Young explorers and retirees alike are donning sturdy boots and reconnecting with the great outdoors on long trails all over the world. Thru-hiking is a long-distance, continuous trek that usually—unless you’re a marathon runner—takes months at a time. Thru-hikers took on the Appalachian Trail in the United States in the late 1940s, and the pastime only continued to gain popularity in recent decades. Here are 10 of the world's longest trails, some of which are multi-use for hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. Most of these epic trails are a compilation of long-established favorites—and would require prior training and careful preparation.
1. The Great Trail, Canada (14,912 miles/24,000 kilometers)
The Great Trail, Canada (formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail) links hundreds of local pathways across the width of the county. The route, which was first imagined in 1992, weaves its way through 13 provinces and territories, from St. John’s in Newfoundland all the way to Vancouver, British Columbia, with a northward loop including the Yukon. The multi-use trail officially opened in 2017 and has been praised for its goals of connecting communities and incorporating disused railway lines by converting them to paths. It has faced some criticism, though, as currently only 30 percent of the trail is off-road.
2. The American Discovery Trail (6800 miles/10,944 kilometers)
The American Discovery Trail is the country’s first and longest non-motorized coast-to-coast trail. It takes hikers, horseback riders, and skiers from the Atlantic to the Pacific, crossing through Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada before reaching California. The trail opened ceremonially in 2000, though the first folks to finish it were power-walking couple Ken and Marcia Powers (also known as GottaWalk), who completed 5000 miles coast-to-coast in October 2005. The full loop, including both parallel possible routes—the trail splits into two alternate paths before joining again—was first conquered by hiker Mike “Lion King” Daniel, who crushed all 6800 miles in November 2008.
3. E1 European Long Distance Path (4960 miles/7980 kilometers)
The E1 is the longest of the 12 European Long Distance Paths overseen by the European Ramblers Association. It’s a vertical affair: The trek starts in the upper reaches of Norway and finishes in Sicily, Italy. The trail isn’t sign-posted in upper Norway, in consideration of the indigenous Sami people, but is marked with cairns from Nordkapp southward. After Norway, Finland, and Sweden, the path continues into Denmark (thanks to a short ferry ride). It then heads down to Germany before traversing Switzerland and ending with a hike the length of Italy.
4. The Grand Italian Trail (4455 miles/7170 kilometers)
If you like your long distance hikes pasta-fueled, this is the one for you. The Grand Italian Trail, or Sentiero Italia, has an accompanying food blog that suggests the local fare for the regions you’ll pass through, making sure you don’t miss the best flavors and natural delicacies available along the way. You'll need all that grub to fuel up as you go: This trail is predominantly mountainous, winding through the whole length of the Alpine Arc and the entire Apennine Chain before taking in Sicily and ending in Sardinia. The trail was first imagined in 1983. The earliest hikers to complete the full trek finished it in 1995 and again in 1999, but interest in the feat seemed to lose traction in recent years. The organization behind the trail has launched a free online guide, available in English and Italian.
5. The Continental Divide Trail (3100 miles/5000 kilometers)
This challenging five-month-long trail slices through the U.S. vertically, from Montana on the northernmost border to New Mexico in the south. The CDT was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1978, and it’s known for its rugged, unfinished stretches—the coalition that maintains the CDT calls it “a living museum of the American West.” It’s a proper hiking trail, as the rough terrain is unsuitable for mountain bikers and a challenge for horseback riders. As of 1995, only 15 people had officially completed the trail; now, around 150 people per year attempt to finish it. The CDT is one of three American trails that make up the “Triple Crown of Hiking,” alongside the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
6. The Great Himalayan Trail (2800 miles/4585 kilometers)
If the strenuous treks of Nepal aren’t challenging enough, the yet-to-be completed Great Himalayan Trail could be for you. The proposed route stretches the entire length of the Himalayan mountain range, surmounting Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. The hardcore terrain and extremely high altitudes are not for the faint-hearted: The highest point of the trek at the Sherpani Col Pass in Nepal clocks in at a terrifying 20,210 feet (6160 meters) above sea level. If this “extreme route” sounds too treacherous, there’s also a proposed lower trail known as the “cultural route” that works its way through mid-range hills and villages.
7. Hokkaido Nature Trail (2848 miles/4585 kilometers)
The longest of Japan’s nature trails takes you on a loop of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago. While the majority of the country’s nature trails were designated by the government in 1970, this mega-hike was first imagined in 2003. It combines the trails of Hokkaido into one huge loop. There’s still work to be done, with some stretches yet to be linked, but it’s suggested this trek would take avid walkers 230 days to complete.
8. England Coast Path (2795 miles/4500 kilometers)
This ambitious project has been in the works since 2014. It will follow all of England’s coastline to become the world’s longest coastal trail. The route, which was inspired by the success of the Wales Coast Path, traverses stretches of cliffs, moors, beaches, harbors, marshes, and farmland. It was due to open in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed those plans. Long stretches of the Coast Path are open, however, and its governing agency, Natural England, is in consultation with local residents along the final stretches.
9. Pacific Crest Trail (2653 miles / 4270 kilometers)
This hiking trail stretches the length of the U.S.’s Pacific coast. It takes approximately six months to complete on one continuous thru-hike. The PCT was first conceived in the 1930s, and has been maintained and managed by the Pacific Crest Trail Association since 1977. It was made famous in recent years by Reece Witherspoon in her 2014 movie Wild, a feature film based on the memoirs of writer Cheryl Strayed. Consequently, it’s a popular hike and not the solitary affair you'll see in the movie. The PCT is celebrated as one of the country’s most scenic hiking trails, adding to its allure.
10. Te Araroa (1894 miles / 3000 kilometers)
Te Araroa (meaning The Long Pathway) is a picturesque but challenging trail. It spans the entire length of New Zealand—both the North and South Island. The Te Araroa Trust maintains the pathway, which was officially opened on December 3, 2011. Thru-hiking Te Araroa takes approximately six months. Trekkers can stay in the network of huts managed by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, renting huts on a night-by-night basis or applying for a six-month pass. The record holder for completing the trail in the shortest time is British marathon runner Jez Bragg, who finished it in 53 days in 2013.