Briana DeSanctis of Farmington stands at the sign at PenMar Park in Maryland on her Appalachian thru-hike in 2015. Photo courtesy of Briana DeSanct

The American Discovery Trail extends across the heart of the United States, from Cape Henlopen, Delaware to Point Reyes National Seashore in California. The nation’s first coast-to-coast, multi-use, non-motorized trail follows footpaths, rail trails, tow paths, byways and roads as it links big cities, small towns, forests, mountains, deserts, prairies and farmlands along its 5,000-mile route.

The number of people who travel the length of the ADT each year is in the single digits. That’s partly due to the trail’s relative obscurity among hiking’s heavy hitters like the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, while the trail’s extraordinary length – it’s more than 2,000 miles longer the CDT, after all – is also a significant factor.

Undaunted by such statistics, or much of anything else when it comes to the challenges of long-distance hiking is Briana DeSanctis, a 38-year-old Farmington native, who is planning to hike the entire ADT from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 2022. In fact, DeSanctis was scheduled to have begun the long westbound journey already. She was planning to dip her boots in the ocean off Delaware on New Year’s Day.

DeSanctis, who goes by the trail name “Rocky Mountain High,” is making the trek alone. By averaging 15 miles per day and limiting her time off, there’s a good chance she’ll be staring into the Pacific sunset by year’s end. If successful, DeSanctis will be the first woman to solo thru-hike the entire American Discovery Trail.

Farmington native Briana DeSanctis thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015. Photo courtesy of Briana DeSanct

No stranger to grueling walks, DeSanctis thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015, setting off from Springer Mountain, Georgia on March 5 and reaching Maine’s Katahdin 196 days later, on Sept. 17. Like many long-distance hikers, the enormous elation of the big finish was short-lived, and a real case of post-hike depression took hold.

“It was a beautiful, painful, heartbreaking, miraculous experience. I was blown away at what I was capable of doing, that I could spend six months outside with a backpack in all kinds of weather,” said DeSanctis. “But after Katahdin I was kind of lost, not sure of what was next. I had no kids, no family and no job.”


For the last six years, DeSanctis has traveled all over the United States and lived and worked in Colorado, Washington state and New Hampshire. Another thru-hike was always part of the restless plan, but where and when was uncertain. Then, as if by a stroke of trail magic, she came upon a story about America’s long trails, looked at the map and discovered the ADT for the first time.

With a little research, a skeptical DeSanctis determined that, yes, the ADT was a legitimate trail overseen by a real organization. Further sleuthing uncovered that no woman had ever hiked the official route in solo fashion, and that was the tipping point.

“Because of the ADT’s length and its east to west orientation across the country plus the potential to set a record as the first female to go it alone, I told myself ‘I have to do this!’” noted DeSanctis.

American Discovery Trail. Graphic courtesy American Discov

The ADT is a hike of incredible proportions, a “journey into the heart of all that is uniquely American – its culture, heritage, landscape and spirit,” that connects five national scenic trails, 12 national historic trails and 38 national recreation trails while visiting 14 national parks and 16 national forests, according to the trail’s website at

Unlike other major trails like the AT, however, there are no guidebooks or physical maps available for the ADT. DeSanctis does have detailed turn-by-turn directions, and route tracks loaded into her GPS app, but to find services and supplies along the way, she’ll need to figure that out on the fly.

“I’m going to have to adapt as I go. But there will be help out there, I just know it,” said a confident DeSanctis, who will face months of winter, snow in the Rockies, and heat and water issues in the high desert. There’s also the matter of bears, rattlesnakes and mountain lions, and the loneliness and boredom of putting one foot in front of the other for an entire year. “You have to trust your gut, use your experience and be smart.”

Armchair adventurers can follow DeSanctis’ hike on Facebook at “Rocky Mountain High on the American Discovery Trail.” Oh, yeah, her answer to the perennial question about pack weight? “A lot.”

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook @ Carey Kish.

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