How Many Miles Can You Hike in a Day?

How many miles can you hike in a day? Most very experienced hikers can complete between 20 and 30 miles in one day, but this depends on many factors, such as elevation change, weather, and trail terrain. 

This article will explore how many miles you can hike in a day and how to increase your daily mileage. 

My longest recorded mileage was 21.3 miles on our rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike in 2023.

However, this hike has significant elevation changes (we ascended over 6,000 feet on our hike up the North Rim).  

switchbacks on the South Kaibab trail; the rim-to-rim trail of 22 miles is on the upper end of how many miles can you hike in a day
The switchbacks on the South Kaibab trail during our rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike

Factors that Affect How Many Miles You Can Hike in a Day

How many miles you should plan to hike in a day will come down to four main things: your hiking experience and general fitness level, trail incline, weather, and terrain conditions. 

Physical Fitness and Hiking Endurance

Generally, you should never try to hike more than a few miles more than you’ve ever hiked before, especially if your hike is in a remote area.

The best way to train for a long hike is to follow a consistent training plan that includes hiking, other cardiovascular endurance training, and strength training. 

Recommended Hiking Distance Based on Hiker Experience Level

When planning your hiking itinerary, it’s helpful to have a general idea of how many miles you should expect to be able to complete in a day depending on your current level of hiking experience. 

If you are a beginner hiker, choose shorter hikes ranging from 3-5 miles.  Could you probably hike more miles than this in a day?  Yes, but remember, we are playing the long game here.  You don’t want to injure yourself and not be able to hike next week. 

flat trail with surrounding fall leaves
Start with easy, flat trails

Intermediate hikers (my definition of this is hikers that can easily complete 5+ mile hikes with over 2,000 feet elevation gain with no issues) can start to go for hikes ranging from 10 to 15 miles per day.

Most experienced hikers are familiar with their average hiking speed.  If you can average a 30-minute mile, a 10-mile hike will take you around 5 hours, and a 15-mile hike around 7.5 hours. 

We always recommend timing your hikes to get a feel for your average pace and how long it takes you to complete hikes with different terrains and elevation changes.   

If you are an experienced, avid hiker who consistently completes long, hard hikes (15+ miles with >3,000 ft elevation gain), you can start to push yourself to complete a 20+ mile hike in one day, as long as you plan well and take appropriate safety precautions.

Elevation Gain and Naismith’s Rule

The elevation gain of your hike will have a huge impact on how many miles you can complete.   

Naismith’s rule is a very general guideline (created by William Naismith, a Scottish hiker, in 1892) for calculating how many miles a given hike will take.  The guideline states, that for an average hiker, you should budget one hour for every three miles forward, and one extra hour for every 2,000 feet of elevation gain.  

graph showing Naismith's Rule of one hour per 3 miles plus one hour per 2000 ft elevation gain

So, a 6-mile hike with 2,000 feet of elevation gain would be calculated as follows: (6miles / 3 miles=2 hours) PLUS (1hr x 2,000ft elevation)= 3 hours total

NOTE: This guideline is a very rough estimate, and does not factor in terrain conditions or weather. 

Or here’s another way to compare hikes with varying elevations.  I’ve compiled this list of hike completion times for 5-6 mile trails with different elevation gains (estimated hike times are taken from Alltrails.com). 

Hike Completion Times Compared to Elevation Change

<1000 Feet Elevation Change Average Completion Time

  • Floating Rock via Zion Narrows Riverside Walk
    • 5.4 miles, 465 ft elevation change, 2h 1 min Avg completion time
  • Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
    • 5.9 miles, 747 ft, Avg completion time of 2h 28 min

1000<2000 Feet

  • Rattlesnake Ledge Trail, Washington State
    • 5.3 miles, 1,459 ft, Avg completion time 3h 4 min 
  • Skyline Loop, Mount Rainier National Park
    • 5.7 miles, 1,768 ft, Avg completion time of 3h 30 min

