If you are new to hiking, you might be hearing many terms thrown around describing ways to complete a trail, including a thru-hike, section hiking, and flip flop hiking. A thru-hike is the longest method of tacking a long hiking trail, which may leave you wondering just how long a thru-hike is? We have researched this, as well as the ten longest trails in the US, to get you all the information that you need!
A thru-hike is a term that refers to completing a hiking trail from beginning to end continuously in one direction. While it typically is used to refer to long-distance trails that take a long time to complete, this can mean anything from a few days to several months, depending on the trail length, difficulty, and the style of the hiker. The actual miles can vary from trail to trail, but thru-hikes are usually hundreds or even thousands of miles in length.
Completing any long-distance hike is a success to be proud of! However, it is a special accomplishment to thru-hike one of the ten longest trails in the US. These are:
- American Discovery Trail- 6800 miles
- Great Western Loop- 6800 miles
- Eastern Continental Trail- 5400 miles
- North Country Trail- 4600 miles
- Great Western Trail- 4455 miles
- Great Continental Divide- 3100 miles
- Pacific Crest Trail- 2638 miles
- Appalachian Trail-2174 miles
- Buckeye Trail- 1444 miles
- Florida National Scenic- 1400 miles
There is a lot to know about thru-hiking as well as each of these incredible U.S.trails! Keep reading to get the scoop on thru-hiking, including details on these trails, the gear you might need, and more!
How Long Does a Thru-Hike Take?
If you are excited at the thought of taking on the challenge of a thru-hike, welcome to the club! Completing a thru-hike can be a life-altering accomplishment, but it is critical to be prepared before attempting, for safety's sake!
Most thru-hikes take weeks or even months to complete and can require extensive planning and preparation. You need to research your chose trek to determine how many miles per day you intend to hike, the time of year, and the climate. Then you can plan your gear, food, and water needs, locate campsites, and towns to resupply.
Most hikers can comfortably and safely hike between 10 and 16 miles per day. If you want to take your time and stick to around 10 miles per day, divide your chosen route's total length by ten. For example, The Pacific Crest Trail is 2638 miles long. If you hike 10 miles per day, it will take you about 27 days to complete just the hiking portion. Add one day in town for every three days on the trail to get restocked, and you add another 9 days, for a total of 36 days.
These days in town are important to allow you to resupply, rest, and eat a few hot meals. While you may not need to stop every three days, you should incorporate some stops into your trip. Every 3 to 5 days is normal, except for extremely remote portions of trails or for hikers trying to break a record.
Ten Longest Hiking Trails in the U.S.
To get an idea of what you could be looking at, check out these amazing trails. They are located in various parts of the United States, and each one has its own personality to experience!
American Discovery Trail- 6800 miles
The ADT is a unique hiking trail, as it is comprised of multiple other trails joined by connector routes, not all of which are through the wilderness. While most traditional hiking trails tend to stay in nature, even when winding near a town or city, the American Discover Trail actually passes through towns, farmland, and wildlands on its coast to coast route.
Starting in Cape Henelope State Park, Delaware, and ending in Pt. Reye National Seashore, California, the American Discovery Trail passes straight through the heartland of America. There are actually two routes, the more northerly route is 4834 miles, and the more southerly is 5057 miles. They both begin and end at the same places, but you can choose which one you would prefer. The 6800-mile figure combines the mileage for both routes in the total.
This trail takes about one year to complete on average, so a thru-hike is definitely going to be a commitment, both personally and financially.
Great Western Loop- 6875 miles
The next longest trail in the U.S. is the Great Western Loop. It links together parts of several other trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Grand Enchantment Trail, and the Arizona Trail. It winds through 10 states and two deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran.
It has only been completed by two hikers: Andrew Surka, in 2007, and Jeff Garmire in 2018, who completed it in 208 days.
Eastern Continental Trail- 5400 miles
The Eastern Continental Trail is another massive undertaking! It starts in Key West, Florida, and ends in Quebec, Canada. It encompasses several hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail in its 5400 miles. It crosses 16 states and 3 Canadian provinces.
It takes roughly a year to thru-hike this trail, and you really need to time it right to avoid hiking in deep winter weather.
North Country National Scenic Trail- 4700 miles
If you want to see the Great Lakes, the North Country National Scenic Trail is a perfect thru-hike for you! Its 4700 miles of trails crosses eight states, starting in Vermont and ending in North Dakota. It is the longest of the National Scenic Trails authorized by Congress. It crosses various landscape types from city, farmland, wilderness, and winds past three of the Great Lakes. It traverses the Adirondacks and incorporates routes from several 'smaller' trails, such as the Superior Hiking Trail and the Buckeye Trail.
Assuming an average of 16 miles per day, this trail could take between nine months to a year to complete!
Great Western Trail- 4455 miles
There is no better hike for lovers of the Old West than the Great Western Trail, as it winds through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. Experience the American West in all of its glory as you travel through deserts, canyons, forests, and alpine meadows. Some portions of this trail have been developed for motorized access, though, so don't be surprised if you see other types of travelers other than hikers.
Thru-hiking this trail is especially challenging due to the route that it takes through the Sierra and San Juan Mountain Ranges. These are heavily snow-covered for most of the year and very treacherous during this time. To successfully thru-hike the Great Western Trail, you have to do it in four months to avoid dangerous winter weather. This would mean that you would need to hike roughly 40 miles per day, at the very least!
