There are very few places in the world which interest me, and most of them resembles very closely to western Canada, namely: Siberia, Lapland, New Zealand and Patagonia. Indo-China and China also offer note-worthy places with dramatic landscapes. However, there are not a lot of information on long-distance hiking in English outside of North America. As the result, there will be a slanted bias.
However, let us look at some of the trails which captured some attention. There are a few addenda supplemented by my girlfriend, Halla.
Pacific Crest Trail
It can takes as little as two months with the current record standing at 53 days and 6 hours. However, on average, it takes four to six months to complete and it’s generally advised for international hikers to take out a B-2 visa. It’s also expected planning to take six to eight months. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates about 60% completion rate. At the moment, it’s suggested go from south to north to stay in tune with the changing seasons.
This one in particular stands out since it is on the West Coast and it goes through a number of different ecosystems. Also, it happened to be outside my front door when I was living in Vancouver.
Great Divide Trail
After we went to Yukon in summer of 2014, Halla became interested in this trail system after she discovered a website about a French-Finnish couple, Piia Kortsalo and Julien Schroder, who travels the world and completed the journey over 1350 kilometers in 37 days. The trail is largely considered to be informal or theoretical. However, that does not stop people from attempting it as there is a blog about it and several books published.
The trail-system is largely incomplete, and it’s being spear-headed by the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association who took up Gill Parker’s works. At the moment, it’s proposed to be 700 km long.
It is rumoured the trail won’t be complete and is purely conceptual like the Great Divide Trail. However, it does not stop people from trying to transverse the whole island from Victoria to Cape Scott. It’s not one without history as Phillip Stone published a guide in 1997 which covers 500 km from Port Alberni and Port McNeill. Even William Bolton was recorded to having done it in the 1890s, and recently Peter Bicknell completed walking from one tip to the other in 2002.
The Voyageur Trail is one of Canada’s longest hiking trails at 1 100 km. It loosely follows the coast line of the Great Lakes and highlights some of central Canada’s well-known sceneries.
However, since the trail system is still incomplete, it takes some bush-whacking and off-trail navigation skills to complete the trip. Unlike the Spine Trail or the Great Divide, the Voyaguer stands a very good chance of being complete since it is relatively close to the major population centers which consist of half of Canada’s entire population.
Pacific Northwest Trail
Sam Haraldson’s coverage of the trail is actually one of the reasons why I became interested in lightweight backpacking in 2011. It took him 61 days to complete the whole thing.
The PNT about 1200 miles long. Since the trail is largely incomplete and requires some bush-whacking and using other trail-systems to complete it, there is no official record of the fastest time completed. Some reported having completed within 35 to 50 days.
The PNT is actually a component of one of the fives which make up the Great Western Loop which Andrew Skurka completed 6 875 miles in 208 days.
More information can be found via the official organization of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association.
The other side of the Atlantic offers many choices including the Via Alpina (2 400 km) and Alpe-Adria Trail (700 km). It should be kept in mind there are no thru-hiking communities in Europe since most of the paths are restricted to one country. With some route-planning, one can have similar experience by piercing the trails together. By doing this, the transverse can be anywhere from 700 km to 4 000 km. For more information, one can check out Christine’s blog who is an accomplished Triple-Crowners with a lot of mileage in Europe.
However, Europe seldom capture my imagination. Two of the reasons being are the volume of people and population density. Most of the long-distance hiking trails carry distractions such as livestock and ski-lifts. On the other hand, there are regions such as Iceland, Scandinavia and the Balkans which are very interesting.
Only a third of one of North America’s shortest popular thru-hike spots, the Nordkalottleden is a 800-km journey through Europe’s largest uninhabited wilderness. To enhance the experience, the Kungsleden (440 km) and Padjelantaleden (150 km) can be conjoined to make the hike even longer.
It also holds the distinction for crossing international borders 15 times.
Camino de Santiago
This one is more famous for being a pilgrimage routes than as a wilderness hiking. For European Christians, alongside Rome and Jerusalem, during the Middle Ages, it was one of the most important endeavors one could accomplish in their lifetime.
It is only about 791 km, however it can be interconnected with other significant European networks to enhance the experience. It is not uncommon to include the Pyrenees and the Alps as part of the whole package. Most are able to accomplish this within a month, however the journey could take longer if detours to see the historical sites are important.
Halla is interested in the Camino de Santiago due to the historical significance which led people to take the pilgrimage for centuries. It is also supposed to contain some of the most beautiful sights in Europe as well.
