Best foot forward: hiking your way around the world
Choosing to hike and walk for a good part of your global travels allows you to experience the world through a unique lens – you’ll get to know local communities, learn about a culture from the ground level and stay fit while doing it.
But before you lace up your boots and hit the trail you’ll need to know where to go. These routes will take you across the planet from Europe’s quaint alpine villages to New Zealand’s glacial landscapes, through desert vistas in the Middle East, the USA’s staggering canyons and on to some of the world’s highest peaks in Africa and Asia. Whether you fancy a day trip, a week-long wander or a longer-haul hike, there’s an epic adventure to suit all abilities.
With its well-established routes, challenging treks and excellent network of huts and cabins, Europe is a great place to start your hiking adventure.
At the edge of the European continent you can hike amid the spectacular volcanoes, glaciers and hot springs of Iceland. The 34-mile (55km) Laugavegur Trail takes in a plethora of these landscapes and there are six huts along the route for easy camping.
Slovenia plays host to some of the best hikes in Europe, including the sprawling 310-mile (499 km) Slovenian Mountain Trail, featuring 50 huts en route to house weary walkers. Don’t forget to get your special passport book stamped at the 80 checkpoints along the way.
Skirting the eponymous 4810m-high mountain, the iconic Tour du Mont Blanc takes you 105 miles into the heart of the continent. The trail passes through Switzerland, France and Italy, and hikers can easily customise their route to take in dense forest scenery or mountain passes, historical sights or all of the above!
The bucket-list trek on the African continent is Mt Kilimanjaro. Located in Tanzania, near the border with Kenya, this dormant volcano is Africa’s highest peak standing at a soaring 5895m high. The eight-day route begins on hot plains, continues through jungle, alpine forest, moorland and eventually reaches the glacially-carved summit, where you’ll be treated to stunning views of the savannah below.
Other iconic treks include the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, Blyde River Canyon in South Africa and summiting the continent’s second-highest peak, Mt Kenya. A classic African challenge is Namibia’s 52-mile (83.6 km), four-day trail through Fish River Canyon, the world’s second-largest canyon.
For wildlife encounters head for Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park. The reserve is home to hundreds of species of birds, primates, reptiles and mammals (including the ‘Big Five’), so walking the trails here offer abundant opportunities to spot Nile crocodiles, buffaloes, lions and elephants.
The Middle East
Jordan offers a multitude of day-long hikes that’ll get you out amongst its otherworldly desertscapes and ancient archaeological sites. For a longer stint on the road, trek the 47-mile (75.6 km) trail from Petra to the Dana Biosphere Reserve, taking in the mesmerising architecture of the Rose Red City, plunging desert canyons and towering sandstone cliffs.
Alternatively try the newly-established Jordan Trail, an epic 404-mile (650km) route that runs the entire length of the country from the farming villages of Umm Qais to the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba. If you don’t fancy the 36-consecutive-day hike, the route can be broken into eight distinct legs, each taking around four to five days to hike.
Other unmissable journeys include hiking Oman’s Grand Canyon Wadi Ghul (circumvent the rim before climbing Jebel Shams’ 3009m peak for spectacular views over this fissured landscape); and the Israel National Trail, crossing the entire country from Dan near the Lebanese border to Eilat at its southernmost tip.
The Himalayas are a haven for trekking opportunities, from Everest Base Camp to the mountain’s peak itself and Bhutan’s famed Snowman Trek, a high-altitude hike across nine passes. The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is a classic high-alpine trek that follows ancient trade routes and passes through quaint mountain villages, with fluttering Buddhist prayer flags, stupa, prayer wheels and sturdy stone homes dotting the path. The circuit takes around 15 days and can be extended with side treks off the main route. Many guesthouses can be found along the trail, so you don’t need to carry a tent, sleeping bag or food for more than a day.
In China, don’t miss the trek through the beautiful Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan province. Then head northeast to the Great Wall, where you can hike on top of or along trails at the base of the wall. If you’re headed through Southeast Asia, the best hike is the two-day trek up Mt Kinabalu in Malaysia.
Australia and the Pacific
New Zealand is a country that prides itself on its trekking (or tramping) opportunities. There are nine ‘Great Walks’ in the country, across various landscapes from beaches to mountains and forests, shimmering glaciers and spectacular waterfalls. The longest and most challenging of which is the 49-mile (79 km) Heaphy Track through the South Island’s Kahurangi National Park. The world-class Abel Tasman Coast Track is another spectacular hike taking in the region’s turquoise bays and golden coves.
Australia offers a bounty of walks from short city trails like Sydney’s Seven Bridges, Melbourne’s Capital City Trail and the Darwin City Trail, to wild wanderings in the Red Centre and along Victoria’s lush Great South West Walk. A particular bucket-list favourite is the iconic Three Capes Track in Tasmania. This four-day hike unravels the diversity of Tasmania’s landscapes taking you through 28.5 miles (46km) of dense forest, along dramatic cliff edges and out to the beautiful blue.
For an off-the-grid adventure, with an enlightening dose of history and culture, tackle the Kokoda Track – a 60-mile (96km) hike that’ll get you up-close to the people, places and turbulent past of Papua New Guinea.
Begin your South America trekking adventure in Patagonia, where you can set your sights on the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park. The 62-mile (100km) W Trek takes in craggy mountain ranges, glaciers, lakes and the famed three torres – three soaring spires behind a turquoise lake. The five-day Mt Fitzroy Trek, located in Argentina’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, is another classic trek in southern Patagonia.
Your global trekking tour has one clear direction from here – north along the spine of the Andes mountains to Peru. Here you can embark on the four- to five-day hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This famed 23-mile (37km) route winds it way along trails used by the Incas, and culminates at the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu. If you’re unable to get permits for the Classic Inca Trail (it’s a very popular hike and must be booked in advance), there are additional routes, such as the five-day Salkantay Trail that offer an alternative – but no less captivating – perspective on this region.
North America has thousands of miles of awesome hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada and the Appalachians to name but a few iconic areas. Yosemite National Park includes a number of one-day and overnight hikes, including the 5.4-mile (8.7 km) Mist Trail, past Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. For canyon enthusiasts, it doesn’t get any better than the epic South Kaibab Trail in Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park. Stay in Arizona for the amazing Templeton Trail in Sedona, where you can hike in the shadow of the region’s towering red buttes.
For long-distance treks, hike parts of the Continental Divide Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. Both extend thousands of miles between the borders of the US and Canada, and you’ll need to be fully equipped with camping gear and food to tackle these trails. Colorado is a great place to test out your knees and lungs with 58 peaks over 4267m to climb in the state alone.
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This post was originally published in May 2018 and updated in July 2019.