The Best Time of Year to Hike These 23 Popular Long Trails

Choosing when to start a trail can make or break your thru-hike. Thru-hiking is difficult at the best of times, so most hikers will start their hike at the best possible time of year. Start a trail too early, and you might find yourself dealing with massive snowpack and avalanche conditions. Start too late and you could be in the desert with no water and lethally high temperatures. Time your hike for the perfect weather conditions and you might end up in an overcrowded bubble with hundreds of other hikers and tourists. And every trail is different. Luckily, we’ve done the research for you on the best time to start a hike on 23 popular long-distance trails around the world.

A Note on Weather Conditions and Crowds

This article is a rough guide for an average year: please use your own judgment of when you are likely to encounter snow, river crossings, or inclement weather as these will vary from year to year. For trails where snow is a factor, look into the snowpack for areas of concern (such as the Sierra Nevada for a PCT NoBo hike) before choosing a start date. On a low snow year, hikers can start early. However, they would be wise to delay their start date in a high snow year (if permits and logistics allow this flexibility).

To some extent, some of these hazards are unavoidable for thru-hikers. For instance, a CDT hiker who waits until the San Juans in Colorado have melted out is unlikely to make it to Montana before the snow flies. Please be safe and prepared to alter your plans if Mother Nature interferes with your start date.

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Also, this article primarily discusses the best time to hike in terms of weather, snowpack, and other environmental concerns. On busy trails, such as the AT, starting during the optimal weather window means there will be a bubble of other hikers. To reduce your impact on the trail and have a more pleasant hiking experience, you might want to consider avoiding the peak time to hike these sections. You can also hike SoBo or flip-flop to avoid crowds. You may also choose to hike at a less optimal time to make it easier to get a permit for busy trails such as the John Muir Trail.

Quick Navigation

Best Trail/Section by Season

Triple Crown Trails

Appalachian Trail
Pacific Crest Trail
Continental Divide Trail

Other US Trails

Arizona Trail
Benton Mackaye Trail
Colorado Trail
Florida Trail
Grand Enchantment Trail
Hayduke Trail
Ice Age Trail
John Muir Trail
Lone Star Trail
Long Trail
Ozark Trail
Pacific Northwest Trail
Pinhoti Trail
Superior Hiking Trail
Tahoe Rim Trail
Uinta Highlands Trail
Wonderland Trail

International Trails

Camino de Santiago
Great Divide Trail
Te Araroa

Perfect timing in the Wind River Range on the CDT can be more a matter of luck than planning.

Best Trail By Season

Winter: Florida Trail, Te Araroa.

Spring: AT South, PCT South, CDT South, Arizona Trail NoBo, Benton MacKaye Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, Hayduke Trail, Lone Star Trail, Ozark Trail, Pinhoti Trail, Camino de Santiago.

Summer: AT Middle, AT North, PCT Middle, PCT North, CDT Middle, CDT North, Colorado Trail, Ice Age Trail, John Muir Trail, Long Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, Superior Hiking Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, Uinta Highlands Trail, Wonderland Trail, Great Divide Trail.

Fall: AT South, PCT South, CDT South, Arizona Trail SoBo, Grand Enchantment Trail, Lone Star Trail, Ozark Trail, Camino de Santiago.

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Triple Crown Trails

Appalachian Trail

If you’re thru-hiking a 2,000+ mile trail, hitting each section at the perfect time is almost impossible. Instead, try to start when the risk of encountering snow is minimized at higher elevations, and try to finish before the snow falls again. If you’re section hiking, you can cherry-pick the best possible time for each segment of trail.

Read next – Appalachian Trail State by State Overview: Highlights, Hiker Tips, Maps, and More.

South

Best Time: Spring or Fall

Most NoBo thru-hikers start between March 1st and April 15th. This can mean cold temperatures in the south but gives hikers plenty of time to reach Katahdin before October. SoBo hikers generally hit the southern states in November and December. The southern sections of trail can be hot and humid in the summer and cold in the winter. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy requests hikers try to avoid the southern sections of trail during the spring bubble, to reduce the impact on the trail.

Middle

Best Time: Late Spring/Early Summer

More and more hikers are choosing a flip-flop thru-hike to reduce their impact on the trail. The ATC lists several itineraries on their website. Most of these start somewhere in the middle of the trail (such as around Harper’s Ferry in April or May. They are designed to avoid hot summer temperatures in the south and snow in the north. Be aware that many states experience mud season in late spring, with some trail agencies requesting hikers stay off of trails during the thaw to avoid damaging them.

