How to Get Your Thru-Hiking Triple Crown Award
This post was originally published on April 1 in the spirit of April Fools’ Day, i.e. the entirety of the below post is a work of fiction.
The Triple Crown is thru-hiking’s most coveted award.
Only awarded to those bold enough to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail, it’s an honor bestowed upon only those with the maximum amount of time to devote to walking across the United States and pooping in holes.
But simply walking the length of the United States three times isn’t quite enough to receive your Triple Crown. The final test hikers must endure is a rigorous selection process with a complicated application phase.
This article will attempt to dispel some of the most common misconceptions surrounding the Triple Crown and will (hopefully) serve as a guide to those of you looking to finally get your hands on your Triple Crown.
Glory to the crown
Triple Crown Award Application
One thing that makes getting your Triple Crown complicated is having to deal with multiple trail agencies to gather the necessary documentation.
These are the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), and the American Long-Distance Hiking Association – West (ALDHA-West).
Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA)
The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is a non-profit devoted to protecting and maintaining the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). There are a few steps involving the PCTA that you must take before submitting your Triple Crown Award application.
You’ll first need to ensure that you’ve been included on the PCTA’s 2600 Miler List. You can fill out the form required to be included on this list here.
Then, you’ll need to make a formal request to the PCTA asking for your completion certificate. You can do this while reporting your finish via the 2600 Miler List or after the fact. Once you have your certificate, you’ll have to make a copy to submit as part of your Triple Crown Application.
If you have any additional questions regarding this part of the application, you can find the PCTA’s contact information here.
Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC)
The Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) maintains a list of 3000 Milers on its website.
Fill out this form to be included on the CDTC’s list.
It will take 1 to 2 months for you to receive your completion certificate, so plan accordingly. You can purchase your completion certificate here for $5. Note: you do not need to pay extra for a certificate if you took the CDTC shuttle to/from Crazy Cook.
Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC)
Similar to the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) also maintains a list of Appalachian Trail finishers on their 2000-Milers List.
You can apply to be put on the ATC’s list here. If you prefer a paper copy of the form, you can print a PDF here. This form can then be mailed to:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Attn: 2,000-Miler Application
799 Washington Street
PO Box 807
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Triple Crown Photo Requirements
Photos are oftentimes the only thing beyond someone’s word we have to prove that they hiked the trail they claim to have hiked. Can someone simply drive to the southern and northern terminus of a given trail and take a photo? Sure. But that would be a lot of work – and for what?
As part of your application, you’ll need to submit a photograph of you at both the southern and northern terminuses of the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail.
If you don’t have photos of yourself at one (or more) of the terminuses, you can instead submit a drawing, done in blue or black ink, of you standing at the terminus. Make sure any text in your drawing is legible as knowledge of the terminuses is key to you receiving your award.
Triple Crown Testimonials
If you’ve hiked the Triple Crown, you’ve undoubtedly met hikers along the way.
Hopefully, you made friends with a few because you’ll need a 200-300 word testimonial written by one person you met on each of the three trails. Alternatively, a 2-3 minute video (posted to YouTube or Vimeo) can be submitted in lieu of a written testimonial.
In this testimonial, your fellow hikers must state that “to the best of their knowledge” you completed the trail in question and they must also provide a brief recap of your first meeting with them (noting place and time of day).
If you can’t find someone to complete this section of the application for you, a notarized affidavit can be used as a substitute.
Note: You cannot have a single person testify that you have completed more than one trail. Each trail must have a unique hiker and testimonial.
Triple Crown Personal Statement
Oftentimes referenced as simultaneously the easiest and the most difficult part of the Triple Crown Application is the personal statement.
Each hiker is required to submit a 1250-1500 word statement on what thru-hiking means to them.
The format is open-ended and you need only ensure that your statement is 1) written in English, and 2) references each of the trails at least once. It does not matter which trail you hiked first or which aspect of the trail you choose to focus on.
Triple Crowners are encouraged to get creative with this part of the application. Previous examples of award-winning statements include ones written in iambic pentameter, one written as a dramatized interaction between a hiker and a hitch, and one written from the point of view of a mountain lion.
Note: Each year the top three submissions are chosen to be submitted to the United States National Park Service and added to the agency’s permanent collection in the Library of Congress.
Triple Crown Trail Work
The final piece of the application puzzle is the trail work requirement.
