The Great Western Loop is a 6,875-mile footpath that links together five existing long-distance trails — including the Pacific Crest Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, and Arizona Trail — and a trail-less segment through the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts. It passes through the most cherished and pristine wild lands remaining in the Lower 48, including 12 National Parks and over 75 wilderness areas. It underscores the magnificence of America’s West, its long-distance trail system, and its National Parks, while also highlighting the environmental and ecological threats that are adversely affecting them.
The origins of the Great Western Loop trace back to Spring 2006, when Skurka and the Publisher of Backpacking Light Magazine, Ryan Jordan, were talking late into the night about “what’s left” in long-distance backpacking in the Lower 48. It was agreed that the “Great Western Loop,” named later by GoLite President Demetri Coupounas, was the only notable expedition that had not been undertaken — and, interestingly, in many respects it seemed to be the most desirable ultra-long-distance hike that had ever been conceived, as its scenery, wilderness experience, and elegance was unrivaled.
The Great Western Loop is approximately 6,875 miles long, with the exact distance being determined primarily by the length of the self-made segment across the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and the exact route choices along the Continental Divide Trail. Despite its length, the Great Western Loop does not use any one trail from end-to-end — in fact, it never touches a terminus of any component trail, though in two places it comes within 4 miles of one.