It’s hard to say exactly why hiking is such a popular pastime in the U.S. It could be the accessibility; there are hundreds of major trails and countless marked and unmarked offshoots. It could be that getting started is as easy as putting one foot in front of the other, but challenging treks will keep even the most expert hiker on their toes. Maybe it’s witnessing the beauty and diversity of nature with the land beneath your feet.

Whatever it is that drives people to lace up their boots and head out on the trail, we do know one thing — hiking is wildly popular. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, hiking has become more popular in recent years, steadily gaining participants each year since 2009. In 2012 the association estimated that more than 34 million Americans went hiking.

It’s strange to think that this healthy outdoor activity only gained appreciation in fairly recent history. Prior to the 18th century, walking and trekking were considered a sign of poverty and vagrancy. Luckily for those of us overcome with wanderlust, hiking surpassed the stigma and is supported and promoted on both government and private land today.

With so many awe-inspiring trails, the issue lies in where to go next. For expert advice, Active Times consulted two experienced hikers, Philip Werner and Rick McCharles.

Werner is an adventure writer and backcountry guide at He is an expert on the Appalachian Trail, which he has been hiking section-by-section since 2007. He has also hiked the Long Trail in Vermont — all 272 miles, and has tackled much of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, standing at more than 4,000 feet a piece. Although Werner is an experienced backpacker, he is familiar with and enjoys the easier day hikes.

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