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A long-distance trail (or long-distance footpath, track, way, greenway) is a longer recreational trail mainly through rural areas used for hiking, backpacking, cycling, horse riding or cross-country skiing. They exist on all continents except Antarctica.
Many trails are marked on maps. Typically, a long-distance route will be at least 50 km (30 mi) long, but many run for several hundred miles, or longer.
Many routes are waymarked and may cross public or private land and/or follow existing rights of way. Generally, the surface is not specially prepared, and the ground can be rough and uneven in areas, except in places such as converted rail tracks or popular walking routes where stone-pitching and slabs have been laid to prevent erosion. In some places, official trails will have the surface specially prepared to make the going easier.
GR footpaths are long-distance footpaths in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal (the Grande Randonnée (French), Grote Routepaden or Lange-afstand-wandelpaden (Dutch), Grande Rota (Portuguese) or Gran Recorrido (Spanish)).
National Trails are a network of officially sanctioned footpaths in the United Kingdom which are well maintained and well waymarked across England and Wales. Examples are the Pennine Way and the South West Coast Path. The equivalent routes in Scotland are styled as Scotland's Great Trails; they include the West Highland Way and the Speyside Way.
These follow coastlines; examples are the Brittany Coast Path in France, the California Coastal Trail in the US, the South West Coast Path in England, the East Coast Trail in Canada, and the Otter Trail in South Africa.
The England Coast Path, in development by Natural England, will be around 2,700 miles (4,350 km) long. It is expected to open in 2020 as the longest coastal walking route in the world and Britain's longest National Trail.
These may be cross-country paths, or may follow roads or other ways, and often intersect with many other trails. Examples are Wainwright's Coast-to-Coast path in northern England, and the GR 10 in France. The English Coast to Coast route, despite being amongst the best-known long-distance walking routes in England, is not an official National Trail, but simply a series of connected pre-existing rights of way, roads and open country with some informal links between them. There is also a coast-to-coast mountain-bike route in northern England that has the same trailheads as the walkers' path. GR 10 is a French GR footpath that runs the length of the Pyrenees Mountains, roughly paralleling the French–Spanish border on the French side. It runs west to east, from Hendaye on the Bay of Biscay to Banyuls-sur-Mer on the Merranean Sea.
The American Discovery Trail is a hiking and biking trail that crosses the continental United States from east to west, across the mid-tier of the United States. Horses can also be ridden on most of this trail. The eastern terminus is the Delmarva Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the western terminus is Point Reyes, on the northern California coast at the Pacific Ocean. The Iditarod Trail connects the coastal cities of Seward and Nome, Alaska: a distance of around 1,000 miles.
The European long-distance paths (E-paths) traverse Europe, passing through many different countries. Among the longest are European walking route E8 and the Iron Curtain Trail (also known as EuroVelo 13). The latter is a partially complete long-distance cycling route which will run along the entire length of the former Iron Curtain. During the period of the Cold War (c. 1947–1991), the Iron Curtain delineated the border between the Communist East and the capitalist West. E8 runs 4,700 km (2,920 miles) across Europe, from Cork in Ireland to Istanbul in Turkey.
Some of the longest walking routes worldwide:
Long-distance mountain trails are of two broad kinds: linear trails and loop trails.
In Europe the Via Alpina consists of five connected hiking trails across the alpine regions of Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, France and Monaco. It is 5,000 km (3,100 miles) long, with 342 day stages. Circular routes include the Tour du Mont Blanc, which passes through the Alps of France, Switzerland, and Italy. In the Balkans region, the Peaks of the Balkans Trail and High Scardus Trail connect Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro or North Macedonia respectively through a network of combined almost 700 kilometres (430 mi).
In the United States, notable linear trails include the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. The first long-distance hiking trail in the US was begun in 1910 and named The Long Trail. Notable circular trails include the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Wonderland Trail (which encircles Mount Rainier).
The Australian Alps Walking Track traverses the alpine areas of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. It is 655 km (407 miles) long, starting at Walhalla, Victoria, and running through to Tharwa, Australian Capital Territory near Canberra.
