IT’S A WELL KNOWN FACT among backpackers that hiking only leads to more hiking. Sure, when you’ve spent the past five months on the Appalachian Trail, a quiet spell at home doesn’t look too bad. Still, it’s only a matter of time before the itch to travel comes back and you start looking for your next big challenge.
For Appalachian vets and distance junkies everywhere, these treks are as big as they come.
Mt. Katahdin may be the end of the Appalachian trail, but it isn’t the end of the Appalachians. The International Appalachian Trail, a patchwork of paths and paved roads stretching from Mt. Katahdin to Quebec’s Forillon National Park, extends the Appalachian Trail by about 690 miles (1,100 km); a Newfoundland extension is currently in the works.
The Eastern Continental Trail system tacks on another 1,825 miles (2,937 km) to the IAT, running all the way south to Key West. With a total length of roughly 4,690 miles (7,548 km), thru-hiking the entire route can take a year or more.
Geologically speaking, the Appalachian Mountains are an old range. As a result, they’ve had time to erode into the relatively short, rounded peaks that we see today. Not so with the Rocky Mountains.
Billed as “America’s most challenging trail”, the Continental Divide Trail runs 3,100 miles (4,989 km) through the heart of the Rockies, all at an altitude of over 5,000 ft (1,524 m). While about one-third of the trail remains under construction, the Continental Divide Trail Alliance says that hikers with good navigational skills should be able to trek the entire route in about 6 months.
The Gran Randonneé, a web of footpaths stretching across central Europe, offers thousands of miles of trail for hikers’ enjoyment. The most famous path in the system is GR 5, a 1,500 mile (2,414 km) alpine trek from the Netherlands to France’s southern coast that takes about four months to complete.
For sheer distance, however, you have to head down under. Australia’s Bicentennial National Trail is the longest single non-motorized trail in the world, stretching 3,312 miles (5,330 km) from Cooktown, Queensland to Healesville, Victoria. While it is open to hikers and cyclists, the Bicentennial National Trail is meant primarily for horseback riders and can take up to a year to travel.
New to the trails? Check out our article on how to get started backpacking.