10 Best Hiking Trails in the World
If everyone placing personal ads who claimed the hobby of “hiking” really did it with any regularity, the earth would have been trampled flat decades ago.
But those who really do enjoy this peaceful outdoor activity have plenty of incredible choices in every corner of the world.
Here are the ten best hikes on the planet, each with a combination of scenery and special extras that make them well worth going out of your way to enjoy.
Tongariro Northern Circuit, North Island, New Zealand
It is certainly no secret that New Zealand boasts some of the world’s most beautiful and dramatic scenery, which is why it’s not surprising that one of the world’s most spectacular hikes is located on these mountainous islands. While many people who hike in the Tongariro Reserve (a World Heritage site) on the Northern island stick to the one-day Tongariro Alpine crossing, the multi-day (2 nights and 3 days) Tongariro northern circuit provides hikers with a much richer and scenic experience.
Hikers on the Tongariro Northern Circuit hike for about 35 kilometers through non-stop compelling volcanic and desert environs that will make you feel like you are trekking on the surface of another planet—all while giving you high mountain peaks as a backdrop, diversely striking vistas wide variety of different scenery. Hikers who set out on this out-of-this-world hike (quite literally) will circumambulate the active volcano Mt. Ngaurube (Mt. Doom for those Lord of the Rings fans out there) while hiking past boiling mud pools, craters, interesting lava features, the amazing water filled volcanic vents, glacial valleys and water-filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes. Things stay nice after dark, as you get to stay in comfortable alpine huts along the way that have decent beds, gas heating and stoves, running water and toilets. Hikers on this trek can also easily do two short side trips to the tops of both Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe—allowing hikers to gaze out at the captivating volcanic scenery below.
>> Read about New Zealand adventure sports
Zion Narrows, Utah, United States
While hiking through the volcanic landscape of the Tongariro northern circuit may provide enthusiasts with an extraterrestrial experience, hikers are sure to be amazed at the unique and stunning scenery of trekking through the Zion narrows in the American southwest. Recently ranked as #5 on National Geographic’s list of America’s Best 100 Adventures, this trail will have you hiking up streams through dramatic, narrow slot canyons.
Hikers will wind their way through colorful, sculpted sandstone walls that rise up to 3,500 feet (that’s just about 1 km). The trek will also lead hikers through the famous “Wall Street,” a 2-mile section of the journey that crosses through a narrow canyon where the walls close to just 22 feet wide at the top. Hiking through water for about 60% of the hike up the streams that wind their way through these breathtaking slot canyons, you will see hanging gardens bursting from the red canyon walls, trickling water threading through cracks in the canyon walls and sprouting patches of moss, waterfalls sliding over the sandstone, and sandy banks with towering ponderosas. However, while this wondrous journey is sure to enchant hikers, it should be noted that hiking through the Zion Narrows is extremely dangerous, as flash floods can come quickly and the entire area is a huge drainage. Rainstorms up to 50 miles away can storm down the canyon and every year hikers die on this trail. Make sure to check the weather report in advance to make sure there is NO RAIN whatsoever in the forecast. However, with proper precautions, this hike, which is rated as one of the best hikes in the entire U.S. National Park system, is truly unparalleled.
>> Discover the best US cities for visiting a National Park
Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Any serious hiker or trekker dreams of going to Nepal to journey through the world’s most dramatic mountain landscape. While most hikers think of Kathmandu and Everest when they hear the word Nepal, the Annapurna circuit (which circumnavigates the Annapurna massif) not only has staggering snow-capped and rugged peaks providing for a spectacular backdrop, but the hike also offers trekkers great opportunities to see a wide range of natural and cultural diversity.
This 3-week trek allows you to stay in comfortable lodges as you hike from lush sub-tropical landscapes into the highest mountains in the world (beware of altitude sickness as the trek goes to a elevation of 17,749 feet). As you hike the Annapurna Circuit, you will get to interact with the Tibetan mountain peoples, see Buddhist temples, visit teahouses, soak in hot springs and take in some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the entire world.
>> Search airfare to Kathmandu
Inca Trail, Peru
Most people who know something about travel, know about the famous and world-renowned Inca Trail. While some of the more hard-core types out there may think of this amazing trek as cliché, the truth is that this trail is popular for a reason. Peru offers some of the most beautiful South American mountainous scenery and, while some criticize the trail for being over-regulated and too popular, Machu Picchu is a destination worth seeing and the hike along the way is sure not to disappoint, with plenty of scenic vistas and amazing views.
