The Best Solo Hikes in North America

Solitude with a view

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Why set off on a hike all by yourself? Some solo trekkers are chasing a sense of meditative quietness, while others seek the confidence boost that comes from self-reliance. Most are simply reveling in getting away from it all, such a rarity in today’s plugged-in world.

Some trails are more attractive for solo treks because of their blend of solitude and safety. The biggest drawback of traveling by yourself is that there's no one to come to your aid if you unexpectedly need help. Proper planning, knowledge of the trail and its conditions and general preparations can limit the dangers. Also, some trails are better for hiking alone than others.

These places stand out because of the solitude, conditions and the features they offer solo hikers.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the Cabot Trail

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Cape Breton Highlands National Park is on Cape Breton Island, which is part of Nova Scotia. The park — known for its craggy coastal highlands — is accessible via the Cabot Trail. The 185-mile Cabot is a roadway, not a hiking trail. However, it is actually an ideal “trail” for hikers because it allows them to easily reach dozens of scenic paths. For example, solo hikers can park at the trailhead for the Skyline Trail, walk along this scenic highland path for three hours, and return to their car to move on to tackle the 2.5-mile trip up nearby Roberts Mountain.

Cabot visitors can also opt for a series of casual beach walks or short highland loops. So while the Cabot Trail is not a hiking path itself, it is one of the best destinations in North America for solo hikers who want a multi-day trip with diverse trails, different difficulty levels and the ability to leave their tent at home.

Highline Trail in Glacier National Park

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The Highline Trail passes along the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park. This Montana path is quite popular because of its location and its scenery. The entire trail is 37 miles long, but there is a popular loop that is approximately 11 miles. This trail does have narrow and precarious points, but it has a good infrastructure as well. You can take a shuttle bus to various entry points. There are alternative trails that connect with the Highline, so solo travelers can find a route that offers more solitude.

You may actually need your passport if you make the entire trek to the end of the trail at Goat Haunt Ranger Station, which is right on the U.S.-Canada border. Those with a valid document will be allowed a end-of-trail bonus: the chance to take a boat tour on Waterton Lake. The Highline Loop is quite accessible, and while the complete Highline Trail is a challenge, it offers solitude and scenery for experienced hikers.

Superior Hiking Trail

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The Superior Hiking Trail follows the shoreline of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. It starts at the Minnesota-Wisconsin border and runs more than 300 miles all the way to the international border with Canada. For most of the journey, it follows ridgelines above the lake. Backcountry campsites are free to use and placed at intervals along the trail, but solo hikers can access the trail for day hikes at various points along the lakeside highway in state parks and from tourist and port towns along the shoreline.

In addition to views of the largest of the Great Lakes, the trail passes mountains, spruce and pine forests, rivers and waterfalls. Sections of the trail inside state parks and near tourist centers see some traffic, but other parts are only used by backcountry hikers. These sections are remote, but it is difficult to get completely lost because you can always travel downhill to the coast and highway.

Timberline Trail, Mount Hood

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This 36-mile trail is definitely not for novice solo hikers because it includes snow fields, stream crossings and steep changes in elevation. At the same time, a number of campgrounds, each with reliable water sources, are spaced relatively regularly along the route, and the Timberline Lodge offers a comfortable pit stop or starting point for hikers.

This trail dates back to the Great Depression, when it was constructed by workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps. Because of the high elevations, trail users are rewarded with views not only of Mount Hood, but of Portland, the Willamette and Columbia rivers, and other famous peaks, including Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens.

Turtlehead Peak Trail

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The Turtlehead Peak Trail is a moderately popular path with a great location — less than 20 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. This 5-mile up-and-back path reaches the top of its namesake peak. Why take this trip? Turtlehead hikers get to see a variety of desert scenery, including wildflowers and the rock formations of the Red Rock Canyon. They can also see Sandstone Quarry, Las Vegas and a series of petroglyphs.

Despite relatively easy access and shorter distance, this is a challenging day hike with strenuous changes in elevation. It requires trekkers to be aware of how to deal with desert conditions. The convenient access makes it a good option for solo hikers who want a desert experience with lots of scenery that doesn’t require traveling too far from civilization. The Turtlehead is part of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which has a total of 30 miles of trails that provide additional options for Vegas-based hikers.

Arches National Park

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Utah’s Arches National Park is ideal for solo hikers. Yes, some of the easiest routes see a lot of traffic, but even the more challenging ones can be completed in a few hours. These trips, such as the journey up to Double O Arch, require some scrambling and also dealing with sheer drop-offs. The 7-mile-long Primitive Trail, which passes more than half-a-dozen arches as well as the famous 125-foot Dark Angel spire, also has challenging conditions.

While the best hikes in Arches require fitness, balance and experience, solo hikers who want to challenge themselves can do so safely by joining a ranger-led hike in the backcountry.

Acadia National Park

Photo: Aaron Zhu/Wikimedia Commons

Solo hikers who want some solitude won’t find it on the most popular trails inside this Maine park, but they can seek out more-remote paths that are mostly ignored by the masses.

For example, Cadillac Mountain has a short, paved loop trail near its summit. It also has a moderately difficult 4-mile route (North Ridge Trail) and a challenging 7-mile ascent (South Ridge Trail). Some of the most difficult routes, such as the Precipice Trail, actually have iron rungs and ladders to aid ambitious hikers as they move over steep rock faces. You may have to work to find solitude in Acadia, but the high traffic and relatively short routes mean that help is never far away if a solo hiker should need it.

Springer Mountain on the Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye Trail

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Avid hikers have soloed the Appalachian Trail, but most trekking enthusiasts can’t take six months off work to tackle the 2,200-mile path. Solo hikers can, however, walk part of the AT. The famous trail starts near Springer Mountain Georgia. Another, lesser-known and less-crowded path, the Benton MacKaye Trail, also begins there.

Trekkers in the Southeast can take on the beginning part of the AT on a 9-mile hike from the trailhead to the summit of Springer Mountain and back. The less-known, and therefore less-crowded, Benton MacKaye Trail offers a journey of a similar length in the Springer Mountain area. It is also possible to loop around using one trail for the outbound trip and the other for the return trip.

The Trans Catalina Trail

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Santa Catalina Island is a 90-minute ferry ride from the Los Angeles metro area. The 38-mile Trans Catalina Trail circles the island. Through-hikers can use campgrounds along the trail, but changes in elevation, wildlife (including rattlesnakes) and unpredictable weather mean that solo trekkers need to be both experienced and fit to take on the whole route. Because there are campgrounds, it is possible to do an out-and-back overnight hike on a portion of trail.

The island has basic services, and the trail is well-kept by the Catalina Island Conservancy. You will encounter members of the island’s resident bison herd as well as foxes and eagles on this trek, so this is certainly a good option for solo hikers who want to see wildlife.

Kauai

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Kauai is one of Hawaii’s least-crowded and most-natural islands. It's relatively safe, and since it’s a compact island, the chances of getting hopelessly lost are slim. The Kalalau Trail, along the scenic Nāpali Coast, is one of the state’s most famous trails. However, it is challenging and often quite precarious. The journey is safest when undertaken with at least one partner.

Perhaps a safer bet is Kokee State Park, which has 45 miles of well-kept trails that lead through the forests of a highland plateau. You can see Waimea Canyon from lookout points inside Kokee. The Canyon itself has trails for both experienced and novice trekkers. These paths are reasonably popular. So even if you hike solo, there will be other people around to lend a hand if needed.