Forge Your Own Path: The Least Traveled Hiking Routes in America

Now that the summer is in full swing, you probably want to start hitting the trails and finally start crossing some of those items off your bucket list. Except somehow, the Grand Canyon seems just a little less grand when you’re fighting groups of tourists for the chance to snap a picture of a scenic vista — and really? Every campsite near Mount Katahdin in Maine is already booked for every weekend until October?

The problem with popular hiking spots like Yosemite, the Appalachian Trail and Zion National Park is that, well, they are popular. You think you’re heading out into the wilderness to get away from it all, when really there’s a good chance that you’re just going to encounter as many people out in the woods as you are at the beach or amusement park.

With thousands of miles of terrain to cover, though, there are some spots along even the most popular trails where you can really get away from it all — in fact, you might be the only person for miles along these stretches. These trails are truly remote, and you’ll need to adequately prepare for your journey with the right equipment (including satellite phones and other safety gear) but the rewards are some of the most unspoiled vistas in America.

The Appalachian Trail
Stretching more than 2,000 miles along the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine, thousands of hikers traverse at least a section of this fabled trail every year. Sites like Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus, as well as McAfee’s Knob and the Roan Highlands are often packed with hikers and day trippers throughout the summer months.

Instead of hiking the trail near either terminus, head into the southwest corner of Virginia to traverse the area around Chestnut Knob and Burke’s Garden. In this section, a rare part of the A.T. that stretches east-west rather than north-south, you’ll find few people but plenty of scenic vistas. Start where the trail crosses Highway 11, near Walker Mountain, and head north past farmsteads, fields and mountain vistas until you reach Burke’s Garden.

Pacific Crest Trail
Considered the western cousin to the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail stretches more than 2,600 from Mexico to the Canadian border. While nowhere near as well-traveled as the A.T., certain sections of the trail are well-traveled, particularly near Crater Lake in Oregon and several spots in California. For the least-visited part of the trail, though, you’ll need to head to the northern end of the trail: On the 34 mile stretch from Hart’s Pass to the Canadian border, you’re more likely to encounter animals than other hikers. Because this is the most remote portion of the trail, you’ll be happy to have sat phone coverage in the event you encounter one of the native bears or lynx that call Pasatayan Wilderness home.

Grand Canyon
Is there anyone who doesn’t have the Grand Canyon on his or her list of "must see" spots? If you visit the natural wonder’s Southern Rim during the summer months, you might believe that everyone who does is actually there.

For that reason, if you want to visit the Canyon without the crowds, head to the less popular Northern Rim, which sees only a fraction of the visitors as the Southern Rim. In fact, there is only one trail on the Northern Rim that actually leads into the Canyon — the North Kaibab trail. The nine other trails on the North Rim mostly follow the edge of the canyon or wind through forested areas, and are best for day hikers.

For the most remote hiking in America, you’ll have to leave the lower 48 and head to Alaska — but if you plan a trip to Denali National Park, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most unspoiled and least-crowded hiking trails anywhere.

Denali is a challenge usually left to the most experienced hikers — day trippers and casual hikers will probably find this northern wilderness overwhelming. There are few marked trails here, and most hikers are forced to forge their own paths through the dense wilderness; in some cases, obstacles like thick brush, water, snow and even wild animals (it’s not a question of if you will encounter a bear or other fearsome creature, but when) will add miles to your journey. To tackle Denali, you must be prepared with major survival skills, plenty of gear and a sense of adventure, but the reward is truly unspoiled territory with little chance of encountering another human for days or even weeks.

Sometimes, you want to encounter other hikers along the trails; one of the major pleasures of undertaking such endeavors as hiking the A.T. or P.C.T. is the camaraderie of meeting others making the same journey. However, when you want to get away from it all, try some of the roads less travelled.

Posted by Steve Manley