There are several famous long distance hiking trails in the USA, connecting the Mexican border to the Canadian border. The most famous ones are the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at 4,279 km and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) at 4,989 km.

Europe has some well known trails such as Tour de Mont Blanc (170 km) or Kungsleden (440 km), but those are much shorter and easy to complete in a single vacation. Europes network of long-distance trails is mostly through much more populated areas (in particular as the 40% of Europe within Russia is excluded), but does include long, wild stretches in the north.

The Norge på langs (Norway end to end) is 2,700 km, the E1 in Norway is 2,105 km, and the Grensesømmen trail is 1,619 km, all including large stretches that are very wild with up to weeks between road crossings. Although shorter than PCT or CDT, completing any of those in a single season is certainly no easy task (some do it on skis, which allows for a longer season) and requires substantial preparations. Yet for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, the long-distance routes in Northern Europe are far less known than the ones in the USA. Although I haven't hiked stretches of either PCT or CDT, I've hiked parts of E1 and Grensesømmen where I would meet no other hikers for several days in a row, and I'm not sure that would happen anywhere on PCT or CDT.

Why is it that the long-distance hiking routes/trails in the USA are so much more famous than the ones in northern Europe? Is it a matter of marketing, just like how Yosemite is more famous than Rago, or are there more fundamental reasons for it, such as more trail maintenance (probably), more accommodation/shops (probably not), or a more spectacular scenery (debatable)?

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    this Q is not primarily opinion based; the accepted answer demonstrates that there is a good objective answer to this question; – ab2 Sep 11 '18 at 12:29
  • With the recent release of Wild, I can see how the PCT might be the most famous, but why would the CDT be more famous than the Appalachian Trail (AT) with Bill Bryson''s book? – StrongBad Sep 12 '18 at 14:19
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    @ab2: Read the accepted answer more carefully. All of the reasons presented are speculation and personal anecdotes. Nobody can say whether any one reason is correct or not. That's pretty much the definition of opinion based. The only other answer starts out with "I'd say". In other words, "In my opinion ...". – Olin Lathrop Sep 13 '18 at 12:05
  • It's funny that you don't mention the one trail I have always personally considered the most famous, the Appalachian Trail, or AT. It follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from northern Georgia to Northern Maine. It would be interesting to hear which US trails are most known in Europe. Personally, I couldn't name a single European trail, but I just assumed that was normal since I live in the US and haven't hiked in Europe. – Olin Lathrop Sep 14 '18 at 11:12
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    We already voted to leave this open once, can somebody explain why we need to vote on it again? – Charlie Brumbaugh Sep 17 '18 at 3:08
  • In the more densely populated areas of Central Europe these long distance trails just seamlessly blend in with regional or local trails, so while the whole, say, 2690 km of the EB Eisenach - Budapest may not be well-known, e.g. its westernmost 170 km is the Rennsteig, a very famous regional trail in Germany which is moreover very old: it used to be a commercial trade route and according (no chance to be lonely there short of a November storm in the clouds) to Wikipedia has been known under this name for about 700 years.

  • Some of the regional and even long distance trails are famous as century-old historical trade or pilgrim routes and connections between cities. Which points to a very different origin of those famous trail compared, to more or less recent recreational/dedicated hiking trails such as the Alpe-Adria or the Kungsleden on the one hand and e.g. rescue trails like the Juan de Fuca and West Coast Trails (famous, North America, regional). And in consequence, they are woven into the local network of roads and paths:

  • Personally, being at home in that dense Central European network of hiking trails, forest paths, roads and field tracks we have in the German hills, so far I have hardly ever considered "doing" such a regional or long distance hiking trail - although I've been on lots of them: as we have a full network of trails and paths the way I approach this over here is that I grab a map, think from where I want to hike to where and then decide to follow this trail from here to there, then turn on that one, then... and so on. In consequence, names of these trails are very much a side note to me.
    In contrast, Canadian Juan de Fuca Trail had just a few access paths that one could take to get to the close by road (its original purpose was helping shipwreck survivors to get out of the forest), and Matario Trail (of local fame, I was in a group of a few people, but we did not meet anyone else) basically stretches between two access points with the only diversion being canoe portages. The bottom line is that for these trails, there decision is pretty much to hike them completely or not at all. So if you go hiking there, you do the Mantario Trail, whereas you may do the Rennsteig, or do part of the Rennsteig and then turn somewhere as you like. Remember, the original purpose of the Rennsteig was to give access to various towns. And this was achieved by the Rennsteig being a through-hiking trail along the crest of the Thuringian forest plus various side trails leading down the valleys to the towns (thus achieving the connection climbing up and down only once pretty much between any two of those towns).

  • And nowadays regional tourism offices make that there are so many named trails that really it is easier to remember just where to go without the name. Just looked it up: on Sunday I actually crossed Limes trail while on the Luther Trail (both listed as a European long distance trails).

In that sense I'd say that regional marketing in Central Europe has lead to such a proliferation of trails that the importance of the individual trails is much diluted (with the exception of maybe a very few very famous ones). I think this is good, as I'm talking about a region with > 200 inhabitants/ḱm² which even on that vast number of trails and paths is definitively not going to be lonely on the average Sunday.

  • Another consequence is that the old trade trails and some of the long distance trails sometimes run along major highways (or at least their original route is now a major highway) and they even cross large cities due to the historical routes they follow. But I have to admit that crossing Berlin on foot along the E11 does look like a dreary piece of work to me even though they reasonably kept to parks. For me that is certainly a reason to cherry-pick only the nice parts of a trail and not consider doing the whole thing.

I'd say borders are the main reason such trails aren't famous. Well nowadays with free movement within EU, borders aren't an issue. But that is just quite recent history. Also lack of common language can discourage people from hiking across country borders. Before Euro also lack of common currency. Individual countries themselves are not that big (compared to USA).

I think the most famous hiking trail in Europe is Camino de Santiago of which the main part of 800 km is in Spain, but do extend much further and divide into multiple routes all ending in Santiago de Compostela.

  • Concerning your example trail, you say most of it is in Spain. Is it very well known, famous and traveled? In the spirit of OP's question, "As much as those in the USA"? – Aaron Sep 13 '18 at 19:02
  • The well known and famous parts are hard to measure. According to wikipedia, over 300000 people received a certificate of completion in 2017 by arriving into Santiago de Compostela after buying a pilgrims passport proving they had walked some route to get there. – Communisty Sep 14 '18 at 7:50
  • @Aaron Santiago de Compostella is very well known in Europe. Less known may be that that it has other pilgrim routes 'feeding' into it from all parts of Europe. I'm just back from a short part of it starting in Le Puy en Velay, France. That route is 1500+ km. – Jan Doggen Sep 17 '18 at 7:54

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