Travel the World
Top 10 Hikes in the World
Hikers often have their wish lists of the most amazing treks on the planet. Have a look at the 10 best hikes from around the world and get ready to book your trail pass
Torres del Paine Circuit, Chile
With some trademark jagged pink-granite rock thrusts reaching up to 10,000 feet, glaciers and their accompanying bright blue lakes, Torres del Paine National Park is going to compel you to stop often on its 52-mile loop for a photo or just a gasp. Hike all of it in ten days, take five days to trek what’s called the ‘W,’ or just head into the park for day trips to hit the highlights. The highest point in this UNESCO Biosphere is 4,000 feet so altitude sickness won’t be an issue. But you still get up close to glaciers and can even camp lakeside where the ice is crashing into the water. You’ll find plenty of wildlife, especially birds, guanacos (like llamas), nandu (ostrich lite), and if you’re lucky, a puma. This is Patagonia at its most awesome.
When to go: If you like more hiking time in a day, best to go during December-January when the sunset isn’t until 10 p.m. During that time and through March is the warmest season with low chance of rain.
Difficulty: The trail covers all skill levels. Some paths may be strenuous but generally unintimidating. You don’t necessarily need a guide either.
Things to know: You can check in at a local hostel near the park entrance or just pitch a tent. If you’ve got the money, one of the adventure lodges, such as La Remota with upscale pampering and daily expert guides, is a nice way to go too.
(Photo by Kevin Revolinski)
Appalachian Trail, USA
Bill Bryson gave the benign title A Walk in the Woods to his book of trekking this enormous trail. It’s hard to imagine you are in the Eastern United States when you are passing through what is almost exclusively wilderness for 3,500 kilometres. While there are so many access points along the Appalachian Trail, making it perfect for day hikes or simple overnighters, a hiker can feel like they are far from civilization as they follow the Appalachian Mountains only leaving the wild in a few places along the trail’s length, from Georgia in the south all the way north to Maine. Some try to tackle this one in a summer season.
When to go: The best times are in the spring and fall. If you are attempting to hike its entirety (over 9,000 have done it), then consider starting in the north to have a bit more warm weather as you near the end – about 6 months after your start!
Difficulty: Some stretches are flat and easy, others are the up and down variety that gets your heart pumping. Still others might get your hands involved. Consult guidebooks and websites to make sure you know which variety you’re going to get.
Things to know: Certain sections of the trail can be rather “crowded”. Other stretches might be muddy during rainy periods or just overwhelmed with mosquitoes. Check your target trail section at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
(Photo credit: Dave Pidgeon / Compass Points Media)
Mount Kilimanjaro to Marangu
Towering to 5,895 metres, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest peak and top of the wish list for hikers visiting the continent. At least five days of hik\ing will take you to the rooftop of Africa for the best view in Tanzania. The trek starts with rainforest, enters the plateau region and then gets tough as it gains serious altitude for the final stretch through the snow and glaciers at the top.
When to go: Avoid March through May as that is the rainy season. Otherwise expect cool temperatures on the slopes throughout the year, but hot days near the start/finish line. Weekends bring the most hikers who arrive on Saturday for a Sunday climb.
Difficulty: This is a strenuous hike with some risks from weather and wildlife, but also from Acute Mountain Sickness (altitude sickness).
Things to know: The most popular path is the Marangu Route where you are going to find more fellow travelers. Other options are the Umbwe, Londorossi and Machame Routes. Altitude sickness can be an issue, and while not being alarmist, it should be said that it can be fatal if not taken seriously. Guides are required.
(Photo by Colin-Mutchler / Flickr Creative Commons)
Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Shaped like a horseshoe, this 128-mile trek makes a circle tour of Nepal’s Annapurna range. Terraced rice paddies, jungle, pines, deep canyons, flowing water, and of course the glorious snow-capped peaks themselves make a constantly evolving scenic backdrop for your trek. But then add to that the characters you meet along the way, the teahouses-cum-hostels, yak cheese, the yak-butter candles at night. This is a whole world in itself in a setting that will leave you talking about it for the rest of your days.
When to go: October is best for milder temperatures and clear blue skies.
Difficulty: The climb is gradual and the trail is good, but it takes about 3 weeks to complete the circuit and the highest points are up over 5,000 metres.
Things to know: You must have a trail permit, easily purchased in Kathmandu. Teahouses are spread out on the trail making accommodations and food pretty easy.
(Photo by Doug Letterman / Flickr Creative Commons)
The Inca Trail, Peru
High up in the Andes, Machu Picchu is as mythical a place as you are bound to find. What better way to approach it than by a trek through the mountains? Disappear into the cloud forests, cross valleys and ridges, and stop at archaeological sites along the way. Time the final stretch segment so that you arrive at Machu Picchu for sunrise. And the hike is still not over at that point: climb Huayna Picchu, the green peak in the center of that typical photo angle of the ruins. Far below you will hear the Urubamba River as it curls around the base of the mountain.
When to go: April to October is best to avoid the rains. The trail is actually closed in February.
Difficulty: More than a walk in the park, but less than an alpine climb. If you are in half-decent shape, this four-day trek will be fine. Wear good boots; it’s tough on the ankles at some points.
