With its wide-open space, diverse ecology, and well-maintained hiking trails, North America has been recognized as one of the best trails globally for serious hikers that are looking for a challenge. Although Canada and The United States of America both have lengthy hiking trails, none is more grueling than the Eastern Continental Trail, but where does “the beast” start?
Although the Eastern Continental Trail is not an officially recognized hiking trail, it has been identified as a combination of trails beginning from the southernmost part of the United States at the Key West buoy and ending at Cap Gaspe at the eastern extremity of the province of Quebec, Canada.
As mentioned above, because the Eastern Continental Trail is an unofficial trail consisting of numerous trails adding up to a total mileage of approximately 5 500 miles, it is necessary to break down each major trail to understand the composition of the Eastern Continental Trail and how to traverse it.
Where Does The Eastern Continental Trail Start?
Marked by a big red buoy, the Eastern Continental trail begins at the southernmost point of the Eastern seaboard of the United States of America in Florida, whereafter it continues north into Cap Gaspe in Quebec.
Since this is technically not the whole, north-eastern point of the continent, some hikers have been known to extend the trail by a few hundred miles into the northernmost territory of the Canadian province of Newfoundland.
What Trails Make Up The Eastern Continental Trail?
Starting at the southern tip of Florida and running parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, the general route of the Eastern Continental Trail passes through sixteen American states and two Canadian provinces, for a total of eighteen states/provinces.
Some hikers include three additional Canadian provinces, namely Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland.
These twenty-one states and provinces are connected via eight officially recognized trails, for a total mileage of approximately 5 500 miles:
1. Florida Overseas Heritage Trail
The Florida Overseas Heritage Trail is a 117-mile trail that follows the former rail bed of the Overseas Railroad. As a result of ongoing construction at the time of writing, the relatively short distance is challenging due to uneven terrain and undefined footpaths.
Sites of interest include Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park, and four national wildlife sanctuaries.
2. South Dade Greenway
Running between Florida City and Miami and parallel to US Highway 1 for approximately 39 miles, this mostly urban trek should be simple for more seasoned hikers.
Sites of interest include Downtown Miami.
3. US 41 Connecting Roadwalk
Another urban hike, this 34-mile stretch levees north of the US 41 Dade Corners and the Miccosukee Reservation. This shouldn’t be difficult to hike, provided you have restocked prior to beginning the trek into the wilderness.
Sites of interest include Everglades and Francis Taylor Wildlife and Management Area.
4. Roberts Lake Trail
As the introduction to Florida Trail, this 8-mile combination of sawgrass and cypress is a relatively easy hike with some moderate elevation.
Sites of interest include Big Cypress Preserve.
5. Florida Trail
The Florida trail is over 1 100 miles in length and is a serious challenge to even the most seasoned hikers. Covering the entire length of the state, make sure to come well prepared before entering this trail.
Sites of interest include: there are hundreds of forests and lakes across the Southern, Central, Northern, and Panhandle regions of the Florida Trail.
6. Alabama Roadwalk (200 Miles)
Running 600 miles from the end of the Florida Trail through Alabama, this cross-strait trail includes an additional 300 miles with the addition of the Pinhoti Trail and 59 miles with the Benton MacKaye Trail.
Sites of interest include Flagg Mountain, Springer Mountain, and Fontana Lake.
7. Appalachian Trail
Approximately 2200 miles and crossing fourteen state lines from Georgia up into the northernmost territory of Maine, the Appalachian Trail is the most demanding and diverse section of the Eastern Continental Trail.
Sites of interest include Clingmans Dome, the Pinnacle, McAfee Knob, Max Patch, Mount Moosilauke, Baldpate, and thousands more!
8. International Appalachian Trail
The International Appalachian Trail signals the transition into Canada and the start of an approximate 1 400 mile journey through the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. As the final leg of the trip, and depending on the season, this can be a grueling challenge for even the fittest hikers.
Sites of interest include Mount Carleton Provincial Park, Gaspésie National Park, and Forillon National Park.
How To Prepare For The Eastern Continental Trail?
When preparing for a challenging hike such as the Eastern Continental Trail, it is crucial to pack the correct equipment to help you complete a hike with an estimated time frame of eight to twelve months.
Furthermore, it is important to mentally and physically prepare yourself for a hike of this magnitude. All three of these preparation principles are discussed below:
1. What To Pack For The Eastern Continental Trail?
Although traveling light when undertaking a lengthy hike such as the Eastern Continental Trail is essential, it is also vital to pack back up equipment/spares of certain essential items. Therefore, bring multiple tent pegs, repair kits, sewing kits, rechargeable batteries, and numerous power packs.
Furthermore, it is not a viable strategy to carry eight to twelve months of food and consumable supplies; therefore, you must plan your restocking opportunities.
It is essential to plan resupplies in advance, either by sending packages in advance or planning your stopovers in towns along the trail.
Be prepared to have enough food to eat upwards of 7 000 calories a day for long hikes, new hiking boots roughly every 700 miles, bars of all-purpose biodegradable soap, and recharge/repair any electronic devices when possible.
2. How To Physically Train For The Eastern Continental Trail?
A hike of this length of time will take months, if not years, of fitness training and healthy eating. Key exercises include:
- Hiking in the sand to build up the muscles that are used to protect your knees and ankles,
- Using resistance bands or balance disks to build up a full body range of motion,
- Crunches to improve your core strength and provide balance on uneven surfaces,
- Squats and lunges to build up leg and core strength,
- Pushups and pull-ups to improve upper body and back strength while carrying hiking bags,
- Cardio, preferable hiking long distances with a fully equipped hiking bag,
- Step-ups with a fully equipped hiking bag.
3. How To Mentally Train For The Eastern Continental Trail?
Unlike some other, more popular hiking trails, the Eastern Continental Trail involves long stretches of hiking devoid of any people. Furthermore, the hike will involve various climate changes during the eight to twelve-month journey across state lines.
Consequently, you should be training yourself to be comfortable with long periods of solitude and potentially physically before embarking on this hike.
Furthermore, you should use social media functions or electronic methods of communication with friends and family when entering areas with telephone signals or WiFi to help you stay motivated.
In conclusion, as one of the longest and most diverse hikes globally, the Eastern Continental Trail offers experienced hikers an opportunity to explore the North American wilderness unlike any other!