by Shane Hawkins
The North Country National Scenic Trail, generally known as the North Country Trail or simply ‘NCT’ is the longest National Scenic Trail in the National Trails System. It stretches more than 4,600 miles through eight states (North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont). The NCT traverses Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, North Dakota’s Sheyenne National Grassland, 10 National Forest areas, more than 150 federal, state and local public lands; past three of the Great Lakes; over many rivers; and through the famed Adirondacks.
The NCT was created on March 5, 1980. It connects both the Long Trail (and Appalachian Trail) with the Lewis and Clark Trail. When the NCT was established, portions of it were designed to follow the already-existing Finger Lakes Trail (NY), Baker Trail (PA), and Buckeye Trail (OH). Later, the NCT was routed to follow an already-completed section of the Superior Hiking Trail in Michigan, and the Kekekabic and Border Route Trails along the Canada–US border in Minnesota. It is quite an amazing achievement and to-date, 13 hikers have completed the entire trail.
In January 2017, I made a resolution to experience a ‘new place’, a place I had never been, once each month. It completely changed my life. Anything counted: a new trail, a new state, a new national park, a new town. By expanding my adventures, I discovered the North Country Trail, and found it was just a short drive away. I quickly fell in love with the trail and it remains one of my favorite hiking destinations.
I made a resolution to experience a ‘new place’, a place I had never been, once each month. It completely changed my life.
The NCT passes through approximately 97 miles of the Allegheny National Forest (ANF). I recently completed my final NCT section in ANF to earn a patch for completing all 97 miles. The note that arrived in the mail with the patch said I was the 309th person since 1990 to complete the ANF NCT! I’ve hiked NCT in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York; more than 370 NCT hiking miles since 2018. The trail is well-blazed, often remote, quite rugged yet well-maintained, and exceptionally interesting!
I usually try to hike 5-10 miles every weekend in the Allegheny National Forest, usually finding myself starting at an NCT trailhead. There are scenic views of the Allegheny reservoir; high vistas with amazing views; stunning rock formations and rock cities; peaceful, dark hemlock valleys; exceptional 400-year-old old growth tree sections; a large array of water features; and plentiful wildlife including bear, deer, coyote, fishers, bobcats, songbirds, grouse, turkey, eagles, reptiles, and amphibians.
I highly recommend the NCT to anyone looking for a hiking challenge! Every year, the North Country Trail Association offers a patch to anyone completing 100 hiking miles on the NCT. I’ve earned one for 2019 and 2020 and plan to make it an annual goal for many, many years! Happy hiking!