When it comes to hiking and soaking in the great outdoors, are longer trails better? Sure they are! At least, when you have enough time to hike them. Instead of saving up all your earnings to take a trip to a city filled with restaurants, hotels and entertainment why not spend this next vacation taking in the thrills of nature? A vacation spent hiking one of these long trails is not only infinitely cheaper and better for your body but it is also cleansing to the soul. However, in terms of quality, not all long trails are the best trails. Some long trails take months to conquer but don't really showcase anything particularly special. For those seeking a vacation spent hiking, they will want a hike with some truly great sights. So these best long-distance trails may not be the longest in the United States, but they are the most scenic.
The Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail, or as it is more fondly known, The "SHT" is a beautiful 275-mile trail in Minnesota. This trail has had additions to it so that is spans nearly 300 miles now and is being considered to become a connecting trail of 4,000 mile stretch of trail known as the North Country National Scenic Trail. However, that connect is still a ways off, for now this trail starts outside of Duluth and runs along the shores of Lake Superior and all the way to the Canadian border. It has consistently been voted one of the Unites States best long distance trails by the readers of both the Travel Channel and Reader's Digest. The SHT gives scenic views of the boreal forests of Minnesota, up close and personal views of both Lake Superior and the waterfalls of the rivers that dump into it as well as hosts a 30 mile stretch through the Sawtooth Mountains. While the route runs through several towns, there are 81 campsites located along the trail that are free to use for hikers. Theses campsites have massively contributed to this trails fame as they are clean and beautifully maintained.
Since this trail is located in Northern Minnesota, it can get chilly in Early Spring and Late Fall. It is recommended to go during the summer months when this trail is much cooler than some of the more Southern trails and makes for some very refreshing hiking.
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In 1921, Benton MacKaye had an inkling that hikers may someday like to hike a single footpath along the Eastern corridor, and thus, the now famed Appalachian Trail was born. This massive trail starts at the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia and touches 14 states as it spans 2,178 miles to the summit of the mighty Mount Katahdin in Maine. It takes an estimated 5 to 7 months to conquer all of this trail in one go, so it's impossible to see it all without an extended amount of free time. Highlights of this prized hike includes views of pink rhododendrons along the Tennessee-North Carolina state lines in late spring and summer, the stunning view from Bear Mountain in New York and the 6,625 foot high Clingmans Dome in Tennessee. However, the most popular section of the route is the bit that runs through the craggy peaks of the White Mountains in New Hampshire where visitors feel as if they stepped into a picture. Weary hikers can camp along the trail or live in slightly more luxury by staying at the historic huts along the trail run by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
The trail can be a bit soggy in the early spring months and winter is never a good time for hiking, but any other time of the year is perfect for this long trek. However, many plan conquering at the northern portion of the trail that runs through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine during Middle to Late Fall as is considered the most beautiful Fall foliage viewing areas in the United States. However, the sacrifice in seeing that beautiful Autumn colors is that it can get quite cold at night.
The Long Trail
Who needs a long descriptive name anyway? This simply named Long Trail runs 273 miles through Vermont and spans the whole length of the state. This route's construction began in 1912 and construction continued for nearly 20 years, making this America's first long trail, so the simple name fits quite nicely. This footpath runs through the wilderness and Vermont's finest greenery. Many usually only plan day trips to this trail, though many commit the four weeks on average that is takes to hike the whole shebang. This hike can be a bit difficult for beginning long distance hikers as it traverses up several mountains including the 4,000 foot Mount Abraham and the 4,300 foot peak of Vermont's highest peak of Mount Mansfield.
Like with the Northern portion of the Appalachian Trail, the best time to hike the Long Trail is in the Autumn months. The area during the Spring and Summer months are fine and dandy, filled with green hills and beautiful views of them, but standing on top of Mount Mansfield looking down at all the fiery hues of reds, yellows and oranges is a sight like no other.
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Pacific Crest Trail
If an avid hiker could create a route in the Western United States, it would be the Pacific Crest Trail. In fact, alongside the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide, this trail is considered part of the 'Big 3' must-hike trails for long distance hikers. It has even been awarded the prestigious Triple Crown Award by the American Long Distance Hiking Association. The massive Pacific Crest Trail covers more than 2,600 miles of the best sights in the once Wild West from California, Oregon, Washington and into British Columbia. Visitors weave through iconic Yosemite National Park, Crater Lake, Mount Rainier and the North Cascades. It takes visitors from sparse deserts to the top of a 14,000 foot peak, through six of the seven ecozones in the United States, and through areas that one can spot grizzlies, wolves and lynx. Essentially, if there was a major natural wonder on the West coast that one wanted to see, it takes you there. However, few have tackled the entire route. Can you?
While the bottom portions of the trail are safe to start in mid-February, hikers should only try to conquer the upper portions in the summer months and really no later than November as it gets far too wet and cold. However, one will have to walk fast if they want to cover it in one go, a feat that is nearly impossible.
Continental Divide Trail
Thought the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail was long? Well, the Continental Divide Trail makes both of them seem merely like a day trip. At 3,100 miles long, the Continental Divide is nothing to scoff at and definitely not for the faint of heart. This trail only gets around 25 people a year who try to conquer the whole thing, which runs from the border of Canada to the border of Mexico. This massive trail runs through the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Unlike the other hikes, which are all maintained and clearly marked, the Continental Divide is not always so easy. Some parts involve finding your own way with map and compass, walking alongside roads and even a bit of bushwhacking. It's not difficult to get lost on your way, but for those that do succeed, they can say what few can, "I hiked the Continental Divide."
There no really good time to hike the Continental Divide Trail. Ideally, hikers should start up north in the Spring and Summer months before working their way South before it gets cold.
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