North

Best Time: Summer

SoBo thru-hikers should plan to start their hike after June 1st when Katahdin is accessible. The exact date the Hunt Trail opens will vary slightly from year to year but is normally early June. Most SoBo hikers will choose to start in mid-June or July, to make sure they have plenty of time to make it to the south before winter. NoBo hikers need to make it to Katahdin before mid-October, although snow may close the trail earlier. Early summer hikers will encounter black flies and ferocious mosquitos, but late fall hikers may have to deal with cold nights and early season snowfall.

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Late fall is beautiful on the Northern PCT, but hikers risk being forced off trail by snow.

Pacific Crest Trail

The PCT has a fairly short window to start in either direction. Hikers must carefully time their thru-hike to avoid hot desert temperatures and snow in the Sierra Nevada and Cascades. Flip-flop hikes are much rarer than on the AT: most hikers who flip-flop are forced to do so by a high snow year, or a race to reach the border. Hikers may also encounter late summer wildfires which may close large sections of the trail. Unlike the AT or CDT, thru-hikers require a permit for large sections of the trail. In recent years, a permit has become more challenging to get, and hikers may find themselves starting earlier or later than they would like in order to hike on their permit date.

South

Best Time: Spring or Fall

NoBo thru-hikers normally start in April or early May. Some may choose to start as early as March, depending on their permit. Thru-hikers must be out of the desert by mid-June when temperatures start to soar. However, start too early and thru-hikers may encounter dangerous snow conditions on mountains such as San Jacinto, less than 200 miles into the trail. SoBo thru-hikers normally hit the desert in the fall, when temperatures have dropped again.

Middle

Best Time: Summer

The trail rises out of the southern sections of the desert to traverse the mighty Sierra Nevada. NoBo thru-hikers must take care not to hit this section too early. Most thru-hikers will hike the Sierra in June, but depending on the snow year, are likely to encounter dangerous river crossings and copious amounts of snow on passes. However, if NoBo thru-hikers try to hit the Sierra once the snow has melted, they will have to deal with heat and lack of water in the desert. SoBo thru hikers should be past the Sierra by early October when the first snow normally falls.

North

Best Time: Summer or Fall

SoBo thru-hikers normally begin at the end of June or the beginning of July. The northern section of the PCT winds through the Cascades, which can be snowy until mid-summer. However, SoBo hikers cannot start too late, or they may face dangerous early season snows in the Sierra. NoBo hikers should try and reach the northern terminus before the end of September, when cold temperatures and heavy snow may force them off trail.

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best time to hike long trails

CDT thru-hikers are certain to have to hike through snow at some point.

Continental Divide Trail

If the PCT has a short hiking window, the CDT hiking window is even shorter. Hikers face similar terrain issues to the PCT, but snow can fly earlier in the fall and persist later in the summer on the high elevations of the continental divide. Many CDT hikers are forced to flip-flop to deal with the threat of heavy snow in Colorado’s San Juan mountains.

South

Best Time: Spring or Fall

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition normally runs a shuttle service and water caches to the southern terminus from March to May. Most NoBo thru-hikers will try to time their start dates to coincide with this. Hikers need to be cautious of summer heat in the desert, but should also be careful not to reach snowy Colorado too early in the season. The trail in New Mexico is at high elevation, and hikers can encounter snow and cold even later in the spring. SoBo hikers will normally hit the desert in October and November when temperatures are cooler again. The CDTC does stock water caches during normal years in the fall. However, during Covid-19, the CDTC is not running shuttles or stocking caches for NoBo or SoBo hikers.

Middle

Best Time: Summer

The Colorado mountains can be the crux of the CDT. Snow persists well into July and can cover the trail again as early as September. Many CDT thru-hikers regardless of the direction of travel are forced to snowshoe, flip-flop, or take low routes to avoid snow unless they luck out with a low snow year. Summer is the best time to avoid snow, although hikers are likely to encounter thunderstorms, which can be dangerous when a large part of the trail is above treeline.

North

Best Time: Summer/Early Fall

SoBo hikers normally start in mid-June to early July but are likely to encounter plenty of snow in Glacier National Park. NoBo hikers can encounter early snowfall in Glacier as early as September. In recent years, wildfires have also closed large sections of the trail in late summer/early fall.