Sendero De Patagonia
The first thing which comes to people’s minds when South America enter the discussion are imagery invoked by Costa Rica and Brazil. However, the Andes and Argentina are much more similar to Scandinavia, New Zealand, Alaska and western Canada than anything else.
The Patagonia is one of the last truly wild places in the world. It is also one of the most heavily-visited places, other than Alaska, for wilderness hikers as well. Since Spanish is relatively easy to learn and South America remains within the Anglo-American sphere of influence, it is more accessible for budget-travelers than, say, Siberia. As the result, there is lots of information about this region of the planet.
However, attempt at thru-hiking this region varies in distances. So, there is no definitive measurement. Many people are only interested in traveling in national parks or historical areas while others launch themselves into full expeditions lasting two years traveling from the Panama to Cape Horn.
Some choose to walk the entire Andes from Colombia to Ecuador through Peru. However, others opt for political stability and skip those nations entirely. Attempts to cross Chile and Argentina range from 2 500 km to 3 000 km depending on the path taken.
Te Araroa Trail
By now, the readers should recognize a pattern. Most of the trails were selected based on their geography. New Zealand is well-known to be stunning for its extreme geography, ruggedness, remoteness and its temperate rainforests. The landscape is perhaps most famous for its displayal in films such as Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Like the Spine Trail, the Te Araroa transverse the whole length of the nation from tip to tip. Some have accomplished the entire network within two months. However, many advised taking 100 to 150 days to complete it.
There are two way to view the country. One can either go from east to west (450 km), or from north to south (550 km). Circling the island (1 300 km) by hiking around the coast-line with a bicycle is a popular option. However, many hikers prefer to go into the interior for the sight-seeing.
Either way, it usually takes a month or two, depending on the pace, to complete the journey. The compact nature of the island makes it ideal for anyone who want to see the sight without being too far from civilization.
Alexander MacKenzie Heritage Trail
Most of the long-distance hiking trails in Canada suffer from the same issues as the Spine Trail or the Great Divide. Due to low population density and only 30 million people living in the entire country, the terrain are harsh and the trails are not mintained. However, the pristine wilderness is one of the reasons why the Great North holds a lot of appeal.
The AMHT (420 km) hardly constitute as a “proper thru-hike” venture by some purists. It is, however, one of Canada’s national heritage sites and is definitely longer than many of the multi-day trails such as the West Coast Trail (75 km),
Admittedly, it does fall short of the East Coast Trail (540 km), the Bruce Trail (800 km) and the Voyauger Trail (1 100 km). However, the remoteness and ruggedness are two of the reasons why this one made the list. The scenery from Quesnel to Bella Coola is supposed to be one of the most breath-taking sight in the world.
This trail is already previously mentioned before as one of the rare examples of European thru-hiking ddestinations
Halla shown great interest in the German Alps. The Via Alpina is the most extensive network throughout all of the nations. It connects about five international trails through 8 countries for a grand total of 5 000 km and 342 sections. Naturally, the Alps is a romantic symbolism of Europe’s natural wonders.
The longest one is the Red Trail which has 161 sections for the length of 2 400 km. It currently holds the title for the longest trail in Europe and crossing international borders 44 times. While it is recommended for hikers to take two seasons to complete it, an endurance hiker can complete it under two months.
Great Himalaya Trail
The Himalayas is home to the world’s most striking photographs and video-footage. The region has attracted adventurers from all over the globe, and India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet serves as a pilgrimage for many new-age hippies and spirituals.
The GHT is a proposed 4 500 km project which, once completed, will take the title of both the highest and longest alpine hiking trail. However, it is not a new one as there are modern thru-hikers having completed it in the 1980s and many more throughout history. One of the reasons why most have not completed the trail is largely due to the political strife which lead to restrictions and closures.
However, the first time the thru-hike was completed in one attempt, it took about 162 days. Later, a record was established at 49 days and 6 hours.
However, the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, the border-conflict involving Kashmir and the Chinese-Tibetan debate render the region subjected to uncertainties.
This one is at the bottom of the list since it is the one most of my friends raved about. It is rather extraordinary popular in popular media. It is entirely possible to travel the whole trail without a map or GPS. As the result, the interest in this region dwindled. The eastern United States suffer from the same issue as Europe. Having a lot of friends who live along the trail provides an incentive to visit this part of the world though.
However, the trail is 2 200 miles long and the record for the fastest unsupported hike is 58 days and 9 hours. On average, it takes six months to complete and an estimate of 20 to 30% actually finish.