Weekend backpacking trips are one of the greatest gifts of the summer. You can get so much in just two to three days: a breathtaking vista, a serene mountain lake, a secluded old-growth forest. The only problem is that all too soon you’re back at the trailhead, preparing for the long drive home and wondering how you’ll get through five more days before your next big adventure.
Usually, this is when hikers start to google “Appalachian Trail Town Guide” or “PCT Gear Checklist,” but if you aren’t quite ready to quit your job and sell your house, there are other long trail options, ones that can be squeezed in alongside life’s many other responsibilities. And since these trails don’t get the same press as the jewels of the triple crown, the odds of getting a week of breathtaking vistas all to yourself are even better.
Ozark Highlands Trail
Season: October through June
Duration: 2 weeks
Learn more: OzarkHighlandsTrail.com
If your ideal wilderness trek is one where you won’t encounter another hiker for days on end, the Ozark Highlands Trail should be near the top of your list. But even if you start out in search of the trail’s peaceful valleys and lonely vistas you’ll stay for its smaller wonders: delicate waterfalls, remnants of bygone pioneers, and impressive rock formations, like the Narrs: a narrow catwalk of stone snaking along the Buffalo River. While reasonably well-marked, this trail is more rustic than most, so be prepared for your feet to get wet (and stay wet) during its many stream crossings. Fortunately, there are a number of ancient structures scattered along the way where you can air out and dry off. Procrastinating thru-hikers may rejoice that this one doesn’t require a special permit to get started, but know that the remoteness of the terrain and the difficulty of resupply (there are only two POs and no grocery stores along the way) mean it requires just as much, if not more, planning.