How To Find Backpacking Trails: Top 3 Methods

When I wanted to start backpacking I had a hard time finding trails that were specifically meant for multi-day backpacking hikes. A lot of the trails I’d find in popular apps were geared towards your average person looking for a short hike in the woods. I was looking for trails near me that would be good for a solo backpacking trip.

There are a variety of ways to find good trails. When I first started looking for trails I used the AllTrails App. It didn’t take me long before I got frustrated with it and deleted it from my phone. I use it on occasion but have since discovered some better options.

If you want to know how to find backpacking trails understand that you have several options. I’ve found the best way to be through The Hiking Project & Google Maps. I’ve found some amazing multi-day backpacking trails this way.  I don’t use AllTrails to find trails; I use it to check out reviews.

I live in Missouri. When I first began looking for backpacking trails it didn’t seem like there were many options. I was going off observations, the All Trails Apps, and searching in Google. I became pretty frustrated because I knew that there had to be good trails near me—but I kept coming across the same 5-10 trails that weren’t meant for backpacking. All Trails was hardly any help.

My #1 Way To Find Backpacking Trails: The Hiking Project

This trail is not listed on any other app that I've seen. If it wasn't for The Hiking Project I would not have known about it. They are my prefered resource for finding new hiking and backpacking trails.
This trail is not listed on any other app that I’ve seen. If it wasn’t for The Hiking Project I would not have known about it. They are my prefered resource for finding new hiking and backpacking trails.

As soon as a more experienced backpacker told me about The Hiking Project I knew I had to check it out. It is a database of hiking and backpacking trails—similar to some of what’s out there—but better in my opinion.

I clicked on my state (Missouri) and was presented with a map that had the various trails marked. They have hiking and backpacking trails. As I was looking at the map I noticed that there was a green line that ran through the Missouri River. It covered nearly the entire width of the state. I knew it was a trail and was super-excited to find out that there is a 248 mile, point to point, backpacking trail that runs along the Missouri River.

The Trail is named “Katy Trail” on the Hiking Project. I didn’t see this trail on the other sites, apps, and forums I use. This is the first I’ve heard of it. The Hiking project has a comments section. The particular trail only had 1 person that left two comments. The first comment he made was that he planned to hike the trail. The second was after he hiked the trail—he was blown away at how amazing it was. He left a stellar 5-star review.

I’m going to add this trail to the list of trails I’d like to do. I live in Kansas City, which happens to be the start/endpoint—which is perfect. Anyway, I highly recommend you check out the Hiking Project. They have an app & website that works well if you are on a computer.

My #2 Way To Find Backpacking Trails is Google Maps

Believe it or not, I’ve found Google Maps to be a great way of finding hiking and backpacking trails. With this option its a bit more difficult to sort the longer backpacking trails from the shorter day hiking trails—but with some quick searches in Google you can narrow it down pretty easy.

  1. As simple as it sounds all you need to do is open up Google Maps. I prefer doing this on a computer since there is more screen real estate—but you could do this on your phone too.
  2. All you need to do is click the “Your Location” button, in the bottom right, or set the location to wherever you plan to be.
  3. Then you want to zoom out and get a bird’s eye view of the region, city, or state.
  4. Pay attention to the bodies of water and the green parts that indicate a forest. Most of your backpacking trails are going to be found in either a state or federal forest.
  5. If you want a longer trail for backpacking then ignore the small patches of green and focus on the large bodies of green that cover a large area. Be sure you are zoomed out enough to do this.
  6. You want to find an area that seems like it covers enough land to hike for several days—or however long you plan to backpack.
  7. Once you find a location you want to explore you can zoom in. In most cases, it will give you the name of the forest or park. Click for more info.
  8. You will see dotted lines that represent known hiking trails. Not all of the backpacking trails will have this.
  9. Also, depending on the session of Google maps you are on—it may not display Trails. I used Safari to take the screenshot below (which had the dotted lines) but when I went to use Chrome it didn’t show them. I’m not sure why this happens. If you run into this then try in a different browser, clear your cache, and play around with the Google Map settings. (If someone knows how to fix this please leave a comment below.)
  10. Note the names of the forests and parks. Specifically, try to find state and federal land—but also look for county land as well.
  11. They tend to cover larger distances. In many cases, the backpacking trail will be in a federally protected or state-protected forest.
  12. Some trails will connect through several counties and possibly states.
  13. Search Google for the names of the forests, parks, and lakes you’ve written down. When you search add something like “backpacking” or “hiking trail.” Depending on which type of trail you are looking for.
  14. This will oftentimes result in local trail guides, government park guides, and forums that all share information on the backpacking trails in the area. You will likely find both trail and Topo maps too.
I never knew this trail existed near me. I found it through Google Maps. The dotted line represents different trails.
I never knew this trail existed near me. I found it through Google Maps. The dotted line represents different trails.

In this example, I decided to stick close to home. I never knew about this trail or this park. It may not be big enough for backpacking but it might make for a good local exploratory hike. It’s also a great resource.

Finding local trails, parks, and forests is really easy with Google Maps. If I wanted to find a longer backpacking trail I’m sure there are people in this area that could help me. I could also search online.

A simple search on Google for “William Lindahl Park Reserve hiking” gives me a lot of results—packed with information.

  • The first result is the Parks & Recreations website for Jackson County Missouri.
  • The second is The Hiking Project which shows me the trails in the area and gives me more information.
  • Many of the other results are also websites that track trails.

I can do this for backpacking trails and hiking trails alike. It takes some observation and a limited amount of research. There are a lot of possibilities with this.

I started not knowing anything about this trail. All I did was open up Google Maps and look for forests and lakes. I would have never known this park and trail existed. They have a lot of reviews on AllTrails (211 of them). I don’t remember ever coming across this. I just checked in the app and this trail is buried deep in my recommendations.

Think of this more like a location-based search. I think it’s much easier to find trails while looking at a map. Whether through Google Maps or something like The Hiking Project.

My #3 Way To Find Backpacking Trails is Forums

Talking to other people who have hiked or backpacked in the area you want to be in helps tremendously. You can get recommendations, tips, and trail information first hand from the people who have hiked it. Whether you are on forums, Reddit, or Facebook groups they all have one thing in common: community.

My suggestion is that you get on Facebook and search for a Facebook group that is dedicated to either backpacking or hiking in your area. The one I am most active in is a Missouri backpacking group. People share tips and answer questions all of the time on there. Missouri is fortunate to have access to the Ozark Mountains, so many recommendations are on the Eastern part of my state—But I’ve come across a few local ones as well.

So these are the best ways to find backpacking trails. I use these 3 methods pretty frequently. A lot of times I will find my own trail on Google Maps or the Hiking Project and then I will try to find a forum or Reddit post that talks about it. I simply do this by searching on Google. It’s really easy! No need to get complicated.

I hope this has helped you in some way. Please feel free to leave a comment with your questions or thoughts.

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