Is There a New American Pilgrimage Trail?

A few years ago, if you’d asked me about pilgrimages, I would have had to dig back into history. The word pilgrimage seemed archaic, more appropriate for Chaucer than the twenty-first century, and carrying a backpack for days wasn’t my thing.

After I fell in love with the Camino de Santiago, though, the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon* kicked in, and suddenly people were talking about spiritual or historical pilgrimage walks all over the world.

The Skikoku Pilgrimage to 88 Temples in Japan

The Via Francigena to Rome

Peru’s Inca Trail to Machu Pichu

The Lycian Way in Turkey

I know a guy who’s helping to organize a new “contemplative trail” called the Camino Salvado in Australia.

These are different than the traditional long-distance hiking trails that seem to wind across every beautiful place in the world (though some of them sound pretty spectacular, too). Pilgrimage trails, I came to understand, are journeys bound to the spiritual history of a place, and established for the mind as well as the body.

Now, it seems, we can add a new one to the list. According to this article in Backpacker Magazine, America is now the host of a 200-mile “interfaith pilgrimage trail” in Montana, created for “grieving, healing, and honoring life’s major transitions.”

It’s called The Sacred Door Trail.

According to Backpacker writer Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan:

Inspired by a hike on Spain’s Camino de Santiago, in 2009 Weston started piecing together existing trails (including part of the CDT) into a loop route with the help of a coalition of local faith-based and indigenous groups. The trail officially “opened” in 2012 with a multi-faith ceremony, as well as a guidebook and website. But unlike many of the most famous pilgrimage sites—such as the Camino or the Hajj to Mecca—this trail is explicitly nondenominational. And it gets its sacredness not from the grave of an apostle or footprints of a prophet, but basically because Weston declared it so.

Which, to be fair, strikes me as quintessentially American. The Sacred Door Trail appears to be a melting pot of ideas, derived and adapted from the histories and cultures of others but without a unique origin story. There’s no destination; the trail is a loop. It draws its spiritual authority from its own self-determination. It is a pilgrimage trail because it says it is a pilgrimage trail.

Does that count? What makes something a pilgrimage? I’ll leave that to others to decide.

Because there’s something else The Sacred Door Trail lacks: beds and bathrooms. This is a camping trip, at its core more like the AT or Pacific Crest (or, by distance, the Sunshine Coast Trail in BC) than the cultural trips of other continents.

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Photo: The Sacred Door Trail website

And there are some things I’m loathe to give up, even for an inward exploration of self and beliefs.

I may be in the minority, though. According to The Sacred Door Trail’s Facebook page, they received so much attention after the Backpacker article came out, that they ran out of hiking guides.

 

What do you think? Would you walk The Sacred Trail? What appeals to you, and what doesn’t?

 

*Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon: “when the thing you’ve just noticed, experienced or been told about suddenly crops up constantly. It gives you the feeling that out of nowhere, pretty much everyone and their cousin are talking about the subject — or that it is swiftly surrounding you.”

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