2001<3000ft

  • Nevada Fall via the Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California
    • 5.7 miles, 2,129 ft elevation change, Avg completion time 3hr 53 min
  • Mission Peak Loop from Stanford Avenue Staging Area, California
    • 6.0 miles, 2,152 ft, Avg completion time 3h 59 min

3001ft<4000ft

  • Mount Ellinor Trail, Olympic National Forest, Washington
    • 5.9 miles, 3,398 ft elevation change, Avg completion time 5hr 17 min
  • Mount Rose Trail, Olympic National Forest
    • 5.7 miles, 3,484 ft elevation change, Avg completion time 5hr 20 min

Here’s a quick graph I made summarizing these hikes and their completion times:

bar graph showing completion times for a 5-6 mile hike with varying elevations

Type of Hike and Terrain Conditions

Even if your hike is flat, the type of terrain you will be navigating can add a lot of time to your hike.  Rock scrambling and wading through rivers or mud will be the biggest things to watch for.

My biggest example of a hike where the terrain really slowed me down was hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park. 

Hiking the Narrows involves walking (and often wading through) the Virgin River.  When Kendall and I went in October of 2021, we walked through knee-high water for much of the hike, with water up to our chests in a few places.

Stuff like this will slow you down!  The Narrows bottom-up hike (ending at Big Springs) is around 9 miles with less than 700 feet of elevation change.

Normally, a flat hike like this would take us less than 4 hours, but we clocked just over 8 hours of hiking by the time we finished.

view of the Virgin river running through the Narrows slot canyon in Zion National Park
Our Narrows hike in 2021

Other Factors: Pack Weight and Altitude

A heavy pack will affect your average mile speed.  For long overnight hikes, you’ll not only be carrying your food, water, and safety equipment but also all your camping and sleeping gear.

And finally, you always need to think about the altitude.  

If you are hiking at an altitude that is higher above sea level than what you are used to, you will likely get tired more quickly (less oxygen content in the air) and your hiking pace will be slow. 

During our 7-day Peru Itinerary, we spent a few days hiking around the archeological sites near Cusco.  We could sure feel the high altitude in Cusco and were glad we had acclimatized before starting our 4-day trek to Machu Picchu. 

a green tent pitched on an open dirt campground overlooking the Andes Mountains.
Our campsite on our second day in the Andes during our 4-day trek to Machu Picchu

Tips for Increasing Your Hiking Mileage

If you’re looking to increase your hiking mileage, my biggest suggestion is this: start slow and be consistent!  

First, gradually increase the length and difficulty of your hikes. If you are new to hiking, start with a flat terrain, one-mile hike.  Start by hiking just a few days a week to let your body recover in between trails, and don’t increase your mileage more than 10-15% per week.

After a few months, you’ll start to be able to do longer hikes, but starting with fewer miles helps prevent injury.  Besides, these shorter/easier hikes are great hiking date ideas or just an excuse to spend time with family/friends.  

On your non-hiking days, incorporate strength training into your weekly routine.  Hiking is a cardio-heavy sport, but strength training is super important!  I’ve noticed a big difference in my leg endurance and tricep endurance (when using my hiking poles) when I consistently cross-train at the gym.  Don’t neglect this!

overhead view of two dumbbells, a yoga mat, and and ab roller device

Also, watch yourself closely for injuries.  If something is hurting that shouldn’t be, immediately cut back on your hiking mileage, but don’t stop being active.  This is where cross-training comes in.  

I’ve had on-and-off problems with my Achilles tendon as well as with a plantar plate ligament tear, so instead of running I usually opt for lower-impact activities like biking.  And I wear great hiking shoes for Achilles tendon pain whenever I head out on the trail. 

Whenever I feel an injury resurfacing, I replace a few hiking days with a mountain bike ride or some time on the Stairmaster.  This has helped me stay active and maintain strength in my other tendons and ligaments while I heal.  