The Himalayan routes are famous for attracting a large number of trekkers (backpackers). Typical trekking regions in Nepal are Annapurna, Dolpo, Langtang, Manaslu, Kangchenjunga and Mount Everest. In India, the Kashmir Valley is home to several trekking routes that traverse western sections of the Himalayas. Vishansar Lake, Gangabal Lake and Tarsar Lakes are accessible only through different trekking routes. Other popular trekking routes in India include Chandra Taal, Dzongri, Goechala, Gomukh, Hemkund, Kafni Glacier, Kailash-Manasarovar, Kedarnath, Kedartal, Milam Glacier, Nanda Devi Sanctuary, Pindari Glacier, Richenpong, Roopkund, Sar Pass, Satopanth Tal, Saurkundi Pass and the Valley of Flowers.
A long-distance trail network in the southern Andes, the 3,000-kilometre (1,900 mi) Greater Patagonian Trail, was first described in 2014. It currently connects Santiago de Chile with the Southern Patagonian Icefield and explores the remote areas of the Patagonian Andes in the border region between Chile and Argentina. The entire network currently incorporates more than 16,000-kilometre (9,900 mi) of routes and provides many packrafting options.
These routes have been constructed mainly for bicycle touring. Some are restricted to use by only non-motorized bikes while others are multi-use recreational (i.e. hiking, horseback riding, jogging, rollerblading or walking). Some long-distance cycling routes are hundreds of miles long, such as Australia's mainly off-road Munda Biddi Trail, or even thousands of miles, such as the EuroVelo routes.
Some trails follow the towpaths of canal systems. A good example is the 525-mile (845 km) New York State Canal System in New York. There also numerous routes that can be followed in Europe, which may be suitable for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and canoeists.
Many long-distance trails have sections suitable for equestrians, and a few are suitable for horse riding throughout their length, or have been developed primarily for horse riding. The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) in Australia is the longest marked multi-use trail in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres (3,310 mi) from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales to Healesville, Victoria. This non-motorised trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks and private property and alongside wilderness areas. One of the objectives was to develop a trail that linked up the brumby tracks, mustering and stock routes along the Great Dividing Range, thus allowing one legally to ride the routes of stockmen and drovers who once traveled these areas with pack horses. The Bicentennial National Trail is suitable for self-reliant horse riders, fit walkers and mountain bike riders.
In the United Kingdom, the British Horse Society is developing a network of horse trails known as the National Bridleroute Network. A number of long-distance multi-use trails have been created in England, including three National Trails: the Pennine Bridleway, 192 km (119 miles), The Ridgeway, 139 km (86 miles), and the South Downs Way, 160 km (99 miles).
Rail trails (or rail paths) are shared-use paths that make use of abandoned railway corridors. There are also rails with trails in the USA that follow working rail tracks. Most rail trails have a gravel or dirt surface and can be used for walking, cycling, and often horse riding as well. The following description comes from Australia, but is applicable to other rail trails that exist throughout the world:
Following the route of the railways, they cut through hills, under roads, over embankments and across gullies and creeks. Apart from being great places to walk, cycle or horse ride, rail trails are linear conservation corridors protecting native plants and animals. They often link remnant vegetation in farming areas and contain valuable flora and fauna habitat. Wineries and other attractions are near many trails as well as B&B's and other great places to stay.
In the USA, the 27-mile (43 km) Cheshire Rail Trail, in New Hampshire, can be used by hikers, horseback riders, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, cyclists, or even dog-sledders. In Canada, following the abandonment of the Prince Edward Island Railway in 1989, the government of Prince Edward Island purchased the right-of-way to the entire railway system. The Confederation Trail was developed as a tip-to-tip walking and cycling gravel rail trail which doubles as a monitored and groomed snowmobile trail during the winter months, operated by the PEI Snowmobile Association.
Many cyclists, horse riders and walkers undertake journeys on roads and ground that is not designated as trails.
Long-distance cycling is usually documented in post-journey accounts.
Long-distance walks are documented by individuals who write accounts after the walks, and studies of the effects.