Are you an RV camping expert who’s looking for a little extra adventure?
Whatever your reasons for wanting to embark on your first backpacking trip, choosing the right place for your first overnight hike is just as important as making sure you’ve packed all the necessary gear.
The right place can help ensure your first backpacking trip is a relaxing stroll in the woods where you become one with nature and not your personal reenactment of Homeward Bound.
Ok, enough with all the movie references… you get the idea, it’s important to choose the place for your first backpacking trip wisely. So let’s move on to my list of the absolute best places for your first overnight hiking trip.
How to Choose the Best Place for Your First Overnight Hiking Trip – So You Actually Have Fun!
Not all of us may live next to one of the places on my list. And really, what makes a park, a trail, or any destination a good choice for your first backpacking trip aren’t just the views, it’s more about helping you ease into backpacking and the challenges that come along with it.
Since you want to make your first overnight hiking trip an awesome experience, keep these things in mind when choosing a hiking route.
1. Keep your first backpacking trip short and simple
Don’t push it. Sure you technically could hike 15 miles a day but for beginner backpackers, that’s probably a bit much.
Look for hiking routes that’ll let you average about 7-9 miles a day, even less if you’ll be on hilly terrain. That’ll give you enough time to stop and enjoy the views, take a nice long lunch break, and maybe even jump in a swimming hole.
It’s also best just to stick with an overnight hike for your first trip. Planning just a one-night hike gives you a wider selection of trials, makes it easier to pack, and if you happen to forget some essential item you can’t live without, help is just a few miles away.
Pssst… If you want some help planning for your first backpacking trip, check out my guide with 7 Tips for Conquering Your First Backpacking Trip. There’s even a free backpacking packing list printable!
2. Choose a trail that’s close to civilization and not too far from home
For your first overnight hike, it’s best not to venture too far out into the wilderness. Don’t drive out into the middle of the Rockies 100 miles from the nearest town, park your car, and walk off into the woods.
It’s not that backpacking is so full of dangers (you do have to be careful), it’s just nice to be able to spend more time hiking and less time driving.
On your first backpacking trip, you’re also more likely to forget something, so it’s also easier to run home or to a store if at the last minute you realize you forgot to pack a lighter.
3. Choose an easy, well-traveled trail for your first hike
Don’t choose a trail with a lot of technical features that’ll have you crossing rushing rivers on foot, scrambling up rock faces, or swinging on vines. Leave the Tarzan stuff for a later hike.
Choose a well-established trail that’s popular with hikers since it’ll be well-marked and easy to follow.
So now that we’ve established some basic things you should keep in mind when selecting the best place for your first overnight hiking trip, let’s look at some more specific places you could try out.
Best Places for Your First Backpacking Trip
Don’t think that these places are only for first-time backpackers. Use this list for your 2nd, 3rd, 4th hikes and beyond. This is by no means an exhaustive list, it’s just meant to give you some ideas and inspiration for choosing the place for your first overnight hike.
If you really want to ease into backpacking, try a walk-in campground for your first trip.
Instead of driving right up to your campsite like in a normal campground, with a walk-in campground, you park your car and then hike a short way to your campsite with your gear. This is a great way to see how you fare on an overnight trip with only the gear you can carry. It also lets you practice using your new backpacking gear like your tent, backpacking stove, etc.
Just do a search for walk-in campgrounds (or campsites) near me. Here’s a list of some walk-in camps in California.
Local State Park
A local state park is a great place for your first backpacking trip. Most have well-marked and well-maintained trails. Larger state parks will also have visitor centers where you can get more info on trail conditions, park maps, and maybe chat some with a ranger to get some campsite recommendations.
And with over 6,600 state parks in the U.S., no matter where you are, you can find one that’s close to home.
The PCT, CDT, and the AT
The Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail are some of the most hiked trails in the USA. The Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail are fully completed and marked along the entire length, while the Continental Divide Trail is only about 70% complete.
Hiking a section of one of these trails is a great choice for your first overnight hike since there’s so much information available about them. The trails are well-marked, easy to follow, and full of established campsites. You can even follow them on google maps!
There are also a lot of intersecting trails, which gives you even more options for planning a shorter hiking route.
Here’s some useful information about these trails for beginner backpackers.
Now let’s look at some specific places that provide some amazing views and have easy trails for beginner backpackers.
Ancient Lakes Trail, Washington
Roaring waterfalls, oasis-like lakes, beautiful views, and easy trails – what more could you want out of a place for your first backpacking trip?
At just a little over four miles roundtrip, this trail gives you plenty of time to relax, take in the views, and even explore some of the side trails.
And since it’s a roundtrip trail, planning your exit is easy because you simply hike in and hike out. Think this is the best place for your first overnight hike?
Yosemite National Park, California
If you’re farther down the west coast, Yosemite National Park is an amazing place for your first overnight hike.
There are over 750 miles of hiking trails in Yosemite and so many amazing views, you could spend months hiking there and still not see them all. You need to apply for a wilderness permit for overnight hikes, but it’s well worth it.
Yosemite’s trails are well-marked, well-maintained, and used by thousands of hikers every year. Want to try out Yosemite for your first backpacking trip?
Here are some useful resources:
Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
If you’re farther inland, this part of Rocky Mountain National Park is worth considering for your first overnight hike. From the Wild Basin Trailhead there are a variety of trails you can take that lead you along picturesque creeks to beautiful lakes nestled among towering mountain peaks.
It’s just a couple of miles from the trailhead to several different lakes and a nice variety of established campsites. You will need to get a permit if you plan to spend the night.
Want to try wild basin for your first backpacking trip?
Learn more about hiking in Wild Basin:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee
With over 800 miles of well-traveled trails – including part of the Appalachian Trail – the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an excellent choice for beginner backpackers.
One of the most popular places that’s a scenic choice for your first overnight hiking trip is Mount LeConte.
There are a variety of trails that take you to the top of 6,595 foot tall Mount LeConte. They range 10 to 16 miles long roundtrip. There’s even a lodge and some shelters at the top of the mountain where you can stay if you want to have some extra comforts on your first overnight trip.
Fun fact! You might see some llamas on the trail. Yup, you read that right… llamas! They actually use llamas to transport food and other supplies up to the lodge a couple of times a week.
Think Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the place for your first backpacking trip? Get more info here:
Where Will You Go on Your First Backpacking Trip?
Will you tackle part of the Appalachian trail? Maybe you’ll catch some amazing views in Yosemite National Park? Or maybe you’ll just stay close to home and head to a local state park?
Whatever place you choose for your first overnight hiking trip, remember:
- Keep it short and simple
- Don’t stray too far from civilization
- Choose well-established hiking trails
- And most importantly… HAVE FUN!
And don’t forget to check out my guide with 7 Tips for Conquering Your First Backpacking Trip. There’s even a free printable to help you plan your trip!
And other articles for beginner backpackers…
- How To Purify Water While Backpacking | The Complete Guide
- Complete Guide To Your Backpacking Kitchen
- Yummy Recipes You Can Cook While Backpacking
- 11 Outdoor Survival Skills All Backpackers Should Know
- How to Pack a Backpack Like a Pro