Planning a Long-Distance Hike on the North Country Trail


The North Country Trail is unique

This trail is unique in its purpose. Do not expect the same kind of experience as you will find on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest or any other long trail. The strength of this trail is the diversity of the experiences it offers, and this is in line with the vision statement to traverse and interpret “the richly diverse environmental, cultural, and historic features of the northern United States.” You will find many scenic sections, and you will also find sections that major in small towns, farms, historic monuments and centuries-old transportation corridors. This trail is enjoyed most by those who take some time to delve into the local history and culture. If your primary concern is trail-bagging, just attempting to hike any trail as fast as possible, we don’t begrudge you that goal, but you will be less likely to appreciate what the NCT has to offer.

Planning your trip will be much more involved than the actual hike. Why is this true?

#1- the sheer length is daunting

The trail is somewhere around 4700-4800 miles long. Very few people have hiked it in less than a year. To do this requires you to average only 12-14 miles a day. However, hiking through the winter in the north is not necessarily pleasant. You will need extra gear to backpack safely in the cold and snow. To hike the trail in 10 months (if you are lucky you might get that many months of reasonable weather) requires you to average 15-16 miles a day. If you average 10 miles a day it will take 470-480 days to hike. Remember, these are averages. To be able to take a day off for rest or resupply at reasonable intervals means you must walk farther than the averages on walking days. The time involved requires an immense amount of strategic planning, organization, and possibly support.

#2- there are over 150 different land managers

The rules are not the same everywhere. Of course, everyone would like them to be, but for the foreseeable future, that is not going to be the case. The largest land manager along the trail is the National Forest Service. Broadly speaking, the same rules apply in all of the National Forests and the National Grassland along the NCT. Within those forests are designated Wilderness Areas with specific regulations. The trail also passes through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and other National Park sites. The rules in State Forests vary from state to state. There are also state lands which are managed primarily for hunting, state parks, and state wildlife areas. Counties, cities, villages, townships, nature preserves, historic sites, and private citizens own land through which the trail passes. Each of these entities holds the rights to decide what activities are lawful on that land. Hikers need to be aware of what is allowed. For example, hikers who have camped illegally have more than once caused the trail to be barred from future passage. You have the power to help the trail become 100% off road, and you have the power to hinder that desired outcome. Plan carefully.

#3- there is no one data book or guide

Multiple efforts through the years to complete such a resource have always collapsed under the weight of the immensity of the project. Not only is the trail long, the longest National Scenic Trail, but it is still evolving. This often results in large re-routes. By the time anyone completes a guide (which has never happened) so much has changed that it's already outdated. The most massive attempt was one of the earliest. Wes Boyd (volunteer and editor of the North Star) managed to complete a guide to 6 of the 7 (at the time) NCT states. It was a valuable planning tool, but is now so outdated it's of little use.

#4-there are good maps, but they are not all in the same format

The NCT is concurrent with four other major trails. In Vermont, the Long Trail produces and sells its own map. In New York, the Finger Lakes Trail produces and sells its own maps. The Ohio, the Buckeye Trail produces and sells its own maps. And in Minnesota, the Superior Hiking Trail produces and sells its own maps. The NCTA has phased out selling paper maps. The interactive online map can be printed in sections through any computer. However, I can’t say it often enough, this is a huge trail. The NCTA online maps are quite good, with half-mile nodes and Avenza app maps for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and the non-FLT portion of New York. The association is working hard to bring you the best maps possible. Online mapping makes fast updating of trail changes available to all in ways that were never possible with pre-printed paper maps. Just remember that it takes time to verify and process 4600 miles of data.

See listing of these resources in the planning section.

#5- there are not as many accessible resupply points as one might like

The Trail Town program is helping to connect communities with hikers and their needs. There is a strong network of supporting North Country Trail Chapters whose members usually delight in helping long-distance hikers. However, you will not find towns where you can buy supplies or easily get to a Post Office with the same frequency as you can on some trails.

#6- there are not enough legal places to camp for backpackers

This is a reality, and it’s one that everyone is working on diligently. Stealth camping is highly discouraged for the reasons mentioned in #2 above. See more suggestions in the planning section.

#7- the trail is more difficult than you might imagine

Of course, this is not a mountain trail with huge elevation changes. However, it is not a walk in the park. Some people seem to believe that since there are currently some long pieces of paved trail (not ideal in the long run, but at least off road), that the entire trail is just a stroll that seemingly never ends. The mostly northern latitudes dictate that the hiking season with moderate weather is limited. Insects can be a real trial- the jokes about the mosquito being the state bird have been heard in more than one NCT state. The trail may not climb for ten miles to a rugged crag before beginning an equally long descent, but going up and down 500-1000 feet 6 times in a day can add up to the same thing.


