Completing the Triple Crown of hiking is an elite accomplishment among avid backpackers and thru-hikers. It signifies that someone has hiked and completed the three most iconic, long-distance trails in the United States: The Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.

Overview of the Triple Crown

The Triple Crown consists of the three major National Scenic Trails in the USA:

  • Appalachian Trail
  • 2,190+ miles
  • Maine to Georgia
  • Completed in 5-7 months
  • Pacific Crest Trail
  • 2,650+ miles
  • Mexico to Canada
  • Completed in 4-6 months
  • Continental Divide Trail
  • 3,100+ miles
  • Mexico to Canada
  • Completed in 5-7 months

Here is a comparison table of the key details of each trail:

TrailLengthLocationTime to Complete
Appalachian Trail2,190+ milesMaine to Georgia5-7 months
Pacific Crest Trail2,650+ milesMexico to Canada4-6 months
Continental Divide Trail3,100+ milesMexico to Canada5-7 months

To complete the Triple Crown, a hiker must complete all three trails end-to-end, hiking every mile of each trail. The total combined distance is over 7,940 miles and takes most hikers around 13-20 months in total to complete.

Due to the extreme length and duration of the challenge, completing the Triple Crown is exceptionally rare and difficult. Thru-hikers typically complete one trail first to gain skills and experience before tackling all three trails to finish the Triple Crown.

Why is it Called the Triple Crown?

In mountaineering, climbing the three highest peaks across all seven continents is known as the “Seven Summits” and is considered a major accomplishment. The term “Triple Crown” is borrowed from horse racing, where a Triple Crown winning horse wins three major American horse races in a single season.

Triple Crown of Hiking

Similarly, the name Triple Crown in hiking refers to the three most iconic and famous long trails in the United States. It pays homage to other famous challenges called the “Triple Crown” across various sports and activities.

Requirements to Complete the Triple Crown

The basic requirements to officially complete the Triple Crown of Hiking include:

  • Hike every mile of all three National Scenic Trails:
  • The Appalachian Trail
  • Continental Divide Trail
  • Pacific Crest Trail
  • Complete the trails end-to-end over multiple hiking seasons
  • Finish all three trails within a lifetime
  • No time limit but most complete within 13-20 months total
  • Self-supported, without significant gaps or rides
  • Utilize trail towns for resupply
  • Report completions to the proper authorities:
  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy
  • Pacific Crest Trail Association
  • Continental Divide Trail Coalition

The honor system applies but hikers who make false claims about finishing the Triple Crown will not receive certificates and will not be added to the register.

Permits, Food, and Logistics

Completing the Triple Crown requires extensive long-term planning and logistics:

  • Acquire the proper permits and passes for each trail
  • Send supply boxes to towns and drop points
  • Manage budgets for gear and expenses
  • Identify reliable water sources, campsites
  • Stay mentally and physically healthy on the long trails

The amount of multi-month hiking also necessitates having a flexible work schedule or source of income to afford taking up to 2 years of sabbatical.

Hikers must have backpacking skills to cover 15-30+ miles for days and weeks on end through all terrain and weather conditions.

Why Hike The Triple Crown? Motivations and Rewards

Every hiker has deeply personal reasons for taking on the Triple Crown challenge. Some core motivations include:

  • Accomplishing a literary epic three-trail journey
  • Taking time for self-reflection amid nature
  • Transformational impacts on personal growth
  • For the love of hiking and the trails themselves
  • Having adventures across the United States
  • Gaining confidence by overcoming extreme difficulties
  • Building lifelong connections with other thru-hikers

In addition to immense personal benefits, hikers also cherish these common rewards upon Triple Crown completion:

  • Admiration and respect as part of an exclusive hiking accomplishment
  • Adding their names to the public register of Triple Crowners
  • Receiving certificates and patches from trail organizations
  • Having their photo archives and trail memories for a lifetime
  • Joining the tight-knit community of those who “hiked the Triple Crown”

The pursuits out of passion tend to resonate long after the trial. As the famous Appalachian Trail hiker Earl Shaffer stated: “It wasn’t getting to Katahdin that was the success, but what happened to me along the way.”

How Many People Have Finished the Triple Crown?

As of 2023, there are approximately 1,232 registered completions of the Triple Crown of Hiking.

The Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail each see several hundred completions per year. In contrast, finishing all three National Scenic Trails for the Triple Crown is exceptionally rare:

  • Only about 25 hikers per year finish the full Triple Crown
  • Estimates suggest only 1 out of 500 Appalachian Trail hikers go on to complete the Triple Crown
  • Less than 0.1% (~0.05%) of long-distance hikers finish the Triple Crown

Considering over 3-4 million people hike portions of these trails per year, the number who have done all three trails end-to-end for the Triple Crown is utterly minuscule.

