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12 Best US Beginner Hikes To Grow Your Thru-Hiking Passion

Read Time: Approximately 14 minutes

So you want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (or any other long trail)? Fantastic! But where does a first-time thru-hiker start? For beginners, there is really only one of the triple crown trails that best aligns with your ability and gear – the Appalachian Trail.

From there, a wide range of shorter trail options open up to showcase a wide view of experiences, from easy ridge walks to high alpine scrambles. So that begs the question, which thru-hike to do first?

Check out my list of the 12 best options for beginner hikes in the US, they’ll help you grow your thru-hiking skills while enjoying some beautiful scenery along the way.

12 Best Thru-Hikes for Beginners

I honestly don’t believe the PCT or Pacific Crest Trail and the CDT or Continental Divide Trail are very suitable for nearly any first-time thru-hiking trek. They are both far more unforgiving and lack options to bail should you encounter true hardship, even though there are record numbers of CDT first-time thru-hikers.

Instead, I started with the Appalachian Trail which is incredibly beginner-friendly while still being an ultimate challenge while providing a wide range of shorter but just as rewarding hikes that show the best of the trail systems in the United States.

My hope is that with these trails is that you see you have the ability to get out for much less time than the triple crown hikes will require while providing a vast array of views from lowlands to alpine lakes and vistas.


Appalachian Trail- Hogpen-Tesnatee

Appalachian Trail – 2190+ Miles

This is the big goal for nearly anyone interested in thru-hiking with YouTube exploding in daily vloggers drawing more attention to it. Most of the time deciding to attempt this length of thru-hike will require you to quit employment and minimize your kept items or sell off everything.

The AT crosses through 14 states and is a true journey from beginning to end with a large support network of towns, hostels, and other hikers. It will teach you a vast amount about yourself, your willpower, and your grit.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 16
  • Days To Complete: 137 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

The Appalachian Trail has continuous exits and you are never far from a town should you need to bail due to problems with gear, injury, or other unforeseen issues. In addition, you will also have a decent cell signal versus many trails and there are a large number of other hikers on the trail to help you out as well.

The AT requires planning but it is also the easiest to play by ear and adjust to if you are more free-willed and don’t like to plan everything out. You will also have many fellow hikers on the trail if you leave with the bubble making it easier to make friends and hike with others which can help with morale.

Why You’ll Love It

The vast views of the East Coast will amaze you as you walk from Georgia to Maine. You’ll have lowland swamps, hardwood forests, rocky summits, and amazing views from one-of-a-kind vantage points.

You’ll also get a fantastic sense of community as this is one of the most popular thru-hikes attempted each year with around 3000+ people registering to give it a go from Amicalola Falls alone on NoBo hike attempts.

If you are less interested in people and crowds then it would be best to start earlier NoBo or look to a SoBo hike leaving from Katahdin in June as there are far fewer hikers and you will pass through the bubble in quick time when you collide later.

Helpful Resources


Arizona Trail - Grand Canyon

Arizona Trail – 800 Miles

The Arizona Trail hasn’t got the love nor appreciation it deserves maybe in large part to the perception of it just being a dry and desert-type environment.

The trail is amazing as it crosses the entire state from border to border and as such provides a huge diversity in landscapes from deserts to mountains and then there is the always awe-inspiring drop into the Grand Canyon.

You’ll cross through nine of Arizona’s eleven different biomes which is more than any other trail in the US and provides a huge range of views and experiences in a relatively short distance.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 15
  • Days To Complete: 54 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

This trail is a good long-distance trek taking you around two months to complete which is a good amount of time to get used to being on the trail and all that goes with it.

The AZT is also one of the best trails for those who want to experience a huge range of elevation changes as it starts in the low desert and climbs through mountains, finishing high in the alpine meadows.

Why You’ll Love It

There aren’t many places with the changes in the landscape that the AZT has to offer and this is one of its best features. You’ll go from hiking in the sand to scrambling up rocky summits with little change in distance.

This trail is also great for anyone who doesn’t love crowds as it sees a much smaller number of hikers each year with many hikers attempting longer trails instead.

Helpful Resources


"Pinhoti Trail Dalton,Georgia"

Pinhoti Trail – 339 Miles

Another hidden gem that is slowly gaining visibility and popularity is the Pinhoti Trail. It is a fantastic trail for those who want to experience the best of what Alabama and Georgia have to offer without having to commit to a longer trail.

