5 of the Toughest Hikes in the U.S.

Photo credit: Gideon Haden ChomphosySome people hike for their health. Others hike for a chance to get out in nature and experience awe-inspiring beauty. Then there are those who go hiking to push their limits and test their mettle. You can, of course, fall into all three categories, but if you enjoy a challenge, here are some of the toughest hiking trails in the U.S. that you should add to your bucket list.

The Appalachian Trail (AT) – 2,185 Miles

The Appalachian trail may be the most popular long-distance hike in the United States. It’s by no means the longest, or most challenging, but it is definitely one of the most accessible for people looking to dedicate half a year to hiking a trail. The trail passes through a number of towns, many of which cater to making the AT hike easier.

Knocking out the AT is still an incredible feat, however. The trail extends over 2,000 miles through 14 states along the eastern U.S. The average time it takes a hiker to complete an AT thru-hike is 165 days, and the completion rate for a thru-hike is just over 1 in 4. 15,524 have completed the AT.

The Pacific Crest (PCT) – 2,663 Miles

Landscape, sky, rocksThe Pacific Crest Trail is the West Coast counterpart to the AT. Though the PCT is almost 500 miles longer and is more remote than the AT, it would be tough to say that the PCT is more difficult. Once you’re hiking over 2,000 miles, what’s another 500, right?

Like the AT, the failure rate on the PCT is high. However, since it isn’t considered as user-friendly as the AT, the hikers that attempt the PCT are typically more capable and better equipped for the hike. Only 4,131 people have completed the PCT.

The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) – 3,100 Miles

If you complete thru-hikes of the AT, the PCT, and the Continental Divide Trail you’ve accomplished a feat known as the Triple Crown of Hiking. The CDT is typically considered the most challenging of the three hikes as it follows the Rocky Mountains through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

Unlike the AT, there are few resupply points on the CDT, and portions of the trail are poorly marked (if marked at all). The hike usually takes at least 6 months, and just a handful of people have officially completed the hike.

The American Discovery Trail – 6,800 Miles (North and South Route)

The American Discovery Trail is the epitome of long-distance hiking. It starts in Delaware and extends all the way across the width of the United States to California. Unlike the Triple Crown, the American Discovery Trail can be done by bicycle, horse, and by foot.

A 15-mile a day pace will have you hiking the entire trail in roughly 390 days. Cycling takes a minimum of 5 months to complete the trail, and the trail can be completed on horseback in about a year.

The terrain is considerably easier than the lengthy Triple Crown Hikes, and while there are some pretty areas, it’s considered less scenic than the At, PCT, or CDT. The toughest part of this hike – apart from hiking roughly 5,000 miles – is not giving up while hiking through the dull flatlands of Kansas.

The Hayduke Trail 812 Miles

Delicate Arch and PiltdownThe Hayduke Trail is the shortest trail of this group – a measly 800 miles – however, it may very well be the most difficult. The Hayduke meanders through a remarkable southwestern landscape and links up several amazing national parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion).

It’s difficult to do supply drops and find water, and the changing topography and harsh conditions of the desert makes this one of the most challenging hikes in the United States.

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