What's better than the weekend? A long weekend! These are the perfect opportunities to explore areas more in-depth, unwind, or even prep for longer hikes. The 10 hikes below are the perfect places to spend your next 3-day weekend.
Featured Photo: Maroon Lake by John Folwer
Grand Island Loop
Michigan's Upper Peninsula is known for its beautiful, secluded woods. This makes it an outdoor lover's paradise with plenty of quiet trails to choose from. For something even more remote, try out the 21-mile Grand Island Loop. Located offshore north of Munising, this trail is rated as moderate. You'll find great cliffside views and plenty of beaches as you circumnavigate Grand Island. Forest types vary, making the hike more interesting. Several campsites, overlooks, and side trips await too. (Be sure to check out the lighthouse!) Go during spring or fall for even better views of the beaches and Lake Superior below. Be sure to fill up on water when you can. The small island is home to plenty of black bears. Make sure you know how to hang a bear bag ahead of time!
Four Pass Loop
Colorado has no shortage of amazing hikes. It can be hard to choose which area to explore! The Four Pass Loop is a popular option located near Aspen. At 27-miles round-trip, it makes a great 3-day backpacking excursion. Make sure you're in good trail shape and acclimate to the altitude. The trail traverses 4 passes, each over 12,000ft. This loop gives you a taste of all the greatness of the Rockies: Quiet pine forests, shimmering alpine lakes, and towering mountains. (Namely, the Maroon Bells) The alpine meadows are also abundant with colorful wildflowers. Take the side trips to Geneva Lake and Willow Pass if you have extra time. Read our write-up for more information on this trip.
How does a weekend-long trip around iconic Mount St.Helens sound? Head out on Washington's 31-mile Loowit Trail to do just that. The views are spectacular, but be prepared. This trek is rated as very difficult. Tricky river crossings and rope sections into drainages are a handful of challenges. The trek across the old blast zone is both surrealistic and difficult. But, the wildflowers are plentiful and so are sprawling views. (Much of the trail is above treeline.) Views of other major mountains are possible too. These include Mt.Rainier, Mt.Adams, and Mt.Hood. Finally, there are also some waterfalls along the way! Be sure to have a good map and stock up on water. The trail and water sources can be hard to find.
The Beaten Path Trail
We've written about this trail before on the blog, but we felt it was worth mentioning again! This 26-mile point-to-point trail is the perfect length for a 3-day weekend in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. The Beaten Path is moderate with a few difficult sections. This and its easy-to-follow route makes it accessible to more hikers. The park is located near Yellowstone. This means you can take in all the beautiful scenery without the crowds! Evergreen forests, mountains, and wildflower meadows galore await. Plus, you'll pass by or near 16 lakes and several waterfalls. (Trout fishing, anyone?) If you have spare time, explore some of the many side trails in the area.
Kings Peak via Henry Fork Trail
Climb to the highest point in Utah on the Henry Fork Trail. Craggy scrambles rate this 28-mile route as difficult. Lots of lakes provide campsites on the first leg of the trip. The multi-colored striated rock faces are mesmerizing. Hiking gets trickier once you approach Gunsight Pass. Kings Peak presents its own rocky challenges as well. But, you can see all of Utah's 13,000ft peaks in the distance! The expansive views can't be beat. Yet, the alpine basins are as breathtaking as the rocky mountaintop views. Connect with some other trails to form a loop. This will make your trip around 32 miles, if you have the time.
Cone Peak in Big Sur
Spend a leisurely weekend summiting the lower 48 states' tallest coastal mountain. Not surprisingly, Cone Peak is one of the most popular hiking areas in Big Sur, California. This also means there are several routes to get to the summit. (Check some of these out on Exploring Wild.) The most popular route is a 25-mile lollipop loop. If you're the adventurous type, take one of the unmaintained shortcuts to the top. They're more direct, but also very steep! When not in the still forest, you'll find wildflowers dotting the open mountaintop. Views from the summit show seaside cliffs that fall dramatically into the Pacific. If that's not enough, there is also a waterfall along the way. Be sure to check conditions before your trip. Landslide damage and downed trees are common.
Bechler River Trail
You can't go wrong with any hike you choose in Yellowstone NP. The Bechler River Trail is yet another great option. This is especially true if you don't have a week or more to spend. This moderate route takes you 24 miles through “Cascade Corner”. Needless to say, you'll encounter plenty of cascades, waterfalls, and river crossings. (The latter can be tricky, so be prepared.) Permits are usually not issued until mid-July. The area is less soggy then and river levels are lower. Still, the longer you wait, the lower they'll be. Plus, you can avoid the majority of summer bugs. The trailhead is difficult to get to. But, this is part of its appeal: Solitude. You can extend your trip by connecting with the Shoshone Lake Trail. This tacks on a few miles and leads to Old Faithful.
Austin, Furnace, and Trayfoot Mountain Loop
Want to backpack in Shenandoah National Park but avoid the crowds? Try this circuitous, 20-mile route in Virginia. You'll avoid the busier parts of the park without sacrificing the amazing views! This route is rated as difficult. Be prepared to scramble over some boulders. The “trail” down Austin Mountain is also full of loose rocks. The sign for the Austin Mountain summit seems to be missing, so check your map carefully. Trayfoot Mountain seems to be the more popular camping spot in the area. You could spend two nights here and explore more as a day hike. Furnace Mountain and Blackrock Summit provide some of the best views along the trail. It's worth noting that water can be sparse.
Big South Fork Recreation Area
Looking for a hidden gem in the Kentucky/Tennessee area? Head to the Big South Fork Recreation Area. Here, you'll avoid the crowds of the Smokies to the south and the Red River Gorge to the north in Kentucky. The wilderness itself is very remote, lending to its fewer visitors. You're in luck if you're into neat geological features. It is home to the most natural arches outside of the desert southwest! In fact, most of them are not even advertised. You can find posts and videos online for their locations, though. Or, explore and discover them yourself! You'll also find waterfalls, sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, and the wide river below. The Laurel Creek area is a great place to start for a few days in the woods. This NPS map outlines a 27-mile route that combines the John Litton Trail, Fall Branch, John Muir, and Laurel Fork Creek.
Grafton Notch Eastern Loop
Looking for a taste of the majestic Maine wilderness? Try out the 21-mile eastern section of the Grafton Notch Loop. The trail is rated as moderate to difficult. There are plenty of easy-going sections. The climb up Baldpate Mountain provides the biggest obstacle. Be prepared for slippery, steep, rock scrambles to the top. You'll encounter fewer fellow hikers afterward, exiting the AT section. After that, it's laid back through the moss-covered forest on the way to Lightning Ledge. Many campsites dot the trail, making it easy to find a spot to bed down for the night. Look for a spur trail to a waterfall near Lane campsite. Puzzle Mountain offers some of the best views. Fall foliage makes the forest walk even prettier. If you're a quick hiker, add on the western section for a total of 38 miles.
What are some of your favorite 3-day backpacking trips? We'd love to hear about them in the comments section below!
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our "Best Spring Break Backpacking Trips" roundup post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great 3-day trips.comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking.