Long Distance Trails in the USA

It occurs to be that my previous post on the Great Eastern Trail (GET) and the Appalachian Trail (AT) seemed to suggest that there are only a few long distance trails in the United States. In addition to the GET, and the AT, I also mention the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). While the AT, PCT, and CDT make up what is commonly referred to as the Triple Crown, there are many other long distance (some even longer than these) in the USA. Some are so long that the list of thru-hikers (a person who walks the entire trail in a single year, more or less non-stop) is in the single digits.

There are so many trails, with so much variety, I’m beginning to wonder why the AT receives what appears to be the bulk of the long distance thru-hikers. It is making me reconsider my own nascent thru-hike plans.

Below is a list of trails greater than 100 miles I found on wikipedia. I then made notes (to myself if no one else) and created a hyperlink to either the trail’s maintaining body, or the best information page I could find. I will likely link this as a resource page at some point, and periodically update it as appropriate.

Allegheny Trail 330 WV
American Discovery Trail 6,800 Coast to coast across USA
Appalachian Trail 2,178 GA-ME
Arizona Trail 790 Mexico to Utah
Bartram Trail 153 Connects to AT. GA&NC
Bay Area Ridge Trail 500 Circles San Francisco Bay
Benton MacKaye Trail 300 Connects to AT at Springer Mtn
Bigfoot Trail 400 NW CA
Bay Circuit Trail 200 Circumnavigate Massachusetts Bay
Buckeye Trail 1,444 Circles Ohio
C&O Canal Trail 184.5 Old towpath for C&O canal on the Potomac.
Cohos Trail 162 NH, Crawford Notch to Canadian border.
Colorado Trail 483 Central Colorado
Continental Divide Trail (CDT) 3,100 Part of the triple crown. Mexico to Canada
Cumberland Trail 175 Tennessee
East Coast Greenway 3000 Links major East Coast Cities. Under construction.
Eastern Continental Trail 5,400 Key West, FL to Belle Isle, Newfoundland
Finger Lakes Trail 557.7 Western New York
Florida Trail 1,400
Grand Enchantment Trail 730 AZ-NM e-w wilderness trail
Great Allegheny Passage 150 Rail trail MD-PA. Might be interesting…
Great Eastern Trail 1,600 Alabama-New York. Sizable gaps still exist.
Great Western Trail 4.455 Western Rockies
Great Western Loop 6,800 PCT, PNT, CDT and other trails
Hayduke Trail 800 UT&AZ linking national parks
Highlands Trail 162.7 NY & NJ
Horse Shoe Trail 140 SE PA
Ice Age Trail 1,200 Wisconsin (incomplete; but impressive)
Idaho Centennial Trail 900 north-south
Iditarod Trail 1,025 Alaskan wilderness
International Appalachian Trail 1,900 Extends AT north from Katahdin to Newfoundland.
John Muir Trail 211 Sierra Nevadas – Yosemite Valley
Katy Trail 240 Missouri
Lone Star Hiking Trail 120 Sam Houston National Forest, TX
Long Path 347.4 NY/NJ: GW Bridge to Albany
Long Trail 272 Vermont: MA-Can borders
Mason-Dixon Trail 190 PA/MD
Metacomet-Monadnock Trail 114 NH – Might be a good one weeker
Michigan shore to shore trail 220 Lake Michigan-Lake Huron
Mountains to Sea Trail 1,000 NC. Incomplete.
North Country Trail 4,600 Northern USA, NY-ND
Northville-Placid Trail 125 Adirondack State Preserve
OC&E Woods Line State Trail 105 Oregon
Oregon Coast Trail 362 Pacific Coast
Ouachita National Recreation Trail 223 OK and AR
Ozark Highlands Trail 180 Ozark National Forest, AR
Ozark Trail 350 Missouri
Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) 2,654 Mexico – Canada, Triple Crown Trail
Pacific Northwest Trail 1,200 Pacific Northwest
Palmetto Trail 425 Southern Appalachians (290mi complete)
Pennsylvania Mid State Trail (MST) 327 Traverses state
Pinhoti Trail 335 AL&GA. Connects to AT
Potomac Heritage Trail 830 Mostly complete, but large sections follow public roads
River to River Trail 126 Illinois, Ohio R. to Mississippi R.
Sheltowee Trace Trail 282 KY. Daniel Boon National Forest.
Sierra High Route 195 Kings Canyon National Park, Inyo Notional Forest, Yoesemite National Park
Superior Hiking Trail 275 MN, north shore of Lake Superior
Tahoe Rim Trail 165 circles Lake Tahoe
Tahoe – Yosemite Trail 180 CA
Theodore Solomons Trail 271 CA
Tuscarora Trail 252 Appalachians in PA, MD, VA & WV