The following books have been written about hiking the North Country Trail

Following the North Country National Scenic Trail by Wes Boyd, 1991 and 1999 - some history of the NCT and an overview of the early route

North Country Cache by Joan H. Young, 2005 - stories of her hikes on the NCT; a sampler of adventures in all seven states

Trekking the North Country Trail by M.J. Eberhard, 2009 - this is primarily a trail journal with personal thoughts sprinkled throughout

Thru and Back Again by Luke Jordan, 2017 - this is basically his trail journal published in book form. Less of a literary experience, but potentially useful for planning

North Country Quest by Joan H. Young, 2020 - stories of the completion of her hike on the NCT; a sampler of adventures in all eight states

Go West Old Man by James Dewan, 1994 - an early account of a thru hike on the Finger Lakes Trail. Now outdated but an interesting read.

Captain Blue on the Blue Blazes by Andy Neikamp, 2017 - Andy's circuit hike of the Buckeye Trail, of which 800 miles are NCT.

Follow the Blue Blazes by Connie and Robert Pond, 2014 - guides to some sections of the Buckeye/North Country Trail

Wandering Ohio by Chuck and Beth Hewett, 2017 - stories of the Hewett's circuit hike of the Buckeye Trail.



The North Country Trail: The Best Walks, Hikes, and Backpacking Trips on America's Longest National Scenic Trail by Ron Strickland, 2013 - this covers some of the major off-road segements, but is already becoming somewhat dated

North Dakota 
• On line map at
• Sheyenne River Valley Chapter
• Dakota Prairie Chapter

• Guide to Hiking the North Country Trail in Minnesota by Linda D. Johnson and Susan Carol Hauser, 2018 - guide book to the NCT in Minnesota
• Kekakabic Trail Guide
• Border Route Guide, 2012
• Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail by the SHTA, 8th edition
• Superior Hiking Trail Data Book by the SHTA, 1st edition
• set of 6 official SHTA maps
• Thru-Hike the Superior Hiking Trail by Annie Nelson, 2019
• On line map at
• Avenza map app, search for NCT MN
• Minnesota Waters and Prairies Chapter
• Laurentian Lakes Chapter
• Itasca Moraine Chapter
• Star of the North
• Arrowhead Chapter
• Kekakabic Trail Chaper
• Border Route Trail Association
• Superior Hiking Trail Association

• On line map at
• Avenza map app, search for NCT WI
•Brule St. Croix Chapter
•Chequamegon Chapter
•Heritage Chapter

• On line map at
• Avenza map app, search for NCT MI
• Ni-Miikanaake Chapter
• North Country Trail Hikers Chapter
• Superior Shoreline Chapter
• Hiawatha Shore-to-Shore Chapter
• Harbor Springs Chapter
• Jordon Valley 45° Chapter
• Grand Traverse Hiking Club Chapter
• Spirit of the Woods Chapter
• Western Michigan Chapter
• Chief Noonday Chapter
• Chief Baw Beese Chapter

• On line map at
• 19 official Buckeye Trail maps (Defiance, Delphos, St. Marys, Troy, Caesar Creek, Loveland, Williamsburg, West Union, Shawnee, Sinking Springs, Scioto Trail, Old Man's Cave, New Straitsville, Stockport, Whipple, Road Fork, Belle Valley, Bowerston, Massillon)
• Buckeye Trail app on Guthook
• Northwest Ohio Rails to Trails (NORTA)
• Buckeye Trail Association
• Wampum Chapter

• On line map at
• Wampum Chapter
• Butler County Chapter
• Clarion County Chapter
• Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy
• Allegheny National Forest Chapter

New York 
• On line map at
• Finger Lakes Trail maps, paper or digital. M1 through M22 and O1 and O2.
• Finger Lakes Trail GPX file at the web site
• Finger Lakes Trail Conference
• Central New York Chapter
• Adirondack Mountain Club- Onondaga Chapter

• On line map at
• The Long Trail Avenza map (not free)
• The Long Trail paper map
• Middlebury Area Land Trust
• Green Mountain Club

Land Management Units
Let me say this again, and again, and again. The rules are different in every land management unit. Please do not stealth camp. It jeopardizes the passage of the trail. This section is not all-inclusive yet, and may never be. It would be monumental to keep it up to date. However, it can give you a starting point. Very incomplete at this point, but you can see what it could be. Check all info for current regulations. This should only be treated as a starting point, not the definitive work for your hike.

