Beyond the PCT: Worthwhile Thru-Hike Alternatives
Hiking day after day with nothing to your name but a backpack of ultralight camping gear has helped narrow down life’s distractions. In the beginning it was a struggle to reach the daily mileage goal, but as mind power battles pure physical exhaustion, small victories start to add up. After a couple months, it’s not the actual hiking that’s difficult, it’s the minutia fighting for space in your thoughts as you keep up the pace towards your final goal. From exhaustion and fatigue to revelations and epiphanies, the one thing you weren’t expecting on this journey of self discovery was the amount of like-minded people doing the same.
Sure there have been days of solitude, but there have also been days spent hiking in larger groups and camp nights resembling backcountry parties. Not to say this was good or bad, just different. As the idea of thru-hiking has grown in popularity, primary attention is paid to the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Each year, more and more people embark on these two iconic thru-hikes but those who complete these 2,600 and 2,200 mile hikes, respectively, are a much smaller, hardy select group of individuals.
While these are arguably the most well-known thru-hikes in the U.S., they represent only two of the many long trails weaving their way through the United States and abroad. From cross-continent epics and historic routes, to French wine and cheese tours, if you’re looking to conquer your own point-to-point trek but want a different experience, here are some other options.
North Country Trail – NY / PA / OH / MI / WI / MN / ND
Stretching over 4,600 miles from Crown Point, NY, to Lake Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota, the North Country Trail passes through seven states. It is the longest of the eleven National Scenic Trails and a great option for those located in the midwest.
Continental Divide Trail – NM / CO / WY / MT
For 3,100 miles between Mexico and Canada, the Continental Divide Trail follows the crest of the Rocky Mountains while traversing Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. Along with the AT and PCT, the CDT is part of the famed Triple Crown of US thru-hikes.
American Discovery Trail – DE / MD / WV / OH / IN / IL / IA / MO / NE / KS / CO / UT / NV / CA
With a 4,834 mile northern route and 5,057 mile southern route, there is a lot of available distance to cover on this trail as it crosses the midspan of the United States. Starting on the Delmarva Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean the American Discovery Trail finally concludes on the northern California coast on the Pacific Ocean.
Oregon Desert Trail – OR
A new network of trails under development across the high desert, the Oregon Desert Trail is between 750 and 850 miles long and links Bend, Oregon, to Lake Owyhee State Park, near the Idaho border. This rugged desert trail requires some route finding abilities while hiking in some harsh conditions.
Long Trail – VT
Located in Vermont, the Long Trail runs the entire length of the state and holds the title for the oldest long-distance trail in the United States. Constructed between 1910 and 1930 by the Green Mountain Club, the Long Trail is 273 miles long and follows the crest of Vermont’s Green Mountains.
El Camino de Santiago – Spain
One of the most historic hikes in the world, the El Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route through Spain that’s been popular for centuries. While plenty of people backpack the route, a bounty of hostel and dining options exist that make it easier for some to swallow.
Pacific Northwest Trail – WA/ ID / MT
Across the the northern panhandle of Idaho, the 1200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail runs to the Pacific coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Along the way it traverses the Rocky Mountains, Selkirk Mountains, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Olympic Mountains and Wilderness Coast.
West Coast Trail – Canada
Built in 1907 to facilitate the rescue of shipwrecked survivors along the coast, the West Coast Trail straddles the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island. At 47 miles long, it’s not the longest trail around, but rugged, remote and notoriously muddy, it’s one of the more challenging.
Grande Randonées – Europe
A network of long-distance footpaths in Europe, Grande Randonées exist mostly in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. The trails in France alone cover approximately 37,000 miles and leave plenty of route options. Think of it as a long-distance wine and cheese tour.
Te Araroa Trail – New Zealand
Translating to “The Long Pathway,” New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail stretches 1850 miles along the length of the country’s two very scenic islands. Whether looking to explore this unique area or pursue Lord of the Rings fandom, this is a good option.
As you can see, there are plenty of thru-hike options outside the classic Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail routes, and this is really just scraping the surface of what’s possible. Whether you choose to start with a more well-known hike or forge your own, getting out there is all that matters.