1. Pacific Crest Trail: California, Oregon and Washington, 2,663 miles
When Cheryl Strayed, writer of the memoir and new film Wild set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in southern California, heading north towards Oregon, she had never backpacked a day in her life. By the time she reached the border of Oregon and Washington, more than 1,000 miles later, she was a new woman, having shed blood, sweat, tears and toenails along the way. Hiking the entire PCT takes between four and six months. The trail can also be followed on horseback, and there’s a Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail that roughly parallels the PCT. Strayed successfully winged her trip with very little planning or experience, but the Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that most hikers spend between six and eight months preparing for their trek; fewer than 200 people a year complete the entire journey from the Mexican to the Canadian border.
Top tip You don’t have to hike the whole trail to recreate the emotional end of Strayed’s journey at the Bridge of the Gods – an impressive cantilevered steel span that crosses the Columbia river between Oregon and Washington. Pedestrians crossing the bridge are supposed to pay a 50-cent toll, but long-distance hikers are often waved through, free of charge.