Things to know: The trail goes higher than 4000 metres so you should spend a bit of time in Cusco to adjust and avoid getting altitude sickness on the trail. Be sure to use an authorized, professional guide. The trail and Machu Picchu itself have entrance fees. Hiking packages should include this in the price as well as your return ticket to Cusco on the train. Get that trail pass well in advance because the number of hikers per day is controlled.
(Photo by Kevin Revolinski)
West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Caves, coves and cliffs dot the shore along the coastal portions of this hike. You may encounter sea lions or spot whales offshore, but what you are not likely to see are other hikers. With abundant wildlife (both in the sea and on land) and old-growth forest, this is perfect, pristine Canadian wilderness that is still not too far from civilization. Hop across logs and boulders, get your feet wet in creeks and tide pools, and trek across beautiful beaches and through misty forests. Cable cars, ladders and some rope work add to the adventure.
When to go: The trail is only open from May through September. July and August are peak season so apply early for a trail pass.
Difficulty: Challenging just for the variety of terrain. You can expect to get wet, cold and damp at any time.
Things to know: Only 52 hikers are allowed to set off each day and the required trail permit can be denied at times. The trail is only open from May through September.
(Photo by Chris-Breikks / Flickr Creative Commons)
Mont Blanc, France, Italy, Switzerland
Here’s a multi-cultural Euro hike. Go alpine on this trek around the highest point in Western Europe. The namesake towers to 4,807 metres and is surrounded by other white peaks and glaciers. Stay in huts each night as you make a two-week circle of 170 km through the Alps of three European countries. We’re talking fabulous scenery of green meadows and valleys, blue glaciers and white peaks, with great food and creature comforts when you quit for the day.
When to go: Take advantage of the European summer from June through September.
Difficulty: All levels at one point or another, from easy meadows to strenuous climbs.
Things to know: Book your accommodations along the trail in advance, especially in late July and August when it’s high season. You can camp if you prefer not to hostel it. Rain is likely, especially on any given afternoon. There is some ladder climbing involved, and for those looking to ease the challenge a bit, some cable cars and chair lifts. Get a guide or a tour unless you are really experienced.
(Photo by Marco Bellucci / Flickr Creative Commons)
Tongariro Northern Circuit, New Zealand
There are three volcanoes in the center of New Zealand’s North Island, and this top hike takes you around one of them: Mt. Ngauruhoe. But the scenery here is much more than “just” the mountains. You’ll trek through both volcanic desert, grassy plain and rich forest. You will also see Red Crater, Emerald Lakes, and even a bit of boiling mud. The highest point is 1,886 metres and the loop extends for 34km (19 miles)
When to go: December through March.
Difficulty: The climbs aren’t too demanding but you’ll still be working at about a medium level of challenge and have some tough stretches. But the trail is clearly marked so a guide isn’t necessary.
Things to know: It’s popular so you won’t be alone, for better or worse. While the loop can be done in three days you can add on some ascents of Mount Tongariro and the Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings: Mount Ngauruhoe. A trail pass from the visitor center is required.
(Photo by Jeff Pang / Flickr Creative Commons)
John Muir Trail
John Muir is an icon to nature lovers, and though he gave his name to this trail, this is also Ansel Adams territory. If that creates some expectations, you can bet you’re going to be satisfied. Count Yosemite and Half Dome among the attractions as well as the sequoias and Mt Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental US. The trail passes through 6 ecological zones and 11 high passes.
When to go: August and September are best. Snow lasts well into summer in the upper reaches.
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous with Half Dome being something for the more experienced.
Things to know: You need to protect your food from bears, for one thing. You also need a trail permit which you can order in advance, the sooner the better. Otherwise it is first-come, first-served for the rest. There are a lot of considerations for this hike, from gear to safety to supplies, and too numerous to list here. Research and plan carefully. Public transportation to trailheads makes it possible to do this challenging hike in segments and reverse the order (descent vs. climb) in some cases.
(Photo by Rick McCharles / Flickr Creative Commons)
Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Skirting the US border with Canada in Montana, this mountainous beauty is one of the most important wildlife habitats in the American park system. You’ll be sharing this 104-km hike with the critters, from the little ones (over 200 species of birds) to the not-so-little (elk, moose, bighorn sheep and even black and grizzly bears). If you get there before the middle of August, you will also have the bonus of meadows full of wildflower colors. Pass through the 120-foot Ptarmigan Tunnel and do make a side trip to Iceberg Lake. You can even get to a trailhead by boat from Waterton National Park in Canada. With over 700 miles of trails in this park, you may want to come back a few more times.
When to go: July through September is the best time.
Difficulty: The hike is medium challenging, but the trails are well marked.
Things to know: Book that trail pass well in advance. You will also have to book your campsite for each night of the hike, and the park officials expect you not to be where you intended. Though the summer temperatures in daytime will be comfortable, it often dips below freezing at night. Also, you are going to want to bone up on your bear knowledge and how to safely avoid and understand them. It’s their park, really. You’re just a guest.
(Photo by Rick McCharles / Flickr Creative Commons)