Along with offering spectacular scenery, the Inca Trail is not only safe and easy to organize, it also allows trekkers to hike through jungle to high alpine terrain, visit 3 sets of Inca ruins along the way, and take in the beauty of the Peruvian mountains over the 3-night, 4-day hike. Plus, at the end of the journey, hikers will arrive at one of the most celebrated man-made destinations on Earth.
>> Read more about trekking in Peru
Tiger Leaping Gorge, China
This 15-km gorge located along the Yangtzee River between approximately 6,000-meter Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the 5,300-meter Haba Xueshan mountain, in China where rapids pass under a series of dramatic 2,000-meter cliffs. The gorge got its name from a legend that says a tiger once jumped the narrowest point of the gorge to escape a hunter (which is still 25 meters). As one of the world’s deepest river canyons, Tiger Leaping Gorge is a beautiful and scenic hike for those adventurous trekkers.
The high-road trail is well-maintained and marked and takes hikers on a 14-mile journey with varied mountain views that features a surprising variety of micro-ecosystems, waterfalls and even guesthouses where hikers can stay along the route.
While this gorgeous gorge is a essential and protected part of the World Heritage site of the Three parallel Rivers of Yunnan, the Chinese government has proposed building another hydroelectric dam that would flood this place—meaning hikers interested in seeing this beautiful, lush canyon should probably head there sooner rather than later.
>> Find adventure trips in China
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
If summiting the tallest point on any continent has always had major appeal, but you are not sure you’re up for a technical, dangerous and rigorous climb, then hiking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is a great option. Kilimanjaro is often called the world’s tallest walkable mountain, because while it stands at nearly 20,000 feet, no technical climbing skills or equipment are needed (mind you, this does not mean it is an easy hike—the journey is still physically demanding and people die every year from altitude sickness on this mountain).
There are several routes to the top of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world and the highest point in Africa is not only of the seven summits (the tallest points on each of the seven continents), but it’s also one of the most diverse and varied hikes in the world. Hikers start near the equator and hike through every climatic zone on the 6-day, 5-night trek that leads you from hot grasslands through temperate forests to glacial valleys and a frigid summit.
>> Read our Kilimanjaro travel guide
Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai’s Na Pali coastline, which translates as “the cliffs” and which distinguishes the most impressive feature of this stretch of coastline boasts some of the most dramatically beautiful scenery in the world. Sheer cliffs dropping into the blue Pacific waters below, lush tropical valleys with picture-perfect waterfalls, green, velvet coated mountains and waves crashing dramatically into the rocky cliffs mark this hike into the remote and protected areas of coastline, where you can also spot pods of dolphins, humpback whales and sea turtles off the coast.
The 11-mile trail etches into the cliffs that raise as much as 4,000 feet above the ocean below and crosses 5 major valleys and countless smaller ones. The sometimes-treacherous trail takes most experienced and fit hikers one day and many hikers two, who camp in a permitted spot along the way. The trail was first built in the late 1800s, with portions rebuilt in the 1930s. It is almost never level, and in some spots the trail is quite narrow along cliffs dropping hundreds or thousands of feet to the ocean below.
>> Discover more hiking trails in Hawaii
Torres del Paine Circuit, Chile
Those looking for dramatic alpine landscapes, glacial fields, astonishing, jagged mountainscapes and a chance to get a look at the stunning spires of pink granite that make the famous towers of Paine should hike the Torres del Paine Circuit in Chile’s Patagonia mountains. Named one of the 50 places to visit in your lifetime by National Geographic, as well as being named a UNESCO biosphere reserve, this 100-km circuit offers surreal mountain vistas, glacial lakes, unique wildlife. You might even see a glacier calving. The wondrous track takes you through Magellenic forest, muddy bog, rocky gullies and over makeshift bridges.
Hikers should be weary that while this region is totally gorgeous, it is also notorious for inclement and often quite horrendous weather—meaning that not only will your pack be heavy laden with all of the appropriate gear to keep you warm and dry in the event of a storm, but it is also possible to get stuck in a bad storm or run into closed portions of the trail. But, the bad weather keeps this trek from getting overly crowded and you’ll feel all the more rough’n’tumble and accomplished for having braved harsh conditions (and those towering spires of the Paine will probably look all the more beautiful).
