Briana DeSanctis takes a picture of herself as she enters Indiana, the sixth of 15 states on her 6,800-mile hike of the American Discovery Trail. It took her 770 days to walk from the Atlantic Ocean in Delaware to the Pacific Ocean in Point Reyes National Seashore in northern California. Courtesy of Briana DeSanctis

FARMINGTON — Farmington native Briana DeSanctis began a two-year journey on New Year’s Day 2022, becoming the first woman to hike the American Discovery Trail — 6,800 miles from the Atlantic in Delaware to the Pacific Ocean in California — alone.

“I finished the American Discovery Trail this morning,” DeSanctis wrote in an Instagram post Feb. 10 as she walked into the waters of Limantour Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore in northern California. “What a lot of feelings. I’m still trying to process everything, plus my family showed up to surprise me.”

She started from Cape Henlopen, Delaware, and for the next 770 days she took 50 million steps and used 27 pairs of shoes to complete the coast-to-coast journey.

The lifelong outdoorswoman is the first woman to complete the trail on her own, the American Discovery Trail Society believes.

Briana DeSanctis climbs the mountains of Colorado on her two-year journey across America on the American Discovery Trail. Courtesy of Briana DeSanctis

DeSanctis documented much of her walk through Instagram, posting updates on her location and sharing her experiences.

Born in Farmington, the 40-year-old hiker said her fondest childhood memories involve hiking, fishing and camping with her family.


After the birth of her little brother, her family built a house on 55 acres of wooded land, which fed DeSanctis’ desire for adventure and exploration even more. She said she had always felt that “fresh air and being in tune with nature were freeing and enlightening.”

The first inkling of her self-described “nomadic lifestyle” came at age 12 when she first learned of the Appalachian Trail — 2,190-plus miles between Springer Mountain, Georgia, and Mount Katahdin, Maine — from a school custodian who gave a presentation after completing the hike.

In her early 20s, DeSanctis left Maine for Vail, Colorado, where she developed her love of mountainous landscape, enjoying kayaking, canoeing, spelunking, hiking and cross-country skiing.

She returned to Maine years later and slowly began accumulating backpacking gear, piecing together her spelunking instruments as she could afford them. She also added a comprehensive guide to Maine hiking trails to her collection and soon she was planning short backpacking trips on her days off.

As she grew more and more prepared, she tested herself by section-hiking over 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

Convinced that she could make the journey, DeSanctis bid farewell to her friends and family and boarded a plane in the spring of 2015 for Atlanta, Georgia, eager to make the trek back to Maine on foot. Six and a half months later, she returned with “a deep sense of love, patience, appreciation, and gratitude,” she said.


Discover America

A few years later, DeSanctis was looking at a map and noticed the American Discovery Trail. Intrigued by its odd path configuration and length, and after taking a hard look at the trail, she felt confident she could pull it off with the proper preparation.

She said the years of research, planning and saving was much more involved than the Appalachian Trail. Once she was ready, she left her job at a metal shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, packed up all her belongings and set out.

The American Discovery Trail crosses 15 states and includes a loop in the Great Plains and Midwest where it splits to become two parallel trails. DeSanctis said she backpedaled to complete both legs in Ohio, where it splits, covering more than 6,800 miles before she reached Point Reyes.

Being a solo hiker, DeSanctis spent much time alone, documenting the sights with her camera as she slowly moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. In between the long, quiet stretches she found company among other hikers and many locals.

Many of them gave her a break from the elements, allowing her to sleep in their garages, backyards and even spare bedrooms. In Nevada, DeSanctis met Randy, a man who arrived near her campsite one morning. She wrote in her post that he was “carrying what looked like a shovel and a bucket. He scaled the mountain like he’d been there many times, then disappeared behind a tree.”

Farmington native Briana DeSanctis takes a break from hiking to enjoy a natural, noncommercialized hot spring in Beaver, Utah, during her solo coast-to-coast trek of the American Discovery Trail. Courtesy of Briana DeSanctis

He told her his father’s memorial was nearby and he visited once a year to clean up the site. He left DeSanctis with a full bottle of water, two Diet Cokes and a story that brightened her entire day.

Though DeSanctis has completed the American Discovery Trail, it hasn’t left her thoughts. She is booking public speaking events into October to inspire others.

“I hiked 6,800 miles across the USA; you can bet I have things to talk about,” she said in an Instagram post.

She has also written about her journey as a columnist, and plans to turn her expedition into a memoir.

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