ESCAPE YOUR WORLD | The best hikes in the world
If you're strong enough to take on the best hikes in the world you'll be rewarded with some of Earth's most gorgeous scenery!
1. The Great Ocean Walk, Australia
The trek: Located 124 miles south-west of Melbourne, where the Australian coast meets the wild Southern Ocean, The Great Ocean Walk obliges hikers with plenty of only-in-Australia sights and ranks as the continent’s most superlative coastal foot path. Beginning at Apollo Bay, the 68-mile walk shadows the iconic Great Ocean Road, passes through Great Otway and Port Campbell national parks, and concludes with an encore at the world-famous limestone stacks known as The Twelve Apostles.
The sights: Along the route, hikers will undoubtedly encounter koalas resting in eucalyptus treetops, wallabies scampering along the headlands, as well as creek and river crossings, tall forests and deserted beaches with panoramic views from windswept headlands.
When to go: The Austral spring, autumn and summer are the preferred times to explore the trail. But the June-through-September winter season also has its incentives in the form of cool temperatures, wet, lush rain forests and being the best time to spot migrating humpback and southern right whales passing just offshore.
Trip tips: The Great Ocean Walk can be done independently over the course of eight days, and walkers can stay at various dedicated campsites or find off-walk accommodations nearby.
2. Kungsleden, Sweden
The trek: Spanning 270 miles in Sweden’s far north Lapland province, The King's Trail is superlative for its remote edge-of-the-world vibe, its 24/7 midsummer daylight that reboots your Circadian rhythm, and the August/September aurora borealis that lights up the sky. Hiking the entire trail takes about month, but because it's broken into sections you can choose the length of your hike; the most popular section, between Abisko and Nikkaluokta, covers 65 miles and takes between 10 to 12 days.
The sights: The trail is considered one of the world’s most famous hikes, coursing through a vast Arctic landscape home to birch forests filled with flowers, dramatic mountain passes with lunar-like terrain, lush grass meadows and wide glacial valleys.
When to go: Although the walking is fairly easy during the optimum June-September hiking season, water here is profuse. The well-marked trail has plank walkways and bridges that cross swampy bogs and non-fordable summer streams, though some areas offer rowboat crossings or local charter boats that operate in lakes.
Trip tips: Anyone who’d rather leave the logistics to the experts can hire local guides who shepherd hikers along and prepare meals at a series of huts operated by the Swedish Tourism Association.
3. Gotemba Trail, Japan
The trek: Japan's Mt. Fuji is one of the most popular mountain icons in the world, with its distinctive, graceful conical symmetry (technically a stratovolcano) forged over millions of years by violent eruptions that have left a scorched sea of volcanic ash and rock along its slopes. The mountain, highest in Japan at 12,380 feet, is synonymous with the country’s physical, cultural and spiritual identity. Understandably, then, climbing Mt. Fuji is on gazillions of travelers’ bucket lists. There are four main routes of differing difficulty ranging from 4,600 to 7,900 feet of elevation gain to the summit, and most plan for two days on the mountain. Typically, hikers start mid-morning on the first day and climb for six to eight hours to reach pre-booked huts by dusk, then rise after midnight on day two to complete the trek to the summit just before sunrise. Yes, it can get crowded.
The sights: Despite being loved by the masses, Fuji still ranks as one of the world’s most desired hikes – an admirable goal for hikers wanting to experience the summit’s see-forever views and the resulting sense of achievement alongside scores of others who chant at daybreak.
When to go: Nearly all climbs are attempted from early July to mid September, when weather is mild and the mountain is free of snow.
Trip tips: The hike isn’t technically difficult and most people won’t need a guide, which undoubtedly eased apprehensions for the 236,000 who attempted to climb to the summit in 2019.
4. Kalalau Trail, USA
The trek: Even people who’ve never heard of the Napali Coast will likely recognize it. The stunning photogenic grandeur of steep, verdant cliffs and deep, narrow valleys spilling into the sea is known the world-over on so many screen savers, posters and travel site bucket lists, making Napali one of the most recognizable coastlines anywhere. Crowd appeal notwithstanding, the 22-mile round-trip Kalalua Trail is one of hiking’s ultimate Nirvanas – a tropical island experience nearly unmatched.