>> Book a Chile adventure tour
Tour de Mont Blanc, France
Regularly making lists as one of the best hikes in the world, this route circumambulates Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak standing at just over 15,000 feet. The 170-km hike offers stunning views of Mount Blanc and other Alp peaks, beautiful green valleys, blue alpine lakes and huge glaciers. The well-marked and maintained trails also lead hikers past wild chamois and ibexes, allow them to climb iron ladders bolted to the mountains and enjoy the alpine charm of the French Alps.
The other great part of this hike? While you may not feel quite as tough staying in the comfortable and warm refuges (hiking huts) along the way, not having to carry food or a tent makes for much lighter loads. Also, while opting to take the cable cars and chair lifts along the way could be considered cheating, it’s a great way to shorten your hike on certain days and be able to take in all the beautiful scenery without having to be too hardcore. Plus, the refuges offer comfort along the route—serving up hearty and delicious French food and wine and allowing hikers the chance to stalk up on food and supplies.
>> Book hostels in the French alps
West Coast Trail, British Columbia, Canada
If you are looking for a surreal experience hiking through pristine Canadian wilderness, catching beautiful vistas of both temperate rain forests, rugged coastlines and dramatic mountain peaks, then the West Coast Trail is an absolute must. Hikers will awake to misty dawns, enjoy unbelievable sunsets, cross boulders and logs over rivers, scramble up creeks, hike past waterfalls, be dwarfed by enormous trees in an old growth forest, spot whales, sea lions, minks and maybe even bears or wolves, and check out shipwrecks and other historical sites.
This unique, stunning hike with immensely varied terrain can be difficult to get one of the limited permits available every summer and costing about C$200 per person it is also the most expensive hike in Canada. Also, inclement weather even in the summer months can make for heavy packs for climbing over mossy rocks and all of those ladders. That being said, this hike is well worth both the money and the heavy pack, as no other hike in North America offers such varied scenery from forest to mountains to sea.
8 of the Most Unique Walking Paths in the World
By Jeanine Barone | October 4th, 2011
Once you’ve seen one walking trail you’ve seen ‘em all? Not in these eight cases, where you’ll tramp on unusual surfaces and wander through some curious lands.
1. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Once a battle site in the Croatian War of Independence, Plitvice Lakes National Park is an enchanting forestland sprinkled with cascading waterfalls and a placid string of 16 luminescent lakes. (It’s dissolved limestone that helped create this UNESCO World Heritage site over some 10,000 years.)
A network of trails, mostly on wooden boardwalks, traverses the tumbling waters. Spending five hours walking the “H” itinerary — one of several that the tourist office at the Ulaz 2 entrance suggests — captures all of the park’s key features.
The Upper Lakes, including the highest, Jezero Kozjak, are nestled in woods dense with beech and fir, while the Lower Lakes sit within a limestone canyon hollowed by caves that you can explore. The waterfall that perhaps attracts the most attention in the Lower Lakes region is the thundering Veliki Slap where the water tumbles some 230 feet.
2. Cappadocia, Turkey
You don’t have to close your eyes and daydream to be transported to a fantastical land. Just hike the myriad paths that weave through the valleys slicing through the Cappadocia region and you’ll feel like you just dropped into a Salvador Dali painting.
Standing sentinel all about are curious monoliths — appropriately termed “fairy chimneys.” Many are undeniably sexually charged — phallus-shaped, to be exact. Centuries of erosive forces have also sculpted the soft volcanically-derived tufa into more PG-rated shapes, including mushrooms and cones seemingly wearing top hats.
Penetrating these spectacular columns are hand-carved portals into cave churches, houses, pigeon coops — the droppings were prized as a fertilizer — and even bee hives. Some of the richest array of fairy chimneys in this land that’s deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site can be found in the Love and Honey valleys. Mehmet Gungor is a one-man operation guiding authentic hikes in this region.
3. Great Wall, China
China’s Great Wall no longer stretches along its 4,200-mile-length that dated to the Ming Dynasty — some 30% has almost vanished. But the remaining sections — some within day trip access of Beijing — present walkers with varying states of preservation, from the overdeveloped Badaling portion with its museum, shops, and bathrooms to those wilder, dilapidated portions with no facilities.
One of the more authentic paths atop this serpentine wall wanders from Jinshanling to Simatai, a five-hour hike along mostly derelict ribbons encrusted with storied watchtowers and crenellated ramparts. Meandering over undulating peaks, the route often requires scrambling, sometimes on all fours, up and down tall decrepit stone steps and around gaping holes. But the sweeping vistas of the mostly forested hills, lush valleys and snake-like wall make the effort worth every step.
