Everyone who has read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild has probably envisioned themselves heading out into the woods with little but a tent, a water bottle, and a worn-in pear of hiking boots.
But before you try to take on all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll need to test out your gear, train your body, and try your patience. The best way to prep? Take shorter trips to acclimate your body and figure out what you really need (and don’t need) for six months on the trail. After all, backpacking is a skill, and like most skills it takes practice to master.
These trails, from the coast of Maine to the meadows of Shenandoah, are perfect for beginners: short, sweet, and scenic.
High Sierra Camps Loop, Yosemite National Park, California
Tucked into the backcountry of Yosemite National Park are the six ersatz lodges known as the High Sierra Camps. Accessible only on foot (human or horse) the camps give newbies the opportunity to learn the ropes of backpacking without having to heft a heavy pack and prepare food at the end of a long day on the trail when you are too exhausted to move. The six camps are spread between seven and nine miles apart along a loop trail that runs around the Yosemite Valley and consists of group tents—some have showers—and canteens where family style meals are cooked by the staff. While most of the hikes around the loop trail are a day’s worth of walking away from Tioga Pass Road, there’s a lot of flexibility for hikers making their way along the loop trail. Depending on where you choose to camp, it can be an overnight trip or a week long—the complete loop from Tuolomne is 46 miles—all within the beauty of Yosemite.
Reservations to stay at the camps are distributed via a lottery, so plan ahead. If you don’t win the lottery, there are also nearby backpackers’ campgrounds and you can sign up to eat meals at the High Sierra Camps.