Best Beginner Backpacking Trips in the United States

Apr 22, 2022

Man hiking on mountain.

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Beginner backpacking trips can be life-changing experiences. The hardships of overnight hiking make the outdoor scenery, fire-cooked meals and memories made with friends all the more enjoyable. However, you have to come prepared and know where to go. 

We compiled our list of hiking trails based on several criteria:

  • Low Difficulty: these trails have manageable layouts that accommodate all ages and fitness levels.
  • Close Proximity to the Nearest City: the trails are no more than a few hours away from the nearest city, making them easier to find and access. They also have higher foot traffic, which is more comforting for beginners.
  • No/Few Permits Required: you don’t need to fill out much paperwork to get authorization to hike these trails.
  • Sleeping Arrangements: these trails have designated campsites, huts and lodges to make sleeping on your trip easier.
  • Scenery: the views are fantastic! This criterion is the most important of them all.

With the prerequisites established, let’s check out the best destinations for your beginner backpacking trip!

Baker Lake Trail, North Cascade Mountains, Washington

We start in the great Pacific Northwest, known for its densely forested mountains and heavy rainfall. You might get some rain on the Baker Lake Trail, but don’t let the region’s climate discourage you. The views of the surrounding mountains and Mount Baker, one of the state’s five volcanoes, are worth it.

The trail runs along the shores of Baker Lake, a low-elevation body of water tucked within a valley in the North Cascade range. It’s one of the more beginner-friendly trails in the state, offering the following features:

  • Low mileage (8 to 28 miles, depending on the side trails you choose)
  • Low elevation
  • Developed campsites
  • Food storage boxes
  • Vault toilets
  • No permits required

Baker Lake Trail is about three hours northeast of Seattle and half that distance from coastal towns like Mount Vernon and Bellingham.

Big Schloss, George Washington National Forest, West Virginia

Big Schloss is a rocky peak that rests in the heart of the Appalachian mountains, providing a beautiful expansive view at the top. The main trail is only 4.4 miles, but most of that distance is a 1000-foot uphill climb that poses a healthy (but not back-breaking) challenge. We like this trail for beginners for several reasons:

  • Low mileage
  • Amazing views throughout
  • Easy camping environment
  • No permits required

This mountain sits almost on West Virginia and Virginia border, just a short distance away from Route 81. The drive is about three hours from Baltimore and two hours from Washington D.C. Once you reach the top of Big Schloss, you won’t want to leave.

Letchworth Trail, Letchworth State Park, New York

New York is one of the most underrated states for outdoor activities in the country. Letchworth Trail is one of the state’s hidden gems, with a 23-mile linear hike along the wide Letchworth gorge’s eastern rim. Its views of waterfalls and ravines will make your stomach flutter, but the walk itself is manageable. Here’s why we like this trail for beginners:

  • Low elevation
  • Two shelters
  • Many water sources
  • No permits required

This trail is a six-hour drive from New York City, but it’s conveniently located less than two hours away from Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

Spence Field Loop, Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The Smoky Mountain Range is great for inexperienced hikers, but one of the better trails is the Spence Field Loop. It encircles the highland Spence Meadow, which sits at an impressive elevation of 4,920 feet. Here’s why beginners will enjoy this trail:

  • Gentle slopes, despite the high elevation
  • Shelters
  • Multiple routes with varying difficulty levels

You don’t need a permit to hike the loop, but you do need one if you want to spend the night at one of the shelters. The Smoky Mountains are popular for hikers, so you need to book your spot in advance. The Park sits less than an hour from Ashville and Knoxville, and some closer towns like Gatlinburg are havens for backpackers as well.

South Rim Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The Big Bend National Park in the Chihuahua Desert gets a lot of traffic because of its extraordinary biodiversity, with rugged desert terrain and pristine forests. The South Rim Trail has the easy Laguna Meadow route (12 miles) or the difficult Emory Peak Trail (17.5 miles). Aside from the trail options, South Rim is great for beginners for several reasons:

  • Gentle slope (about a 400-foot increase in elevation)
  • Developed campsites
  • Food lockers
  • Designated quiet areas

Like the Spence Field Loop’s shelters, you must pre-pay to schedule an overnight spot at one of the campsites. Since everything is bigger in Texas, the closest major city (San Antonio) sits seven hours away. That should tell you how impressive South Rim is, considering how much activity the Park gets year-round.

Start Your Backpacking Journey

These five trails would make an excellent choice for any beginner’s first backpacking trip. But before you go anywhere, make sure you polish your survival skills and pack everything you need. These trails might be “easy,” but they’re still in the wilderness, so you need to come prepared. Once you have those details nailed down, you’re ready to start your backpacking journey!

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.