William Lindesay, an ardent Wall activist in terms of its preservation, organizes day and multi-day hikes on the crumbled sections.
4. Madeira, Portugal
Set some 600 miles from Lisbon, the leafy island of Madeira has a reputation among acrophobes as having some of the most vertiginous trails around.
This rugged isle is networked with some 1,000 miles of irrigation channels (or levadas) that are bordered by a narrow level-walking path. These aqueducts have been hewn into cliffs and solid rock producing claustrophobic tunnels and paths clinging at times to the edge of sheer chasms.
However, there are also plenty of more gentle levadas, including those coursing through Madeira’s native laurisilva forest. Even families can walk Levada dos Balcoes that starts in the mountain hamlet of Ribeiro Frio and terminates at a dizzying overlook of jagged high peaks and deep verdant valleys. Another levada starting from the same hamlet takes slightly more adventurous walkers to Portello, a four-hour trek past heather, lily of the valley trees and wild orchids. Madeira Explorers leads myriad levada walks.
5. Negev, Israel
In the Negev, a vast triangular-shaped swath of land where Abraham and other Old Testament notables once wandered, a network of walking wadis or dry streambeds veins this arid scape. After a rain, desert flowers bloom in these beds, but this innocent landscape can turn deadly in an instant should there be a flash flood.
Many wadis are aptly named: Along Wadi of the Tree, the broad canopy of a lone acacia provides welcome shade. The radiant shades of sandstone are conveyed by the name Wadi of the Gevanim or Shades of Color. The eponymous spring along the Ardon Wadi — another wadi laden with views of brilliant-hued sandstone walls — is an oasis for ibex and other animals.
One of the most interesting findings: the stone ruins of a caravansary or ancient motel of sorts for traders and their camels along the old Nabatean-run Spice Route. Adam Sela arranges hikes for all skill levels in the Negev.
6. Westmann Islands, Iceland
Heimaey, the only inhabited isle among Iceland’s Westmann Islands, shows off its volcanic origins wherever possible.
A four-mile path threads atop the towering cliffs on the island’s west side, starting at the 18-hole golf course where the lava fields are out of bounds. Flanked by the crashing sea and a conglomerate of black lava and verdant farmland, the trail provides plenty of close-ups of puffins, the island’s signature birds, as well as guillemot, oystercatchers and others.
The trail wanders near some curious features, including wooden racks hung with dried fish heads, and a 1940s ship’s motor beached on a stretch of black sand that also harbors plant fossils. Once the trail climbs to the island’s southern tip, you’ll be standing near an old weather station that’s recorded winds as high as 110 knots. Ruth Barbara Zohlentakes hikers along this and other trails on Heimaey.
7. Pico Island, Azores, Portugal
In the Azores archipelago, Pico Island’s most famous commodity is wine. But the island’s vineyards are hardly ordinary. On this volcanic isle, a maze of black lava stone walls shields the grapes from salt and wine.
The five-mile Vinhas da Criacao Velha trail slices through this landscape where waves tumble against coastal jagged rocks and natural pools, while small sandy beaches break up the desolate volcanic scape. The grapes responsible for Pico’s notable aperitif wine, Verdelho, grow along the latter part of the trail providing views of a seemingly endless expanse of vineyards that are a patchwork of lava stone walls. This landscape, where the grapes are cultivated on mineral-rich volcanic soil, is so unique, it’s designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Also visible along the path are the rocky profiles of the Islets of Madalena, stately old manor houses, and curious tracks, evidence of where wagons once transported grapes and wine barrels. Organized hikes can be arrangedthrough Turispico.
8. Dubrovnik, Croatia
The defining feature of the medieval city of Dubrovnik is its defensive walls. And walking atop these slightly more than one-mile battlements that surround the city provides a commanding perspective of the city’s key historic details.
Beginning your walk when the wall first opens may help you avoid the prerequisite crowds. But come armed with the audio guide that can be rented at the beginning near the Pile Gate. (It provides a wealth of historical and architectural details).
With some sections not even two-feet wide and others towering some 80 feet high, the wall walk may cause some acrophobes to break out in a sweat.The series of towers, bastions and fortresses are surely an impressive testament as to why the ramparts were never breached. Protecting the southeast side of the old port, crenellated Fort St. John was considered the most powerful fortification. (This is where the city’s residents sought shelter during the Croatian War of Independence.)
