The Longest Hiking Trail in the United States

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: May 18, 2022
Image Credit Andrew Bertino/Shutterstock.com
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The United States is a big place! From coast to coast, there are some truly beautiful places to see and visit. Hiking is one of the oldest ways to experience the natural beauty of an area, and the United States has plenty to see. Today, we are going to look at some of the longest hiking trails here in the United States, plus check out a few others!

What is the longest hiking trail in the United States?

Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian Trail has a caveat that makes it especially unique.

drewthehobbit/Shutterstock.com

The longest hiking trail in the United States is either the American Discovery Trail, the Great Western Loop, or the Appalachian Trail, but it depends on how you ask the question!

The longest trail in the United States is a tie between the American Discovery Trail and the Great Western Loop, but many people also include the Appalachian Trail, despite it being shorter than the others. The first two trails are a whopping 6,800 miles long and are among the most expansive trails in the entire world. The Appalachian Trail, however, has a caveat that makes it especially unique.

The American Discovery Trail is a transnational trail that begins in Delaware on the East Coast and ends in California. As funny as it sounds, this trail literally spans from sea to shining sea! Aside from the oceans it starts and ends at, the American Discovery Trail goes through 15 states, 16 national forests, 14 national parks, and 10,000 sites of historical importance. Additionally, the trail connects a network of urban centers and wildlife regions.

The Great Western Loop is a 6,800-mile trail, just like the American Discovery Trail. Instead of spanning the entire country, however, the Loop heads through 9 separate states. It begins in New Mexico, passes through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, and ends in Arizona. This massive trail heads through two deserts (Mojave and Sonoran), 12 national parks, and 75 wilderness areas.

The longest hiking-only trail

The Appalachian Trail is only 2,174 miles, but it has a caveat that many consider being important. While the other trails on the list are significantly longer than the App Trail, the App Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the United States. The other two are longer, but they cross roads and highways, barring them from being hiking only. The App Trail is an unbroken trail that never crosses roads or highways and doesn’t allow for biking or horseback riding.

What is the difference between a hiking trail and a regular trail?

The Longest Hiking Trail in the United States
Appalachian Trail is exclusively a hiking-only trail.

EWY Media/Shutterstock.com

Depending on how you ask the question, the answer for “longest trail in the US” can vary. We’ve looked at three options, each with its own claim to be number one. Let’s take a look at the difference between a trail, a hiking trail, and a hiking-only trail.

A trail, in regards to the outdoor hobby associated with it, is a path created with the intent of travel. National parks, local parks, and even private residences often have trails that people can traverse. Often, these trails can be alongside roads, wilderness areas, or a variety of other places. “Trail” is a broad term and could be just a footpath, although larger trails can be biked, driven, or even traversed via horse. Trails that are only suitable for foot traffic are considered “hiking-only” trails.

Both the American Discovery Trail and the Great American Loop include roadways, differentiating them from most “hiking-only” trails. The official Discovery Trail website explains:

The ADT is a new breed of long-distance trail—part city, part small town, part forest, part mountains, part desert—and the variety of trail surfaces you’ll encounter reflect that. About a third of the ADT is single-track trail. Another third goes through greenways, parks, rail-trail conversions, and open spaces, where the surface may be dirt, asphalt, crushed stone, etc. The last third is on roads, primarily country roads, both paved and unpaved, with light traffic, including farm vehicles, etc., but in some instances city sidewalks and highways.

Discovery Trail

In contrast, the Appalachian Trail’s official website explains:

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, ranging from Maine to Georgia. 

Appalachian Trail

What is the longest hiking trail in the world?

Trans-Canada trail signboard
The Trans-Canada Trail is the longest hiking trail in the entire world.

Lester Balajadia/Shutterstock.com

The longest trail in the world is the Trans-Canada Trail (The Great Trail). The Trans-Canada Trail is significantly longer than any other trail in the world, measuring 16,777 total miles. The trail spans from the Atlantic coast on St. John’s Newfoundland, traverses the entire country, and ends at Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuit settlement in the far Arctic north.

When were the longest trails in the United States completed?

The American Discovery Trail was conceived in 1989. It was first completed on August 18th, 2003, by Joyce and Peter Cottrell.

The Great Western Loop is a combination of trails, much like the American Discovery Trail. As a result, there isn’t a clear “formation” date, but rather the first time it was officially hiked. Andrew Skurka was the first person to complete the hike, finishing it on November 24th, 2018.

The Appalachian Trail is a bit clearer in regards to the founding because it had to be physically created. The Trail was conceived in 1921 and completed in 1937.

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