We often talk about visiting lesser-known national parks for a quieter day out. We love getting out into nature. But we know that big crowds make it less relaxing. The same is true for hiking. While having a hiking companion makes you safer, congested paths are less pleasant. That’s why we’re talking about the Long Trail today.
While many people are hiking the Appalachian Trail these days, fewer are traversing the Long Trail. It’s a 272-mile route that follows the crest of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada. It has dozens of entrances, 70 campsites, is the country’s longest continuously used long-distance path and has a fascinating ecosystem.
Parts of the Long Trail are great for day hikes and weekend trips. Some people hike the whole trail in 20 to 30 days. The path is well-marked — although you should always carry a map. The course is pleasant between June and October when it’s mud- and snow-free.
Some parts of the hike are easier; the southernmost 100 miles are less challenging than the rest. But there are literal mountains to climb. It’s essential to know your limits, plan ahead, take your time and make sure you have a fun hike rather than one that is too much to handle.
There are plenty of trail towns along the way to visit for supplies. You’re never too far from civilization, but the trail itself is wild. There are also 166 miles of side trails branching off from the Long Trail. The Long Trail is marked with two-by-six-inch white “blazes” painted on trees. Double-blazes mark turns. In open areas, the markings are painted on rocks. Side paths are marked with blue or yellow blazes and usually have intersections signs, but not all do. That’s part of why it’s so important to carry a map.
When packing to go hiking in the backcountry, it’s important to bring layers of clothing and sun protection. First aid supplies, insect repellants, a flashlight and a pocketknife are all valuable tools. Food is essential; the amount varies depending on how long your hike is. Water is less critical for the Long Trail because there are many streams and ponds. But a water purifier, or a purifying drinking straw, is necessary. Bear-proofing your food and bringing bear spray is also a good idea.
It’s also important to research where you are going, the weather and the terrain. Hiking has become more popular. Unfortunately, hiking accidents have become more common as less experienced and less prepared people have hit the trails. Great Smoky Mountains National Park emergency leader Elizabeth Lee saw the need for search and rescue teams increasing and started a preventative search and rescue program. In summer months, they often have three or four rescue missions a day, and they want to help as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Slips and falls are the most common problem they handle, followed by exhaustion and fatigue. So, when going on a hike in the backcountry, plan ahead. It’s not like going to a theme park: you’re responsible for your own safety. And when you go to a quieter trail, you’re less likely to see large groups of hikers who can help you immediately.
If you prepare, know what to expect and go with an equally ready friend, you can have a wonderful time. You’ll enjoy a quieter experience than the crowded Appalachian Trail and see equally beautiful sights!