Are there any great, multi-day, non-wilderness walks in the U.S.?
July 31, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Are there any great mixed rural/small-town/semi-urban long walks in the U.S.? I'm searching for multi-day, maybe even multi-week routes that are not strict backpacking and would not require the carrying of a tent. More inside.

The b.f. and I just saw the movie The Way, about the 800-kilometer Camino de Santiago walking pilgrimage across the north of Spain. And we've been reading Thomas Hardy novels that feature lots and lots of walking around 19th century England.

Basically, Europe seems to have these great walking traditions—for religion, for sightseeing, or just to get from point A to point B. The U.S. has great wilderness backpacking culture and opportunities, and we've both done our share of that. But we started to wonder about the feasibility of a long walk here that we could do in a more European mode, without big packs, that would take us through countryside and through towns, getting us to a place to stay each night. Maybe it would involve some cool feat: 'We walked from San Francisco to L.A.!' or 'We walked from Seattle to Portland!' But it doesn't have to.

We live in the Bay Area of California but are curious about routes anywhere in the States.
posted by toomuchkatherine to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
The Appalachian Trail might be just the ticket.

I recommend the part through the Great Smoky Mountains. Cute rural areas, gorgeous scenery and friendly people. Little motels and restaurants in Cherokee and Gatlinburg, etc.

I'm sure it's like that at other areas too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:11 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in this book about inn-to-inn hiking in northern california.

I have some friends also who hiked from the sonoma-mendocino county line to my apartment in San Francisco, basically just following the coast. They slept in tents a lot, but a good amount of that was voluntary.
posted by juliapangolin at 3:18 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are parts of the Appalachian Trail where this is feasible, and parts where it is not.
posted by dfriedman at 3:18 PM on July 31, 2012

There's a route along Lake Superior in Minnesota that has inns about a day's hike apart; I can't find it quickly, though.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:25 PM on July 31, 2012

The robot made of meat is thinking of the superior hiking trail. There is some lodge to lodge hiking.
posted by Area Man at 3:29 PM on July 31, 2012

The Appalachian Trail requires camping pretty much everywhere. GSMNP and some of the New England sections have shelters, but you would still need camping gear to stay in them. You can detour into towns, but doing so almost always involves leaving the trail by a substantial distance (Gatlinburg and Cherokee are each about 10 miles from the trail) with a few obvious exceptions like Hot Springs, NC and Harper's Ferry, WV where you walk through the middle of town.

The North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail might be closer to what you're talking about, but still requires a tent at times.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:35 PM on July 31, 2012

I've always dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but staying in lodges or B&B's at night instead of camping. I've searched quite a bit but haven't been able to find anything definitive. The Katy Trail is the closest I can come, but it was created for bicycles. I'm sure you can walk it, also.
posted by raisingsand at 3:37 PM on July 31, 2012

Um, Katy Trail is in Missouri, NOT Appalachia!
posted by raisingsand at 3:38 PM on July 31, 2012

a robot made out of meat is probably talking about the Superior Hiking Trail, if you are really well planned you likely can get from town to town in most days, but be warned, some of that trail is fairly difficult and I personally would not recommend it as analogous to a decent days hike capped by a stay at a quaint town. I say that as someone ho loves the SHT.

You could, with proper planning, arranged to be picked up at prearranged spots, and transported to somewhere to stay
posted by edgeways at 3:40 PM on July 31, 2012

Response by poster: Juliapangolin, that book looks awesome. I'm going to get it from the library tomorrow!
posted by toomuchkatherine at 3:44 PM on July 31, 2012

I realize you're looking for routes in the states, but I'd highly recommend looking at Scotland's Long Distance Routes as well. I hiked Speyside Way earlier this month, and I did part of West Highland Way last year. Both were great - the walks were enjoyable, I stayed at B&Bs and hostels along the way, and you can hire a baggage service to drop your suitcase at your lodging each night if you wish.

