The world’s longest hiking trails are largely to be found in North America. They're also almost all made up of a combination of shorter (though often still quite long) hiking routes and trails, with connecting segments added in between. Of course, there are walks to be done longer than those on this list. If you decided to walk from New Zealand to London and back for example, aside from getting rather wet, you’d probably clock up a good 20,000 miles (and then some). But this article is all about the world’s longest set hiking trails.
As such, we’ll be spending a lot of time in the USA, where you’ll find five of the six longest hiking trails in the world. The world’s longest trail is actually further north though, in Canada. The Great Trail, formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail, runs for a rather daunting 14,912 miles (or 24,000km) and is currently the longest hiking trail in the world. There are also some stunning options elsewhere, travelling through Italy, Japan and even along the coast of England.
Let’s take a look at the 10 longest hiking trails in the world:
1. The Great Trail, Canada
Formerly known as the Trans Canada, the Great Trail is the ultimate in long-distance hiking trails. Like most long-distance hiking trails, it’s actually a network of lots of other, multi-use trails - greenways, waterways and roadways that combine to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific all the way up to the Arctic Oceans. Amazingly, the team who manage the trail say that four out of five Canadians live within 30 minutes of a section of a section of The Great Trail.
The trail starts outside the Railway Coastal Museum in St. John's Newfoundland, and runs through Alberta to Edmonton, then up through British Columbia to Yukon. The featured image for this article, up the top of the piece, is from a particularly scenic viewpoint in Banff. Naturally, most people bite off chunks rather than walk the whole thing. There’s a great map on The Great Trail website.
Trail Length: 16,777 miles (27,000 km)
Further reading? The Best of The Great Trail by Michael Haynes
2. The Great Western Loop, United States
Some of you may be surprised that The Pacific Crest Trail isn't on this list, but through the Great Western Loop, it sort of is. The Great Western Loop is a route in the west of the USA which links together five other long-distance hiking trails - the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail (which also features on this list in its own right), the Grand Enchantment Trail, and the Arizona Trail. The trail was first completed in its entirety by Andrew Skurka, a professional backpacker. The feat earned him Nat Geo's 2007 "Adventurer of the Year". It took him 208 days on an average of 33 miles per day.
Trail Length: 6,875 miles (11,064 km)
Further reading? Online Guide to the Great Western Loop by Andrew Skurka
3. American Discovery
The American Discovery Trail is a heck of a long-distance hike or cycle - but there's also a bit of a catch to the 6,800 miles. The bookends of the trail are at the Limantour Beach in northern California and Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. The route more or less goes right through the centre of America - but it also includes a loop in the Great Plains and Midwest where the trail divides into two parallel trails. So, you can pick one of these trails, and walk from coast to coast in 5000 miles. To do the full trail, you'd have to repeat one of these sections twice. The full listed distance is 6,800 miles though, so here it is at number three.
Trail Length: 6,800 miles (10,944 km)
Further reading? The American Discovery Trail Explorer’s Guide by Reese Lukei Jr
4. Eastern Continental - United States
Described by the Sierra Club as a "beast" of a hike, the Eastern Continental trail takes you all the way from Ernest Hemingway's former stomping ground in Key West, Florida, to Cape Gaspé, Canada. It passes through 16 states in total and is another route comprised by a variety of shorter, but still very long-distance trails themselves, including the Pinhoti Trail through Alabama, part of the famous the Appalachian Trail, and the International Appalachian Trail through Maine, New Brunswick, Quebec and Newfoundland. It was first completed by John Brinda in 1997, and later done by M.J. Eberhart, aka Nimblewill Nomad, who wrote about the route in his book Ten Million Steps.
Trail Length: 5,400 miles (8,690 km)
Further reading? Ten Million Steps: Nimblewill Nomad's Epic 10-Month Trek from the Florida Keys to Québec by M. J. Eberhart
5. The North Country Trail - United States
Often referred to as the NCT, the North Country Trail is a route from Middlebury in central Vermont all the way over to Lake Sakakawea in central North Dakota. It's in the top right of the American map for those less familiar with US geography. It connects the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail with the Lewis and Clark trail. It's the longest of the 11 National Scenic Trails authorised by the US congress, and passes through eight states in full. Along the way there are ten National Forest areas, four National Parks, two National Wildlife Refuges and so much more.
Trail Length: 4,600 miles (7,400 km)
Further reading? The North Country Trail by Ron Strickland
6. The Great Western Trail, United States
The Great Western Trail is not to be confused with The Great Western Loop, but it is equally great, and equally western (in the John Wayne sense, at least). It’s actually based on a nineteenth-century cattle trail, running from Canada down to Mexico, passing through Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. The Great Western Trail now forms the backbone of Utah's trail system and in 1996 it became Utah's Centennial Trail as part of the state's statehood centennial celebration. Amongst other places, it passes through Desolation Lake and the Wasatch Crest Trail in Salt Lake City and Orderville Canyon near Zion National Park. It was one of 16 designated as a National Millennium Trails by the White House.
Trail Length: 4,455 miles (7,170 km)
Further reading? Finding the Great Western Trail by Sylvia Gann Mahoney
7. The Sentiero Italia, Italy
Also known as The Grand Italian Trail, the Sentiero Italia stretches across all of Italy's boot shaped landmass - and beyond to the islands. It connects Sardinia, Sicily, the Apennines and the Alps ranges, and then heads over to Trieste on the Italian-Slovenian border. The route ensures an enormous variety of scenery; from coastlines and sunshine to big mountains. Plus, the food isn't too bad either.
Trail Length: 3,831 miles (6,166 km)
Further reading? The Digital Guide to The Grand Italian Trail
8. The Continental Divide, United States
Known lovingly as the CDT, the Continental Divide Trail is an expedition in conservation, outdoor reaction and American history. The trail follows the Continental Divide of the Americas, along the Rocky Mountains, and runs between Chihuahua (the Mexican state, not your aunt’s little dog) and Alberta in Canada. Notable stops include the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Chama River Canyon Wilderness in New Mexico, Two Ocean Pass in Wyoming, the Chief Joseph Pass in Idaho and the wonderfully-named Scapegoat Wilderness in Montana. Around 200 people attempt the full hike each year, taking about six months in total. Dave Odell was the first person to thru-hike it, back in 1977.
Trail Length: 3,100 miles (5,000 km)
9. Hokkaido Nature Trail, Japan
The Hokkaido Nature Trail is a relatively recent trail. It dates back to 2003, when plans were laid for one of the longest nature trails in the world. Hokkaido is the second largest, northernmost and least developed island of Japan, and this trail covers a good deal of it. The island is about the size of Austria, but is relatively sparse. There are 5.6 million people, and it's incredibly mountainous, with active volcanism (great word). The summers are cool and the winters are long and cold, so it's usually walked north to south. You'll find rare wildlife - red-crowned cranes and yezo brown bears - amongst the vast wetlands, scenic lakes and mountains.
Trail Length: 2,848 miles (4,585 km)
Further reading? Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan by Will Ferguson
10. The English Coastal Path, United Kingdom
The English Coastal Path does just what it says on the tin - it's a 2,800 mile trail which connects the entire English coastline. The route has been in development since 2010 and is set to fully open in 2021. It was made possible due to a change in laws that allowed open access to coastline, and crosses 16 coastal counties, with plenty of spots to explore, wild camp and adventure.
Trail Length: 2,795 miles (4,500 km)
Further reading? The English Coastal Path by Stephen Neale
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