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6 Thru-hikes to Explore in Central US

Central US is a prime place to thru-hike! Our 6 hiking guides offer a plethora of diverse and beautiful hikes.

Stephanie Stuehler      Trails      05/07/2021

Stephanie Stuehler

Trails

05/07/2021
The Buckeye Trail winds through a green deciduous forest in Ohio.

1. Buckeye Trail

The blue-blazed Buckeye Trail is Ohio’s most famous long distance hiking trail. Its 1440 mile (2320 km) length wraps around the entire state, passing through the most scenic regions that the state has to offer, including Cuyahoga Valley National Park and 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.

Explore the Buckeye Trail
A glassy calm river flows by a tall rock wall under blue skies.

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, America’s first National River and 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, passing epic views from cliffs, historical features including homestead sites and Civil War-era mining and logging sites, as well as a multitude of native wildlife. This is another great Southern trail to hike in the spring and fall.

Explore the Buffalo River Trail
A waterfall cascades over rocks in a stream in a deciduous forest.

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.

Explore Eagle Rock Loop
The Ice Age Trail winds through a meadow towards a deciduous forest of Autumn colors.

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 wide 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.

Explore the Ice Age Trail
A trail covered in fall leaves winds through a deciduous forest.

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.

Explore the Ouachita Trail
On the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas a view looks over a teal river with a sandy beach and dense forests.

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. 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.

Explore the Ozark Highlands Traill

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Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association
A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author

Stephanie Stuehler

Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland Stephanie longed to one day see the Rockies. Upon receiving her Bachelors in Fine Arts with a track in graphic design she and her Frenchie, Nugget, decided to drive 1,677 miles, sight unseen to colorful, Colorado. She was left speechless (and winded) from her first hike in Idaho Springs. Steph has a huge passion for design and all things style. In her free time she enjoys working out or hiking in Boulder! Colorado is Stephanie’s happy place.