Former Vail area local is walking all 6,800 miles of the American Discovery Trail

Briana DeSanctis is on a mission, but she's not doing her trek to raise money for a particular cause

Tricia Swenson
Vail Daily
Briana DeSanctis traveled over Argentine Pass in Colorado, the highest point of the American Discovery Trail that sits at 13,207 feet above sea level.
Briana DeSanctis Facebook Page/Courtesy photo

The United States is a pretty big country and Briana DeSanctis is seeing it one step at a time.

The former Edwards resident is over 2,700 miles into her journey, which began on January 1, 2022. She is doing the American Discovery Trail, a 6,800-mile trail that starts in Delaware and ends in California. The American Discovery Trail is a system of recreational trails and roads that collectively form the coast-to-coast route.

DeSanctis averages 30 miles a day, usually sleeps in her tent except for the occasional motel stay or she’ll stay with friends near the route where she will shower up and catch up on her social media posts, writings and staying in touch with people along the way.

She is currently traveling through the Rockies and doing stretches that reach upwards of 13,000 feet above sea level, such as Argentine Pass, which is the highest point on the American Discovery Trail. She is currently on a portion of the American Discovery Trail in Colorado that merges with the Continental Divide Trail for about 120 miles.

Weather is the biggest factor for DeSanctis, who hopes to get through this High Country stretch of the American Discovery Trail before the snow starts to stick around. She’s already been sleeping in below-freezing temperatures and will make her way west toward southern Utah, Nevada and California.

“I’m doing this because, first of all, I’m a crazy backpacker,” DeSanctis said. She has already done the Appalachian Trail in 2015 from Georgia to Maine.

“I walked 2,189.3 miles, which took me 196 days, or six months and 12 days to finish and I learned so much,” DeSanctis said. “People always ask, ‘Do you want to quit?’ and I always tell them, “My worst day on the Appalachian Trail is still better than my best day anywhere else!” When you are sweating and hurt and hungry and dirty, it is still better, because you are living in the real world, you are surviving, you’re in the moment.”

After the Appalachian Trail, DeSanctis was looking for the next big challenge.

“I decided to do the American Discovery Trail because it is different than the Appalachian Trail. It is longer, it’s relatively new and there is nobody on it,” DeSanctis said.

The American Discovery Trail spans from Delaware to California and has two routes, a northern route and a southern route, totaling 6,800 miles. DeSanctis is doing both routes.
Briana DeSanctis Facebook Page/Courtesy photo

DeSanctis will also be named the first recorded woman to hike the 6,800 miles — both the northern and southern routes that split off in Ohio and reconnect back in Colorado.

“If you are the oldest or the youngest person or the fastest person to do something, there’s always someone who could be older, younger or faster than you, but being first, that is something that can never be taken away,” DeSanctis said.

Each day on the trail, DeSanctis treks around with her ultra-lightweight backpack (a Hyperlite backpack that is just 2.4 pounds when empty), and a tiny stove to heat up water for oatmeal in the morning and peanut butter and tuna packets and tortillas to eat along the way.

“After 2,700 miles, I am so sick of tuna fish,” DeSanctis said. She has spiced it up with hot sauce lately. Instant mashed potatoes, beef jerky, granola bars and nuts round out the other items she carries with her.

“If I do stay at a motel and grab a bite to eat in town or stay with friends, I can down two frozen pizzas at one sitting,” DeSanctis said.

When she does stop in an inhabited area, she loves to meet the people along the way. She’s been known to buy some McDonald’s Egg McMuffins and give them out to veterans or homeless people. Most recently, while in Summit County she gave burgers to some college students, who were amazed at what she was doing.

“I love the people I meet, the “trail angels” as we call them. You can only experience this while walking through America,” DeSanctis said.

Although DeSanctis isn’t doing this to raise money for a particular nonprofit or raise awareness for a cause, she does have a mission.

“The thing that is most important to me is to inspire others, encourage people and empower people. I want to let them know what I am doing and that it is attainable, and you don’t have to walk 6,800 miles, 2,700 miles, you don’t have to walk 20 miles, but if you can take a little bit of time out of your day and go for a little hike, it’s going to change everything,” DeSanctis said. “Just a little bit of time spent outdoors is so good for you, it’s so much better than anything the doctor will ever order.”

DeSanctis will be making a stop in Eagle County this weekend and is planning on doing a free talk at the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater on Saturday at 1 p.m.

“Every day when I wake up, I am so thankful that I am out here hiking and so thankful to have this opportunity and I hope that when I’m giving my presentations, when I’m talking to young people and communities, I hope that they can also take away a little bit of that from me, too, that it sparks some inspiration.”

Follow DeSanctis’ progress and her quest to become the first recorded woman to through-hike all 6,800 miles of the American Discovery Trail on Facebook (, Instagram (Briana DeSanctis) and read her “America on Two Feet” articles that appear weekly in the Daily Bulldog newspaper in Maine.

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