The sights: The 11-mile trail is maintained but steep as it crosses above towering sea cliffs and through lush tropical valleys festooned with exotic birds and waterfall rivulets. The first two miles of the trail are a popular day hike and provide a sublime snippet of what’s to come, but to proceed beyond Hanakapiai Valley hikers must have an overnight camping permit.
When to go: Any time of year is open season for the hike, as temperatures seldom drop below 60 F, though October to May can bring unpredictable rain showers.
Trip tips: The trail to the spectacular 300-foot Hanakapiai Falls and beyond is recommended for experienced hikers only. Confident backpackers mounting an early start can continue on the rigorous full-day 11-mile hike to the shore, where the crashing Pacific and two idyllic sand beaches await. Experiencing Hanakapiai and the completely isolated Kalalau make this out-and-back trek worth every arduous step that many claim as an ultimate bucket list endeavor.
5. Whale Trail, South Africa
The trek: Each year, between June and November, one of nature’s most stunning spectacles occurs off the southern tip of the African continent. Hundreds of endangered southern right whales breech, breed and calf close to shore in an event considered to be among the best land-based whale watching experiences in the world. Their chosen waters are just offshore of South Africa’s De Hoop Reserve, one of the largest Marine Protected Areas (MPSs) in all of Africa, and home to the fittingly named 33-mile Whale Trail.
The sights: There are plenty of natural wonders shoreside as well. De Hoop Reserve is a World Heritage Site and part of the Cape Floral Region, recognized as one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots where 20 percent of the continent’s flora naturally occurs. Hikers on this idyllic coastal trek traverse through varied terrain, from some of the most pristine fynbos (fine-leaf flowering plants endemic to the region) shrubland to Day-Glo orange cliffs overlooking long stretches of blinding-white beaches.
When to go: The best time for spotting whales is from June through November, with peak sightings occurring mid-August to mid-October.
Trip tips: At Stilgat bay, hikers can trade their boots for fins and masks and snorkel around tidal pools swimming with sea life.
6. Dientes Circuit Trek, Chile
The trek: Mention Patagonia and images of the toothy Three Towers of Paine in Torres del Paine National Park come to mind, with the Torres del Paine Circuit being one of the world’s most sought hiking circuits. But roughly 560 miles southeast lays a lesser-known circuit every bit as worthy of a hiker’s obsession as its northern flagship sibling. The Dientes Circuit Trek, or 'Teeth of Navarino' as it’s called, is the southernmost trek in the world, a 23-mile circuit in the Chilean Patagonia just 60 miles from the tip of South America and by all counts one of the world’s most remote treks. It was established in the early 1990s and receives fewer than a hundred trekkers a year, partly due to its isolation. The staging point is Puerto Williams, a remote home to about 2,000 residents connected to the outside world by six prop flights a week.
The sights: Naturally, there’s no shortage of Patagonian splendor. Like the famed Torres del Paine, the spiky Dientes rise up from the sea and reach almost 4,000 feet at the Dientes de Navarino massif. But unlike trekking in popular Torres del Paine, the Dientes offer an unadulterated man-on-the-moon experience that’s almost unheard of these days, and any group of trekkers will likely be the only ones on the circuit.
When to go: December through early April is the window for hiking the Dientes.
Trip tips: Independent hikers can take a crack at the six-day circuit, but the logistics of getting to the remote staging area means most hikers will want the logistics and experience provided by a guiding outfitter.
7. Ratikon High Trail Hut-to-Hut Circuit, Austria/Switzerland
The trek: Straddling the borders between Switzerland, Austria, and Liechtenstein, the limestone precipices of the rugged Ratikon form the geological border between the Eastern and Western Alps and stretch from Austria’s Montafon Valley as far west as the Rhine River. The majestic mountain range is favored by day and cross-country hikers alike for its jaw-dropping alpine scenery and accessible trails that mere mortals can do with the right preparation.
The sights: With its vaulting peaks topping at 9,724 feet and sloping green pasturelands populated by goats and cows (with bells, of course), Ratikon could be a stand-in for the famous Sound of Music scenes where the Von Trapp family reveled in wildflower-studded alpine meadows.