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Appalachian or Great Eastern Trail?

As mentioned a couple posts ago, heading over the horizon after several months of backpacking is a target goal in the next couple or three years or so. For a backpacking trip I wanted something long distance, as in multiple months and multiple thousand miles long distance. The obvious choice, of course, was the Appalachian Trail, arguably the premier long distance trail in America (the other two elite long distance trails in the United States of America are the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, forming what is sometimes called the triple crown of hiking). The A.T. runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia, all the way to Kahtadin in Maine, over approximately 2,181 miles (not counting periodic trail reroutes and side trips to town for resupply). The average time to thru-hike is currently slightly under six months, with some going longer than seven, and some speedsters doing it in less than four.

There are advantages and disadvantages, as with everything, to the A.T.. Advantages include it being well marked, well maintained (as far as these things go), well documented, trail towns are comfortable with dirty, smelly backpackers trouncing in for a day or two, not to mention the convenience of proximity to someone living on the East Coast. Of course, its’ location means that rarely are hikers really all that far from civilization. And there are a lot of hikers. Thousands attempt a thru-hike each year, while 20-25% (depending on the year) complete it. This means there is likely to be plenty (quite possibly, too much) of company, especially Northbound. This is a very hiked (some would say over hiked) trail.

There are options for reducing the crowds, of course. There are significantly fewer South-bounders (SOBO or MEGA –Maine to Georgia–) hikers than Northbound (NOBO or GAME), so starting at Katahdin and heading south would greatly ease any overcrowding, at least until running into the (likely depleted, and by then, spread out) NOBOs. Of course, this means doing the most rugged and probably difficult portion of the trail at the beginning, through Maine and New Hampshire, when likely not in trail shape. Not to mention that Katahdin just seems like a more dramatic place to finish. Lack of crowds may also mean lack of camaraderie, and an increase in loneliness. Who can say?

But I just learned of another long distance trail through the Appalachians called the Great Eastern Trail (GET). The Great Eastern Trail runs from the Florida/Georgia border up to New York (near Buffalo, I think), linking several independently maintained trails. The appeal of this trail is that it is further west of the A.T. in much more rugged wilderness areas (on average). As well it is far less traveled. I’m not sure if there has been a successful thru-hike of it yet (I know of one attempt by a hiker trail named Hammock Hanger; but a one year thru-hike attempt doesn’t seem to have worked out), although I’m sure it is just a matter of time. The GET is around 1800 miles long. There is, naturally, trouble in paradise here, too. Primarily is that this is a trail that is still being built. There are sections which do not have wilderness trail connections. This is being worked on, but it takes time. So, road hiking over several “gaps” is currently a fact of life. As well, towns near the trails haven’t grown accustomed to hikers, and supplies, hostels, etc… may be hard to come by, and the residents are probably likely to assume any hikers they see are vagrants. Not to mention that each section being independently maintained, there isn’t a central repository for maps and guides. Long stretches of solitude is practically assured for a solo hiker. Still, I find this intriguing.

So, the plan, such as it is, is to let 2012 be 2012, with work, sailing, and hopefully a few backpacking trips. 2013 (if money allows) or 2014 would begin my great adventure, starting with either the A.T. (I’m thinking a July start southbound; but don’t hold me to that) or G.E.T., followed by a sailboat tour of the Caribbean (maybe even including Bermuda) and South America.

Of course, plans are fluid. I’m still (STILL!) working through various legal and financial challenges. But, lawsuits aside, 2011 was a significant improvement over the previous couple years, and 2012 promises to be even better. Things are looking up!

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