Hike Planning

The NCT is available for your next hour long trail run, a family camping/hiking weekend, a weeklong backpacking trip, or a once-in-a-lifetime 8-month long thru-hike. Despite the fact the NCT is over 4,600 miles long, your adventure truly starts nearby as there are literally hundreds of places to access the trail ranging from remote wilderness areas to urban settings.

Read the information below to plan and prepare for your hike.

Long Distance Hike Planning Resources & Recognition

What you can expect from the NCTA

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  • We’ve developed this page and other resources on our site to help you plan your hike. While we cannot plan your hike for you or teach you how to hike, the resources below and across the site will offer basic guidance.
  • Our local contacts can be a great resource for information specific to that region. Our local contacts our volunteers, so please respect their time and availability.
  • We are not able to assist you along the way as you hike. Please visit the long distance hike planning page for information about hikes that are 2+ weeks.
  • There are volunteers who are “Trail Angels” along the Trail who might be willing to offer shuttles. You may post messages in this Facebook Group. Please keep in mind they are all volunteers and be respectful of their time and resources.

How people use the NCT

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Trapp Hills, Western U.P of Michigan. Photo by Keith Myers.

Types of hikes:

  • Many people use the NCT for a local dayhike to explore a few miles of Trail over a period of hours.
  • Section hiking is also popular where hikers will take a multiple-day hike to explore more miles – say 10-20 miles in a short trip.
  • Long Distance hiking is gaining in popularity along the NCT where hikers will take a period of weeks or months to hike hundreds of miles or even an entire state.
  • Thru-hiking isn’t as common along the NCT due to the length of our trail, yet a number of hikers have successfully completed a thru-hike of the NCT. Visit the long distance hiking page to learn more.
  • End-to-End hiking is a goal for a number of people. Differing from a thru-hike, end-to-end hikers will complete the Trail in sections as their schedule allows, often taking years to complete the entire trail. Visit the long distance hiking page to learn more.

Trail Uses:

Cross country skiing the trail in Northern Lower Michigan. Photo by John Heiam.

The NCT is primarily a footpath. Other uses are allowed in certain segments, depending on the local land manager. These land managers work with the NCTA and the National Park Service to determine what uses are best suited on that particular section of trail.

  • Mountain Bikes: Most of the NCT is closed to mountain bike use. For more information, visit our ArcGIS Online map and click on particular sections of trail to see if biking is allowed on that section.
  • Horses: Much of the NCT is closed to horse use.  For more information, visit our ArcGIS Online map and click on particular sections of trail to see if horseback riding is allowed on that section.
  • Snowmobiles: In a very few places, the NCT is a shared use trail and snowmobiles are allowed.
  • Cross Country Skiing: Some areas of the Trail may be groomed for cross country skiing in the winter. Check with the local land manager.
  • Snowshoeing: Through the winter, snowshoes are a great way to explore much of the Trail.
  • Dogs: Dogs are allowed in most areas along the Trail. Please be sure to leash your dog as this is law in the majority of places where they are allowed. Know beforehand where it is illegal to take your dog (i.e. Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore). Please clean up after your dog, plan for their food and water, and keep them under control at all times.

Hike Planning Basics:

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  • There’s no substitute for planning ahead!

    Know the 10 essentials you should take on every hike, no matter how short the distance: https://americanhiking.org/resources/10essentials/

  • Always practice the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace: https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles
  • Learn the basics of hiking by obtaining books pertinent to on hiking/backpacking that discuss what to wear and/or bring. Some suggestions include:
  • Water: All water sources found along the NCT in the backcountry (e.g. away from towns, buildings, etc) should be treated before safely drinking.  Treatment can entail boiling, purifying via a chemical treatment, or filtering to remove harmful pathogens from the water making it safe to drink.  For more information on treating water, visit the CDC’s website.
  • Camping: There are numerous places to camp along the NCT ranging from primitive backcountry campsites to more developed campgrounds to rustic log shelters. There are also many places where overnight camping is not allowed. This policy is dictated by the landowner / land manager. Be sure to check on the rules and regulations for the particular trail section your are interested in. When dispersed or backcountry camping, check ahead with the landowner / land manager to see if a fire permit or backcountry camping permit is required, any seasonal camping restrictions, or fire bans. The general rule of dispersed camping is to be a minimum of at least 100-200 feet away from any road, trail or water source. Visit our ArcGIS Online map and click on particular sections of trail to see if camping is allowed on that section.
    • Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere outside of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided. When and where dispersed camping is allowed, each land managing agency sets a minimum distance your camp needs to be away from things such as trails, roads, water sources or developed campgrounds. Often, the general rule is to be a minimum of 100-200 feet away from any road, trail or water source, but please check with the land manager for these specifics.
    • No camping in Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge (MN).
    • Backcountry camping permits are required in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness SP (MI), and most state parks in general.
    • Backcountry camping permits are required in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (MI). Reservations are often limited (make them far in advance) and an itinerary is required.
    • Dispersed camping is not allowed along the Jordan River in Northern Lower Michigan. Designated camping is available at Pinney Bridge State Forest Campground, northeast of Green River, MI.
    • Camping is not allowed in Michigan State Game Areas during the summer months. Dispersed camping is allowed Labor Day through Memorial Day.