Finally, make sure you are eating well, not only during your hikes but every day in between.  There are so many different opinions on what eating ‘healthy’ means, that I won’t go into too many details, but I try to prioritize lean proteins and get most of my carbohydrate intake from whole-food sources.

Planning Your Hiking Itinerary for a Long-Distance Hike

The most important part of planning any hike is to thoroughly research the trail. My favorite trail database is Alltrails.com.  I review all of the following information before deciding on a hike:

  • Trail distance, elevation gain, and average completion time.  The average completion time will be listed in the trail introduction paragraph, although not all trails have this information.  
  • All Waypoints: these will be listed both in the ‘Waypoints’ section in the left-hand column and as yellow dots along the trail map.  These waypoints are often water sources, landmarks, or viewpoints.  The water sources are especially important to review. 
  • Current Weather Conditions (listed in the left-hand column below the ‘waypoints’ and ‘getting there’ section.
  • Most Recent Reviews and Photos: don’t skip this step.  This is one of the easiest ways to get a good idea of the trail conditions.  Reviewers will often talk about if snow spikes or snowshoes are needed, or will mention any dangerous trail sections or wildlife sightings. 
screenshot from Alltrails.com showing how to use the Waypoints feature
Image from Alltrails.com

Safety Considerations for Long-Distance Hiking

Long, hard day hikes are my favorite kind, but it’s especially important to follow the safety essentials with these types of trails. 

  • Proper gear: Although you can get away with hiking in jeans on short/easy trails, for long-distance hiking you really need to invest in good hiking boots, moisture-wicking hiking pants or leggings, and a good hot-weather hiking shirt. 
  • Navigation: Make sure you have a downloaded map
  • Tell someone: Always let a few close family members and friends know exactly which trail you will be on and what time you will be back.  For long, all-day hikes, check in every few hours.  
  • Stay hydrated: Plan to drink at least a half liter of water during mild/moderate temperatures, and a full liter per hour if the weather is hot.  For long, all-day hikes, you will most likely need a water filter and a water source along the trail. 
  • Know your limits: Don’t push yourself if you are not feeling well. 
  • Prepare for the weather: I almost always bring a lightweight jacket or poncho that I can stuff in my backpack, even if the weather is hot.  You never know when you’ll be stuck on a hike longer than intended or when the weather will change. 
tourist in a poncho with a cow in the background
We almost always bring a rain poncho or light fleece jacket with us when we hike, even if the weather is warm

So, How Many Miles Can You Hike in a Day? The Bottom Line

So, what’s the biggest number of miles you can hike in a single day?  If you are an experienced hiker, somewhere between 20 and 30 miles (although this will make for a very long day).  But really, that answer depends on so many factors, like your hike’s elevation change, terrain, and the current weather conditions. 

But by gradually increasing your mileage, training regularly, and following some basic safety precautions, you can push your limits and crank out some pretty awesome, hard day hikes.

tourist on an open dirt trail with surrounding green forest
Kendall pounding out the miles on our Lost City trek in Colombia

How Many Miles Can You Hike in a Day FAQ:

Can I Hike 20 Miles in a Day?

Yes, if you are a physically fit hiker and the trail and weather conditions are good.  Using Naismith’s rule: a 20-mile hike with 6,000 feet of elevation change would take an average hiker 9.6 hours to complete.

Is it Possible to Hike 30 Miles in a Day?

It is possible to hike 30 miles in one day, but only if you are extremely fit and there are sufficient water sources along the trail.  Using Naismith’s rule, a 30-mile hike with 6,000 feet of elevation change would take a hiker 13 hours to complete.  Hikers would need to be able to carry enough food and water for a very long day of hiking. 

How Many Miles Is it Realistic to Hike in a Day?

Beginner hikers should not try to hike more than 3-5 miles in one day.  However, experienced hikers, if prepared well, can complete long day hikes of 15-20 miles. 

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