When that phrase comes to mind, I imagine many people think of the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail both of which are over 2000 miles long and take 5ish months to hike end to end. I understand that it is overall pretty rare and mildly extraordinary that some of us are able to take off extended periods of work to chase our dream of traveling. Many people are committed to their careers and family in a way that will never allow such a thing, thus the idea of a 5 month thruhike isn’t plausible.
But what about a shorter end to end hike?
Today, I wanted to discuss the “Little Three” – three comparatively shorter trails that can be completed end to end in about month or less: the Long Trail (VT), John Muir Trail (CA), and Colorado Trail (CO). These remarkable trails are a wonderful way for you to get out there for a thruhike without sacrificing too much of your time. Each of these three trails coincide at least in part with the “Big Three” – Long Trail / Appalachian Trail – John Muir Trail / Pacific Crest Trail – Colorado Trail / Continental Divide Trail. Completing the “Big Three” is known as the Triple Crown of hiking, and the “Little Three” are sometimes called the Crown Jewels.
Length: 273 Miles (439 km)
Ave. Time to Thruhike: 3-4 Weeks
High Point: Mount Mansfield – 4395 ft (1339 m)
Low Point: Winooski River Crossing – 338 ft (103 m)
The Long Trail is the oldest long distance trail in the US. Its southern terminus is at the MA/VT border, and its northern terminus is at the US/ Canadian border. The LT can be hiked northbound or southbound. The LT coincides with the Appalachian Trail for about 100 miles from the MA / VT border to central Vermont near Mount Killington. The Long Trail winds through hardwood forests climbing up and down the Green Mountains with rugged terrain complete with rocks, mud, and mossy roots. There is no required permit for the LT. The best time of year to hike the LT is in summer and early fall. Spring and early summer are known for incredible amounts of mud in Vermont, leading to the nickname “Vermud.” We anticipate completing the entire hike one day and hope to do so in the fall to experience New England’s outstanding fall foliage. Find out more about the Long Trail on Green Mountain Club’s Website.
Location: Central California
Length: 215 Miles (346 km)
Ave. Time to Thruhike: 3-4 weeks
High Point: Mount Whitney – 14,496 ft (4418 m)
Low Point: Happy Isles, Yosemite Valley – 4000 ft (1200 m)
The John Muir Trail is an increasingly popular trail and perhaps some of the most beautiful 200 miles in the world. The JMT’s northern terminus is in Yosemite Valley, and the southern terminus is on top of Mt Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. The JMT coincides with the Pacific Crest Trail for approximately 170 miles. This gorgeous trail includes unparalleled mountain views, jaw dropping waterfalls, unbelievable rock formations, and crystal clear high alpine lakes. Overall, the JMT is a series of climbing and descending high passes through nature’s eye candy. Most hikers go southbound ending their hike on Mt Whitney. Permits are required (and are definitely checked) as the trail passes through Yosemite and Kings Canyon / Sequoia National Parks. It’s no surprise that getting permits to hike this heavily sought after trail can be difficult. Click here for the National Park Service page for more information about obtaining permits.
The JMT can be hiked end to end in 3-4 weeks, though I recommend taking your time to a) acclimate to the very high elevation and b) enjoy every bit of trail for as long as possible. Altitude sickness is a serious matter, so take your time to acclimate especially if you’re beginning at Mt Whitney and hiking northbound. The JMT fluctuates above and below treeline, so sun protection is a must, and weather at this high of elevation can change quickly and without warning. Snow pack can cover the trail through June, and snow can come back into the high Sierra as early as September. Mosquitoes can be really thick and quite a nuisance from May – July.
I think I’ll just let the pictures do the rest of the talking…
Location: Colorado, Denver to Durango
Length: 486 Miles (782 km)
Ave. Time to Thruhike: 4-6 weeks
High Point: 13,271 feet (4,045 m)
Low Point: Waterton Canyon – 5,500 ft (1,700 m)
The Colorado Trail is an incredible thruhike that will take about a month to hike from end to end. The northern terminus is at Waterton Canyon outside of Denver, and the southern terminus is in the San Juan Mountains near Durango. The majority of hikers trek southbound though the trail can be hiked in either direction. The CT is very remote and has millions of wildflowers, interesting rock formations, epic waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and mountain views as far as the eye can see. The CT does not require a permit. The CT rides the Continental Divide which brings unpredictable weather. During our 5 week hike, we experienced afternoon rain storms almost every day. It is important to time your day with the varying weather in mind. Storms can appear quickly and bring strong winds, rain, snow, or hail. We experienced all of these elements in July. Hikers should be prepared for limited water availability from the northern terminus through about the first 80 miles. The prime thruhiking season is June – September due to lingering snow pack in high elevations. The trail is divided into 28 segments making section hiking fairly simple. Check out our journey on the CT here and more information about the trail at ColoradoTrail.org.
Have you hiked any of the “Little Three”? We can’t wait to complete a full thruhike of the Long Trail and the John Muir Trail one day.