Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Top 10 U.S. Long Distance Hiking Trails

by Drew Hanson

On Monday The Guardian ran a story under the heading, “Top 10 long-distance hiking trails in the US.” Having hiked parts of most of these and many other trails, this hiker likes The Guardian’s list.

above the John Muir and Pacific Crest trails,
Cathedral Range, CA, 1999
Some of the trails on the list are well known, like two outside of Wisconsin I’ve explored the most: the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail. While the Appalachian Trail is of course also listed it is a few of the lesser known ones that I'd like to give a little more attention.

I was glad to see the Ozark Highlands Trail on the list. Two of my four Ozarks trips included hikes on portions of this fairly unknown trail. It is especially awesome to explore in spring while the redbud and dogwood are in bloom.

Seeing the Long Trail on the list brought to mind some of its fall line routes up the side of one Vermont-version-of-a-mountain and down the fall line of the other side. A friend and I spent a memorable night at The Inn At Long Trail, which offers the sort of hiker services a few more trails need.

There is one small correction I would make to The Guardian’s write-up on the Ice Age Trail. It states, “Only a handful of people hike the entire trail each year.” Actually 50 people completed the entire Ice Age Trail in the past 4 years. That’s more than who hike some of the other trails on the list. If you look at the 5, 10 or 20 year trend line, the rate at which people are completing the entire Ice Age Trail is going up. Someday more people will hike the entire Ice Age Trail than perhaps even the Appalachian Trail.

The Guardian article is major news for the lesser known trails. The international newspaper based in England has a daily print and online readership of over 9 million. In 2012 its online edition was reportedly the third most widely read in the world. If you live near one of the lesser known trails but are not involved in any way with them, this news should be a hint that you might be missing something. The lesser known trails are not crowded to hike and could likely use your support to make them even better.

If ten or twenty years ago you had a mediocre experience on one of the lesser known trails, it is time you come back for a second hike. I strongly recommend hiking any Ice Age Trail segment constructed by the Mobile Skills Crew in the past dozen years for it is these segments built using advanced design and construction techniques that are an absolute pleasure to hike and undoubtedly part of the reason the IAT landed itself in such worldly news.

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