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Epic Backpacking Hikes in North America

The Appalachian Trail

This trail is by far one of the longest, and one of the most beautiful places in the world. It can be backpacked in short spurts, overnights, or thru-hiking, which means starting from one end and backpacking all the way to the other. Thru-hiking takes months to complete.
The trail surpasses 2000 miles and runs through fourteen different states (from Georgia to Maine), following the Appalachian mountain range.  For backpackers that don’t want to spend months on the trail, they can begin trekking from a number of different starter points. [Appalachian Trail Conservancy]
Discovery.com suggests it’s best to either head to the area closest to you, or really do your research and pick out the parts of the trail that will satisfy what [it] is that you are looking for out of a good hike.
Where to stay
There are two main choices along the trail: either pitch a tent or stay in one of the shelters.
Shelters – There are 270 shelters in varying places, and they aren’t meant for groups, but rather for individuals; the shelters have wooden floors, three walls, and one side will be open to the elements.
Campsites – There are 100 designated camp sites near a source of water (spring or creek). Always carry a tent with you; the shelters are not guaranteed to be empty, or you may not be able to reach them in time before it’s dark. [Appalachian Trail Conservancy Step by Step]
According to this Step by Step guide, you shouldn’t have to bring more than a week’s worth of food due to stopping-points, in little towns, which allow the option to repack. Some people ship food parcels to specific locations ahead of time to pick-up along the hike at different intervals. Bring a gas stove instead of using a campfire for cooking as to not disturb the habitat; only use existing fire rings for small fires.
Canadian Rockies (The Skyline Trail)
This trail is legendary among hikers, and the views above the treeline are breathtaking.  Skyline is a short enough distance for hikers that only want to spend a couple of hours backpacking or want to camp overnight, and it’s long enough to fully enjoy the scenery. Dogs and campfires are not permitted. The Rockies are one of the best places to visit in the United States.
The trail is nearly 28 miles (can take 2-5 days to complete in full) and it’s located in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. When in Canada you should also check out Lake Louise. It is infamous for its variable weather; as it is above the treeline, this can become a problem for hikers [Wikipedia]. Backpackers can access this trail from two different points: The main trail starts in the parking lot of Maligne Lake, but the other option is to backpack up Bald Hills, which provides a spectacular view of Maligne Lake, then back down to the trail.
Where to stay
Shangrila – A famous cabin that is located along the trail and can accommodate 4-6 backpackers. You’ll need to make reservations by contacting a local.
Shovel Pass Lodge – A lodge in the bush that was built in 1921 and is located in Jasper National Park. Hiker packages (including food and stay) cost $195 per night, but it’s closed during winter time.
Camping – The campgrounds are well scattered, making them available at a variety of hiking lengths; each come with tent pads, picnic tables, bear poles and a green throne privy
Since the trail is fairly short, figure out the length of time you want to backpack; some people complete the trail in three days, but others take their time and drag it out to six. Bring a gas stove to cook your food, since campfires aren’t allowed. Shovel Pass Lodge also offers meals-only packages, but keep in mind that this lodge is not located directly on the trail.  Pack-out your trash; carry trash in a bag until you come to a designated trashcan.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon – one of the best attractions of Route 66 – is located in Arizona and covers 277 miles. The length and location offer a variety of options in regard to the amount of days you want to spend backpacking. There’s also a variety of extreme, outdoor excursions.
What to do
Take a Day trip
The majority of people use walking tours and enter through the South Rim of the park; one of the most spectacular views is reached from the South Rim, called Mather Point. Also near this entrance are many souvenir shops and food; click here for the Top 10 Restaurants. Crowds can be packed, but if you come in the early spring or even the late fall, there’re fewer people visiting. And don’t forget, once you go down the canyon, you also have to come up. Discovery.com says that hikers who explore into the canyon can find themselves exhausted before facing the ascent back to the rim.
For the more adventurous backpackers, dive deep into the Grand Canyon and explore the Colorado River through backpacking or river excursions; you can spend a day on the river, or weeks. The most important tip to remember is that the inner canyon is a desert environment, making it vital to bring enough water.
