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You gotta try these 10 long-distance hiking trails in the Midwest

By: Aurora Slaughter + Save to a List

When people think of long-distance hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail (CDT) often come to mind. However, the U.S. is home to an incredible number of lesser-known long-distance hiking trails across the country. 

The Midwest hosts several of these stunning and underrated thru-hikes. Check out our list below to find your next long-distance hiking adventure. 

1. Ice Age Trail

Two backpackers walk in the distance between skinny, tall trees flanking the trail
Photo by Matt Johnson

Distance: 1,200 miles
Elevation: 25,000 ft
Type: Point-to-Point

Featured Adventure: Backpack the Milwaukee River and Butler Lake Segments

This hike is one of eleven National Scenic Trails and stretches through 30 counties in Wisconsin. Along the hike, marvel at the unique landscape formed by glacial ice for which this long-distance hiking trail was named. 

Around 600 miles of the path feature yellow blazes to direct hikers where to go. The rest is unmarked, with connecting paths that around 2.3 million people use every year. The Ice Age Trail is open all year, and hosts hikers, snowshoers, cross country skiers, and backpackers. 

Hike in the summer or fall to catch bursts of color from wildflowers popping up from brown leaves scattering the forest floor. 

2. Knobstone Trail

Distance: 48 miles
Elevation: 7,352 ft
Type: Point-to-Point

Featured Adventure: Hike Knobstone Trail

Take a trek along the Knobstone escarpment on Indiana’s longest footpath as it winds through over 42,000 acres of forested lands. This trail will take you through Clark State Forest, Elk Creek Public Fishing Area, and Jackson-Washington State Forest. Enjoy views of the Ohio River, farmlands, and the “knobstone” shale the trail is named after. The trail crosses a couple roads, so be cautious when approaching and crossing.

    3. North Country Trail

    A lone backpacker hikes through the shaded trail
    Photo by Collette Merriott

    Distance: 4,800 miles
    Type: Point-to-Point

    Featured Adventure: Backpack the Manistee River Trail

    The North Country Trail is the longest in the National Scenic Trails system. You can traverse through eight states on this hike: Vermont, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Passing through more than 160 federal and state lands, embarking on this thru-hike will allow you to see three Great Lakes, hike in four national park service areas, and traverse through 10 national forests. Hikers appreciate the changing scenery from farmlands and cityscapes to stunning rivers and the famous Adirondacks.

    4. Superior Hiking Trail

    A lone hiker sits atop the rocky cliff outcropping looking at the bright green forest below
    Photo by Allison Herreid

    Distance: 310 miles
    Elevation: 37,821 ft
    Type: Point-to-Point

    Featured Adventure: Hike to the Superior Hiking Trail's Section 13

    Head into Minnesota and take a tour of Lake Superior’s North Shore along this long-distance hike. Along your way, stop at rock outcroppings and cliffs to see stunning views of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains, woodlands, and ancient volcanic rock. Many people start at the southern side to start out with more gentle, rolling terrain before heading north where the trail gains more elevation. Thru hiking the SHT often takes from two to four weeks.

    5. The Ozark Trail

    Distance: 230 miles
    Elevation: 18,587 ft
    Type: Point-to-Point

    Featured Adventure: The Ozark Trail: Eleven Point Section

    Trek through mountains, hills, and valleys and past crystal-clear creeks, springs, and waterfalls in this hike through the Missouri Ozarks. Set between the Onondaga Cave State Park and the western edge of the Mark Twain State Forest, this hike traverses through quiet woods, and allows you to explore the depths of hidden caves. On your hike, you may see unique wildlife such as the Cerulean Warbler, wild turkey, and North American River Otter.

    6. Isle Royale National Park

    the deep blue ocean extends out to an island
    Photo by Joe Whitson

    Distance: 41.12 miles
    Elevation: 3,235 ft
    Type: Point-to-Point

    Featured Adventure: Backpack Isle Royale NP's Greenstone Ridge Trail

    This wildly underrated island-based national park is located in Michigan. The island offers the chance to escape from some of the more popular and overcrowded national parks for a bit of peace and quiet outside. Isle Royale National Park is closed from November through April, but the lake is open year-round. 

    Take the ferry or charter a seaplane to Isle Royale and backpack from one side of the island to the other. Along your thru-hike, you'll have breathtaking views of Lake Superior stretching out into the horizon. Keep an eye out for the two iconic species the park is known for: moose and wolves. 

    7. River to River Trail

    Rocky outcroppings stick put of the trees
    Photo by Sunshine LeMontree

    Distance: 157 miles
    Elevation: 15,291 ft
    Type: Point-to-Point

    Featured Adventure: Hike the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail

    Winding through Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, this trail traverses through forests, wetlands, grasslands, and bluffs. Along your way, you will pass through five nationally designated wildernesses. Keep your eye out for bald eagles, bobcats, armadillos, red-tailed hawks, and red foxes.

    8. The Buckeye Trail

    Distance: 1,444 miles
    Elevation: 39,490 ft
    Type: Loop

    Featured Adventure: Buckeye Trail: Blue Hen to Jaite

    This hiking trail runs from Lake Erie to the Ohio River along wooded footpaths, historic towpaths, and abandoned railroads. Buckeye Trail hikers follow blue blazes on trees along the path for 1,444 miles as they loop through Ohio. This trail is under consideration to become a National Scenic Trail

    9. Maah Daah Hey Trail

    A bison sits in the grass
    Photo by Kelley Dodge

    Distance: 144 miles
    Elevation: 15,141 ft
    Type: Point-to-Point

    Featured Adventure: Camp at Cottonwood Campground in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    The Maah Daah Hey Trail in North Dakota winds through the Badlands. Sitting in the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe, the name comes from their native language and means “an area that will be around for a long time.” 

    Nicknamed North Dakota’s “best-kept secret,” this trail follows rivers, jagged peaks, rolling hills, and majestic plateaus. Head through buttes, grasslands, and the “Old West” town of Medora. Along your way, check out some of the iconic landmarks such as the China Wall, Devil's Pass, and ice caves.

    10. American Discovery Trail

    Distance: 6,800 miles
    Type: Point-to-Point

    Featured Adventure: Thorn Creek Trail: Purple

    While the American Discovery Trail stretches beyond the Midwest and extends coast-to-coast passing through 14 states, it connects through many Midwest states along its way. The trail begins in California and extends through Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. After Denver, Colorado, it splits into a northern and southern route before rejoining west of Cincinnati. 

    Along the northern route, hikers can explore Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Alaska. The southern route passes through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. From there, hikers finish this long-distance hike through Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC, and Delaware. This trail has diverse terrain as it passes through many ecosystems, so hikers will require a variety of clothing and sleeping bag options to remain comfortable in varied temperatures. 

    Ready to start your next hike? Download the Outbound Collective App to gain access to offline maps and routes! See photos and reviews from other users, and share your experiences with the community!

    Cover photo by: Allison Herreid

    We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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