International Appalachian Trail, U.S., Canada, Greenland, Scotland, Spain, Morocco
Best For: Appalachian Trail thru-hikers looking to beef up their resumes; hikers with a fondness for primordial geology
Distance: The current trail includes approximately 1,862 trail miles from the end of the U.S. Appalachian Trail in Maine to the North American trail terminus at Crow Head, Newfoundland.
The IAT is an attempt to connect a primordial mountain range that traversed part of the supercontinent of Pangaea more than 200 million years ago before separating into multiple ranges. What remains of those peaks in North America has become the famed Appalachian Mountains of the United States, but few of the Appalachian Trail’s thru-hikers will want to admit that the mountains continue on into Canada—and don’t stop there. The remains of those mountains stretch from Labrador to Greenland and then down to the European continent, with vestiges in Scotland, France, Spain, and even across Gibraltar to Morocco. More than a geological odyssey, the trail was the brainchild of former Maine Governor Joseph Brennan, who wanted to connect the cultures spanned by the mountains.
The result is a trail that currently rambles through the rough ranges of the Canadian seaboard, taking in the habitat of moose and caribou, as well as belugas and other migrating whales in the Saint Lawrence. The trail connects the cultures of both continents as well—symbolically so at the UNSECO World Heritage site at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, where Vikings first reached North America 500 years before Columbus. Make it all the way to the newest northernmost section of the IAT in Uummannaq, Greenland, and you’ll most likely need to travel by dogsled. Follow through to the theoretical conclusion in Morocco and you may need to travel by camel. More than any other footpath, the IAT may be the symbol of the globalism of the new millennium.
When to Go: The season for the IAT is shorter than that for the standard Appalachian Trail and requires ocean crossings, so it is best done in summer or in chunks.
Shortcut: Quebec’s Gaspésie National Park represents one of the biggest chunks of wilderness on the Eastern seaboard and a walk on the IAT in its Chic-Choc Mountains puts hikers high above the Saint Lawrence River in the midst of rare woodland Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou.
Insider Tip: The Chic-Chocs Mountain Lodge (or Auberge de Montagne des Chic-Chocs), operated by the province of Quebec, offers a first-class respite from nights in shelters and tents, replete with a hot tub and sauna.