In Europe, there are specific formalized paths to take when going on many religious, especially Roman Catholic, pilgrimages. In at least some cases, traveling along a specific route is a specific requirement to be considered to have really completed the pilgrimage. Going on such a pilgrimage has been part of Anglophone pop and folk culture for hundreds of years - one very famous literary depiction of such a journey-based pilgrimage is found in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

There are a lot of shrines, temples, etc. in North America that one can make a religious pilgrimage to, such as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but I haven't found any indication that there are any specific travel requirements that one is supposed to meet while getting there, other than perhaps to not commit a mortal sin of road rage while trying to navigate downtown Washington, DC traffic.

Are there any specific pilgrimage routes to take in the USA or Canada, whether Roman Catholic or not, especially ones that are of similar length to European pilgrimage paths?

To be clear, I'm not talking about pilgrimage destinations (of which, as commentators have mentioned, are numerous in the USA), but pilgrimages where the journey to the site is a major part of the experience, e.g. "First, go to this church in rural Virginia at dawn on Christmas, take your shoes off, put on a white robe, and walk north on US Highway 1 to DC, visiting the following three downtown churches in order of their consecration, offering the following prayers at each.... Do not ride the DC Metro, commuter rail, Amtrak, or any motor vehicle, as it will invalidate your journey according to the writings of St. Gerald of DC."

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    Pilgrimages evolved from people's need to walk to locations of extreme religious significance. By the time organized religion gained a foot hold in the USA & Canada, the need to walk was being replaced by horses, wagons, trains, etc. Hence pilgrimage routes never appeared there. And realistically there hasn't been much in the way of miracles or other outstanding "acts of god" to go pay respect to either.
    – user13044
    Dec 13, 2016 at 7:52
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    I've heard of some walks to the mother Cabrini shrine in Colorado, but I don't think they've been formalized. You may also find something on this list: thecatholictravelguide.com/USA.html Dec 13, 2016 at 8:16
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    The pilgrimage tradition is stronger in Catholicism than most Protestant branches (the latter tend not to be big on shrines and relics, either), and considering US society was fairly hostile to Catholics well into the 20th century, Catholics kept a low profile. It's unsurprising to me that the vast majority of organized pilgrimages I've participated in within the U.S. start with a bus ride from a church parking lot to within a few yards of the grotto or monastery or chapel being visited.
    – choster
    Dec 13, 2016 at 21:19
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    this other wikipedia link lists pilgrimage sites in north America. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_pilgrimage_sites#Canada
    – Max
    Dec 14, 2016 at 3:44
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    @Tom good point, and I was thinking something similar. However, that doesn't mean that the number of pilgrimage routes must therefore necessarily be exactly zero, only that the number is likely to be lower, possibly significantly lower, than Europe. If there are any, perhaps an area that was formerly under the control of the Catholic Spanish and/or French empires (such as California or Louisiana) would be a more likely place to find one. Outside of Catholicism, might there be any Russian Orthodox pilgrimage journeys in Alaska? Dec 14, 2016 at 3:48

2 Answers 2


There is probably nothing in North America directly comparable to the pilgrimage trails in the Old World; the continent was too recently settled and too lacking in sites associated with Jesus and the Apostles (pace Latter-Day Saints) for such a culture to develop, and U.S. society was suspicious of, and sometimes outright violent against, Catholic and Orthodox worship until well into the 20th century.

There are innumerable pilgrimage destinations (though few of international fame), notably shrines devoted to the patron saint of some nationality or ethnic group. The customary way to visit them is simply to drive there, or to take a bus. There might be points of interest close together that can be walked; for instance, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is about six miles (~10 km) down the Eric Canal Trail from the National Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in upstate New York; there might even be a suggested walk, as with the Painted Churches of Texas. But there is no tradition associated with them; most visitors will think of it as a self-guided tour, at best.

In recent years, there have been an increasing number of organized walks, hikes, processions, marches, etc. with such destinations in mind. By and large, however, these are best thought of as pilgrimage events, not pilgrim's ways. They follow public roads or trails, and have no albergues or waypoint shrines or any other special services for pilgrims. Indeed, you may have to go considerably off-trail for food, water, and shelter.

A classic example is the Walking Pilgrimage to Doylestown to visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, sponsored by SS. Peter & Paul Church in Great Meadows, New Jersey annually since 1987. In theory, you could follow their itinerary on your own. But this is not an established, year-round route; it is a selection of public trails going through public parkland. You are entirely on your own for camping, eating, and other arrangements.

More common are single-day walking events. In Washington, D.C., for example, the Archdiocese has organized a Lenten 7-Church Walk annually since 2003, in loose imitation of the traditional walks to the seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. At each church, the group receives some background on the parish and the worship space and prays a different form of prayer (e.g. Divine Mercy Chaplet, Rosary, Litany of Loredo, etc.). But the itinerary changes year to year, and again, there is no dedicated path, just public sidewalks and streets.

The nearest thing I could find to an effort to develop a full-fledged pilgrimage trail is the nascent Camino del Norte a Chimayó, which would follow a 115-mile (185 km) route over seven days from San Luis, Colorado to El Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico, the most famous shrine in the Western U.S. Around 2012 a route was chosen, and since then groups have held organized journeys, but as elsewhere, there is no infrastructure to serve pilgrims. It is at best a route, not a trail, and very much in its infancy.

[T]he Camino del Norte a Chimayó wanders along roadsides and forest trails through the sparsely-populated and desert-like sagebrush flats, rolling hills, and mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. One walks for as long as 20 miles (32 km) without a place to refill water bottles, purchase lunch or a snack, or even find a shady spot to rest for a few moments. Many of the villages and hamlets along the route have no commercial lodging or food markets, much less a café or restaurant. The only large town along the way is Taos, New Mexico. Pilgrims along this route must therefore either camp out, carrying tents, food, and portable stoves, or if specifically planned in advance, stay overnight in church halls, sleeping on mats or air mattresses on hard floors.

Of course, there are many well-established secular trails, from famous treks like the John Muir Trail or the Appalachian Trail, or for the less alpinically-inclined, loops like the Freedom Trail. Many people have had spiritual experiences on the journey. The 2014 film Wild is a dramatization of a trail memoir of a woman who traveled solo for 1100 miles (1770 km) on the Pacific Crest Trail.

  • The Freedom trail is good way to enjoy the beauty of Massachusetts and Boston while also learning about United States history. Although it is still not a "pilgrimage" just an urban hike.
    – Lucy Clara
    Dec 16, 2016 at 21:47

The California Mission Trail along El Camino Real from the southernmost mission in San Diego to the northermost in Sonoma. 21 missions in all. Go to the Facebook group: California Mission Walkers. Walked it all! Awesome!

  • As with Chimayo, there is (as of yet) no physical trail. You can piece together public rights of way. But for example, it could be difficult for a foreign tourist to gain access to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, which squats right between San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano.
    – choster
    May 9, 2017 at 15:03

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