Great Continental Divide- 3100 miles
Another amazing option for exploring the American West is the Great Continental Divide Trail. Designated one of the US National Scenic trails, it is 3100 miles long and crosses five states, including New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. It is very diverse in its landscapes, including mountains, desert, and forest wildlands.
It usually takes around six months to thru-hike this trail's 3100 miles of breathtaking beauty.
Pacific Crest Trail- 2638 miles
One of the most iconic trails in the United States is the Pacific Crest Trail. It passes through some of the most scenic landscapes in the country. It starts at the Mexican border of Califonia and heads north through Oregon and Washington to end at the Canadian border. The trail passes through desert and woodland and the famed Sierra Nevadas in California, the Cascades in Washington, volcanoes, and old-growth forests in Oregon. Summer through early fall is the best time to take on this trail, as the snow starts to fall in the mountains in early October.
It takes the average hiker around five months to complete this trail, but be sure to give yourself plenty of time to take in all the natural wonders around you!
Appalachian Trail-2174 miles
The Appalachian Trail is just as famous as the Pacific Crest Trail, and just as special! It runs the length of the eastern side of the United States, starting at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and ending at Mount Katahdin, Maine. This trail 2174 mile foot trail is known for its beautiful mountain views, crossing farms and wildlands, as well as multiple State and National Parks.
The A.T. takes between five and seven months to thru-hike. Many hikers start in Georgia in early spring to finish in Maine before winter makes the trail impassable.
Buckeye Trail- 1444 miles
For those hikers who can't step away from their day to day lives for an entire year, the Buckeye Trail is an excellent option for a thru-hike. This trail loops the entire state of Ohio, offering travelers the opportunity to see all that the state has to offer, from Lake Erie's beaches to the majesty of Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills. The Buckeye Trail is marked by blue blazes and follows roadways and wooded paths as it passes through many small towns where you can experience Ohio's history, not just its natural beauty.
The trail offers varying levels of difficulty from easy to very difficult, and it usually takes about three months to hike its 1444 miles.
Florida National Scenic Trail- 1500 miles
Last, but certainly not least, is the Florida National Scenic Trail. Just because this trail is one of the shortest on the list does not mean it is easy! It is one of the most difficult stretches of trails due to its pathway through Big Cypress National Preserve and miles upon miles of swampland filled with snakes and alligators, especially if you go at the wrong time of year! But that is only one part of the trip. You will also cross the Florida Panhandle's white-sand beaches, pass through palmetto and pine flatwoods and Civil War battlefields.
It is critical to be prepared before venturing into the swamp, be sure to carry plenty of water and to plan your hike after the floods have subsided.
The Florida Trail takes between two and three months to complete.
What do you need to pack for a thru-hike?
Knowing what to pack is essential to the success of your thru-hike. While the specifics will vary depending on each hiker, some items are mandatory for success. Remember, whatever you choose should be extremely durable, high-quality, and ultra-lightweight.
This should be in the form of a lightweight and easy to pitch waterproof tent or a hammock. This one-person tent from ALPS is only 4.2 lbs and is super easy to set up.
Getting adequate rest is important to your hike's success, and you will be exerting yourself to the max every day. A good quality bedroll or sleeping pad provides warmth and insulation between you and the cold ground like this one.
While you won't be carrying food to supply you for months, you will need to bring supplies for 3-5 days between stops to restock. Hiking burns a lot of calories, so it is important to pack nutrient-dense, high-calorie foods to keep you fueled. Protein bars, trail mix, and meals that have been dehydrated that you can add hot water to are great options.
You should be prepared for anything when you are out in the wilderness, so a small emergency kit is imperative.
First Aid Kit
On the same note, you should also carry a small first aid kit, like this one. If it doesn't have bug spray and sunscreen, be sure to add them to the mix as well.
While modern society has become accustomed to using our cell phones to get us where we need to go, there are many places in the wild where there is no service, so it is important to have alternate means to find your way. YOu should have hard copies of a trail map or guidebook, and a good waterproof compass at the very least.
For most hikes, depending on the time of year, finding water in the wild is not an issue. However, it is ideal to purify the water before drinking it, so you don't get sick.
The ability to make fire is crucial for cooking food, keeping warm, and warning away wildlife. Carry a waterproof firestarter, as you will inevitably be caught in the rain.
Which Thru-hike is the hardest?
The most difficult of these trails is the Great Western Trail. Not only does it have some difficult terrain, but the time constraints to complete it in season are not for the inexperienced hiker.
How Much Does it Cost to Do a Thru-Hike?
The average cost for a thru-hike is between $1000 and $1200 per month, plus travel expense and gear.
What is a Flip Flop Thru-Hike?
Sometimes it does not make sense to start at one end of a trail and hike straight through to the end. The Appalachian Trail is a good example of this, as there are a lot of hikers. If everyone started in Georgia in February, then the crowds would be horrible, plus the masses of people would create environmental issues. A flip-flop thru-hike is where you chose to start at a point in the middle of the trail, hike to one endpoint, then travel back and do the other part of the trail. You still get to see the entire trail, but just in a different order.
Committing to completing a thru-hike can be an enormous undertaking, but if you are up for the challenge, it can be life-changing!
To learn more about hiking, check out these other posts here on Fitseer.com!