6 Thru-hikes to Explore in Central US

A forested view from the Buckeye Trail

1. Buckeye Trail

The blue-blazed Buckeye Trail is Ohio’s most famous long distance hiking trail and is a great hike to explore. Its 1,440 mile (2,320 km) length wraps around the entire state. The trail passes through the most scenic regions that the state has to offer, including Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It also follows the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal as well as the Miami and Erie Canal. The trail’s northern terminus is on Lake Erie in Headlands Beach State Park. From there, one branch leads south down the eastern edge of the state, and another leads west across the northern portion of the state. The two branches rejoin and form a single branch that leads to the southern terminus in Cincinnati.

A view of a cliff from the Buffalo River

2. Buffalo River Trail

Follow the rugged scenic shores of America’s first National River on the Buffalo River Trail. This 37-mile trail follows the Buffalo National River, one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the United States. The trail travels from Boxley Valley to Woollum where it joins the Ozark Highlands Trail. It follows the stunning and rugged landscape on the southern side of the river. There are epic views from cliffs, historical features including homestead sites and Civil War-era mining and logging sites. There is also a multitude of native wildlife along the trail. This is another great Southern trail to hike in the spring and fall.

A small series of waterfalls along the Eagle Rock Loop. A great hike to explore.

3. Eagle Rock Loop

Climb though the rugged hardwood and pine forests of the Ouachita Mountains on the The Eagle Rock Loop. This trail travels through the Ouachita National Forest via the Little Missouri Trail, the Viles Branch Horse Trail, and the Athens-Big Fork Trail, along a 100 year-old postal route and many old wagon roads. This loop is among the most difficult yet popular routes in Arkansas. Considered by many to be the best hike in the Ouachita Mountains, as well as a great bike route, this trail offers rugged climbs though hardwood and pine forests, numerous beautiful stream crossings, and a variety of stunning mountain peaks. Hikers and bikers on this loop can choose from five trailheads, which means there are many ways to hike this trail.

A view of a river on the Ice Age Trail. A hike to explore.

4. Ice Age Trail

The Ice Age Trail is a historic adventure of almost 1200 miles (1930 km) that traces the edge of the huge glacier that once covered North America. The landscape that its retreating mass carved in the state of Wisconsin is a spectacular example of the mark that natural forces, such as continental glaciation, can leave on our planet. The Ice Age Trail is one of the country’s National Scenic Trails, and is a trek across the state of Wisconsin that travels through rolling green hills, river valleys, and lakes; all reminders of a planetary era long past. Its path stretches from the Interstate State Park along the St. Croix River to Potawatomi State Park near Sturgeon Bay. Traveling through some of the state’s most beautiful natural areas, the trail is perfect for day-hiking, thru-hiking, snowshoeing, and backpacking adventures.

A forested view of the trail on the Quachita Trail

5. Ouachita Trail

Hike by beautiful lakes, rivers and streams, and through calm forests on the Ouachita Trail. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail is a 223-mile trail that has the honor of being the longest backpacking trail in the Ouachita National Forest, United States. The trail travels through the Ouachita Mountains from Talimena State Park in Oklahoma to Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas passing through two wilderness areas along the way. This is a great trail to hike in the fall or spring, and can also provide good winter hiking due to its lower elevation and location in the Southern United States. Though well-marked, this trail is not as well-known as other trails in the South, which makes it a great choice for hikers craving solitude. It passes by beautiful lakes, flowing rivers and streams, through calm forests, and over rolling hills.

A meadow view from the Ozark Highlands Trail

6. Ozark Highlands Trail

Experience the beauty of the Ozarks: hike forests and scenic rivers on the Ozark Highlands Trail. The Ozark Highlands Trail showcases the outstanding beauty of the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas and is a great hike to explore. This 164-mile trail stretches from Lake Fort Smith to the Buffalo River. It is one of the premier long-distance hiking trails in the Southern United States. It provides a multitude of winter hiking opportunities since fall through spring is the peak season. The trail passes through some of the most scenic parts of the Ozark Mountains, including some areas that are some of the most remote in the state.