Sometimes it can be hard to see the wood from the trees, especially when you never get to see many trees or woods in the first place. We urbanites – used to traipsing to work on a train, or stuck in infernal traffic jams – might forget there’s a big wide world out there. But there’s nothing better to return sanity to the soul than escaping the hubbub of the rat race and hitting the trails that take us away from the majority of our fellow man, alongside bubbling brooks and roaring rivers, up high onto mountain plateaux or down into valleys strewn with cactus and littered with fossils from a far-bygone age.
It might sound like a cliché to say that getting back to nature is a way of recharging our batteries, but, like all clichés, it’s grounded in truth, and it can be even more of a fillip if we do it with a group of like-minded travellers from whom we can learn and, above all, have fun. There are many long-distance American hiking trails that appeal as much to the pioneer spirit of the locals as the curiosity of those from overseas who come to soak in the magnificent scenery.
In the West the John Muir Trail starts in Yosemite National Park in California, in the eastern part of the state, and runs for 215 miles, ending at Mt Whitney, which is the highest mountain in the continental USA. Going at an average pace it can take around three weeks to complete and most hikers tackle it north to south, although there’s no real reason you can’t go against the flow and head the other way. Other than one hut en route, at the top of Muir Pass, there’s no other shelter, so you’ll be under canvas on other nights, and similarly for food, you’ll need to stock up for certain remote stretches when you’re away from towns.
If that all sounds a bit daunting, fret not: Grand American Adventures offers a fully guided 23 day John Muir hiking trip with a maximum of 18 trekkers walking together. We also organises tailor-made walking tours for groups of eight and up. So if you’re part of a walking club or a group of friends or family wanting something (excuse the pun) off the beaten path, they can easily put together a walk on any particular stretch of the John Muir Trail, or in fact, anywhere in America that there are hiking trails.
On the other side of the country the Appalachian Trail is one of, but not the, longest, stretching from Georgia to Maine, and for the purists out there, you’ll find locals in the south pronounce it Apple-ATCH-an rather than Apple-AY-shun. It’s popular because it’s well served by the small towns that dot its route, and there’s a nice, friendly sense of bonhomie among those heading along it.
If you complete the whole 2,180 miles from Maine to Georgia or vice versa, you can join the “2000 Miler” club – but only about one in four people who set out, make it the whole way. If you’d rather attempt a more manageable chunk, Grand American Adventures can help you out, with, say, a ten-night taster in New England either camping or staying in hotels near to the Appalachian Trail or in basic back-country huts on the Appalachian Trail In-Depth tour, depending on your budget. And if you walk it in Autumn, you’ll be up close among all the magnificent “fall foliage” colours as the leaves on the maple leaf trees change to golden russet red and brown from their summer green.
Either one offers a great opportunity to see rural America at its best, a slice of the country that not many get to experience and a fantastic way to reconnect with nature.