5 Short, Long Distance Trails For The Time Squeezed Backpacker

Thru hiking the Appalachian Trail takes a lot of time and money. The opportunity to do so often relies on a big change in your life that allows for a gap between phases (ex: graduating college, retiring, changing jobs). Most of us are not willing to drop a good job and leave our loving families behind for a whole six months unless the time is right. But why should these responsibilities hold us back from the experience of nature?! Here is a list of five long distance trails that require less time than thru hiking the Appalachian Trail and are completely doable with a the powers of a bit of comp time, some vacation days and a couple personal days off. Just tell your boss it is a self-reliance and crisis management course!

(click on any image to enlarge it)

John Muir Trail

john muir trail

Distance: 211 miles

Approximate Time: 3 weeks

States: California

Southern Terminus: Mount Whitney

Northern Terminus: Happy Isle in Yosemite Valley

Year of Completion: 1961

History: The John Muir Trail is named after the naturalist writer whose love for the outdoors is largely responsible for the preservation of the very land this trail traverses, as well as many other wild places. The trail runs through the Sierra Mountain range of California and 160 miles of it is part of Pacific Crest Trail. It begins on the peak of the tallest mountain in the continental United States and ends in one of America’s most famous national parks, Yosemite.



Long Trail


Distance: 272 miles

Approximate Time: 1 month

States: Vermont

Southern Terminus: North Adams, Massachusetts

Northern Terminus: North Troy, Vermont

Year of Completion: 1930

History: The Long Trail is the oldest long distance trail in the United States. In 1909, James P. Taylor envisioned the idea for a trail spanning from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border. The Green Mountain Club is responsible for the creation of the trail and oversees the maintenance and preservation of the land to this day. The first 100 miles of the trail for northbound hikers is shared with the Appalachian Trail.


Benton MacKaye Trail


Distance: 288 miles

Approximate Time: 1 month

States: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee

Southern Terminus: Spring Mountain, Georgia

Northern Terminus: Davenport Gap, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Year of Completion: 2005

History: The Benton MacKaye Trail shares a starting point with the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain and crosses over the AT several times, occaionally joining alongside it, before taking a more westerly route through Georgia and eventually a more southerly route through the Smoky Mountains. The trail was named after Benton MacKaye, the forester who first envisioned the idea for the Appalachian Trail while standing on the summit of Stratton Mountain.



Colorado Trail


Distance: 486 miles

Approximate Time: 1 to 1.5 months

States: Colorado

Southern (Northern) Terminus: Durango, Colorado

Northern (Eastern) Terminus: Waterton Canyon, Southwest of Denver, Colorado

Year of Completion: 1987

History: The idea for the Colorado Trail was conceived by Bill Lucas, a local forester, and Merrill Hastings of Colorado Magazine in 1973 as a bi-centennial Project. The trail boasts the largest elevation gains and losses of all the trails on this list with elevations ranging between 5,000ft and 13,000ft. It runs along side the Continental Divide trail for 235 miles and an additional route has been added on that follows the CDT for another 80 miles.



Arizona Trail


Distance: 817 miles

Approximate Time: 1.5 to 2 months

States: Arizona

Southern Terminus: Coronado National Memorial

Northern Terminus: Kaibab Plateau Region

Year of Completion: 2011

History: The Arizona Trail travels from the border of Mexico northward through the entire state of Arizona, including Grand Canyon National Park, and ends at the Utah border. The idea for the trail was brought about by Dale Shewalter in 1985, who was a teacher in Flagstaff, Arizona. In 2009 it was placed on the list of National Scenic Trails in the United States.



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Comments 2

  • Copperhead : Feb 1st

    I’m sure you could list pages & pages of trails.. but for those of us in the midwest, the Ozark Trail (Missouri), Ozark Highlands Trail (Arkansas) and the Ouachita National Recreation Trail (Oklahoma/Arkansas)are great trails too!

  • 4mph : Jan 27th

    Don’t forget the Sheltowee trace trail 306+ miles of the best that Kentucky (and some of TN) has to offer. Great trail that has some amazing views.


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