With its panoramic views of the breathtaking wilderness and nature’s bounty, the iconic Great Western Trail demands super-human stamina, grit, and determination to complete this grueling yet rewarding trail through several countries.
The 3,100-mile Great Western Trail, initially a nineteenth-century cattle transport line, runs from Canada to Mexico and meanders through poplar US national parks in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona. It shouldn’t be confused with the Great Western Loop, which is 7000 miles long.
This aptly named trail is the stuff of legend; it tells the story of those who were courageous enough to conquer the rugged and remote wilderness across deadly deserts, scenic meadows, and breathtaking mountain passes that could humble the bravest souls.
So, if you want to know whether you have what it takes to complete this ambitious trail – read on!
The Epic Great Western Trail
The Great Western Trail offers something for everyone with its breathtaking views of canyons, deserts, woodlands, plateaus, wildlife, and picturesque alpine meadows spread over 18 US national forests, tribal lands, and BLM-managed territories.
The Great Western Trail plays an imperative role in Utah’s hiking trials network to such an extent that it was designated as a National Millennium Trail by the White House.
The Utah Great Western Trail section incorporates Desolation Lake, the Salt Lake City Wasatch Crest Trail, and the spectacular Zion National Park Orderville Canyon, where hikers can enjoy blissful solitude with magnificent views of the surrounding aspen meadows.
This leg of the trail incorporates panoramic views of the Henry and LaSal Mountain ranges, the San Rafael Swell, and the Waterpocket Fold.
The Mexico to Canada route starts at the Thousand Lake Mountain, Fish Lake National Forests through to Torrey’s Sand Creek; then it moves south along a county thoroughfare near Black Point or the Government Peak.
Here the Red Gate trail system denotes the Basin or the Range’s transition to the Colorado Plateau. The trailheads can either be accessed at Bicknell (in an easterly direction) or close to Torrey by taking the Highway 24 turnoffs to the respective trailheads.
While Great Western Trail’s 800-mile Arizona trail is a motorized route, there is a designated hiking trail. A 30-mile portion of the trail through the North Kaibab Ranger District has numerous unpaved routes through sagebrush, juniper, and pinyon terrains to pine and spruce-fir woodlands.
What Are The Hardest Sections Of the Great Western Trail?
The Great Western Trail is far more challenging in wintery conditions; therefore, should you attempt the Sierra Nevada leg of the trail, moving through knee-deep snow could exhaust the fittest hikers, especially when you are moving through the Pinchot or Mather Pass regions.
There are also other unusual challenges along the route, like the grueling Pacific Northwest Trail, where you might find yourself covered in black soot, crawling over logs, or not getting lost with unmarked trails.
The Colorado leg of the trail, with its constant 3000-foot hikes, is yet another hurdle that you’ll have to overcome along the way.
Another challenging aspect of the trail is the Gila Mountains and Grand Canyon regions in New Mexico which, although they are deserts, can be prone to treacherous deep drifts of snow. However, there are alternative trails that you might want to consider.
If you’re bold enough to accept the challenge, consider planning your adventure for during late spring or in fall when the trail is far more accessible and safer to explore.
How Does It Differ From The Great Western Loop?
The 7000-mile Great Western Loop links spectacular portions of the Pacific Crest and Northwest, Grand Enchantment, Arizona, and the Continental Divide trails, including unmarked trails through the breathtaking Mojave and Sonoran deserts.
The epic Great Western Loop features magnificent rugged and remote landscapes as it meanders through nine US states and 75 wilderness regions, including 12 national parks dotted along the way.
So, you might (rightfully) ask yourself, who has been courageous (or crazy enough) to complete the 7000-mile journey?
Professional backpacker Andrew Skurka is the only hiker who has ever completed this grueling trail which started in California and culminated in Arizona 208 days later after traveling 33 miles each day.
This monumental achievement was recognized when he was awarded the National Geographic, Adventurer of the Year award in 2007.
This astounding achievement is even more notable because of the small window of opportunity to traverse the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains during prime weather conditions.
You would have to cover 4,600 miles in four months, which equates to completing the Appalachian Trail two times in one season.
The Great Western Loop is an attractive hiking prospect as there is no margin for error when crossing each mammoth leg of the trail through deserts, mountains, and dens bushlands through rugged terrains that could bring down the most seasoned hikers.
Essential Backpack Supplies On The Great Western Trail
Preparation is vital if you want to complete the Great Western Trail, so plan and send essential food supplies to post offices in nearby cities like Idaho, Clark Fork, Idaho, Ariz, or Blue.
However, be ready to carry up to 80 pounds in your backpack for 10–20-day supplies due to the extensive length of the trail, including gallons of water in preparation for desert terrains.
Apart from the hefty food and water supplies, you will also need all the standard backpacking kit this grueling trail demands, which include, but are not limited to the following:
- Hiking poles, backpack cover, bear canisters, water filters, bug spray, first aid kit, toiletries, clothing, tent, sleeping bag, a makeshift shelter, fires-starter kit, and a cooking set.
- Navigational equipment (maps, compass, and a GPS)
- Sun protective kit (eyewear, sunscreen, and a hat)
- Electronic batteries & chargers
So, it is imperative to ensure that you are well equipped for every eventuality and that you are in prime physical and mental condition before setting off on this once-in-a-lifetime great adventure.
There is no doubt that the epic 3,100 mile-long Great Western Trail that spans the length and breadth of three countries will test the mettle of even the most seasoned hiker as it demands above-par endurance, strength, and stamina.
Although, it offers seasoned hikers a unique opportunity to explore remote landscapes, spectacular scenery, and incredible wildlife, which so few have been privileged to enjoy in blissful solitude like our founding fathers.