How Long Would It Take To Hike The American Discovery Trail?

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Hiking is an awesome way to get fit, experience nature, and relieve yourself of the modern world’s stresses. A couple of hours of escape. Then you get a hike like The American Discovery Trail, a coast-to-coast monster hike across the United States stretching for thousands of miles. How long would it take to hike this 5000+ mile American Discovery Trail?

How long the American Discovery Trail will take to hike depends on your physical output capability. If you can hike an average of 15-miles per day, only taking one rest day per week, you could complete the 5,000-mile hike in 390 days (56-weeks.) A couple did it in 231-days in 2005.

Hiking the American Discovery Trail is not for everyone. Several factors come into play regarding how long it will take to complete. Some are in your control, like how long you decide to rest or sightsee. Other factors like the weather conditions – snow, storms and heat – are not and can affect your total completion time directly.

How Long Is The American Discovery Trail?

During the 114th Congress, on March 1 2016, a bill was passed by the Senate that authorized “the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to place signage on Federal land along the trail known as the “American Discovery Trail.”

According to the “American Discovery Trail Act of 2016”, the trail expands from Point Reyes National Seashore in California to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware, approximately 6,800 miles.

There are two routes available across the Midwest, and the figure of 6,800 miles is a combined total of these two routes:

  • The coast-to-coast route via the northern route (through Chicago) totals 4,834 miles.
  • The coast-to-coast route via the southern route (through St. Louis) totals 5,057 miles.

Should you decide to enrich your soul and take on the toughest hiking trail across America; you will make your way through 13 States, depending on which side you begin:

  • California (Point Reyes National Seashore)
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • Denver (routes splits into two routes)
  • The Northern Midwest route travels through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana.
  • The Southern Midwest route travels through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana
  • The route rejoins west of Cincinnati, where the route continues through Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC, and Delaware (Cape Henlopen State Park)

How Long Does It Take To Hike The American Discovery Trail?

The American Discovery Trail is not a hike that you do in a month or two. Depending on the mode of travel and the combination of your hiking style, it can take several months up to a year or more.

Technically, should you be able to hike exactly 15 miles a day, take one rest day per week; a 5,000-mile hike will take you 390 days (56 weeks) to complete. 

Should you decide to do the trail on a bicycle, it should take you more or less 5 months to complete.

You are looking at a year or more on horseback, depending on your horse’s stamina and general health. The winter months can also force you to put a hold on the hike, resuming again when spring arrives.

Variables That Will Affect Completion Time

It’s almost impossible to predict the completion time of hiking the American Discovery Trail. No hike is ever the same with regards to the following variables:

  • How many miles you can physically push yourself to complete per day (hiking pace.)
  • How much time do you take to rest?
  • How much time do you take to sightsee?
  • How long does it take you to resupply?
  • The severity of weather conditions like snow, rain, and wind will slow down progress.
  • Injuries

Who Has Hiked The American Discovery Trail?

The American Discovery Trail is an endurance hike that will test you mentally and physically. To say that you have completed this hike is a huge honour and prestigious effort, as not many hikers can say the same.

Here are a few “famous” hikers that set the bar for future hikers of the American Discovery Trail:

Peter And Joyce Cottrell – 2003

Peter Cottrell (55) and his wife Joyce (51) set off from the Atlantic Coast (Delaware’s Henlopen Park State Park) on March 5 2002, to start the hike that would make them “the first hikers to backpack the entire official route of the American Discovery Trail.”

Many hikers have walked across the country before them, but no one has followed the rewardingly rugged route of the ADT. The ADT combines hiking trails, rail trails, country roads, and canal towpaths to form a “Route 66” for willing hikers, runners, horseback riders, and mountain bikers.

The couple managed to reach California’s Point Reyes National Seashore on August 18 2003, clocking some 5,058 miles. They were greeted by ADT Society Vice President Dick Bratton, who presented them with a plaque to celebrate this huge achievement.

Joyce fittingly called the hike “an adventure of a lifetime”, and her husband Peter echoed the sentiment by adding, “A lot of people live to work, but they don’t work to live and enjoy life. We tell people just go out and do it.”

Ken And Marcia Powers – 2005

While other hikers have completed the 5,000-mile trek across the country, Ken and Marcia Powers became the first hikers to continuously complete the actual ADT route and finish it in the same year.

The couple completed the journey in 231 days, setting a blistering pace of more than 20-miles per day (some days they pushed it to 30-miles), and only took 4 rest days on the entire trip. They departed the Atlantic Coast on February 27 and set foot on the Pacific Coast on October 15, 2005.

The couple has previously completed hiking’s “Triple Crown”, three 2,000 miles plus hikes:

Add to these accomplishments the ADT, and it’s no wonder that people are referring to their feats as the “Grand Slam” of hiking in some circles. After completing the inspiring hike, Marcia exclaimed, “We feel we are privileged to see something special.”

Click here if you want to browse through their trail journals.

Michael Thomas Daniel – 2008

Nicknamed the Lion King, Michael Thomas Daniel, became the first thru-hiker to complete the entire ADT – both the north and south routes. His journey started in Delaware on August 1, 2007, finishing in California on November 5, 2008.

Michael even completed the section of the trail around Pikes Peak in the middle of the winter for good measure. Sadly, Michael passed away on June 28, 2021, after a long battle with cancer. May his hiking spirit rest in peace.

Matt Parker – 2003 To 2005

Matt Parker started his ADT trek in May 2003 and finished the trail on November 3 2005. He became the first person to ride horseback for the trail’s entirety. After riding 1,008 miles on a racking horse called “Smokey”, he had to stop for the entire winter in eastern Utah.

At the start of 2004, he took to the trail again, this time on a fox trotter called “Little Face”, crossing the Colorado Rocky Mountains and the plains of Kansas. During December, his progress was again halted by extreme winter conditions, leaving him near Canal Grove, Topeka.

At the beginning of 2005, he continued his trek, this time with an Appaloosa called “Cincinnati”, where he was forced to take some alternative parallel routes to the ADT as some sections of the trail did not allow for horses.

Matt is regarded as a “pioneer” that paved the trail for equestrian hikers of the future.

What To Expect When Hiking The American Discovery Trail

It blows my mind that people undertake such an epic journey like the ADT. Most of us long for epic adventures, but we never get to it due to this and that excuse.

The people who decided to take that first step and do it has had the privilege to journey through the following:

  • 14 National Parks
  • 16 National Forests
  • Over 10,000 Historic, Cultural, And Natural Sites.
  • 5 National Scenic Trails
  • 11 National Historic Trails
  • 30 National Recreational Trails
  • 100’s Local And Regional Trails

The biggest gift that hikers receive when hiking this stunningly beautiful trail is the memories that they get to make, an all-compassing experience of the great outdoors, and the restoration of their faith in the human race.

Yes, we, unfortunately, live in a world where the ugly side of humanity thrives on social media platforms daily, but along the trek, you will meet people from all walks of life that genuinely wants to help you on your journey.

Ask any hiker, biker, horse rider, or runner who has completed the biggest hike of their life what stood out for them? All of them will refer to the inspiring acts of generosity experienced on their journey.


It may very well be the trip of a lifetime and a trip that restores your faith in humanity. The end destination is not what counts; it’s the journey in-between.

Should you be planning to hike the ADT, all of the best. Enjoy every moment, and like Mrs Cottrell said, “an adventure of a lifetime” awaits you.