Every Triple Crown awardee is required to complete (a minimum of) sixteen hours of trail work. This work must be completed along one of the three trails (AT, CDT, or PCT) and must be completed in a single calendar year. If you fail to complete your trail work in a single calendar year, you’ll start from zero hours again on January 1 of the following year.
Be sure to have your trail crew manager sign off on your work before you head home.
Note: In some cases (for those hikers who would incur a “great financial burden” to travel to one of the three trails), exceptions can be made for the location of your trail work. You can contact ALDHA-West for more information on this.
To review, the pieces of a Triple Crown application are:
Once you assemble all these pieces, submit them to ALHDA-West and await the result of your application (typically 4 to 6 weeks). If approved, you will find your name added to the coveted Triple Crown of Hiking Recipients.
- (ALDHA-West) (ALDHA) (ATC) (CDTC) (PCTA)
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. Either I did an acceptable job of keeping this interesting or you are actually interested in getting your Triple Crown Award.
This post was published on April 1 and is not a guide on how to get a Triple Crown Award.
Crowning Achievement: What Is the Thru-Hiking Triple Crown
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Many who find out about thru-hiking and decide they want to take on the challenge may not know of the triple crown of hiking. This is due to many factors but let’s dive in and talk about what is the thru-hiking triple crown.
The thru-hikers triple crown consists of a complete thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. This comes in at nearly 8000 miles of hiking and has been completed by less than 400 people since tracking began decades ago.
What happens to most is hearing of one of the trails, which starts the itch in the back of their head. While they start to figure out a plan to accomplish this thru-hike, they are singularly focused on being successful.
While researching, they may come across other trails, and they start to think about the chance or opportunity to try a second trail. This then feeds the thoughts of the third, but before we bounce too far down this road, let’s talk about what it is.
Which Trails Make Up The Triple Crown?
Since I told you above about each of the names of the triple crown trails I wanted to dive into each with a little more detail as it will provide some depth to your overall understanding. So what are the triple crown trails?
The Appalachian Trail
The most well-known of the triple crown is the AT. The AT has been featured in books and movies along with numerous YouTubers who attempt it each year.
The Appalachian Trail is a perfect place for many people to begin thru-hiking as there is almost always an exit, and almost always a town should you experience a failure. Unlike many of the other trails, it can be forgiving.
The Appalachian Trail winds through some of the most amazing luscious green tunnels in existence along one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, this can’t be understated as it is magnificent.
This trail can also be brutal with cold, snow, and ice, sometimes very late into the spring, which can cause issues for those who don’t gear properly to maximize heat.
The Pacific Crest Trail
This is the trail I grew up around, I lived in Washington state for nearly 2 decades and heard about the trail while visiting places but hadn’t processed it as a real thing.
Traveling from Mexico to Canada through the beautiful Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges the PCT is just beyond amazing featuring breathtaking views that can’t be rivaled by most.
The Pacific Crest Trail is an excellent trail if you want something between the AT and CDT; it doesn’t have as much traffic as the AT or the town access.
This makes it a nice trail that can give you the solitude you are looking for, but there are plenty of places for a tramily to meet back up together and sync up before the next push.
The Continental Divide Trail
One of the most diverse trails out of the triple crown it is also the most troublesome to many. This is due to the fact that it covers so many different terrains, weather, isolation, and trailblazing itself.
While the AT is very clear on the path and it is pretty tricky to really get far off trail due to the number of other hikers along with consistent blazing to keep you on the straight and narrow.
The CDT covers large areas of land, and sometimes the markers have been knocked over, which can lead you off track, some people head for miles along the wrong path and direction.
The payoff is that the trail is absolutely beautiful and if you are looking for real-time alone this is the perfect trail for you as there is not the consistent traffic that the other trails have, but due to this there also aren’t easy trail towns.
How Long Does it Take to Hike the Triple Crown?
So you think you want to attempt to complete a full triple crown, you have the gear, and you have the funds required to manage it, so the last question is how long does it take to hike the triple crown?
To complete the triple crown, a hiker must complete each hike: the 2,190-mile Appalachian, 2,650-mile Pacific Crest, and 3,100-mile Continental Divide trails.
This task typically will take at least three years, assuming each takes five or six months of dedicated effort to complete successfully.