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Best Time to Hike Other US Long Trails

Arizona Trail

Best Time: Spring (NoBo) or Fall (SoBo)

Traversing 800 miles from Mexico to Utah, the Arizona Trail crosses deserts, sky island mountain ranges, and the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon. The hiking season is short in comparison to some other trails: hikers must travel in the short window between high elevation winter cold and snow, and scorching summer desert heat. The northern segment of trail is the coldest and snowiest, so NoBo hikers will generally hike in March and April to take advantage of warming temperatures. SoBo hikers normally hike in October and November, when the hot southern sections have started to cool off.

Read next – “Through the Great Southwest”: A Documentary about the Arizona Trail.

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Benton MacKaye Trail

Best Time: Spring

The Benton MacKaye Trail spans 285 miles through the Southern Appalachian Mountains and crosses the Appalachian Trail several times. Despite its proximity to the AT, this trail is far quieter. This makes it perfect for anyone who wants to hike in the spring in the Appalachians but avoid the crowds on the AT.

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best time to hike long trails

Colorado Trail

Best Time: Late Summer/Early Fall

The Colorado Trail covers 485 miles between Denver and Durango and features long sections above treeline, stunning views, and gorgeous mountain passes. Snow is at a minimum between July and September in most years. Be aware that thunderstorms are a serious concern in mid-summer, but also that wildfires may close sections of the trail in late summer and early fall.

Read next – The Colorado Trail: Epic Big-Mountain Hiking At Its Finest.

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Florida Trail

Best Time: Winter

The Florida trail is around 1,300 miles, depending on the route taken. It features swamps and little elevation change, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. This trail is one of the few winter thru-hikes available in the US. Hiking season runs from late October to April, although the Florida Trail Association recommends starting NoBo in January to avoid hunting season. This also takes advantage of Florida’s dry season and cooler temperatures.

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Grand Enchantment Trail

Best Time: Spring or Fall

The Grand Enchantment trail explores deserts, canyons, and mountains across over 770 miles of the US southwest. Running east-west from Arizona to New Mexico, this remote trail is more of a route than a traditional thru-hike. Like most desert trails, time your hike to avoid high elevation snowpack and searing summer heat. Mid-March to the end of May in the spring and mid-September to late November in the fall are the ideal times to hike.

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The Hayduke “Trail”

Best Time: Spring

A challenging 800-mile route, the Hayduke features rugged terrain, off trail travel and difficult water carries. Experienced hikers are rewarded with the best scenery available in Utah and Arizona, including Arches, Zion, and the Grand Canyon National Parks. Time your hike for March through May to maximize water availability, but avoid winter cold and summer heat.

Read next – Tips for Caching Food and Water on the Hayduke.

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The Ice Age Trail

Best Time: Summer

The Ice Age Trail explores 1,000 miles of Wisconsin’s scenic forests and lakes. Snow normally covers the trail from November to March, and mud season lasts for a few weeks after the thaw. Hikers may wish to avoid hunting season, which lasts from mid-September until mid-November. Or, if you’re exceptionally badass, you can always try to thru-hike in winter.

Listen next – Backpacker Radio 101: Emily Ford on Thru-Hiking the Ice Age Trail in Winter.

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Thousand Island Lake is a JMT highlight.

John Muir Trail

Best Time: Late Summer/Early Fall

At 211 miles long, the JMT packs some of the highlights of the Sierra Nevada into a short distance, before finishing on top of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48. The trail is normally mostly snow-free from July to September, and difficult river crossings will have subsided by late summer. The JMT requires a difficult-to-get wilderness permit. You may decide to hike outside of peak season (if you have the necessary skills) in order to increase your chances of getting a permit.

Read next – The John Muir Trail: 211 Miles of Bucket List Hiking.

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Lone Star Trail

Best Time: Spring or Fall

The longest continuous hiking trail in Texas runs 128 miles through the Sam Houston National Forest.  Milder weather in spring and fall makes for pleasant hiking on this relatively flat trail. Hikers should take care to avoid hunting season in November and December.

Read next – How to Hike the 96-Mile Lone Star Trail.

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best time to hike long trails

Mt. Mansfield showcases the best of the Long Trail

Long Trail

Best Time: Late Summer/Early Fall

The Long Trail winds 272 miles through Vermont’s Green Mountains, traversing steep scrambles and high pine forest from Massachusett to the Canadian border. The Long Trail is normally snow-free from June to October, but take care to avoid mud season, which can last until June. August to October is the optimal time to hike since the trail is plagued by black flies in mid-summer, although you do run the risk of water sources drying out later in the year. Leaf season can be busy in New England, but for spectacular foliage, plan your hike to coincide with early fall.

Read next – The Long Trail Survey: Favorite Towns, Restaurants, Shelters, Gear, and More.

