What comes to mind when you read the words “long-distance trail”? The Appalachian Trail? The Pacific Crest Trail? Or maybe even the Continental Divide Trail? While these are arguably the most popular ones, there are many lesser-known thru-hikes across the U.S. These range from 30 to over 6,000 miles. The best part is that these are scattered all over. So, no matter where you live, you're sure to find an adventure waiting.
Today we're covering some of these lesser-known long-distance hikes from around the U.S. Don't let them fool you, though. Just because they're not as popular doesn't mean they aren't as beautiful and challenging!
Featured Photo: Benton Mackaye Trail (photo by Michael Hicks)
American Discovery Trail
Looking for an epic adventure that's even longer than the AT and PCT combined? Search no further than the American Discovery Trail (ADT). This 6,800-mile route spans from Delaware to California. What makes this trail even more interesting is that you have two options in the middle of the country. Head north from Ohio and pass through Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado. Head south and hike through southern Indiana and Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and meet back up in Colorado. The route passes through desert, forest, mountains, and plains, but cities as well. It's a great way to see the country if you have a year or more to spend on it.
Benton MacKaye Trail
There is no shortage of beautiful hikes in the southern Appalachian Mountains. If you're looking for more than a day or weekend trip, head out on the Benton MacKaye Trail. Does this name sound familiar? He originally proposed the creation of the AT! This long-distance trail named in his honor is 300-miles long. It passes through Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. It can be argued it has some of the most scenic terrain this area has to offer. With more solitude than the nearby AT, you'll find waterfalls, mountaintop vistas, and riverside walks. Be sure to plan ahead. You will need permits when staying in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park section. Expect to spend 20 to 30 days on the Benton MacKaye Trail.
When it comes to “New York”, most people immediately think of NYC. But us outdoor lovers know it has much more to offer. The Adirondacks are just one of its natural features. If you already enjoy doing smaller hikes in this region, you will love the 125-mile Northville-Placid Trail. Other than the beautiful mountains, it features lots of streams, lakes, and waterfalls along the way. The sunrises and sunsets are spectacular too. This route is rated as difficult, but has low elevation gain. You'll mostly be hiking in valleys. Most people spend 8-10 days on the trail. But, there are lots of side trails if you want to explore longer.
Lone Star Trail
Deep in the heart of Texas is a 129-mile long-distance trail. The entirety of the Lone Star Trail lies in the Sam Houston National Forest. Most people take 4-10 days to complete it. That should give you an idea of its terrain. The Lone Star Trail is relatively flat, but has some boggy areas. Bridges do make creek crossings easier, though. It's a nice trail if you're longing for a quiet forest walk or practicing for longer thru-hikes. It's worth noting that there have been controlled burns along the trail recently.
Tahoe Rim Trail
There is no arguing the beauty of Lake Tahoe. This 122,000-acre lake spans the Nevada/California state line. Its scenic views and beaches draw lots of crowds. The 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail can get you to more remote spots. The trail features alpine lakes, wildflower meadows, quiet fir and spruce forests, and panoramic views. Some of the best spots include Relay Peak, Page Meadow, and Marlette Lake. Be sure to bring your backcountry fishing pole. Maybe you'll get lucky and catch your dinner! Plan on spending 10-15 days on the trail. The best time of year to hike here is between July and September. Snow can come early in the Sierra Nevadas. Speaking of which, this trail has a lot of elevation gain. It is recommended for experienced hikers.
Grand Enchantment Trail
Do you get antsy in the winter from your lack of hiking options? Look into the Grand Enchantment Trail. This 770-mile route runs through Arizona and New Mexico. The best time to start is in fall after the monsoon season has passed. This is another interesting trail that not only passes through remote nature, but skirts cities too. (Small towns along the way make convenient rest and resupply stops.) You'll find everything from deep, rocky canyons to the forested Continental Divide; silent deserts to culturally significant places. This long trail is not for the inexperienced backpacker. But, it's the perfect route for people who appreciate the beauty of and respect the desert.
There is no shortage of amazing trails in California. The other, more popular thru-hikes there is proof of that. But, there is a lesser-known long-distance hike located much farther north in the state. Its name, the Bigfoot Trail, is as mysterious as its location: the Klamath Mountains. More into biodiversity than Bigfoot? You're in luck. This area boasts 32 different species of conifers. It also has many sections that meander next to scenic rivers. The 360-mile path passes through 6 wilderness areas, one national park, and one state park. You can expect to spend 25 to 36 days on the trail. It's worth noting that some sections haven't been maintained for years. Map and compass reading skills are a must.
Ice Age Trail
Looking for something a little less intense than the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail? Or, maybe you're looking for a longer trail with great section hikes? Search no further than the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. This route meanders an impressive 1,200 miles across “America's Dairyland”. You may not find any Woolly Mammoth bones along the way. But, the trail does follow the edge of the last continental glacier in the state. This translates to uniquely carved topography, from kettle lakes to wooded, rolling hills. Features include Devil's Lake, Timm's Hill, Parnell Tower, and side trails through Kettle Moraine State Forest. Plan on spending 7-12 weeks to complete the whole trail. As added motivation, only about 100 people have been certified as thru-hikers.
Whether you're looking to spend a week or a year, there is the perfect long-distance trail waiting for you. This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Have you completed any of these or other long hikes? We'd love to hear about your favorites in the comments section below!
If you're looking for more long-distance trail inspiration, read our “John Muir Trail” write-up. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other interesting longer hikes.
Hike of the Week: Stein Valley Traverse
Hike of the Week: Olympic National Park-Hoh River to Sol Duc
Hike of the Week: 100 Mile Wilderness
For even more amazing backpacking trips, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.