Where to look for the longest hiking trails in the world? If you’ve exhausted all hiking routes in your area and feel like a more formidable challenge, here are the ten world’s lengthiest hiking trails to test your endurance to the limits. You may have to take a sabbatical from work, though – these are more certainly not day hikes…
The Trans Canada Trail, when complete, will cover some 24,000 km (14,912 mi), spanning Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Antarctic Oceans. But already, some 17,000 km have been developed (10,563 mi), composed of around 50 smaller trails and running through every territory and province in the country. The aim is to connect the remaining 6,500km by 2017 to mark the 25th anniversary of the trail itself and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. It’s a multi-purpose route – it can be trekked by hiking, cycling, snow mobiling, horseback riding, skiing and canoeing in places.
If you’re looking for a true wilderness experience, the Great Western Loop will suit you. This informal 11,064 km (6,875 mi) trail links together large parts of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Grand Enchantment Trail and the Arizona Trail, with an unmarked stretch through the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts. On its journey it crosses more than 75 wilderness areas and 12 US National Parks, allowing for a close up and personal view of some of America’s most stunning and arduous terrain, from desert canyons to snowy mountains.
The American Discovery Trail spans approximately 10,944 km (6,800 mi) of track and though it passes through towns and cities, the path is entirely devoted to hikers, cyclists and horse riders – no cars allowed! The trail crosses 15 US states from California on the west coast to Delaware on the east. You can shorten the journey between Ohio and Colorado, where the path splits between the shorter northern route (7,779 km / 4,834 mi) and the longer southern trail (8,139 km / 5,057 mi). On its stunning journey, it passes through 14 national parks and 16 national forests, as well as linking to other trails significant for their historical or scenic importance.
The Eastern Continental Trail is another informal grouping of long distance hiking trails in North America, from Key West Florida in the south to Belle Isle in Newfoundland and Labrador in the north. Amongst others the route uses stretches of the Florida National Scenic Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In total, the distance covered is 8,690 km (5,400 mi), crosses sixteen states and two Canadian provinces and will take around a year to hike. Challenges include alligators, severe weather conditions, limited drinking water and steep gradients. In reward, you will receive first-hand experience of the glories of Florida Keys and the Appalachian Mountains, to name but two.
The North Country Trail is the longest of North America’s eleven National Scenic Trail and runs for 7,400 km (4,600 mi) from Lake Sakakawea State Park in North Dakota to Crown Point in eastern New York. In total it crosses seven states and ten National Forests as well as more than 150 areas of public land such as state parks, historic sites and wildlife refuges. The trail is dedicated to outdoor recreation in some of America’s most stunning landscapes, but this is restricted to foot travel (including hiking, snow shoeing and cross country skiing); horses and bikes are not permitted on many sections.
Unlike the North Country Trail, the Great Western Trail is suitable for a wide number of users. Stretching for 7,170 km (4,455 mi) across five states - Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana - some segments are non-motorised, some shared use while other portions are developed for solely motorised use. The scenery encompasses alpine meadows and thick forests; deserts and canyons; plateaus and woodlands. In total it links 18 National Forests as well as Tribal and State lands. It is also recognised as one of the US’s 16 National Millennium Trails, and truly offers something for everyone.
Sentiero Italia, or the Grand Italian Trail, is a 6,166 km (3,831 mi) hiking trail spanning the length and breadth of Italy. It takes in long sections of other long distance trails such as the Grand Alpine Trail, the Ligurian Mountain Trail and the Tuscan Grand Apennine Trail en route. From Trieste in north east Italy, it travels across the Italian Alps, making its way through the Apennines and taking in many of Italy’s finest National Parks as it runs on through Sicily before ending in Santa Teresa Gallura in Sardinia. If you are short of time or faint-hearted, the route is subdivided into 368 steps.
Back in the USA, there is the 4,989 km (3,100 mi) Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which appears on National Geographic’s Ultimate Adventure Bucket List. Running between Mexico and Canada, it crosses five states and follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains. Not surprisingly, then, it’s classified as a moderate to strenuous hike, which passes through desert and alpine tundra, mountains and wilderness. The trail is estimated to take around six months to complete in full. Walk the length of this, the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail to complete America’s ‘Triple Crown of Hiking’.
And now to Japan, where in 1970 the government started a programme of development of long distance nature trails to link the country’s natural parks and cultural assets. The longest set up under this scheme is the Hokkaido Nature Trail (4,585 km / 2,849 mi), which runs around and throughout the island of the same name, taking in the diversity of its natural features. The island is mountainous and volcanically active, so expect rugged walking and hot springs. There are also gentler areas in the flatlands and forests, though; and there is an abundance of unspoiled wildlife and three beautiful lakes offering superb vistas.
Finally, back in the US, there is the Pacific Crest Trail which spans approximately 4,265 km (2,650 mi). As with many hiking routes, the trail evolves organically year on year, so its actual distance has never been scientifically measured. The route deliberately steers clear of civilisation and stretches through pristine mountains, forests and wilderness from Mexico through California, Oregon and Washington to Canada. It ranges in elevation from sea level to 4.009 m (13,153 ft) in the Sierra Nevada mountain range; and is therefore classed as moderate to strenuous. It’s the second longest of America’s Triple Crown of Hiking.