Why the North Country Trail instead of the Appalachian Trail?

Crossing a beaver dam on the Snowbank Trail.

Beginning May 2019, I’ll attempt to hike half of the North Country Trail, America’s longest National Scenic Trail at 4,600 miles. The North Country Trail (NCT) stretches from Vermont at its eastern terminus all the way to North Dakota.

I’ll begin my trek near the trail’s halfway point in lower peninsula Michigan, hike north to the upper peninsula, turn west toward Wisconsin, eventually cross into my home state of Minnesota, and finish at the western trail terminus in North Dakota.

I plan to hike 2,400 miles in 5-6 months. I’ll keep hiking as long as my body, money, and the weather hold out.

There are 11 National Scenic Trails in America. The three most well-known are the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Instead of heading to a trail on the coasts or the divide, I want to stay in the northern woods that I love. In recent years, the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail have become pretty crowded if your main motivation for backpacking is the peace, quiet and solitude the woods can offer, like me.

The number of people thru-hiking (or hiking an entire trail) the Appalachian (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) has been increasing each year. In 2013, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) issued 1,879 long-distance permits (hiking 500 miles or more). In 2018, the PCTA issued 7,313 permits, according to the PCTA’s website. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy asks AT thru-hikers to register their start date on its website. According to the registration charts for 2019, between March 1 and May 1 there are six days when more than 50 thru-hikers plan to start hiking northbound on the same day, and between March 1 and April 10, there is not a single day when fewer than 20 hikers plan to start the trail. That is a lot of people, so many people that the ATC has started asking people to “flip-flop” the trail to reduce damage to the trail.

Another way to reduce damage to America’s most popular National Scenic Trail would be to go hike a different one, which is my plan.

Even though I won’t complete a “thru-hike” of the trail (I’m calling my hike a “half-thru hike”) I will hike more miles than AT hikers, and a couple hundred fewer than PCT hikers. For me, the title of thru-hiker is less important than the experience of hiking 2,400 miles in 5-6 months. Although I’ll likely miss out on hiking with other people like the “trail families” that thru-hikers form on the PCT and AT, the tradeoff of having peace, quiet and alone time in the woods is worth it for me.

Follow along with the blog or vlog to see if my hypothesis that the NCT can offer an equally stunning and life-changing thru-hiking experience is true.

3 Comments on “Why the North Country Trail instead of the Appalachian Trail?

  1. My favorite line: “although I’m hiking solo, I am not alone”

    I’m glad I got the chance to meet you.

    Like

  2. Just came across this and wish I would have known earlier-I’m just off the NCT in Petoskey and could have been a contact for you! Your journey is inspiring! I shall read on!

    Like

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