As you can see the undertaking is by no means a simple choice, it does mean leaving behind almost everything if you want to take the time to complete each hike when trying one per season.
What if you were crazy though and wanted to complete the entire triple crown in a single year, is that even possible? The answer to this question is definitely, though it can be demolished by a single accident and will tax your body.
How Do You Do the Triple Crown Inside a Calendar Year?
Any attempt to complete the triple crown of hiking in one year will come down to a lot of planning and execution while staying healthy and injury-free.
Completing the triple crown in a year will require planning around the weather and any unexpected closes or openings due to adverse issues.
This may require more than one flight, and if you are looking to hike directly end to end may not be possible.
The only brutal side to completing a triple crown in a year is some of the mental and physical detriments that come with the time of not being settled.
You will need to focus heavily on eating better and adding in quality nutrients to your hike, or your body will begin to break down, threatening the completion.
In addition, your post-trail depression, will more than likely hit like a full hammer of Thor. This can leave you listless and lost in a sea of chaos on your return home, talk to people, and your tramily, your family and seek help sooner rather than later.
Which Triple Crown Trail is the Easiest?
When looking at attempting the triple crown, you may want to start at the “easiest” trail and work up. So, which triple crown trail is the easiest for a first trail?
Most would agree that out of the triple crown the easiest would be the Appalachian Trail due to the simpler logistics, access to trail towns, and numerous amount of other trail hikers providing you interaction and less isolation making it a more social event.
The honest overall answer here is that none of these trails is straightforward, the failure rate of most of the hikes is about 75%, and more don’t complete what they start.
Which Triple Crown Trail is the Hardest?
Now that we clearly know which trail would be the easiest to get your start on, we can discuss which triple crown trail is the hardest for many people to start or even complete.
Most thru-hikers will tell you that the Continental Divide is by far and wide the most complex and challenging of the triple crown due to many issues ranging from navigation challenges, wildlife, weather, overall solitude, and long stretches between resupply and water.
The CDT, in recent years, has become an exciting place. More and more people are gravitating to it to get away from the crowds that have begun to build for the PCT and AT each year.
If this continues and more and more people hike the CDT, the trail may become far easier to follow and more distinct from the rest of nature, and this may change where it sits on the list of difficulties. Only time will tell.
What is the Best Order to Hike the Triple Crown?
When you are looking to complete the hiking triple crown, you will want to set up your order to complete the trails. Many may only focus on the first trail, but a plan is the best way to approach a massive goal like this.
Most hikers will choose to begin on the Appalachian Trail, graduate up to the Pacific Crest Trail, and then complete their journey on the Continental Divide Trail. For most hikers, this is the favored way to hike the Triple Crown fully.
Figuring out your order will help you purchase gear in advance, hopefully at sales, and allow you to mentally prepare yourself for what will be the journey of a lifetime!
How many Triple Crown Hikers Are There?
Only about one in four people finish a single thru-hike, let alone complete all three thru-hikes to complete a triple crown. So given this information, how many have completed the triple crown of hiking?
At the end of 2018, the American Long-Distance Hiking Association-West recognized only 396 Triple Crowners.
This is a rare distinction and is earned and can’t be bought and sold, a journey with your soul which will live with you for all of time.
This is an amazing shortlist and includes Dixie of Homemade Wanderlust from YouTube. This goal is perfect for those who want to show their resolve and prove their grit.
Final Thoughts on the Thru-Hiking Triple Crown
An organization awards the Triple Crown with a super long name: the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West (ALDHA-W). This is where you can locate more on the triple crown and see the newest hikers to finish.
The triple crown is based on the Honor System (meaning you tell them if you honestly completed each trail). The ALDHA-West is not the judge or jury of the award and believes long-distance hikers are an honest group of people.
I would love to complete the entire triple crown, and it is on my bucket list for achievements to complete before my time on the planet ends; I hope to see you out there!
If you would like to look at what I think are the top options for a thru-hiking shelter, take a look at it here.
If you are interested in looking into other gear, I have a page with nearly all the gear options.
The Triple Crown of hiking: long distance walking’s highest honor
We’ve already established that hiking isn’t a sport but that doesn’t mean that the people who do it can’t be world class athletes. With astonishing new long-distance hiking records being set nearly every day by folks wielding not much more than hiking boots, grit and determination, it seems only fair that there be some recognition for their accomplishments. As it turns out, there is at least one designation for those who take on some of America’s longest and gnarliest trails – the Triple Crown of Hiking. In this article, we take a look at exactly what it takes to become a Triple Crowner.