North Dakota
Lake Sakakawea State Park- Western terminus to ND 2001.75 miles designated camping only Lake Sakakawea SP
roadwalk- Lake Sakakawea SP to Audubon National Wildlife Refuge17.5 miles motel and campground in Riverdale, Wolf Creek Campground slightly off route Wolf Creek
Audubon National Wildlife Refuge to Audubon Auto Tour Road3.75 miles no camping or fires Audubon Wildlife Refuge
Audubon Auto Tour Road to 9th St/12N. 4.5 miles no camping or fires Audubon Wildlife Refuge
roadwalk- 9th St/12N to McClusky Canal 4.5 miles no camping no info
McClusky Canal to LoneTree Wildlife Management Area75.75 miles dispersed camping allowed Garrison Diversion Conservancy
LoneTree Wildlife Management Area to 20th St3 miles dispersed camping allowed Garrison Diversion Conservancy
roadwalk 20th St to LoneTree Wildlife Management Area3 miles no camping no info
LoneTree Wildlife Management Area to 31st Ave (2 short roadwalks included)28.75 miles dispersed camping allowed, 2 campgrounds- Jenson and TeePee Rings Garrison Diversion Conservancy
New Rockford Canal- 31st Ave to 67th Ave41 miles no camping allowed, suggest base camping in New Rockford New Rockford Canal
New Rockford
roadwalk- New Rockford Canal to Lake Ashtabulas41 milescampgrounds at New Rockford, Binford, Cooperstown
New Rockford
Binford Cooperstown Park
Lake Ashtabula north end Baldhill Dam (includes several short road walks)13.25 miles no dispersed camping. One designated campsite approx 3 miles south of Karnak Bridge, permit from COE required. One designated campsite south of 19th St at end of Kuder's Bay. Commercial campsites at West Ashtabula Crossing, Dazey at Sibley Crossing, and off trail at Mel Reiman Rec Area near Baldhill Dam US Army Corps of Engineers
road walk - 114th Ave to Rt 21 at Valley City9 miles no camping no info
sidewalk and urban paths - Rt 21 through Valley City to ND Rt 215.5 milesmunicipal tourist park in Valley City Valley City Tourist Park
roadwalk on ND Rt 21 from 40M St to North Clausen 7 miles no camping no info
mowed path beside 115th Ave 3.5 miles no camping no info
abandoned rail bed - from North Clausen to Kathryn - the "Ladies Line"4.25 miles camping at Clausen Springs WMA, and at Kathryn Clausen Springs
Kathryn Park
roadwalk - from Kathryn to the end of abandoned road1 miles no camping  
mowed footpath - from end of abandoned road to 52nd St2.25 miles private no info
mowed footpath beside road - 52nd St to ND Rt 464.75 milesLittle Yellowstone Park (1 mile E on Rt 46)Little Yellowstone
roadwalk - ND Rt 46 to 115th Ave3.75 milesLittle Yellowstone Park (1 mile E on Rt 46)Little Yellowstone
Sorby Segment - 115th Ave to 57th St2.5 milesno infono info
roadwalk - 57th St to Ft Ransom State Park2.5 milesno campingno info
Fort Ransom State Park - 57th St to Mill Rd3 milescampsites in Fort Ransom SPFort Ransom SP
roadwalk - Mill Rd to Jackson Ave in Lisbon19 milescampsites in Lisbon. There are also campsites in the Sheyenne State Forest (at this point a discontinuous section that would be a 2 mile walk to reach) Lisbon
mowed path - Jackson Ave to 68th St 1 milesno campingNorth Dakota Veteran's home
roadwalk - 68th St to end of 72nd St9.5 milesno camping no info
mowed path - end of 72nd St to east of 138th Ave2 milesno camping private
mowed path - east of 138th Ave to 72nd St1 milesno camping state of ND
mowed path - 72nd St to 140th Ave1.25 milesno camping private
roadwalk - 140th Ave to Biesterfeldt National Historic Landmark1.5 milesno camping no info
Biesterfeldt National Historic Landmark0.75 milesno camping no info
roadwalk on 70th St0.5 milesno camping no info
Sheyenne National Grasslands31.5 milesdispersed camping Sheyenne National Grasslands
Sheyenne National Grasslands to 59th St3 milesEkre designated campsite private
roadwalk- 59th St to Berg TH2.25 milesno camping no info
Berg Segment- 59th St to 160th Ave3.5 milesBerg designated campsite private
roadwalk- 160th Ave to TH 0.5 milesno camping no info
TH to 161st Ave1.25 milesno camping private
roadwalk- 161st Ave ND Rt 3 1 milesno camping no info
section line- ND Rt 3 to rail grade 3.75 milesno camping no info
former Western RR ROW- Rt 3 through Walcott to Colfax (includes one short roadwalk) 8 miles Walcott City Park, and FFA campsite at 64th Stno info
roadwalk- Colfax to Abercrombie 9 milesAbercrombie City Park no info
Fort Abercrombie Historic Site0.5 milesno camping Fort Abercrombie