Three Gems in the Triple Crown of Hiking

The Triple Crown

The oldest of them all, the green tunnel blazed by white, the Appalachian Trail.


The Pacific Crest trail, where the highest peaks of the Sierra ebb into the California desert.


The Continental Divide Trail, so wild and sparsely blazed that its trail slogan is “Brave the CDT”.


These three trails represent the Triple Crown of hiking in the United States. They also represent walking through 22 states and over 7,000 miles.

The Triple Crown is a momentous achievement for any long distance hiker. But most folks can’t take multiple seasons off their 9 to 5 jobs or 24/7 family life. For the rest of us there is another option. An alternative triple trail amalgamation of hiking glory.

The “Mini” Triple Crown

The Iconic Profile of Camel's Hump along Vermont's Long Trail

The Iconic Profile of Camel’s Hump along Vermont’s Long Trail

On the East Coast, the oldest distance hiking trail in the United States extends 273 miles through a green tunnel at the Massachusets border to rocky summits near the northern terminus at the Canadian Border. The rocky, ridge running Long Trail.

Fall along the Colorado Trail

Fall along the Colorado Trail

The Colorado Trail traverses nearly five hundred miles of Rocky Mountain madness. Climbing from its northern terminus near Denver, most of the trail floats above 10,000 feet with a high point of 13,271 feet. The Colorado Trail ends with a spectacular finish in the San Juan mountains near Durango, some of the best and most beautiful in the state.


The Mount Whitney Crest at Dawn courtesy of Tim Berger

Start among the Giant Sequoias of Yosemite National Park, wander through three more national parks, and walk more than 200 miles before finishing at a staggering 14,496 feet on Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. The spectacular John Muir Trail.

The Triple Gem

These three trails represent the Triple Gem of United States hiking.

Like the Triple Crown, the Triple Gem incorporates the completion of three epic long trails – the Long Trail in the east, The Colorado Trail along the Rockies, and the John Muir Trail along the west coast.

Unlike the Triple Crown concept, which has it’s oldest official recipients stretching back to 1994, the Triple Gem concept has much more recent roots.

In 2014, pioneering ultralight gear manufacturer GoLite filed for bankruptcy and liquidated their assets. But for ten years prior to liquidation, GoLite and co-founder Demetri “Coup” Coupounas made it his mission to bring ultralight to the masses.

Great Views of the GoLite Jam 50L and Tennessee on the Appalachian Trail

Great Views of the GoLite Jam 50L and Tennessee on the Appalachian Trail

Early in GoLite’s career, Coup set out to prove that his ultralight GoLite gear could completely reinvent the way long trails were conquered. As evidence, he set out to hike a set of Long Trails in what he deemed an “Alpine Style Thru Hike”. Coupounas packed a minimal base weight and all the food and supplies necessary to complete his totally unsupported hikes.

Coup’s achievement was unprecedented. In 2004, he was the first known person to complete these trails unsupported. His achievement was first called the “Mini Triple Crown”, because all three shorter trails incorporate sections of their larger Triple Crown namesakes. The achievement has since been known as the Triple Gem, as these regional trails are considered gems among the nation’s longer scenic trails.

The Triple Gem is a chance to experience a taste of the United States incredibly diverse distance trails, with an eye for time and a mind for budget. And if you end up completing all six trails, they make the perfect Gems in your Triple Crown.

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Comments 6

  • George Turner : Jan 5th

    A new entry for my bucket list

    • Caet Cash : Jan 9th

      Yes! I’d never say there are too many awesome trails out there but there certainly a lot of beautiful miles to walk!

  • Brian Lewis : Jan 7th

    A nice idea, and I’m a fan of “a few hundred mile” trails.
    I wonder, however, if one were to analyze all three trails if those are the true ‘gem’ subsets?

    I’d say that the JMT very much qualifies on the PCT. About the CT I have mixed feelings; I’ve only hiked the part that overlaps the CDT. That part of Colorado is nice, and the CT is some of the best marked and maintained trail on the CDT, but IMO there are other ‘gems’ that are at least as good: GNP, the Winds, the Great Basin area is at least impressive and unique, the San Juans, the Gila River route option in New Mexico. If I had to pick one ‘gem’ — well, that would be particularly hard with the CDT. Maybe the Winds as being a beautiful well-defined and popular subset.

    Where I really start to quibble is with the Long Trail. I guess both the CT and LT have the benefit of being well defined, established trails in their own right, well documented. As with the CT, I’ve only hiked the part of the LT that overlaps the AT, but I don’t recall it as anything special. If I had to select a ‘gem’ of the AT, I’d consider the Grayson Highlands/Mount Rogers area, the Smokies, I’d more readily include the Shenendoah N.P. if you couldn’t drive it, certainly the White Mountains, and goodly stretches of Maine. IMO the Whites would be the best at about 122 miles, with the caveat that the whole AMC hut system makes it more of a hassle or expense.

    Perhaps if I had hiked the entirety of the CT and LT as separate trips I would see this differently.

    • Caet Cash : Jan 9th

      Awesome to hear a Triple Crowner’s point of view on the Triple Gem!

      I haven’t had a chance to get out to California, so I’ll take your word that the JMT is a true gem. If pictures hold any truth, it certainly is breathtaking.

      Out in the Rockies, I think the Colorado Trail is a solid choice! The Collegiates are certainly a highlight, as well as the spectacular southern sections that run through San Juan National Forest.

      I think most AT thru hikers would agree with your assessment of the southern section of the Long Trail (AT). I was always curious about the northern section, having heard it was much tougher than the southern. I had an opportunity to find out this summer, and I can certainly say the northern section has got a whole lot more “Maine” in it! All the goodies are in the northern section! The big mountains – Camel’s Hump and Vermont’s highest, Mount Mansfield, are up north. Views all the way to the Whites and the Adirondacks and of course the muddy, rocky and technical terrain are highlights.

      But more than the merits (or demerits) of the trails, what denotes them as the “Mini Triple Crown” or “Triple Gem” is their status as separate trails from the larger and longer trails. Their status as achievable stand alone thru hikes, rather than sections, is what gives them this distinction. I imagine this is a large part of why Coup originally chose them when he coined the term “Triple Gem” – not to denote the best parts of these long trails, bur rather as a shorter, parallel triple trail achievement.

      • Tim Berger : Aug 7th

        If the JMT is looking crowded, try the much less frequented High Sierra Trail.


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