups and downs along this trail to ensure a physically challenging hike (so make sure you’re prepared). The trail features 93 established backcountry campsites, taking the difficulty out of finding a place to make camp each night. Although it’s more remote than most hikes on this list, you’ll still encounter several road crossings that can serve for resupply or extraction points if things go pear-shaped.

Other Considerations

Camping isn’t allowed in the southernmost 30 miles of this trail, since this section runs through the Duluth area. This section is a relatively recent addition to the SHT, and many thru-hikers choose to skip it. Beaver ponds are a frequent sight along the SHT. Beaver ponds are not recommended as drinking water sources, but if you must drink from them, it is absolutely essential that you filter and treat the water if you want to avoid the risk of giardiasis or “beaver fever.”

The SHT is maintained by the Superior Hiking Trail Association.

Pinhoti Trail

Distance: 339 miles
Location: Alabama/Georgia
Difficulty Level: 4/10
Time: 4 weeks

alabama pinhoti flagg mountain cabin

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Why You’ll Love It

It’s got all the charm and magic of the southern Appalachian Trail, minus the throngs of hikers. Hiking the Pinhoti rather than tackling the Georgia section of the AT (for instance) could be a big win for both you and the trail environment.

What Makes It Great for Beginners

Blue blazes and plenty of foot traffic make the Pinhoti easy to follow. What’s more, you won’t have to battle extreme terrain or remote wilderness on this trail. It’s a much quieter and more peaceful experience than heavily trafficked trails like the AT, but you’ll still have plenty of contact with civilization. You’ll even have the luxury of AT-style shelters when making camp most nights.

Other Considerations

For point-to-point hikes like this one, you’ll need to arrange transportation between the two trailheads. If you’re with a group, staging vehicles at either end is a good option. Otherwise, it’s easy enough to either hitchhike or shuttle. Try to get shuttled to your starting point and hike back to your car, rather than vice versa. You’ll feel much better knowing you’re heading for a reliable form of transportation.

The PT is maintained by the Pinhoti Trail Alliance.

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Comments 6

  • Joshua Visi : Feb 28th

    I know Zach has shit on this trail before in his podcast, but let me tell you the Lone Star Trail is a beautiful 100 mile or so trail through the Sam Houston National Forest in east Texas. It only has 600 feet of elevation change but hey its still 100 miles which makes it a great beginner trail. Learn more at:
    http://lonestartrail.org/index.html

    Reply
    • John : Apr 9th

      Another thing about the LST is some/most years you can hike it in February in shorts.

      Reply
    • Dogwood : Apr 18th

      Agree. It’s a pancake thru hike being able to be enjoyed virtually yr round. I chose it as shakedown hike in prep for an Ozark Highlands EABO thru as I was overcoming severe PF.

      Reply
  • Josh Johnson : Apr 9th

    Great list! I’m sure there are plenty of other “small” long-distance trails that will end up on a follow-up list to this one but I have to say that I picked the Long Trail as my first thru-hike for some of the same reasons you listed here including that it’s the OG long distance trail.

    Reply
  • Maty : Apr 10th

    Cohos trail in New Hampshire, its like the VLT but it new Hampshire.
    Grafton loop trail in Maine, 40 ish miles lots of water great for figuring out how awesome our sport can be.

    Reply
  • Dogwood : Apr 18th

    Good list.

    The Northville Lake Placid Tr(NPT) can be added to the list good for neophytes – shelters, easy resupply and H2O logistics(treat water), well marked, not significantly difficult getting to either terminus, fishing opps, side diversion into the High Peaks ADK Park to bag state high pt Mt. Marcy and other 4k ft+ peaks…

    Central to the major Northeast pop center are sections of the AT in NJ, MD and VA that can be state thru hikes. Who doesn’t like petting ponies? Watch your step.

    Low country sections of the Mountain To Sea Trail for those in the southeast make for rambling hikes along Segment 7 from Pilot Mt to hanging Rock SP(Sauratown Mountains), Segment 10 from Eno River along Falls Lake which can include furthering the surf n’ turf adventure at Falls Lake Dam paddling the Neuse River as an officially recognized MST alternate, or long serene beach walks to the Outer Banks on Segment 18 which includes ferry rides. Yaks and canoes can be rented and shuttled to the put in/take out sites by Outfitters in Raleigh and Wake Forest for the Neuse River.

    Reply

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