Six National Parks You’ve Probably Never Visited
With the value of the dollar jumping, sliding and scooting around other world currencies, jet-setting world travelers might rethink their next international voyage and opt for the purple mountain majesties of the good ‘ole USA. Attendance at national parks has risen over the last two years, with many parks reporting record highs. So, maybe you’ve seen the Grand Canyon twice and think Yellowstone is too common for your adventurous spirit–if so, branch out. Here are six national parks you have probably never seen.
The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Alaska
Located in northwest Alaska, just three miles from Russia’s border is the fourth least-visited national park in the country. Registering a whopping 796 visits in 2007, The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve isn’t the place to go if you want to test-drive your backpacking skills. Most archeologists agree the Bering Land Bridge, once called Beringia, provided the first passageway into the Americas during the last Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago.
While no one really knows what these first Americans brought with them when they left Asia, it is highly recommended that modern-day explorers be prepared with a fully-stocked first aid kit and enough food to last in case of an emergency. Visitors not wanting to rough the north Alaskan wilderness can visit the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Nome, explore native Eskimo villages or spend the night in the bunkhouse at the Serpentine Hot Springs.
Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas
America’s first national preserve is sprawled across 97,000 acres of southeast Texas wetlands where fresh water swamps and bald cypress trees intermingle with long-leaf pines and tropical palmettos. Referred to as “the biological crossroads of North America,” the preserve houses 10 ecosystems, where arid deserts and marshlands nourish over 1,000 varieties of flowering flora, including four types of insect-eaters.
In addition to wild boars and black bears, the Big Thicket boasts 80% of the Lone Star State’s Bigfoot sightings. Visitors anxious to face the Big Thicket’s most unexplained phenomenon can head out to Ghost Road where mysterious lights haunt the tree-lined trail that connects two towns. The Big Thicket National Preserve Visitor Center is located seven miles north of Kountze.
Isle Royale National Park in Michigan
Reachable only by boat or seaplane, Isle Royale National Park is one of the most remote national park units in America. Shipwrecked ruins bring a mysterious allure to the Isle Royale archipelago that consists of one large island, 400 islets and a four-mile-long land strip that extends into the largest freshwater lake in the world.
Around 11,000 years ago, two miles of ice covered Isle Royale and sculpted the islands we see today. Many geologists consider Greenstone Ridge, aptly named for the underlying greenstone flow that boasts an 8,000-foot volcanic flow, to be part of the largest lava stream on earth.
National Park of American Samoa
The National Park of American Samoa might not have the amenities of other parks, but visitors to this tropical playground can hike through 8,000 acres of rainforests, swim among coral atolls and extinct volcanoes and live with native Samoans through the park’s home stay program.
Samoa is a chain of mountainous islands in an unincorporated territory of the US located 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii making it one of the most remote national parks in the country. The park was created to preserve the Samoan culture, and most of the 60,000 residents live on the main island of Tutuila. Perched postcard-perfect in the South Pacific Ocean, The National Park of American Samoa houses the only mixed-species paleotropical rainforest in the US and is a habitat for rare flying foxes, a species of fruit bats that many indigenous cultures consider a delicacy. Yum!
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas
The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the only section of designated wilderness in west Texas, has often been called an “Island in the Desert.” An imposing limestone reef stretches more than 5,000 feet above the land, where lush woodlands of oak and maple trees, rocky canyons and ponderosa pine trees disappear into the folds of the underlying desert.
There are more than 80 miles of hiking trails or visitors can head to limestone-laden McKittrick Canyon, cited as “the most beautiful spot in Texas,” or visit the glistening Salt Basin Dunes, where 2,000 acres of white sand vary from vegetated mounds to barren 60-foot dunes that shimmer in the west Texas sun. The Visitor Center is located at Pine Springs, 110 miles east of El Paso.
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
A volcano boat tour on Crater Lake in southern Oregon is the highlight of any visit to this national park. Only Crater Lake isn’t … well, a lake, it’s a caldera. Ah … technicalities! The volcanic basin was created when the 12,000-foot Mount Mazama collapsed into the earth more than 7,000 years ago.
The crater is almost six miles wide and at 2,000 feet deep, is now considered to be the deepest lake in the United States. Once the finishing point for the famous Pacific Crest Trail, Crater Lake remains the oldest segment of the now-expanded route. Black bears, elk, Clark’s nutcrackers and bald eagles have all been spotted enjoying the scenic landscape of Crater Lake National Park.