Backpackers that hike the Grand Canyon tend to react to the experience in one of two ways: either they can’t wait to get back or they swear they’ll never do it again [National Park Service].
Where to stay
US Park Lodging – A search engine that allows you to find hotels or campgrounds, or anything in between, and the prices start as low as $89/night to $450/night.
Xanterra Parks and Resorts – the largest provider “in-the-park”, and they offer 6 different lodging services within walking distance to the South Rim.
Camping – If you plan to camp anywhere below the “rim”, you must obtain a backcountry permit, which you can apply for months in advance; for a more detailed list regarding the permit, click here. There are a number of campgrounds located at both the North and South Rim, which range from $11-$25 per site per night.
If you join a river excursion, the company in charge usually provides a menu beforehand so that you know what food will be served. If you stay in one of the Xanterra Parks and Resorts, they have food on-site to purchase. In regard to overnight camping at Indian Garden, Bright Angel, or Cottonwood Campground, there’s a metal, food storage can for all your food (and scented material) to be placed in.
Yosemite Park
This National Park is filled with deep canyons, giant granite rock, and wilderness galore for the avid backpacker. The average visitor stays around Yosemite Valley. Of course, if you’re tried of backpacking the wilderness grab your passport and head to sunny Puerto Rico. Wait, do you need a passport to fly to Puerto Rico?
Yosemite Park is located in Northern California, and rivals experiences like camping in Big Sur. And covers almost 1,200 sq. miles (750 miles of trails). According USNEW.com, the best time of year to backpack is between March and May, when spring is in full bloom, plus there are fewer crowds. A backpacker can stay up to 30 nights within the park in a calendar year, but this number changes to 14 nights from the month of May to mid-September. In one week, if you stay on track, you can hike 150 miles and see sites that you only dream of seeing; Yosemite in September deserves a number one spot for backpacking [backpacker.com].
Where to stay
YosemitePark – A free search engine that covers a variety of accommodations from camping in a canvas tent in one of the best inflatable tents, to staying in a hotel, lodge, or cabin. They also provide outdoor lessons (rock climbing, snowboarding, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing), overnight trips, guided walks and tours, and equipment rentals. Click here to check out the special events and vacation packages.
Yosemite – A site that offers more than 3,500 different accommodations. They’ll also help you plan your trip concerning: activities, dining, tours, and ways of traveling by bus, plane or train.
Camping – There are 13 different campgrounds open for most of the year, but they close during the winter (observe the individual dates ahead of time). At some campgrounds, you’ll need to make reservations, but others are on a first-come-first-serve basis. The prices start at $6 per night up to $26 per night. Wilderness permits are required for overnight camping, and are available up to 26 weeks in advance. For a detailed topographic map with a link to trail descriptions, click here.
All food, scented materials, and drinks must be stored in a bear-resistant container or in a food locker. If you’re camping, the aforementioned container and regulations are vital. If you’re staying in a hotel or lodge, then food is likely available, depending on the exact place you choose. Be smart about this! Life is too short to this type of risk.
Overall, each park has rules and regulations, so check them out and plan your trip accordingly. Every wilderness trek is going to be an eye-opening experience. Picking the best travel backpack is essential to enjoying your adventure. And don’t forget the animals; the Grand Canyon has bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes, but Yosemite has the bears. On a side note, for a humorous true story of encountering a bear in Denali National Park, check out How to Survive a Staring Contest with a Bear.
About the Author 
8ULc3tD1A graduate from Texas A&M University, Dawn Husted has authored two, young adult books. She’s spent the better part of five years writing fiction, allowing her to dream of faraway places to travel, and some of the best places to travel to in the US.. Her passion for the outdoors always finds a way into her work.
Her ultimate pastime is camping in places that bestow the chance to use her mediocre kayak skills. She has a tendency to always do the opposite of what those around her expect, and fosters a love-hate relationship with the German language, having studied it on and off for years. When she’s not writing, you can find her on Twitter and Facebook. She’s ecstatic to be interning for A Backpackers Tale!

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