As the long-time registrar of Triple Crown completions stated: “The power is not so much in the volume of the numbers but in the quality of the journeys.”

Up-and-Coming “New” Triple Crown Trails

An even more extreme version known as the “Calendar Year Triple Crown” involves finishing all trails in 12 months or less. Only elite hikers like Heather “Anish” Anderson and Mike “Never Summer” Hanley have come close.

Some hikers have also created challenging alternate versions:

  • “Australia Triple Crown” of long trails Down Under
  • “PR Triple Crown” of trails spanning Puerto Rico
  • “John Muir Triple Crown” traversing routes Muir traveled

And several countries have their own “triple crown” lists of iconic trails including Japan, Korea, and Austria.

As more national scenic trails achieve completed route status across the USA, an expanded “Quintuple Crown” could arise by including the North Country Trail (~4,800 miles) and Ice Age Trail (1,200 miles).

For now, the original Triple Crown remains hiking’s most celebrated traverse across the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails.

Helpful Resources for Hikers Considering the Triple Crown

As evident by the name, Triple Crown fever can spark wild inspiration. But the trail feats require extensive planning and skills. Useful resources for hikers include:

These authoritative resources from trail organizations, forums with veteran hikers, and blog posts by past Triple Crowners offer guidance for taking on the ultimate hiking set of the three iconic National Scenic Trails.

Famous Triple Crown Hikers

A few of the notable personalities who have officially completed the Triple Crown of Hiking include:

  • Grandma Gatewood – First documented woman Triple Crowner in 1955
  • Eric Ryback – First solo Triple Crowner in 1970s at age 18
  • Andrew Thompson “Stronghold” – At age 79, the oldest Triple Crowner
  • Jennifer Pharr Davis – Record setter and National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year”
  • Heather “Anish” Anderson – Holds self-supported speed records on all three trails
  • Lint, Cinderella, Moss – Among the first long-distance hiking dogs
  • Chaunce/Gonzo – Internet celebrities through viral trail documentaries

These hiking pioneers represent only a fraction of the diverse individuals who have accomplished the Triple Crown pursuit. Thousands of inspiring stories exist among ordinary folks taking on the extraordinary traverse across the USA.

Is Hiking the Triple Crown Right For You?

When daydreaming about hiking from Mexico to Canada or Georgia to Maine, the trail life can sound romantic…Sleep under a blanket of stars! Forge friendships walking all day! Absolute freedom!

But the reality of thru-hiking involves physical exhaustion, homesickness, shelters filled with snoring, and hiking through discomfort and pain. The day-in-day-out over nearly a year on National Scenic Trails is not glamorous.

As trail pioneer Warren Doyle explained: “It’s simple. Put on your pack and walk the next step.”

Before embarking to hike 7,000+ miles end-to-end across America for the Triple Crown, intending hikers should reflect:

  • Do I genuinely enjoy walking, nature, and solitude enough to do it all year?
  • Am I adaptable and resilient mentally and physically?
  • Can I handle adversity when my plans, gear, and body eventually fail me?
  • What matters more to me: mountain summits, or the journey to climb them?
  • Would I continue if no one else cared whether I finished or not?

Those who feel inexplicably pulled to the trails likely won’t be deterred. As previous Triple Crown hiker “Nimblewill Nomad” wrote: “Life has gotten far too complicated if one needs to justify being out in the woods.”

Final Thoughts on the Rare Bucket List Hiking Achievement

Successfully hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails comprises a daunting feat of human endurance and perseverance. It takes most hikers over a decade or longer to accumulate skills through hiking experience before pursuing the full Triple Crown.

The extreme physical and mental demands inherently make it so very few who set foot on any trail make it every step of the way. But for those who complete the 7-mile-plus continuous footsteps, they join an elite lifetime fraternity where introductions require only three simple words:

“I hiked the Triple.”

The select hikers – just over one thousand total as of 2023 – can reflect back confidently in the hard-earned accomplishment…the training, teamwork, and trail magic…that carried them all the way to Georgia, Canada, and Mexico.

Every mile and mountaintop covered opened another chapter that forever shaped their life’s journey.

And the rare view from the end of the Triple Crown trails? It offers a glimpse of just how far a simple path can lead an ordinary human when taken one step at a time.


"Hello, I'm Alexandra, a seasoned hiker with over a decade of experience exploring the great outdoors. My love for hiking was sparked on the Appalachian Trail, and since then, I've embarked on numerous hiking adventures, from dense forests to towering peaks. I'm dedicated to sharing my knowledge and expertise through to help hikers of all levels make the most of their outdoor experiences."