Appalachian Trail vs. Continental Divide Trail: Which Iconic American Trail Should You Do First?

Written by Alyssa Shea
Published: October 24, 2023
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There are plenty of benefits when it comes to hiking. Outdoor enthusiasts love the feel of the earthy trail under their feet and the sound of wind whistling through the trees. Hiking is a great way to exercise, boosting your physical well-being and emotional and mental state. Trails often offer safer options for hikers looking to explore nature.

Detail of man hiking

Did you know that hiking emerged as a leisure activity in Europe in the 1700s?

©Gajus/iStock via Getty Images

Are you looking for an iconic trail to spend time hiking? If you’ve whittled down your options between the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, you might find it hard to choose between them. There are definitely some significant differences between these two options. Let’s explore what makes these trails unique and how you should decide which one to set out on first.

The Appalachian Trail

Hiker on Appalachian Trail in Maine, Lush Mountain Vista

The Appalachian Trail stretches over 2,190 miles across 14 different states.

©Jonathan A. Mauer/Shutterstock.com

Millions of people trek along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) for a reason! This mountainous trail is wildly famous for its challenges and how much of a time commitment it is. Most people set aside over six months to complete the entire trail. Did you know that the A.T. is the longest marked footpath in the United States? You will undoubtedly encounter some fun, eccentric people hiking the trail! Some hikers even claim they sleep better than ever because hiking all day exhausts them, leaving no time to toss and turn at bedtime.

There are also some dangers you can face if you’re not careful. Unknowingly picking up ticks while traveling can certainly lead to a tick-borne illness. You’re also not free from crime, as violence can happen along the trail. There’s always a minimum of at least five people that go missing off of this trail every single year. As of 2023, the A.T. is set to be extended! This is due to some significant detours and relocations in a few states as well as a series of more precise measurements. But if you’re looking to reconnect with nature and escape city life stress, planning a hike on the A.T. is a good choice.

The Continental Divide Trail

Continental divide trail national scenic trail signs

Because the CDT is so remote, you must be more comfortable with on-the-fly planning and meticulously planning your stops for resupplies.

©Sarah Michals/Shutterstock.com

Coming in at a whopping 3,100 miles long, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) stretches along from the sands of southern New Mexico all the way up to the Canadian Border! This trail is considered more remote, so it will require some additional planning and extra resources to complete successfully. The most dangerous thing you might come across is wildlife, as well as exposure to the elements. You can plan on taking at least five and a half months to complete the entire thing.

The stunning landscapes you will see are a big draw for this specific trail. One good thing is that the CDT is known to be a bit easier to navigate than some other trails, too. Remember that the CDT is largely unfinished, with only an estimated 76% of the trail truly completed. Because this trail is so remote, you must be more comfortable with on-the-fly planning and meticulously planning your stops for resupplies.

Which Trail You Should Choose

The most crucial thing to take into consideration is what time of year you will be hiking. If you want to hike starting around April, you might want to look at the CDT. Prime hiking time for the AT tends to lean more towards the fall time, with popular months being in the late spring and early fall. Statistically speaking, one trail isn’t specifically more or less dangerous than the other. There are always dangers to consider when it comes to hiking trails. If you’re a first-timer or more of a rookie when it comes to hiking, many outdoor enthusiasts recommend the AT first.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Hero Images/iStock via Getty Images


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About the Author

I'm a 36-year-old mother of 2 and military wife. I have 2 dogs and a cat that I'm thoroughly obsessed with. When I'm not writing for work, I'm writing as a hobby. You can find me knee deep in a pile of books or way too invested in a video game.

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