Trekking may be hard work but it’s all worth it to encounter exceptional landscapes, extraordinary mountain peaks and serene snapshots of local colour. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures.
West Highland Way, Scotland
Scotland’s most famous long-distance walk along the constantly changing highland scenery flaunts an incongruous mix of elegant Munros rising dramatically on every side, hauntingly barren moors stretching to the horizon and back-and-forth switchbacks. Some say the best spot is the top of elongated Conic Hill, where a sparkling Loch Lomond accosts your line of sight. It’s spellbinding and mysterious at the same time. It’s no wonder they chose to run an entire section of the trail through the National Scenic Area of Ben Nevis and Glencoe, where a narrow, grand glen is shut in by wild and precipitous mountains.
The trek stretches 155km between Fort William and Milngavie. It usually takes five to nine days and is best done between May and October.
Uran Chirripo Loop, Costa Rica
Situated in Chirripo National Park in the heart of the Talamanca Mountain range, this is trekking at its finest. You’ll travel though several ecological zones with scads of biodiversity, from the fantastical old-growth forests with trees towering over a canopy dripping with thick, hanging moss to the bare páramo landscape of scrubby trees, grasslands dominating highland wildlife and the lush cloud forest – looking down at the cotton-ball-like clouds is both awesome and dreamy. And when you summit Mount Chirripo you’re rewarded by views of both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans...pretty special.
The trek takes about four days and can be done year-round, but avoid the muddiest months between September and November.
The Grand Canyon: Rim to rim and back, USA
Why not go down first? From one rim across to the other and back again, this trek veers to and fro along different trails each way. As you descend into the depths of the crater, you get up close to the striking rainbows of brick hues filling the strata; the meandering Colorado River beckons and you pass pretty Ribbon Falls, the 30m-high waterfall that resembles ribbons billowing in the breeze. And when you reach the bottom and look up, you feel as tiny as an ant.
Avoid summer when temperatures easily hit 35–40°C (95–104°F) and winter (when parts of the north rim close). The hike takes about four to seven days round-trip.
Bathali village treks, Nepal
Paths and options abound here but any Bathali trek takes you through Kathmandu Valley and is ideal for families or people wanting a soft multiday hike with stellar views. You start and end in Kathmandu, meandering past Buddhist temples and rural hamlets, including lovely Bathali village which sits on a plateau amidst terraced rice fields and dusty-red thatched farmhouses. In between, glimpses of the snowy Himalayan peaks and swaths of bright-green forest greet you. Overall this is a relaxing area to trek and remains relatively uncrowded compared to more popular routes in Nepal.
Treks take anywhere between three to six days and can be done year-round, but avoid rainy July and August and hyper-cold in December and January.
Glaciers, waterfalls, moss-covered lava plains, volcanic peaks, mirror-like lakes – this hike runs the gamut. The 53km (33-mile) ‘Hot Spring Route’, named for the plumes of sulphuric steam that rise from the landscape, is Iceland’s most popular hiking route and with good reason. The traverse, which winds through the stunning southern highlands, generally takes four days; most people begin at Landmannalaugar and hike south to Þórsmörk, staying at the five huts along the route. If you’re up to a challenge, make the most of the midsummer 24-hour daylight and attempt the whole track in one day. Maintain a healthy respect for Iceland’s weather gods, though – they can change things up on you in the blink of an eye.
Huts along the route are open from late June to late August; bookings are recommended. Find info at www.fi.is/en/hiking-trails/laugavegurinn. Check volcanic activity in the area when planning your trip.
The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
This up-down-up-down trek (its route forms the letter W) in Torres del Paine National Park is a one of the best ways to embrace Chilean Patagonia and clear the cobwebs out of your brain. Each day brings a new set of wow-inducing vistas, from long stretches along luminescent glacial lakes (look for floating icebergs!), rugged peaks looming above and southern beech trees peppering the vast Magellanic forest. In between, the trail leads you to see the otherworldly Towers – three skyscraping granite spires – and offers a chance to glimpse the onyx-tipped Horns – two spikes topped by metamorphic black rock.
Patagonian weather is unpredictable, but avoid the harshest months between May and September. Dedicate roughly four to five days for the entire stretch.
Druk Path Trek, Bhutan
From bucolic blue pine, fir and thick alpine forests and dwarfed rhododendron trees to sparkling lakes and steep valleys nestled beneath Himalayan peaks, the landscape simultaneously feeds the soul and makes the camera happy (this is, after all, the happiest country on earth), yet the subtle beauty of nomadic yak herders you pass while gliding through high-altitude meadows is just as stunning as the dramatic terrain. One of the trek’s most extraordinary sights is Bhutan’s most sacred Buddhist site perched 3870m high on the precipitous hillside – the 10 temples of the Phajoding monastery, a stunning clutch of white walls and red roofs.
The trek requires five to six days and is best done March to June or September to November.
This trek is Germany’s best-kept hiking secret: used by traders and messengers since the 14th century, the 168km (104-mile) route winds from the centre of the country along the ridge of the fairytale Thuringian Forest, taking in medieval towns, river-filled valleys and mountain peaks, before ending near the Czech Republic border. You can hike the whole path from Hörschel to Blankenstein (which takes around six days) or alternatively walk any section in isolation – most of the stages are easily accessible by bus.
Make a detour at Eisenach to take in the stunning World Heritage-listed Wartburg Castle. May to August is the best time to walk the Rennsteig, although sections of it are open in winter for snowshoeing.
The Milford Track, New Zealand
With 54km of pristine lakes, abundant birch trees, verdant forests and U-shaped, ice-carved valleys in the wild Fiordland National Park, it’s obvious why this is one of New Zealand’s most famous walks and considered one of the finest in the world. We’re not sure what we love more: the canyons carved out of granite and temperate rain forests, the serene raised platforms extending cross the wetlands, or the zigzag along nine switchbacks to the 1070m MacKinnon Pass summit. And just when you think it can’t get any better you’ll wander across suspension bridges to find the stunning cascades of Sutherland Falls: at 580m it’s the tallest waterfall in the country.
The track takes four days to complete. In high season (October to May) the trail is regulated and must be completed walking north.