This is where you get into the one month or less commitment as the trail can be completed in way less time than most longer thru-hikes allowing you the possibility to just take time off from work to gain the time in nature.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 15
  • Days To Complete: 23 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

There are long areas of woods and no civilization but there is always the option to get off the trail and into a town if you need it. This can be a great trip for beginners to test their skills and gear in a real-life situation without being too far from safety.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a beautiful and well-maintained trail that takes you through some of the best forests in th Southeast. You’ll love the peace and quiet of this trail as you hike through peaceful woods and stunning scenery.

Helpful Resources


Oregon Coast Trail - Cape Perpetua - Oregon

Oregon Coast Trail – 382 Miles

Moving out to the west coast you have the Oregon Coast Trail which is a fantastic place to hike for those who love the beach. This trail takes you the entire length of Oregon’s coastline and provides stunning views of both the ocean and forest as you go.

You’ll also get to experience a huge range of different ecosystems from tidepools to old-growth forests and everything in between.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 15
  • Days To Complete: 25 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

This is a great trail for beginners as it is shorter than most and can be completed in a month or less. This makes it a great option for those who want to get out and hike but don’t have the time for a longer trail.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a beautiful trail that takes you through some of the best scenery Oregon has to offer. You’ll love hiking along the coast and seeing all the different tidepools and forests as you go.

Helpful Resources


Backpacking Superior Hiking Trail 435

Superior Hiking Trail – 310 Miles

Now heading north you have the Superior Hiking Trail which runs along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. This is a great trail for those who love to be in the woods and want to experience some of the best scenery Minnesota has to offer.

The trail takes you through a huge range of different ecosystems from old-growth forests to bogs and everything in between.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 15
  • Days To Complete: 21 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

Getting some different climates and environments is good to balance out your skillset and this trail does that. While it isn’t the easiest terrain, the shorter length makes it a great option for beginners.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a beautiful trail that takes you through some of the best scenery Minnesota has to offer. You’ll love hiking through the different forests and seeing all the different wildlife as you go.

Helpful Resources


Vermont and Long Trail-3728

Long Trail – 272 Miles

Riding alongside the AT for a bit, the Long Trail in Vermont is a great place to hike for those who love the mountains. This trail takes you through the Green Mountains of Vermont and provides stunning views of both the mountains and valleys as you go.

You’ll also get to experience a huge range of different ecosystems from alpine meadows to old-growth forests and everything in between.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 15
  • Days To Complete: 18 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

A nice chance to see and hike a part of the AT, the Long Trail is a great option for those who want to get out and hike but don’t have the time for a longer trail. There is no lack of waterfalls, great views, and perfect photo ops.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a beautiful trail that takes you through some of the best scenery Vermont has to offer. You’ll love hiking through the different forests and seeing all the different wildlife as you go.

Helpful Resources


Exploring the Ouachita Trail and thru hiking information for the 223 mile trek

Ouachita Trail – 223 Miles

The Ouachita Trail, I wrote more on this trail here, is an amazing east to the west trail that runs through the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas. This is a great trail for those who love to be in the mountains and want to experience some of the best scenery these states have to offer.

There are enjoyable side treks to hot springs or a trip to the Blue Bell cafe for a hot meal.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 15
  • Days To Complete: 15 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

The trail is more remote than most, this helps you to build independence and confidence on the trail. With consistent shelters and fewer people, this is a great option for those who want to get out and hike but don’t have the time for a longer trail but want some peace and quiet.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a beautiful trail that takes you through some of the best scenery Arkansas has to offer. You’ll love hiking through the different forests and seeing all the different scenery and possibly some wildlife as you go.

Helpful Resources


Tahoe Rim Trail 374

Tahoe Rim Trail – 171 Miles

Tahoe is an amazingly pretty area with snow when Spring hits and the snows melt off the mountains and everything is green and vibrant. The trail circumnavigates the lake while at a high altitude so you are never too far from some of the best views available in Tahoe.

For many, this will be a nice moderate challenge with some great payoffs.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 15
  • Days To Complete: 12 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

This is a moderate trail with some great views, it is perfect for those who want to get out and hike but don’t have the ability to get the time for a 200+ mile-long trail. It has some ups and downs but it isn’t generally extreme in either.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a beautiful trail that takes you through some of the best scenery Tahoe has to offer. You’ll love hiking around the lake and seeing all the different scenery as you go.

Helpful Resources


Uintas Highline Trail - View Behind us

Uinta Highline Trail – 107 Miles

This trail tests your limits a little more than some of the other trails on this list. Situated in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah, this trail will take you through some incredible scenery while testing your mettle.

