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The trails that make up the National Trails System, including these moderately long walks, provide ample thru-hike opportunities for adventurers.

Six Moderately Long Walks

The long trails of America catch our imaginations: the Appalachian Trail with its steep rolling mountains, the Pacific Crest Trail with its alpine beauty, and the Continental Divide Trail’s rugged wilderness. These trails are serious undertakings that require money, equipment, and most of all, time. What if you’re short on one or even all of these? There are other routes in America’s National Trail System, and a few outside of it, that can be accomplished without tackling the Triple Crown. Here are six moderately long walks where you can wander off for a month or two without being gone for a whole season.

Trail #1 – Arizona Trail (AZT)

State: Arizona

Length: 800 miles

Duration: 45-50 days

Northern Terminus: Arizona-Utah Border

Southern Terminus: Coronado National Memorial at the US-Mexico Border

Best months: Late March – Late May

The Arizona Trail traverses 800 miles through some of the most spectacular scenery in the state, reaching a high point of 9,600’ and skirting the state’s highest point, Mt. Humphreys. The trail wanders through rolling sagebrush foothills, deep canyons, and wide-open plains. The AZT is also one of the newest trails in the US, officially designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009 but not completed until 2011. One of the unique features of this long trail is that all areas other than designated wilderness can be cycled. If you’re looking for a desert getaway and a short walk, this is the trail for you. A strong community encircles the trail as it ranges across the Sonoran Desert, through the sky islands of the Superstition Mountains, and finishes on the Kaibab Plateau outside Grand Canyon National Park.

At 800, the Arizona Trail is a long walk through the state's most scenic landscapes.

Trail #2 – Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST)

State: North Carolina

Length: 1,175 miles

Duration: 55-75 days

Western Terminus: Clingman’s Dome

Eastern Terminus: Pamlico Sound

Best Months: May – October

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail has been on my radar for some time. Most people start the trail among the high peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains on 6,643’ Clingman’s Dome in Tennessee and work their way east through the Black Mountains, over Mt. Mitchell, and down to the foothills of North Carolina. As the trail wanders its way toward the Atlantic, you share the path with 8 different trail systems, including the Art Loeb Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The MST is one of the few thru-hikes that has an alternate paddle route to avoid a long road walk between Smithfield and Jacksonville. You have the opportunity to paddle 169 miles on the Neuse River and give weary legs a break as you near your finish at the Atlantic Ocean.

North Carolina's Mountains to Sea Trail is a long walk worth exploring.

Trail #3 – Ice Age Trail

State: Wisconsin

Length: 1,200 miles

Duration: 55-75 days

Eastern Terminus: Potawatomi State Park

Western Terminus: Interstate Park near St. Croix Falls

Best Months: May – Late October

The Ice Age Trail is one of the lesser-known trails in the US. It begins near Wisconsin’s westernmost border at St. Croix Falls and jaggedly traverses east, diving south from Antigo to Jonesville, near the Illinois border, before turning north toward its Eastern Terminus at Sturgeon Bay. The Ice Age Trail, largely still a “route,” has only 675 miles of completed trail, with 400 miles of interconnecting trail and large portions still based on road networks. It can be done year ‘round, but the best times to complete the trail are in the summer and fall to make the most of Wisconsin’s fall colors and cooler weather. This trail roughly follows the glacial moraine from the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago, showing you signs of the forgotten past along the way.

Take a long walk on Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail to explore the state's geologic and natural history.

Trail #4 – Buckeye Trail

State: Ohio

Length: 1,444 miles

Duration: 65-85 days

Northern Terminus: Headlands Beach State Park near Mentor, Ohio

Southern Terminus: Eden Park in Cincinnati, Ohio

Best Months: May – Late October

We have a long trail right here in Ohio, the only trail on this list that isn’t a National Scenic Trail. You can start and end from Cincinnati’s Eden Park as the trail loops around the state. Attractions include Hocking Hills, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and Wayne National Forest. Starting from Cincinnati, the trail wanders north to Toledo and then parallels I-80 toward Cleveland before reaching its Northern Terminus at Headlands Beach State Park. It turns south again and finds its way to southeast Ohio’s scenic foothills, following the Ohio River back to the start. If you want to get away but need to be close to home, this might be the trail for you. The trail largely sticks to woodland areas and wanders through small towns like Milford, but beware that you can find yourself walking through cornfields for a day or two.

Among others, Milford, Ohio is home to the Buckeye Trail, which forms a moderately long loop around the state.

Trail #5 – Florida Trail

State: Florida

Length: 1,300 miles

Duration: 50-60 days

Southern Terminus: Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve

Northern Terminus: Fort Pickens in Gulf Island National Seashore

Best Months: Late January – Late May

The Florida Trail is another long trail still under construction, with 300 miles of the 1,300 still to be built and large road walks. Starting in the panhandle near Pensacola, the trail meanders down the backbone of Florida toward Everglades National Park. The trail can be dangerous, with the chance of encountering alligators, venomous snakes, mosquitoes, hurricanes, and 20-mile trudges through knee-deep swamps. Although you might hope the trail would work its way along beaches for a thousand miles, most of the trail is inland, skirting west of Orlando and wandering by other vacation hotspots. The trail is known for dense jungle-like forests, inland swamps, and grassy plains that are surprisingly scenic. It is best to avoid this trail in the summer when humidity and high temperatures make this trail downright disgusting, but a winter or spring thru-hike is the perfect cure for cabin fever.

Florida isn't a popular backpacking destination, but this mid-length thru hike offers endless opportunity.

Trail #6 – Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT)

States: Montana, Idaho & Washington

Length: 1,200 miles

Duration: 75 – 100 days

Eastern Terminus: Glacier National Park

Western Terminus: Cape Alava, WA

Best Months: Late June – Late September

I’m not going to offer much on the PNT other than to say it exists and it’s intriguing. I’ve run into numerous PNT thru-hikers in recent years as well as old-timers who did it in years past. Everyone said it was remote, beautiful, and one of the greatest challenges they’d undertaken. The trail can be overgrown, incredibly steep, and covered in scree and talus. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it captures the imagination as it traverses some of the best parts of the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range. At times more of a bushwhack than a trail, the route runs from Montana’s Glacier National Park, through Idaho, and across Washington to the Olympic Mountains on the coast.

The glamorous views of the PNT make this a walk worth taking.

by: Ben Shaw

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