Whether you’re on a casual stroll or a thru-hike of the North Country Trail, it’s essential to plan and prepare.
This basic guidance may help enhance your experience and keep you safe, but before you hit the Trail, we highly recommend you gather additional information about topics such as weather forecasts and safety procedures, local land management rules and regulations, appropriate clothing and equipment, Leave No Trace principles, and first aid. Follow our blog, Facebook and Instagram to watch for content containing more in-depth information on these topics.
What to Expect
The North Country National Scenic Trail is 4,600 miles long, traversing eight states from North Dakota to Vermont. When reroutes are complete, it will connect the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail in the West to the Long Trail and Appalachian National Scenic Trail in the East. While it’s a fantastic challenge for long-distance hikers looking to log high mileage or thru-hike, it’s also an extremely accessible trail for those looking to casually hike during a lunch break. Because it stretches thousands of miles through diverse landscapes, we recommend you study our interactive map and reach out to the local Chapters and Affiliates to learn about the terrain to expect and the resources available to you. Please consider also contacting the local land manager(s) to ensure access and appropriate use of the Trail.
The NCTA does not run an official long distance hiking program. Because our trail crosses private and public lands, we must follow and respect the rules and regulations of land owners and managing authorities. For long distance planning, it’s up to you to research information like permits, accessibility, camping and water availability, and more. We recommend you contact local NCTA Chapters and land managers (e.g. U.S. Forest Service, state parks, state forests, etc.) directly with questions. We also recommend two community-based, forum-like Facebook groups: North Country Trail Community and Trail Angels of the NCNST. North Country Trail end-to-end hiker Joan Young chairs a North Country Trail Long Distance Hikers Club – another helpful source of information.
We offer all North Country Trail maps for free: an interactive online map and downloadable / printable section PDFs. Visit the Trail Map and Downloads page to learn more. Every small adjustment to the Trail will shift the map’s mileage points in a state, so please make sure you have the most recent information before heading out on a hike. Double check the date on each PDF you view or download. The interactive online map always has the most up-to-date information.
Terrain and climate vary greatly across the North Country Trail. Many sections contain roadwalks or stream crossings. Please use caution regardless of your location. Plan ahead by researching your route, weather forecasts and safety procedures, local land management rules and regulations (including hunting seasons), appropriate clothing and equipment, Leave No Trace principles, and first aid. Consider mileage and time, water availability, and your own physical capabilities.
There are numerous camping options along the North Country Trail, including primitive backcountry sites, established campgrounds, and rustic shelters. Some information is available on our interactive map. To ensure you have a safe spot to sleep, please research our Explore the Trail page and contact the land manager(s) for camping rules and regulations in the area(s) you intend to camp. Consider backcountry permits, campground fees, fire restrictions or bans, dispersed camping rules, water sources, wildlife, facilities, trash, and biowaste disposal. Always keep in mind the seven principles of Leave No Trace.
There are a number of reasons developed water sources are not listed on NCTA maps. In general, areas outside of a National Forest or state park will not have developed water resources for hikers. Those areas that do have developed water are controlled by a wide variety of land managers, such as county parks or private landowners. Access to these developed water sources is often removed or turned off in the late fall, then put back into place in late spring – all to avoid freezing. The NCTA does not currently have the capacity to accurately track and report the status of these water sources across the entire NCNST, though it’s a possibility in the future. Ultimately, it’s better to walk past a trailhead or campground and be surprised by access to water, rather than counting on it being there.
Do consider that unlike other long National Scenic Trails, the NCNST crosses or runs parallel to many natural water sources. These can be fairly easily identified on the PDF maps, by looking at both the water features (e.g. stream crossings, lakes, etc.) and elevation contours. Note that steep elevation may make nearby water sources inaccessible from the Trail.
Group Use of the NCT
Because of the hundreds of different land management units that the North Country National Scenic Trail travels through and their disparate policies on trail use, the North Country Trail is not necessarily well suited in all places to accommodate large groups. This is particularly true for overnight group use where some backcountry campsites are only designed with three to four tent pads. Groups planning to camp on the NCNST should research the land management unit where they plan to camp, and any policies or group size limits that apply to that particular location. Using NCTA’s online map will provide information about the land management unit for each section (e.g. Iron County Forest).
While the North Country National Scenic Trail is primarily a footpath, many sections allow bicycles and horses. Using our online interactive map, click on a section of Trail to see if it is open to bikes and/or horses. This same information box will also reference the land manager of that section. For additional information, contact the land manager of the section you intend to use.
Most of the North Country Trail welcomes dogs but some segments may not, such as parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Please also check your local-level leash laws and regulations before venturing out with your furry companion(s). If you have questions about dogs or leash laws in specific areas, contact the land managers of the sections of Trail you’re utilizing.
In 2020, hiker, author, writer and speaker Liz “Snorkel” Thomas produced a short series of gear care videos for the NCTA. Liz is considered among the most experienced hikers in the U.S. She’s known for backpacking light, fast, and solo. She has hiked more than 20,000 miles on 20+ long trails, including many National Scenic Trails.
Aside from the digital navigation resources the NCTA offers for free on this website, the NCTA Trail Shop offers reference materials for purchase: Border Route Trail map set; Guide to Hiking the North Country Trail in Minnesota by Susan Carol Hauser and Linda D. Johnson; Kekekabic Trail Guide by the NCTA’s Kekekabic Trail Chapter; and Nettie Does the NCT by Lorana Jinkerson (a children’s book).
- Hiking Minnesota by John Pukite
- North Country Cache by Joan Young (more of Joan’s work can be found at Books Leaving Footprints)
- Thru and Back Again: A Hiker’s Journey on the North Country Trail by Luke Jordan
- 50 Hikes on Michigan and Wisconsin’s North Country Trail by Thomas Funke
- Wandering Ohio: A Buckeye Trail Thru-Hike by Chuck and Beth Hewitt
- Captain Blue on the Blue Blazes by Andy Niekamp
- Appalachian Trail Food Planner by Lou Adsmond
- Following the North Country National Scenic Trail: A Trail Discussion by Wes Boyd
- American’s Great Hiking Trails by Bart Smith
- Long Trails: Mastering the Art of a Thru-Hike by Liz Thomas
- The North Country Trail: The Best Walks, Hikes, and Backpacking Trips on America’s Longest National Scenic Trail by Ron Strickland, with the NCTA
Header photo by Matt Davis