It's a dream for many avid hikers to be able to say you’ve completed an iconic trek like the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail or any other magnificent long-distance thru-hike. But let's face it – the time needed to get from end to end, coupled with the necessary time for training, doesn't always fit in your paid leave allotment (if you're lucky enough to get PTO).
That's why we rounded up these shorter thru-hikes that don't scrimp on scenery or are a fun challenge but can be squeezed into your annual vacation.
When planning your trip be sure to check in with Lonely Planet's Health Hub for the latest, most up-to-date travel considerations during the COVID-19 global pandemic, and always check local travel restrictions and regulations.
There are plenty of opportunities to socially distance and take in the fresh air on these excellent thru-hikes. Here are the best.
Patagonia O Circuit, Chile: 68 miles, 6-10 Days
Patagonia is practically synonymous with wild, untamed treks and this trail doesn't disappoint despite the short mileage count. The Patagonia O Circuit in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine circumnavigates some of the most iconic spires in the world – the Cordillera del Paine, sometimes known as Cleopatra's Needles. This rugged and stunningly gorgeous trail will only stoke the flame of your yen for backpacking. In addition to the carved Andes massifs, you'll see the glacial lakes that give the park its name. Paine isn't a Spanish word, instead, it means "blue" in the Indigenous Tehuelche (Aonikenk) language.
What to Know: The weather is as unpredictable as it comes. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Even a single day of views is to be cherished and grateful for. Practice setting up camp in a hurry and how to keep yourself and your gear warm and dry. For a more extensive gear list, check out our article on what to pack for hiking in Patagonia.
The West Coast Trail, British Columbia: 47 miles, 7-10 Days
Don’t let the mileage of this trail fool you or the amount of time needed to complete it. What the trail lacks in distance certainly makes up for in challenging terrain. Creek crossings, log hopping, tide dodging and rain-soaked West Coast Trail has all the punch of a thru-hike on one small stretch of Canadian coastline in British Columbia. It's a great way to test-drive your technical skills if you're training for longer, gnarlier hikes in the future.
What to Know: The weather and sea are unpredictable in the Pacific Northwest. Like with other Pacific hikes like the Oregon Coast Trail, be prepared with rain gear and a tide chart to make sure you can safely complete the West Coast Trail.
John Muir Trail, California: 211 miles, 14-18 Days
The John Muir Trail has long been one of the gold-standard thru-hikes in the United States, despite the fact it only takes a fortnight or so to complete. In use for thousands of years before the titular Scottish conservationist first started writing his famous essays from the trail, this trek was originally known as Nüümü Poyo to the Paiute tribe who used it as a trade route and thoroughfare. Today, hikers can tackle the heart of California's Sierra Nevada range, either by starting at the highest peak in the continental U.S. and ending in magnificent Yosemite National Park, or vice versa.
What to know: A permit is required to hike, along with a bear canister. The John Muir Trail is patrolled daily by backcountry rangers, which offers peace of mind to more inexperienced thru-hikers. Be prepared with the paperwork and necessities, however, to avoid a fine. We have an in-depth guide to hiking the John Muir Trail if you want to know more about what to pack and how to prepare.
GR20, Corsica, France: 112 miles, 10-14 Days
Though the trail may be on a chill Mediterranean island, that doesn’t mean it should be underestimated. Part of the grande randonnée (GR) trail network that winds through much of Europe, the GR20 is one of several dozen numbered routes. The GR20 gives hikers a chance to traverse the island of Corsica, stopping in huts called gîtes along the way. It's a mountainous, knee-shattering climb that will test even the experienced backpacker, but its beauty will make it all worth it; it’s in the Mediterranean after all.
What to Know: The trail is far from flat, therefore some pre-trip training is highly recommended. You'll also want to plan your stops ahead of time, as "wild camping" or "dispersed camping," aka pitching tents outside of designated areas, is not permitted.