Trip tips: Hikers can experience a slice of this alpine fantasy – with non-technical Class I climbing – on a number of five-day hut-to-hut hikes offered by several mountain tour operators. The guide-led Ratikon High Trail Circuit is a hands-down classic that begins above Lunersee, one Austria’s most spectacular lakes, continues into Switzerland and eventually circles back to Lunersee. Daily hikes range from 6 to 10 miles, with a total trip length of 28 miles and 12,000 feet climbed. While days can be pleasantly exhausting, nights are often filled with communal revelries with other hikers eager to swap stories and toast the day’s accomplishments.
8. Camino de Santiago, Spain
The trek: Spain's Camino de Santiago is having a moment. The pilgrimage that began in the ninth century was nearly lost to history until the past couple decades when historians uncovered obscure literature describing the significance of the pilgrimage. Now, the Camino is one of Europe’s premier thru-hikes, growing massively from under 10 certified hikers in 1976 to over 350,000 in 2019. The focus and namesake of the Camino de Santiago is the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain's far northwest. Legend says it was here that the martyr St. James is buried, which became a rallying point for Europeans fighting the Moors in the eighth century after a shepherd claimed to have seen a bright light in the skies. While there are many routes to “the Camino,” the most popular continues to be the nearly 500-mile Camino Frances, or the French Way, that begins at St. Jean Pied-du-Port, France, traverses the Pyrenees Mountains with a challenging 4,600-foot ascent, then heads west across Spain.
The sights: The trek requires 30 to 35 days and passes through time-worn towns and villages, past farms, across valleys and waterways, and through the cities of Pamplona, Burgeos and Leon.
When to go: The Pyrenees can have deep snows into the spring, so hikers doing the French Way should plan on beginning the trek in May/June or September/October, avoiding both winter conditions and mid-summer heat.
Trip tips: Hikers can do the Camino on their own or choose from a number of guide providers who can accompany you or make lodging arrangements and transport luggage.
9. The Jordan Trail, Jordan
The trek: Formally established in 2015, The Jordan Trail is the Middle Eastern country’s first and only long-distance hiking trail, traversing the length of Jordan from Um Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south. Of the world’s recognized long-distance trails, it is simply singular. The alluring desert landscape, Biblical history, ancient ruins and Bedouin camps together extol a sense of timeless antiquity that captivated T.E. Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame) in his 1926 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The entire route is an ambitious undertaking, requiring 40-days and covering 420 miles of trails that pass through 75 hamlets, villages and towns.
The sights: Despite first-glance appearances, hikers are pleasantly surprised that the trail is not a ceaseless desert. Throughout the trek, expect a diverse landscape that includes the rolling wooded hills of the north, the jagged cliffs rising above the Jordan Rift Valley, the mystic experience of the 'Lost City of Petra,' the dramatic desert sands and soaring mountains in Wadi Rum, and finally, the cool azure waters of the Red Sea at trip’s end.
When to go: Best times to embark on the hike are March and April, and October and November.
Trip tips: Joining a guided group is the most practical way to hike The Jordan Trail, or you can hike it in DIY fashion and hire a private licensed guide. Those who simply want to do shorter sections on their own can book lodging in advance through a network of certified acommodation providers.
10. Coast to Cost Path, UK
The trek: There are other scenic and historic paths in England, but to see the best of the countryside the Coast to Coast Path gets the Full Monty award. Devised by Alfred Wainwright, the late guidebook author and raconteur created the ultimate English puzzle by piecing together a maddening mosaic of time-worn bridleways, country roads, mountain trails and obscure public right-of-ways across private lands that link hamlets and villages roughly a day’s walk apart. Traversing England’s narrowest midsection from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood’s Bay along the North Sea, the official distance is 182 miles.
The sights: The C2C gets extra high marks for undulating through three contrasting national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dells and the North York Moors. Unlike American parks, British parks are a different breed; there is no vast wilderness. Instead, they adapt to the realities of the English countryside and weave together a landscape that includes small villages, farms, B&Bs, crumbling castles, cow pastures and wandering sheep.
Trip tips: Some hardy souls walk the route independently, carrying their needed provisions. The majority, however, sign on with tour organizers who provide logistical support and book nightly accommodations while transporting luggage throughout the journey. For most, the standard 18-day itinerary used by tour operators provides enough time to comfortably cover 8 to 16 miles per day.