The first person to successfully complete a thru-hike of the 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail was Earl Shaffer in 1948. He viewed the challenge as a way to leave his war experiences behind, documenting his travels in great detail in a journal that's on display at the Smithsonian. It took him 4 months and one pair of boots.
Since then, only 20,000 people have completed a thru-hike of the AT or approximately 1 in 4 hikers who attempt it. There's plenty to consider when planning such an extended adventure. Unexpected obstacles can knock a wannabe 2,000-Miler off course. One of the best ways to ensure you've got what it takes to complete the AT is by practicing. These multi-day hikes in the United States mimic the obstacles travelers are likely to encounter on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
8 Devil's Thumb & Kings Lake Loop - Colorado
- Distance: 17.2 miles
- Duration: 2 days
Break in the hiking boots with this moderately trafficked loop through the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The steep climbs will condition a thru-hikers leg's to handle the many elevation gains and losses along the AT. The strenuous trail gains 3,533 feet of elevation over 10 miles to the Devil's Thumb summit, the last 1,000 feet consisting of a steep scramble. Most backpackers take the opportunity to rest for the night, conquering the challenging 6-mile descent the following morning.
There are plenty of views to cheer hikers on along the way, including wildflower speckled meadows, waterfalls, and colorful rocks covered in neon moss.
7 Dosewallips to Lake Quinault - Olympic National Park
- Distance: 34 miles
- Duration: 3 days
One of the common ailments hikers on the Appalachian Trail encounter is boot rot, also known as trench foot. Boot rot occurs when the feet are exposed to prolonged periods of moisture from both sweat and climate. What better way to test the effectiveness of waterproof gear than by hiking through a rainforest? The Dosewallips to Lake Quinault trail takes hikers deep through Washington state's Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, with a respectable elevation gain of 7,066 feet.
The dense, old-growth forests in the Enchanted Valley are just that- enchanting. The abundance of ferns makes the area feel almost prehistoric. Though the hike typically takes 3 days, several people comment how much longer they could spend admiring the countless beautiful sights along the way.
6 Art Loeb Trail - North Carolina
- Distance: 30.1 miles
- Duration: 2-3 days
The Appalachian Trail runs for almost 100 miles through North Carolina, so a great way to get a lay of the land without hitting the actual AT is by hiking the Art Loeb Trail. Rated difficult, the trail goes through the Pisgah National Forest and crosses over the peaks of four mountains, the tallest being the Black Balsam Knob at 6,214 feet. There is an elevation gain of 8,257 feet, challenging the endurance of any hiker looking to conquer the AT.
Hikers of the Art Loeb Trail comment on the abundance of false summits, as well as dense overgrowth and rocky footpaths that demand full attention to remain standing. Parts of the trail are known for rattlesnakes, which become especially active during the warmer months on the Appalachian Trail.
5 Wonderland Trail - Mount Rainier National Park
- Distance: 96.2 miles
- Duration: 9-14 days
Mount Rainier is a mammoth of a mountain, its highest peak clocking in at 14,411 feet. Although the Wonderland Trail loop does not ascend Mount Rainier, there is an impressive elevation gain of 25,436 feet, with several stretches demanding 3,500 feet gain and loss back to back. This is a test to the knees that will prepare hikers for the roughest parts of the Appalachian Trail.
The Wonderland Trail is one of the most popular backpacking trips in the entire country, for both its difficulty and stunning scenery. Hikers will be blessed with a view of Mount Rainier from all angles, traversing large stretches of temperate rainforest and alpine valleys.
4 Sierra High Route - California
- Distance: 195 miles
- Duration: 14-21 days
The majority of the Sierra High Route takes place over 9,000 feet above sea level, which is perfect for conditioning the body to handle high elevations. Altitude sickness can take an AT thru-hiker out of their element, the only relief from the often debilitating flu-like symptoms to descend to lower ground. There is a cumulative elevation gain of 44,000 feet on the Sierra High Route, passing over 30 mountains!
The trail requires skilled scrambling and intense determination. The Sierra High Route will test a hiker's ability to navigate less-traveled terrain, as well as find their footing on rocky, often slippery mountainsides.
3 The Long Trail - Vermont
- Distance: 273 miles
- Duration: 19-24 days
The Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states, and a great way to get pumped up for such an amazing accomplishment is by getting used to the feeling by trekking the entire span of Vermont. The Long Trail is the oldest long-distance trail in the U.S., taking hikers along the ridge of the Green Mountains from the southernmost tip of Vermont to the border of Canada. With over 65,000 feet of elevation gain over the multi-week trip, hikers are guaranteed to earn the experience needed to master their AT thru-hike.
2 Oregon Skyline Trail
- Distance: 428 miles
- Duration: 30-40 days
Hike a portion of the popular Pacific Crest Trail to get a feel for what it's like to make the wilderness your home. The Oregon Skyline Trail has an elevation gain of over 60,000 feet, taking hikers across the crest of the Cascade Mountains and through Crater Lake National Park. Several PCT hikers take the opportunity to resupply at the park, just as AT-thru-hikers stop every few days for the same reason. It is a great hike to get used to the unique demands of hiking extremely long distances.
1 Florida Trail
- Distance: 1300 miles
- Duration: 60-90 days
The Florida Trail is less about the elevation gains and more about the stamina it takes to travel on foot for months at a time. It usually takes a thru-hiker between 5 and 7 months to complete the Appalachian Trail, so a couple of month stint on the Florida Trail will help prepare for a life dominated by seemingly endless walking. Starting from the south, the hardest part of the trail happens right off the bat through Big Cypress National Preserve, an incredibly wet swamp with dense and wild vegetation (more training for boot rot!)