Want in-depth, expert help planning your thru-hike? Sign up for our upcoming Thru-Hiking 101 class with professional hiker Liz "Snorkel" Thomas. This six-week online class covers everything you need to know to plan and finish the long-distance hike of your dreams. The course begins January 12, 2016. In the meantime, start your planning process with these eight off-the-beaten-track hikes.
Great Eastern Trail
The Great Eastern Trail, GET, is a brand new, almost unknown trail that goes from Flag Mountain, Alabama to the Finger Lakes in New York. The 1,600-mile trail runs almost parallel to the AT but gets significantly less foot traffic, and is a great way to get to know the part of the East Coast that isn’t city. Allow at least five months to complete it.
The Hayduke Trail
This is the ideal trail for the experienced hiker who is looking to get off the beaten path -- literally. The route is best navigated via GPS due to the lack of trail in some parts. Named after the character George Washington Hayduke III in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, this 800-mile route pays homage to the land that Abbey loved and sought to protect. Weaving in and out of six national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion), the trail passes through extreme temperature variations as it rockets from 1,800 feet in the Grand Canyon to 11,419 feet on top of Mt. Ellen in Utah’s Henry Mountains.
North Country Trail
If you’re looking for a truly long haul, head out on the 4,600-mile North Country Trail, which runs from New York to North Dakota, passing through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota along the way. The trail goes through 12 national forests and encounters various terrains from the Adirondack Mountains to the Boundary Waters. You'll set out in early spring and move from east to west; allow eight to ten months for the full hike.
Ice Age Trail
Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail is the perfect hike for any science buff. Tracing the moraine line of the last ice age, the route is 1,200 miles in total, half of which are yellow blazed (the other half is unmarked but easily navigable). The trail stretches from Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay to Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls.
Great Divide Trail, Canada
Head north to get a taste of real solitude on Canada’s Great Divide Trail. The path stretches from Waterton Lakes National Park (at the U.S. border) north to Kakwa Provincial Park—about 746 miles. It along the great divide of the Canadian Rockies, going through five national parks along the way. If snowy peaks, glacial lakes, and isolation call to you—and you’re up for a serious challenge—then this is the hike for you.
Te Araroa, New Zealand
Although New Zealand is approximately the size of Colorado, the two long islands host one of the best treks in the Southern Hemisphere. The Te Araroa is a 1,864-mile trail that starts in Cape Reinga on the tip of the North Island, and ends in New Zealand’s southernmost town, Bluff. The trail is a great way to get to know this isolated country by connecting settlements, towns, and indigenous maraes (meeting houses of the Maori people). Along the way, hikers experience unique geologic features like Mt. Tongariro, an active volcano on the North Island. Hike southbound and leave around November to avoid snow on the trail on the South Island, and allow about 70 days to hike each island.
Camino de Santiago, France and Spain
Unlike the other trails on this list, the Camino de Santiago wasn't established for hiking's sake, but as a religious pilgrimage for Christian Europeans to travel to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. There are various routes that one could take, but the most popular is the Camino Frances. This 485-mile walk runs from St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, passing through countless quaint towns and beautiful countryside along the way.
Great Himalaya Trail
For the truly ambitious, the Great Himalaya Trail could be the defining adventure of their lifetimes. The longest and highest alpine walking track in the world, the route runs between Tibet and Pakistan, meandering 2,800 miles through rugged terrain varying between jungle and 20,000-foot peaks. Hikers will experience Sherpa culture, snow leopards, and more along the way.