The 10 Best Solo Hikes in North America

Hiker descending into Waimea Canyon on Kauai, Hawaii
A solo hiker on the Waimea Canyon Trail on Kauai, Hawaii.

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Some solo trekkers seek a sense of meditative quietness; others are after the confidence boost that comes from self-reliance. In any case, hiking solo on these safe and tranquil trails throughout North America provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of today's fast-paced, plugged-in world.

The biggest drawback of traveling by oneself is the risk of requiring help—be it medical, navigational, or whatever—when no one's around. Proper planning, knowledge of the trail and its conditions, and general preparations can limit that danger.

Here are 10 trails in the U.S. and Canada whose mild conditions, quietness, and difficulty levels make them ideal for solo hiking.

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Cabot Trail (Nova Scotia)

Hiker walking along Cabot Trail boardwalk overlooking water

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Cape Breton Highlands National Park, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, is known for its craggy coastal highlands accessible via the 185-mile Cabot Trail. Technically, a roadway rather than a hiking trail, "the Cabot" is ideal for solo hiking because it provides access to dozens of other scenic paths joined by a heavily trafficked roadway dotted with resource-heavy villages. Hikers can park at the trailhead for the Skyline Trail and walk along the highland path for three hours, for example, then return to their cars to tackle another—say, the 2.5-mile trip up nearby Roberts Mountain.

Cabot visitors can also opt for casual beach walks or short highland loops. The trails offer diverse scenery of old-growth forests and ocean vistas and varying difficulty levels. The drive itself takes five hours and is best tackled from July through September. The fall Hike the Highlands Festival occurs every September.

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Highline Trail (Montana)

View of mountains and valleys from Highline Trail

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The Highline Trail passes along the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, Montana. It's quite popular (i.e., well-trafficked) due to its location and breathtaking mountain scenery. The entire trail is 37 miles long, but there is a shorter, popular loop that is approximately 11 miles. The trail does have narrow and precarious points, but it has good infrastructure: You can take a shuttle bus to various entry points or follow alternative trails that connect with the Highline for more solitude.

Hikers may actually need a passport if they plan to make the entire trek to Goat Haunt Ranger Station, which is right on the U.S.-Canada border. Those with a valid document will be allowed an 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 serenity and stunning scenery for experienced hikers.

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Superior Hiking Trail (Minnesota)

View from the trail of forest and river during fall
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The Superior Hiking Trail starts at the Minnesota-Wisconsin border and runs more than 300 miles along the shoreline of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. Backcountry campsites are free to use and placed at intervals along the trail, but solo hikers who feel unsafe camping alone can access the trail for day hikes at various points along the lakeside highway.

In addition to great views of the largest Great Lake, the trail passes mountains, spruce and pine forests, rivers, and waterfalls. For most of the journey, the trail follows ridgelines above the lake. It can be heavily trafficked in state parks and other touristy areas and not so on other, more remote sections. It's difficult to get lost, though, because you can always travel downhill to the coast and highway.

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Timberline Trail (Oregon)

Timberline Trail with Mt. Hood in the background
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This 36-mile trail is definitely not for novice solo hikers, as it includes snowfields, stream crossings, and steep changes in elevation. However, 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, so you'll scarcely be far from other people.

This trail dates back to the Great Depression, when it was constructed by workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Because of the high elevations, trail users are rewarded with views not only of the famed Pacific Northwest stratovolcano Mount Hood but also of Portland, the Willamette and Columbia rivers, Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens. It's best to hike the Timberline trail in the summer because the snow at other times of the year poses an additional challenge.

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Turtlehead Peak Trail (Nevada)

The fire-red rocks of Turtlehead Mountain

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The Turtlehead Peak Trail in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a moderately trafficked path with a great location less than 20 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. This five-mile out-and-back path reaches the top of its namesake peak, which offers sprawling views of Nevada’s Mojave Desert. The trail is much less remote than it actually feels, and—despite the harsh, hot environment and strenuous elevation changes—it's a great option for solo hikers who want a desert experience without traveling too far or putting themselves in danger.

Turtlehead hikers get to see a variety of desert scenery, including wildflowers and the rock formations of Red Rock Canyon. They'll also see Sandstone Quarry, Las Vegas, and a series of petroglyphs. It's just a portion of the 30 miles of Red Rock hiking trails, all best explored in spring or fall, when the temperatures are mild.

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Primitive Trail (Utah)

Morning light on the South Window Arch

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Utah’s Arches National Park is ideal for solo hikers because it's packed with short-ish hikes that range from busy to scarcely traveled. Even the more challenging hikes can be completed in just a few hours. One of the best is the seven-mile Primitive Trail, which passes more than half a dozen sandstone arches as well as the famous 125-foot Dark Angel spire. This trail connects with the Devils Garden trail. Together, they form the longest-maintained hiking route in the park.

The Primitive Trail is challenging because it's poorly marked and requires hikers to carry a lot of water. As with any desert hike, it's best to take on this one in the spring, fall, or early in the morning. Getting lost becomes life-threatening in extreme heat and after you've exhausted your water supply. Solo hikers who want to challenge themselves in a safer way can do so by joining a ranger-led hike in the backcountry.

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North Ridge Trail (Maine)

Autumn foliage on Cadillac Mountain with view of the bay
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Solo hikers who want some solitude won’t find it on Acadia National Park's most popular trails but rather on the more remote paths that are mostly ignored by the masses. Cadillac Mountain has a short, paved loop trail near its summit, but take the moderately difficult four-mile North Ridge Trail or challenging seven-mile ascent up South Ridge Trail to its peak for a quiet hike away from the crowds.

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.

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Springer Mountain (Georgia)

Lush green mountain vista in Chattahoochee National Forest
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Avid hikers have soloed the Appalachian Trail in full, 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 this Georgia peak, at the same starting point of another, lesser-known and less-crowded path, the Benton MacKaye Trail.

Trekkers in the Southeast can take on the beginning part of the AT on a nine-mile hike from the trailhead to the summit of Springer Mountain and back. 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.

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Trans-Catalina Trail (California)

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

The island has basic services, and the trail is well-kept by the Catalina Island Conservancy. Solo hikers are likely to encounter members of the island’s resident bison herd as well as foxes and eagles on this trek.

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Waimea Canyon (Hawaii)

View of foggy, sun-lit Waimea Canyon
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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 famous Kalalau Trail that runs along the Nāpali Coast is challenging and often quite precarious, making it especially risky for solo hikers. A safer option is the Waimea Canyon Trail, in Waimea Canyon State Park, which runs a similar distance of 11.5 miles (one way) from the bottom of the canyon to the laidback coastal town of Waimea.

The trail spoils hikers with views of the steep red cliffs dotted with lush Hawaii foliage. There are campgrounds along the way, but those who don't want to make it a multi-day excursion can do a shorter day hike to the Waipo'o waterfall, 3.6 miles in. This path is reasonably popular, so even if you hike solo, there will be other people around to lend a hand if needed.