When was the last time you got away – as in, really got away? If you’re looking for a change of scenery or pace and you don’t mind physical exertion, a long-distance wilderness hike might be a good option. The continental United States harbors countless miles of well-maintained hiking trails, including many long-distance trails that stretch for hundreds or even thousands of miles.
Whether you’re planning a day-long jaunt through the forest or a multi-week expedition across a mountain range, there are probably more options than you realize within easy driving distance of your home base.
What Is a Long-Distance Hike?
The concept of a long-distance hike can be subjective. Some hikers, often in their youth, are fortunate enough to be able to drop everything for a few months and hike the length of one of the continent’s great trails, such as the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. However, for many folks, such long trips aren’t possible. Even taking a week off of work is difficult for some full-time workers with families and other obligations.
Fitness level is another important consideration. Even on level ground, hiking is hard work – especially if you haven’t trained for it in a while. A couple of days on the trail can take a lot out of you. If you haven’t hiked in a while or simply want to take your time to smell the roses, it’s best to limit your hike’s duration.
A good rule of thumb is that a long-distance hike is any hike that would take the place of another type of trip or vacation. It could be as short as a full day without an overnight component (replacing a day trip), take place over the course of a weekend (replacing a sedentary weekend getaway), or replace a longer vacation of a week or more. Of course, you can complete a long-distance hike as one part of a longer trip – staying in a hotel for a few days and then heading out on the trail and camping for another few days.
While the length of your long-distance hike is affected by your fitness level, the terrain you intend to travel, and simply how much time you can spare, there are certain considerations and safety precautions that can help you get the most out of your trip.