It follows a ridgeline for most of its length which can be a little intimidating for some but the views are more than worth it.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 12
  • Days To Complete: 9 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

A shorter thru-hike but one where you will be isolated will push a beginner to their limits and help them to grow as a hiker. With fewer people on the trail, this is a great option for those who want to get out and hike but don’t have the time for a longer trail.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a beautiful trail that takes you through some of the best scenery Utah has to offer while also presenting some challenges that will help you to grow as a hiker.

Helpful Resources


Lone Star Hiking Trail – 96.5 Miles

This trail takes you through the Sam Houston National Forest and brings you through a nice array of ecosystems. This is a great option for those who want to get away from the crowds and experience some of the best scenery Texas has to offer.

The LSHT can be a little tough depending on the season you choose to hike in as the summers can be humid and very dry leading to pre-planned water drops and preparations.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 15
  • Days To Complete: 6-7 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

Texas is pretty flat so mileage will be consistent and less difficult to maintain, with plenty of campsites and trees camping is less of an issue versus other more remote trails.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a great trail for those who want to start thru-hiking but have minimal time available for weeks off, you can easily complete this hike in a week. You’ll love hiking through the different types of forests and enjoy the sounds of the night along with the stars.

Helpful Resources


Wonderland Trail

The Wonderland Trail – 93 Miles

There is nothing as majestic I have seen in my life as Mt Rainier as I spent the entire beginning of my life seeing it dwarf the Seattle skyline. The Wonderland Trail encircles the base of this great mountain allowing you to take in some of the best views and scenery Washington has to offer.

This is a popular trail but it limits access through getting a permit which means that you will have to adjust based on being lucky to grant one online or through a walk-up permit. The views are well worth it though so if you know you may be around the area you want to get on this hike.

Unlike other trails on here there is some heavy climbing and descending with daily elevation gains and losses totaling over 3,500 feet are quite normal so expect daily mileage to be impacted while you view temperate rainforests and at some times alpine tundra.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 9-12
  • Days To Complete: 6-10 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

While physically difficult it is under 100 miles and is a great option to increase your physical ability and gain mileage while still being a shorter trail. The scenery is some of the best in the Pacific Northwest and you will have plenty of time to rest and adjust to the different conditions.

Why You’ll Love It

This is a beautiful trail that will take you through some of the best scenery in Washington. There is nothing more breathtaking than seeing Mt. Rainier from all angles and being able to camp in its shadow. You’ll love hiking through the different forests and meadows and possibly seeing some wildlife along the way.

Helpful Resources


View from Sassafras Mountain on a foothills trail thru hike

Foothills Trail – 76.2 Miles

The Foothills Trail is an amazing chance to get out on a shakedown hike as a preparation for the Appalachian Trail as the trail shares many characteristics of the longer trail.

Otherwise, it is a perfect week-long trip where you can not stress over water access and just take in nature and the many waterfalls.

The Basics

  • Average Daily Miles: 12
  • Days To Complete: 5-7 days without taking zeros

Why It’s Perfect for Beginners

It is a trail that can be thru-hiked in any season from the cold of winter through the heat of summer, there is no reason why you can’t get out and explore. For most beginners carrying 5 days of food will allow you to complete this in one shot gaining maximum distance for practice and knowledge.

Why You’ll Love It

The Foothills trail has some amazing views from Table Rock along with amazing waterfalls all over and constant water to soak and relax in if you choose but with bridges making sure you have minimal water crossings.

Helpful Resources

Final Thoughts on Beginner Thru-Hikes

The goal for any thru-hiker should be to experience the range of trails and environments instead of focusing on only the triple crown, this self-imposed limitation causes people to miss out on the true benefits of hiking a trail from end to end.

Explore your local state, in nearly all of them there are long-distance trails that were over 50 miles that can get you out and free from the civilized world and engage yourself in reconnecting with nature to better your mindset.

If you are looking at doing your first thru-hike I have a very long post as a starter guide to give you everything you need to know to start strong here.

Otherwise, if you are interested in choosing the best gear for your thru-hike I have assembled my favorite options here.

Erik

Thursday 18th of August 2022

https://lonestartrail.org/ has excellent turn by turn directions and up to date water levels and trail conditions. Thanks for giving some love to our trail.

Josh

Thursday 18th of August 2022

Undoubtedly, I love the smaller and more unique trails personally. I am heading to Eagle Rock Loop next month for a nice weekend.