Nationwide, there are a slew of classic thru-hikes (we’re defining these at 50 miles minimum) that you can do with anywhere from a few days to a few weeks of time off. A more-doable length makes them ideal for, well, most people with jobs, families, or limited budgets. These are the best long-distance thru-hikes that anyone can put on their bucket list.
1. John Muir Trail - California
See some of the best scenery of the Sierra Nevada on the JMT. This 215-miler is typically completed in just a couple weeks but plucks out some of the best parts of the Pacific Crest Trail on a (comparatively) bite-sized trek. Starting in Yosemite National Park, it slices south through Sierra Nevada granite to the top of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 (at 14,505 feet of elevation). Along the way, it hugs the High Sierra and tours alpine lakes and meadows with views galore. The JMT also has a lot of the thru-hiker culture that you’ll find on some of the bigger-name trails.
Insider Tip: Be sure to stop at Muir Trail Ranch near Lakeshore to hang out with other hikers and raid their Hiker Box. And just because you won’t need to spend months to do it, doesn’t mean this one is for beginners: It crosses one of the most rugged mountain ranges in the country, so come prepared.
More Info: pcta.org
2. Northville-Lake Placid Trail - New York
Designed around the northern New York railroad towns of Northville and Lake Placid (originally allowing hikers to take advantage of the trains to get home when cars were far from ubiquitous), the NPT bisects a major part of the Adirondack Park along its 135 miles. Most hikers will head south to north (starting about an hour north of Albany) and spend 10 days to two weeks as it winds through deep forest, alongside countless beaver-choked lakes, past rumbling waterfalls, and over forested ridges through the heart of the ’Daks. The entire thing can also be done without a tent thanks to the proliferation of lean-tos scattered along the entirety of the route.
Secret Spot: One of the best places to camp is Carry Lean-to, just south of the Cedar River Flow—views from the riverside shelter look north to the Flow. A collection of communities adjacent to the trail make resupplies easy (try Casey’s General Store in Piseco), but you’ll quickly depart these quintessential Adirondack towns to disappear into deep wilderness. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see anyone for days.
More Info: nptrail.org
3. Great Allegheny Passage - Pennsylvania / Maryland
Following a web of railroad beds, the Great Allegheny Passage has made use of the remnants of 19th-century industrialization to create a unique 152-hike thru-hike from Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania, to Cumberland, just across the border in western Maryland. Deep valleys, wooded mountains (including the Eastern Continental Divide), rolling rivers, old railroad towns, and plenty of history dot the beginner-friendly path.
Added Challenge: Interested in giving bikepacking a try? The GAP is all crushed rock, making it a welcoming surface for a multi-day, bike-based journey. Easy walking and a gentle grade make it ideal for less-experienced hikers, families, cyclists, and section-hikers (that is, people who hike an entire trail in pieces, rather than all in one trip). Several campgrounds and in-town lodging options along the route make overnight stops easy, plus take care of any shuttling when you're finished—just hop back on the train and return to your launch point. Is 152 miles not enough? At Cumberland, pick up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath and keep going another 192 miles to Washington, D.C.
More Info: gaptrail.org