National and state parks in the U.S. offer some of the most rewarding hikes and camping to be found anywhere. Pristine nature is abundant, and for the cost of a couple of permits, a hike that lasts several days can be memorable, rewarding, and breathtaking (in more ways than one). Thru-hiking a multi-state trail such as the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, or Appalachian Trail can cost thousands of dollars, but there's no need to shell out big money when backpacking.
Hiking and camping for more than a day at a time is especially cost-effective for hikers who already own the necessary gear, but never fear if your closet doesn't look like you've summited Everest. Many outdoor stores rent gear for affordable prices, allowing trekkers to go on multi-day hikes without tripping up their finances.
For hikers looking to do a multi-day trip this summer, the time to plan is now. Popular campsites dole out all their reservations early in the season, and securing any necessary camping and wilderness permits (where they apply) is crucial for a safe and legal experience. Permit costs vary by area, but expect to pay no more than $10 to $40 for access to these amazing hikes across the U.S.
Related: 35 Great Hikes to Take in 2016
The backwoods of northern California are filled with gorgeous trails and varying terrain to suit many hikers. One of the most beautiful and scenic hikes is from Echo Lake to Upper Velma Lake, where backpackers will see many beautiful waterscapes and experience some amazing camping spots. The trip is about 20 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail and takes two or three days.
The Escarpment Trail in the Catskill Mountains is relatively short in distance (23.9 miles), but the tough terrain in this area makes it best spread over three days. This hike provides beautiful views and excellent camping spots along the way. Keep an eye out for a hidden artifact of sorts: A small airplane that crashed near the trail is semi-hidden in the foliage, near North Point.
Grand Teton National Park in northwest Wyoming is an expansive park with many opportunities to explore mountains, forests, and pristine lakes. The Teton Crest Trail is one of the lovelier ways to experience the park. The hike is about 39 miles, so intermediate-level hikers should budget four days. There's no rush, however -- hikers will want to savor splendid views of the Rocky Mountains and Snake River.
Following a section of the Continental Divide Trail in Northern Colorado, the six-to-seven-day trek from Copper Mountain to Bakerville, is an ambitious trip rated easy to moderate. Hikers may require time to acclimatize; the trailhead is nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. But the views are worth the time and effort, and in the spring, trekkers can enjoy thousands of floral blooms.
The Isle du Bois area of Ray Roberts Lake State Park has 20 miles of relatively easy hiking to fill two days -- although, with all the opportunities for recreation, it would be easy to make the trip several days longer. The scenery makes Isle du Bois a treat on its own, but fishing, boating, and bird-watching can really sweeten the trip.
The Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park is 93 miles and about 10 days' worth of rigorous but beautiful trail for experienced hikers. Better attempted when there's no snow on the ground, the Wonderland Trail loops around Mount Rainier, the tallest peak in the Pacific Northwest. Hikers on the Wonderland Trail should be prepared for plenty of elevation gain and loss, along with stunning panoramas of the mountain.
Zion National Park in Utah boasts breathtaking canyons and rushing rivers, making each step more beautiful than the last. For a good two-to-three-day trip in Zion, plan a hike through the Barracks. This off-trail route brings hikers through tall, narrow canyons that will awe even jaded outdoor enthusiasts. This backcountry section isn't as frequently traversed as other areas of the park, so it suits experienced hikers who prefer a more solitary experience.
Located outside Asheville, North Carolina, Uwharrie National Forest holds some of the most scenic trails in the state. Uwharrie National Forest has a total of 66.5 miles of trail, enough for nearly a full week of hiking. In the spring and summer, the dense forest is lush, keeping trekkers shaded from the hot Southern sun. Several waterfalls en route offer stunning views and a chance to cool off.
The Gospel Hump Loop is a fitting place for hikers to test their toughness. The loop trail in Idaho's Gospel Hump Wilderness is 68 miles, providing about a week of hiking that will challenge even experienced trekkers. The incredible scenery rivals just about anything else in the country. Rushing rivers, pristine lakes, and dramatic landscapes make Gospel Hump worth the extra sweat required to complete the loop.
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Kettle Moraine, Wisconsin, is 1,000 miles of pure Midwestern beauty. Of course, the whole trail would take a few weeks, but sections can be accomplished in a weekend. The Lake Eleven and Jerry Lake segments in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest cover about 40 miles of rolling forest scenery, lakes, and rivers. This is Wisconsin, so there are no mountains to summit, and the terrain is suitable for even novice hikers.
Loop hikes are excellent for multi-day treks, as hikers can return to the trailhead without having to turn around and retrace their steps. A fantastic loop hike can be found in Virginia on the famous Appalachian Trail. The Three Ridges Loop is two days' worth of hiking (14 miles total) that brings hikers past a 40-foot cascade and panoramic mountain views. Consider bringing trekking poles, as the first portion of the hike is a steep descent.
Hikers could spend days in Isle Royale National Park, but for trekkers with only a weekend to work with, the Greenstone Ridge Trail is an ideal hike. The 42.2-mile trail is moderately difficult, but the scenery is worth the effort. The national park is a small island in Lake Michigan, so opportunities for stunning photographs abound. Hikers who prefer to avoid steep climbs and descents will appreciate this ambling Midwestern trip.
Hikers shouldn't let the relatively short 31-mile length of the Pemi Loop in New Hampshire fool them into thinking it's easy. The steep climbs and descents take more than 20 hours to complete, so it's a good idea to set aside two or even three days to tackle this trail. But it's worth every challenging step, and views of lush green peaks give hikers the mental boost to keep trudging along.
Desert hiking in Arizona presents different challenges than hiking in the lush Pacific Northwest or the Northeast, but the rewards are unique as well. For a solid three-day hike in Grand Canyon National Park, take the route from South Bass Canyon to Hermit's Rest on the Tonto Trail. It runs close to the Colorado River, but water can be scarce as the summer wears on, so be sure to carry ample supplies and make note of reliable water sources while walking nearly 42 miles of stunning Grand Canyon trail.