Navigating the NCT:

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The NCTA has developed a series of maps and materials to help you plan and navigate your hikes. Visit our Map & Trail Data page to learn more. Be sure to check our Trail Alerts page before heading out on a hike for potential closures or re-routes. Always take navigational tools with you on your hikes – maps, compass, and GPS data. While the Trail is marked, do not expect perfect conditions. Realize trees can be down, trail can be overgrown, and markings can be missed. Do not expect cell phone service as much of the Trail is remote.


  • The NCT is primarily marked with blue paint blazes on trees / posts and by Carsonite posts that display the official trail emblem and a regulatory strip that defines allowable uses.

Blue Blazes mark the trail.

Double blazes indicate a turn in the trail. Shown: a left turn.

  • Side trails are typically marked with white paint blazes.

Side trails blazed white.

  • In North Dakota where trees are not as abundant, the NCT is also marked with wooden posts displaying the trail emblem.

North Country Trail emblem on a post in North Dakota

  • Some popular trailhead parking areas and major highway crossings may also have highway signs marking their location while informational, interpretive, and mileage signs are utilized in some areas.

Maps/Guidebooks/GPS Data:

Where the NCT coincides with an affiliate trail, the affiliate partner provides the maps/guidebooks for that section of the Trail:

NCTA Maps/GPS Data/Resources:

  • Visit our online interactive map to plan your hike. Be sure to watch the tutorial on how to use the online map on the Maps & Trail Data page.
  • We have developed technical series maps for each state that are available free for download for print or use with the Avenza Maps app. Find those maps on our Maps page.
  • GPS Data is available for download through our Open Data Portal via the Maps & Trail Data page. Be sure to watch the tutorial for the Open Data Portal (also on the Maps & Trail Data page).
  • Unlike most long-distance hiking trails in the U.S., there is no comprehensive guidebook currently available covering all of the NCT.  However; Ron Strickland and the NCTA have developed a “Best of the NCT” guidebook, titled “The North Country Trail: The best walks, hikes, and backpacking trips on America’s longest National Scenic Trail” published by the University of Michigan Press. We no longer carry the book in our Trail shop, but the guide is available at a number of retailers, including Amazon.
  • Check each State page for mileages within each region and for links to the Chapters, Affiliates, or Partners in that area.

Books & Guides Related to the NCT:

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  • Leave an itinerary for your hike with someone at home.
  • Develop a plan for checking in with them during/after your hike.
  • Take note of “bail out points” on your planned route since cell phones don’t always work on the NCT in an emergency.
  • Pay attention to the weather (plan ahead, stay alert)

Wear blaze orange when hiking during hunting season. Photo by Roger Tuuk.


  • As the NCT continues to be built, there are a number of road crossings and road walk connectors.
  • Be careful on road crossings.
  • When walking on the road, exercise caution, be aware of your surroundings and oncoming traffic.

Hunting Seasons:

Hunting is a way of life in the North Country and much of the lands through which the NCT passes are open to hunting.

Check with the state agency to learn about hunting seasons & hunting hours and any specific precautions you should take:

Local Rules & Regulations

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The NCT passes through 160 different land management units across eight states. Each has its own rules and regulations that may change over time. It is your responsibility to do your homework and check with those agencies to find rules and regulations for where you are going – this includes hunting seasons and permit requirements and closures. Review our maps, and check each state’s region page for helpful links to the land management partners in each region.