Millions of Americans like to take the occasional hike, and for good reason. Getting outside and going hiking has many benefits. Exploring hiking trails lets you discover new places and sights, and working out in the outdoors can be beneficial to your mental health, releasing high levels of dopamine into your system.
For the vast majority of hikers, a few miles is plenty. With the sun pounding on your head and shoulders, uneven terrain requiring extra attention, and often sharp changes in elevation, a few miles is definitely enough to get a day’s worth of exercise. For some, however, a couple of miles is just the warm up! In the US there are several hikes, developed over years, or even decades, that take hikers on lengthy and arduous adventures through thousands of miles. Below are three of the most famous distance hikes that excite the imaginations of the most extreme trekkers.
Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT as it commonly referred to, winds its way from Mexico to Canada and through thousands of picturesque miles in between. The entire trail, from start to finish, is 2600 miles in length. Only around 5000 hikers in the world have ever completed the entire trail, 88 of whom have done so more than once!
This trail has been a legend amongst outdoor enthusiasts for generations but gained intense popularity when it was used as the backdrop for the book and movie Wild. Hiking the entire trail generally takes about four to six months and it is recommended that one start in the spring or early summer months to avoid heavy snowfall as they reach the end of their journey. This is also considered the friendliest of trails, with ‘trail angels’ depositing food and survival gear in strategic spots along the trail for weary thru-hikers.
The Appalachian Trail is a staggering 2200 miles in length and encompasses some of the most beautiful and arduous terrain on the east coast. With only one in four attempts successful, completing the trail in one continuous thru-hike is truly a mammoth undertaking.
The trail’s development, which began in 1921, was finally completed in 1937 and stretches from Georgia to Maine. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is the organization tasked with maintaining the beauty of the trail and spreading the message of how the human spirit can benefit from immersion with nature. Due to the intensely demanding nature of the trail, thru-hikers generally require between four and seven months to complete the entire path.
The Continental Divide Trail is the longest of the three ultra hikes listed here, and contains over three thousand miles of mountain peaks, lakeside vistas, and nearly impassable trails. This distance hike stretches from the base of New Mexico to the top of Montana and is so called because it quite literally splits the country in half. Water flowing to the west of the trail eventually finds its way to the Pacific Ocean, whereas any running water to the immediate east of the trail will begin its journey to the Atlantic Ocean.
Hundreds of adrenaline junkies each year attempt to thru-hike the CDT, but most are unable to ever complete the full hike. At this time only 76% of the trail is complete and in order to hike the full trail you need to use GPS and other navigation devices since there are hundreds of completely untouched miles. This is considered the most difficult and dangerous ultra hike.