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Ozark Trail

Best Time: Spring or Fall

Running 230 miles through Missouri, the Ozark Trail traverses the remote Ozark mountains and explores forests, waterfalls, and rivers. The summer can be hot and humid, and March and April are mud season. Hikers may also wish to avoid hunting season in November.

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Pacific Northwest Trail

Best Time: Late Summer/ Early Fall

The Pacific Northwest Trail runs 1,200 miles east-west from the Continental Divide to the Pacific ocean. Thru-hikers normally start in Glacier National Park in July, once the snow has melted from the mountains on the divide. Hikers should aim to arrive at the Olympic Mountains on the Washington coast in September before temperatures become too cold.

Read next – The Pacific Northwest Trail: 1200 Miles of Rugged Wilderness.

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Pinhoti Trail

Best Time: Spring

Another great AT alternative, the Pinhoti trail stretches roughly 350 miles through Alabama and Georgia. The trail can be hiked year-round, but summers are oppressively hot. March and April allow hikers to experience cooler temperatures. Similar to the Benton MacKaye Trail, the Pinhoti does not get the same amount of traffic as the AT, which makes it a perfect option for hikers searching for solitude.

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Superior Hiking Trail

Best Time: Summer/Early Fall

The Superior Hiking Trail follows roughly 300 miles of the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Hikers are treated to lush forests and rocky cliffs over one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. The trail is normally snow-free from mid-May to October. However, mud season can last until the end of May, and the Superior Hiking Trail Association requests that hikers avoid the trail during this time. Ticks and mosquitos are also common during early summer. Hikers should plan to end their hikes before hunting season in November when much of the trail is closed.

Read next – Trail Profile: Superior Hiking Trail.

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Tahoe Rim Trail

Best Time: Summer

The Tahoe Rim Trail loops around Lake Tahoe for 170 miles and overlaps with a small segment of the PCT. The trail is normally snow-free from mid-June to late October.

Read next – Tahoe Rim Trail: 170 Miles Around—Yep—Lake Tahoe.

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Uinta Highlands Trail

Best Time: Summer

This trail crosses 104 miles of the Uinta mountains in Utah and stays largely above 10,000 ft in elevation. Due to the high elevation, hike the Uinta Highlands trail during the summer, when there will be less snow and temperatures will be warmer.

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Wonderland Trail

Best Time: Late Summer/Early Fall

The Wonderland Trail loops around Washington’s Mount Rainier, for 93 miles of stunning scenery. The trail is usually snow-free between mid-July and September. Permits for the Wonderland Trail can be difficult to get, so you may decide to hike outside of peak season.

Read next – How to Thru-Hike the Wonderland Trail.

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Map via National Park Service.

Best Time to Hike International Long Trails

If you’re an international reader, or just dreaming about when you can travel for a foreign thru-hike again, here are a few of the most popular options.

Camino de Santiago

Best Time: Spring or Fall

The Camino is a collection of pilgrimage routes that start at various points in Europe to head to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. The most popular route, the Camino Francés, runs 500 miles from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port in France.

The best time to hike depends slightly on the route chosen, and summer months will be busier than spring or fall. Most routes are passable year-round, so you can time your hike to either experience the best possible weather or avoid the crowds, based on your personal preference. If you decide to hike in winter, you may experience deep snow in the Pyrenees, and many hostels may be closed.

Read next – Camino de Santiago: Luxurious Long-Distance Hiking.

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Great Divide Trail

Best Time: Summer

The Great Divide Trail crosses 1,100km of the Canadian Rockies through Alberta and British Columbia. The hiking season is short: most thru-hikers must complete the entire trail in July and August. In low snow years, the trail is passable in June and into September. Hikers must book popular campsites individually in Canadian National Parks, which adds another level of difficulty.

Listen next – Dan Durston on Designing Gear and Hiking the Great Divide Trail.

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Te Araroa

Best Time: Northern Hemisphere winter/ Southern hemisphere summer

The Te Araroa spans 3,000km across the North and South Islands of New Zealand and is on many thru-hiker bucket lists. There’s a long hiking season, but hikers should try and time their treks to avoid poor weather in the mountains on the South Island. SoBo hikers should start between September and December to make sure they are out of the mountains by April. NoBo hikers should start between November and January.

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Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).

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Comments 4

  • Yadab Itani : May 19th

    Everest base camp in Nepal Himalaya during September to November and March to May is the best time to do. Greetings from Nepal 🇳🇵🙏

    Reply

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