The World of Cross-Country Trails

In this age of planes, trains and automobiles, very few individuals in the industrialized world still rely on walking as their primary means of transportation. Comprehensive systems of international airports, trains stations and access-controlled highways have made transportation as quick and seamless as possible. In the end, all of this infrastructural development leads to a romantic nostalgia of the old means of transportation, our own legs.
To satisfy this yearning, we as humans have taken to building long-distance hiking footpaths throughout our woods, countryside and coasts for recreational travel. Although these paths originated some millenia ago, the recent resurgence of the long-distance greenways movement began in the United States, with the construction of Vermont’s Long Trail in 1910.
Long-distance trails are typically at least 50 km long, and require one overnight stay to complete the hike. Individuals who complete long-distance trails in one single journey earn the recognition of “thru-hiker”, whereas those who complete the equally amazing feat of hiking the trail in parts are labeled “section-hikers.” In recent years, a movement has begun to build long-distance trails across entire countries, connecting hundreds of geographical regions with one single footpath. Below, we feature some of the world’s most prominent cross-country trails and explain their geographical importance.
Length: 735 km (1700 km)
Connecting the two independent nations of North and South Korea, the Baekdu-Daegan Trail is a lasting symbol of some Koreans’ hope for reunification. The approximately 1700 km footpath extends from Jirisan National Park in South Korea to the sacred Baekdu-san mountain in the isolationist North. The pilgrimage to Baekdu-san is a desired passage for hiking-crazed Koreans, but remains impossible due to the current political situation between the two countries. For now, the 735 km section of the trail in South Korea remains open and hikable, with a great system of huts and lodges catering to hikers all the way to the “finish line” at the Demilitarized Zone.
Winter hiking in South Korea.
Photo courtesy of Liz Jurey, MyShot.

New Zealand
Length: 3000 km
One of the world’s newest cross-country trails, the Te Araroa Trail (The Long Pathway) bundles some of the world’s best hikes into one 3-6 month journey. Ranging from the tip of the North Island to the end of the South Island, (Cape Reinga to Bluff) the trail is an ongoing project of land conservation and trail construction. Nevertheless, it is currently open for business and you can bet it’ll become a popular destination on the thru-hiker circuit.
Hiking on New Zealand’s South Island.
Photo courtesy of Tracy Lau, MyShot.
Length: 23,000 km
What promises to be the world’s longest cross-country trail is still a work in progress. To date, the agglomeration of community and provincial trails that comprise the TCT are approximately 73% complete. Stretching from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, BC, the TCT is a multi-use trail, allowing cyclists, skiers and horseback riders to share the same space as hikers along certain sections. It promotes five goals: health and fitness, environmental conservation, historical and cultural education, economic development and a sense of national legacy. The trail is scheduled for completion in 2017, the 150-year anniversary of Canada’s statehood.
The TCT’s eastern teminus, St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Photo courtesy of Dejan Vucicevic, MyShot.
Length: 940 km
Think you can handle a month and a half walk across the desert? That’s what it takes to complete the Israel National Trail, a 940 km trek from the Lebanese border to the Red Sea. On this unusual route, trekkers must cache supplies of food and water before commencing their hike, as it is not humanly possible to survive the trek otherwise. Divided into 11-12 sections, the hike is extremely popular among Israelis and tourists to the nation, with over 40 percent of hikers finishing the trail in its entirety. The Israel National Trail was named one of the “World’s Epic Trails” by National Geographic for its cultural, historical and geographical importance.
Even cows enjoy walking the Israel National Trail.
Photo courtesy of Tzahi Shemesh, MyShot.
Length: 1130 km
Stretching from the Austrian border peak of Irottko Mountain to the village of Hollohaza on the Slovakian frontier, the Countrywide Blue Tour (CBT) is a cultural and natural treasure. Passing through forts, castles, towers and equally impressive mountain vistas and towns, the CBT visits the best Hungary has to offer. As part of the European Long Distance Walking Route E4, the CBT was the first long distance trail established in Europe, in 1938, on the eve of World War II.  It has become so popular that it nows holds its own completion brochure, to be stamped at 147 checkpoints along the route. Upon completing the route, hikers earn a badge of commemoration, cherished among Hungarian hikers.
Fall colors on a Hungarian hike.
Photo courtesy of Adam Fejes, MyShot.
Is that all?
With over 190 independent states in the world, it would be a tremendous undertaking to profile the cross-country trails of each nation. Some countries have dozens of footpaths crossing their territory (United States), whereas others have yet to designate any. Either way, there are numerous resources out there to help you plan your hike across the countries of the world. Included below are various starting ideas.
My suggestion? Better off to hike across Andorra before taking on the length of Russia. Happy Trails!
— Justin Fisch for National Geographic Education

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