A Guide To America’s Best Thru-Hikes
The long-distance hikes that stretch 2,000 miles across America’s wild lands such as the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide, are true herculean feats that strike a chord in the hearts of most long-distance hikers.
They are the ultimate stages for wilderness adventure, solitude, and the opportunity for devoting yourself entirely to a tremendous challenge.
Unlike some however, the majority of us have work and family responsibilities, thus prohibiting us from taking months off at a time to chase mountain dreams of such grandeur.
The wilderness still beckons though, and we can heed its call on several other, shorter thru-hikes that provide many of the same challenges and benefits the likes of those seen in the 2,000-mile monsters.
Traversing high alpine ridgelines, through hardwood forests, and wildflower-infused meadows, the following four thru-hikes will see you through trail miles in the triple digits and dramatic wilderness scenery and they are all far more accessible for the working man with a shorter time frame.
New Hampshire’s Cohos Trail
The Cohos Trail spans 140 miles of New Hampshire’s rarely-hiked mountain terrain. Beginning at the town of Glenn south of the White Mountain’s Presidential Range, the CT winds its way north to the Canadian border. The CT traverses several peaks above 3,500 feet in the lesser-known portions of the mountains with one visit to Mount Eisenhower, a popular Presidential Range peak, before returning to the other side of the White Mountains.
The CT’s hiking season runs from June to September, and while hikers on the AT will be bumping into each other, you can be communing with black bears and moose on this thru hike.
Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail
According to the Great Outdoor Recreation Pages (GORP), the Superior Hiking Trail has been voted the second-best long-distance trail in the U.S. With its dramatic scenery and wildlife-packed wilderness, the SHT also ranked first place for the quality of trail signage as well as trail shelter conditions.
The thru-hike consists of a passage through deep gorges, hardwood forests and bogs that string the shores of Lake Superior for a total of 225 miles. The trail’s start takes place northeast of Duluth to ultimately end on Canada border north of Hovland. Stick to the summer months when attempting the Superior Hiking Trail.
Washington’s Wonderland Trail
Perhaps the single best and most convenient thru-hike in America, the 95-mile Wonderland Trail can be completed in a week or less if you average an approximate 15 miles per day. Being a loop trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier, the convenience comes in that you do not have to worry about finding a way back to your car at the trailhead.
With a blessing of continual views of cliffs, snow fields, glaciers and the ever-present Mount Rainier, Backpacker magazine readers have voted the Wonderland Trail as the best long-distance hike in terms of scenery and wildlife. Try and plan your vacation time during the months of July through October for a go at the WT.
California’s John Muir Trail
The John Muir Trail traverses 220 miles of high Sierra wilderness; climbing past waterfalls, through alpine meadows and summiting the highest point in the lower 48s: Mount Whitney (14,494 feet). Starting your hike at the JMT’s northern point in Yosemite Valley will allow you to acclimate gradually, making it so that the 5,000 foot push to Mount Whitney’s summit won’t be the first high-altitude climb you tackle.
The JMT provides a glimpse into the scenery experienced along the Pacific Crest Trail, as for these 220 miles, they are one in the same. Though the dramatic scenery of the high Sierras is reason enough for many long-distance hikers to tackle the JMT, it is not suitable for anyone looking to score a slice of wilderness solitude, as it sees heavy crowds every summer from visitors to Yosemite National Park and the surrounding areas.