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Jesse Weber | 09.03.2019

North America is vast and varied, and large swaths of it remain wild and hard to reach. Much of the continent’s most spectacular natural scenery, in fact, can only be seen by venturing far along a trail. Thanks to the dedicated work of trail crews and nonprofit organizations, the U.S. and Canada contain some of the world’s best long-distance treks. If you want to experience them, you’ll have to travel by foot or perhaps on a bike. You’ll have to carry your own supplies, brave the elements, and sleep outside for days on end, but the rewards are well worth the challenges. Here are some of those trails to add to your bucket list.

A few of these take only 2 or 3 days, but most are long-distance epics that require weeks or months to complete. Each is listed here with its full mileage and rough amount of time required to complete a thru-hike (end to end in one push). They all have bite-sized sections that can be done as much shorter trips, however, so check them out and plan the distance that’s right for you.

 

Mount Ellen via the Long Trail. Michael Sawiel.

Eastern US

  • Mountains to Sea Trail (1,175 miles, 2-4 months): Crosses the state of North Carolina, from the tall summits and deep gorges of the west to the salt marshes and Atlantic Ocean in the east.

  • Long Trail (272 miles, 2-5 weeks): America’s first designated long-distance hiking path, The Long Trail follows the crest of the Green Mountains from south to north across the state of Vermont.

  • Appalachian Trail (2,190 miles, 4-6 months): America’s world-famous thru-hike of the Appalachian Mountains, spanning 13 states from Georgia to Maine. If you don’t have 5 spare months to hike all 2,190 miles in one go, do one of its many distinct sections as a shorter backpacking trip.

  • North Country Trail (4,600 miles, 6-8 months): An epically long journey through the northern Midwest and Northeastern states, the NCT is a work in progress, but more than 3,000 of approximately 4,600 planned miles are complete. The route spans great plains, dense forests, rushing rivers, rugged lakeshores, and tall mountains from South Dakota to Vermont. For more information, see the National Scenic Trails website.

 

The ceiling of the Tetons, the Teton Crest Trail. Kevin Murray.

Western US

  • Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles, 4-5 months): A difficult, wandering route along the Rocky Mountains from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, crossing some of the most iconic mountain scenery in America. Much of the CDT requires backcountry navigation; this is a thru-hike for advanced thru-hikers.

  • Teton Crest Trail (40 miles, 3-5 days): Traverses one of the world’s most photogenic mountain ranges, crossing high passes and lake-filled basins at high elevation among pyramidal peaks.

  • Colorado Trail (486 miles, 4-6 weeks): Explore the famous alpine scenery of Colorado on foot or bicycle on this multi-use trail, divided into distinct sections that begin near popular mountain towns.

  • Arizona Trail (800 miles, 1-2 months): A tour of the greatly varied state of Arizona, from the mountainous Mexican border through low deserts and highland forests and across the Grand Canyon. Like the Colorado Trail, the Arizona Trail offers a version for mountain biking as well as hiking.

  • Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles, 4-6 months): Follows the string of mountains from Mexico to Canada, including the iconic Sierra Nevada of California. In its 2,650 miles, this coveted thru-hike covers everything from brutally hot deserts to rainy temperate forests to snowy mountain passes.

  • John Muir Trail (211 miles, 1-3 weeks): Much shorter than the PCT, but still very committing, the John Muir Trail travels an especially spectacular section of the Sierra Nevada from Yosemite National Park to Mount Whitney.

  • Pacific Northwest Trail (1,200 miles, 2-3 months): Runs between the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, covering mountainous parts of Montana, Idaho, and Washington. The trail is rugged, remote, and incomplete in places, but guarantees solitude and unparalleled scenery.

  • Lost Coast Trail (25 miles, 3-5 days): A strenuous but relatively short journey along the craggy coast of Northern California. It requires navigation of river crossings, tides, and inclement weather in a remote wilderness.

 

Backcountry beach camping on the West Coast Trail. Calvin Perfall.

Canada

  • West Coast Trail (47 miles, 5-7 days): Wet and wild trekking along the sea cliffs and coastal rainforest of Vancouver Island. This trail is famous for difficult terrain and unbeatable scenery, like forest-fringed beaches, waterfalls meeting the ocean, and otherworldly rock formations on the craggy coast.

  • Panorama Ridge (18 miles, 1-2 days): Witness rugged peaks, immense glaciers, and sparkling lakes from what is arguably the best viewpoint in all of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Reaching it requires a difficult day or overnight hike.

  • Tonquin Valley (28 miles, 3-4 days): In Jasper National Park, a fortress-like row of peaks called the Rampart Range rises over a verdant valley of lakes and meadows. A multi-day trek leads through dense forest and over high passes to reach this alpine paradise.

  • Great Divide Trail (685 miles, 1-3 months): This is Canada’s answer to America’s Continental Divide Trail, and it’s even more epic. It loosely traces the crest of the Canadian Rockies, passing through iconic parks like Jasper and Banff. It's not a continuous trail, however, it’s a route that combines official paths and cross-country travel to navigate a staggering stretch of wilderness.

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Comments

09/11/2019
Rather than all these well-known major trails, how about some great lesser known "second-tier trails" like the NPT (Northville Placid Trail) in the Adirondacks of New York.
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