How do you get the Triple Crown in hiking?
There is no time limit in which you have to complete the hikes to be considered a Triple Crowner, you just have to walk every one of those almost 8,000 miles (Image credit: Getty)
The Triple Crown of hiking – which borrows its name from the Thoroughbred racing world – is a feat recognized by the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West for those who have completed America’s three most famous long trails. In order to achieve the Triple Crown of hiking, you must complete the Appalachian Trail, which runs some 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches for 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and the Continental Divide Trail which follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains for approximately 3,000 miles.
There is no time limit in which you have to complete the hikes to be considered a Triple Crowner, you just have to walk every one of those almost 8,000 miles, and according to two recent Triple Crowners, you’ll go through about 12 pairs of shoes total in the process. You could thru-hike the trails in epic backpacking excursions, or attack them in small, bite sized pieces over the years.
The Triple Crown of hiking is based on an honors system, and it doesn’t recognize any other distinguishing factors such as fastest hike or age of hiker. However it does honor the new Triple Crowners each year with a plaque noting their achievement during a gathering held in the fall.
Which Triple Crown trail is easiest?
Some say that the Appalachian Trail is the least demanding of the three given its shortest distance (Image credit: Getty)
This is certainly a subjective area, after all how easy or difficult a hike is can be influenced by weather conditions, wildlife presence and availability of water as much as terrain, and it’s difficult to describe any long-distance hike as truly easy.
Some say that the Appalachian Trail is the least demanding of the three given its shortest distance. It’s also the best established path with lots of services along the way where you can pick up supplies. That said, you still manage to gain 515,000ft of elevation over the course of the hike, which for the average AT hiker means over 100,000 feet per month, and of course, you have to contend with east coast weather conditions which means high humidity, frequent rain and bugs.
The Pacific Crest Trail is significantly longer than the AT, but demands only about 315,000ft of elevation gain (Image credit: Joel Carillet)
The Pacific Crest Trail is significantly longer than the AT, but demands only about 315,000ft of elevation gain. However, the overall elevation of the trail is higher – generally between 5,000 and 7,000ft above sea level – which adds a different challenge for many hikers. Hikers on the PCT can expect drier conditions and less mosquitoes, which makes for a more comfortable hike, but they may also encounter wildfires and smoke which can result in inconvenient diversions as well as unhealthy hiking conditions.
So, if you’re trying to decide which trail to get started with, you need to weigh up climbing, humidity and bugs against sunshine, elevation and smoke.
What is the hardest trail in the Triple Crown of hiking?
The Continental Divide Trail is the most difficult hike of the Triple Crown (Image credit: Fang Zheng)
This one is much easier to answer. The Continental Divide Trail is the most difficult hike of the Triple Crown. Not only is it longer by a large margin, but thru-hikers can expect to gain a staggering 917,000ft of elevation over the course of the trail. At times you’ll be hiking above 14,000ft which is truly considered high altitude hiking and the trail is by far the most remote and rugged, meaning re-supply points are few and far between along this trail.
The good news? Mosquitos are scarce at high elevation. But bugs aside, the CDT is not for the faint of heart – save this one for last!
How many hikers have completed the Triple Crown?
The number of hikers completing the Triple Crown is on the rise, reaching into the hundreds these days. When the award was first conceived in 1994, there were only five people on the list, and the yearly totals weren’t much greater than that until 2011 when a swell of 35 people registered. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, there were 41 new Triple Crowners.
Has anyone done the Triple Crown in one year?
Completing the Triple Crown in a single year sounds impossible – and it probably should be – but it’s been done, more than once (Image credit: Modoc Stories)
Completing the Triple Crown in a single year sounds impossible – and it probably should be – but it’s been done, more than once. A Calendar Year Triple Crown is the unofficial designation for anyone who completes all three trails between January 1 and December 31. The first CYTC hiker was Brian Robinson in 2001.
Most hikers who manage this do so by jumping around on the three trails to make the most of the best weather conditions throughout the year, however in 2005 Matt Hazely became the first to hike each trail in its entirety before progressing to the next one on his list.