When it comes to hiking the popular trails such as the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, most experienced hikers throw about terms such as thru hiking or section hiking. Thru hiking is more popular among avid hikers and dominate the conversation about backpacking. However, if you are a beginner, we would recommend starting with section hiking before you tackle the time-consuming thru hike.
What is Section Hiking?
Like the name suggests, section hiking means taking on a section of a long-distance trail instead of tackling the entire trail in one go. This could be as little as 5 miles or up to 500 miles depending on how much time you want to spend on the hike. Section hiking offers almost the same type of experience as thru hiking but without that same financial and time commitment. You also have the choice of cherry-picking particular sections of a popular trail that you want to see and tailor your hike anywhere from an overnight trip to a full week of hiking.
Preparing for a Section hike
A full blown thru-hike requires a lot more preparation as it can take months to complete the trip. You need to collect a lot of gear and equipment and test it out and have a rock-solid plan for completing the entire trail.
A section hike requires less planning and is less daunting than a thru-hike. What you pack for the trip depends on the location, season, and most importantly, the length of the section. You also save a lot of money by buying less gear and supplies compared to a six-month long thru hike.
Top Section hiking locations in the U.S.
Here are some of our favorite picks for the best locations for section hiking:
Nantahala Mountains, North Carolina
This section is a 29-mile hike that can take three to four days depending on your speed and how much time you want to spend enjoying the various stopping points. The section features some amazing fire tower views and passes through Little Tennessee River Valley and Fontana Lake before you arrive at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee holds the record for the most visited national park in the country and offers a classic southern backpacking experience. The four-day hike travels along streams and ridges, icy swim holes, and leads to Clingman’s Dome which at 6,600 feet is the highest point on the trail. It is more of a summer hiking trail as the weather can turn brutal during fall and winter with rainstorms and even some hailstorms.
Mau-Har Loop, Virginia
The Mau-Har Loop in Virginia is only a 14 mile trek and can be completed on an overnight backpacking trip. The route takes you past 40-foot waterfalls and offers some scenic views which makes it ideal for a weekend trip. There is also a stream, where backpackers can set up camp and have easy access to plenty of fresh water.
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