The Walkabout Northern California book mentioned upthread is wonderful. I've done a few hikes from it and it's exactly what you are looking for. Many of the walks in the book are public transit accessible. I'm curious to learn of other similar US-centric resources, and I'm looking forward to reading the replies to this thread.
posted by soleiluna at 4:01 PM on July 31, 2012

I have wondered for some time about reverse engineering some of the well-established bicycling routes (particularly in the midwest) for walking. There are also hut-to-hut hikes that can be done in some national parks/forests, but those still involve carrying more gear than the B&B-based walking you can do in parts of Europe.

This is actually something that I suspect is a major untapped market in the US, and the first person who sets up a highly walkable route (meaning not on the verge of a multilane road and no scary stretches through Methville) with a chain of B&B lodges a nice day's walk apart, will have more business than they could manage.
posted by Forktine at 4:09 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It occurs to me that you could do something like this on the C&O canal towpath, particularly the upper section starting around Point of Rocks, Maryland. Here's a map and a mileage chart to ponder. It would be a relatively flat and pleasant walk along a beautiful section of the Potomac River, through some lovely small towns.

Just hazarding a guess for the areas I know, but you could do a town-to-town hike that went something like Point of Rocks, Brunswick, Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, Williamsport, McCoy's Ferry (campground), Hancock, Little Orleans, Paw Paw, Oldtown, Spring Gap, Cumberland. Some of these towns might not have hotels but you might be able to unearth some B&Bs or creative local accommodations.
posted by itstheclamsname at 5:52 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a really epic idea... love it. I bet you could walk in California, no problem... especially if you stuck to the coast. SF to Santa Cruz... that's what I'm talking about.

How far do you figure you can walk in a day?

Maybe taking a look at bike touring books would help?
posted by ph00dz at 6:10 PM on July 31, 2012

I know you were looking for routes in the US, not Canada, but the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland might be just the thing. The scenery along the route is incredible, including one of the earliest European settlements in North America and a really stunning bird sanctuary, not to mention all the lighthouses and picturesque fishing villages. I've heard that many of the B&Bs will arrange to transport your pack to your next planned stopover, so you don't have to carry them as well.
posted by peppermind at 6:23 PM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm just going to nth that the Appalachian Trail is NOT AT ALL what you are looking for and in fact is hardly ever near any towns whatsoever, Hot Springs (where there is no hotel, just a campground) and Harpers Ferry being the exceptions as hydropsyche notes. The Mountains to the Sea trail, on the other hand, might be much closer to what you're looking for, as might the C & O canal trail.

I was thinking about this question, though, and it struck me that the reason this kind of walking tour is so unlikely here is that even nowadays the States are just much more thinly populated than Europe. Therefore, you might want to look in New England as being the closest to Europe in terms of population density. So I googled around a bit and came up with this, a tour group offering walking tours by day and country inns by night plus a lot of other intriguing looking stuff. Maybe self guided walking tours new england might be an even better search term? Anyway, my guess is that you need to think in terms of areas that are really heavily populated.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:37 PM on July 31, 2012

Perhaps along sections of the Erie Canal? It runs from Utica to Buffalo - and I can't speak to the length of it, but many sections have trails.

And you'll always know your brother and you'll always know your pal! (according to the song)
posted by vitabellosi at 3:59 AM on August 1, 2012

You can start researching "Rails-to-Trails".
posted by humboldt32 at 9:01 AM on August 1, 2012

I grew up in the Finger Lakes, in New York, and having walked part of it, I'm going to suggest Routes 5 and 20! Here is a list of lodging along the road.

You'll want to do this in the late spring or early autumn for optimal weather, but 5 & 20 goes through some lovely little towns and gorgeous farmland! Wine, antiques, and cows!

I would start in Avon and make your way to Skaneatles!

It is a road, not a walking trail. But I have walked around 15 miles on it without incident.

This sounds like a lot of fun!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 12:14 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a company that organizes self-guided inn-to-inn trips between Santa Cruz and Monterey. (I haven't used them; I just remember reading about them in the paper or something and thinking it sounded really cool.)

If you do that and feel up for a side activity, I highly recommend full moon kayaking at Elkhorn Slough.
posted by kristi at 9:35 AM on August 2, 2012

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