Tour du Mont Blanc, France, Switzerland, Italy: 110 Miles, 10-14 Days
There's a reason the Tour du Mont Blanc is easily one of the most popular hiking trails in Europe, passing through France, Switzerland and Italy through the Alps. The 110-mile trail circumnavigating the Mont Blanc massif is a difficult and beautiful trail. From hut to hut or campsite, with epic views of Mont Blanc and the rest of the Alps, this trail easily makes the cut.
What to Know: You will not be alone on this trail, so plan accordingly if you're hoping to make use of the available backcountry huts. Also, check the dates of the annual winter marathon that takes place on the Tour du Mont Blanc to be sure you aren't caught up in a 24-hour alpine gallop.
Larapinta Trail, Australia: 139 miles, 14-18 days
Out of all the trails on this list, the Larapinta may pack the greatest punch. It follows the West MacDonnell Ranges (known as Tjoritja to the Indigenous Aranda people) through lands that have long been sacred to Aboriginal people. Crossing through the Northern Territory of Australia, this rugged trail goes up, down and around such massifs as the impressive Mount Sonder (originally known as Rwetyepme) and natural features like Alice Springs (Mparntwe). It's the hike of a lifetime.
What to Know: Though it is a great training hike to gear up for a six-month trek, some backpacking experience is highly recommended before you tackle this trail. It is rugged and dry, testing both physical and mental barriers and you'll definitely want to plan out your water refills in advance.
Got a little extra leave? Try these longer thru-hikes
Annapurna Circuit, Nepal: 145 miles, 14-21 Days
This grueling high-altitude trail in Nepal will make or break your backpacking career. Its highest point is over 17,000 feet but is also dubbed the most beautiful hike in the world, winding its way through a full gamut of south Asian landscapes, from jungle-strewn valleys to the high alpine of the North Himalaya. Along the way you'll encounter tea houses, mule trains and stunning mountain vistas. We will leave it up to you to see if the fairly young Annapurna Circuit lives up to the hype.
What to Know: The trail varies depending on what, if any, vehicle use you decide on. Planning is critical to tackling this stunning trail. You'll want to update your vaccinations beforehand, obtain a visa and get a permit for your trek.
Long Trail, Vermont: 273 Miles, 20-30 days
Cutting through the state of Vermont, “Footpath in the Wilderness” really lives up to the nickname. Going up and down alpine peaks, through dense forest and finding comfort in backcountry campsites, the Long Trail is a prerequisite for any aspiring long-distance backpacker. It's also a classic piece of US outdoor history, dating back to 1910 when the Green Mountain Club constructed the trail to encourage outdoor recreation.
What to Know: Though a novice backpacker can easily hike the Long Trail, it helps to test your gear and training ahead of time on shorter hikes, or workshops through your local outfitter. Always be prepared to handle a variety of scenarios from weather to animal encounters and backcountry injuries, and this trail will only inspire future trips and lengthier treks.
Kungsleden Trail, Sweden: 270 Miles, 20-30 Days
Kungsleden, also known as the, “Kings Trail,” is a 270-mile jaunt above the Arctic Circle, deep into Sweden’s Lappland. This tundra-filled, lake-crossing water world is a hiker’s dream if you know how to dress for the cold. Hut hop your way into the Arctic of Sweden, and across not one but four national parks that make up the Laponia World Heritage Area, including Pieljekaise, Abisko, Stora Sjöfallet and Sarek.
You can pack a little lighter than you might ordinarily for a cold-weather thru-hike thanks to the overnight shelters thoughtfully spaced at distances the average hiker can complete in a day, making this an accessible introduction to a fragile, unique ecosystem.
What to Know: You’re above the Arctic Circle, and the huts cannot be reserved in advance, but boats for water crossings can be. All of this means timing and preparation are paramount to your success on this trail. Have your cold-weather packing game down and make sure you have a keen sense of your hiking pace and the rate at which you consume water and food in chilly environments.
Jordan Trail, Jordan: 400 miles 30-40 Days
Dating back to biblical times, this trail was used by such figures as Jesus and Moses and has remained popular with tourists thousands of years later. With that kind of pedigree, why not hike your way through Jordan’s spectacular desert environment? Walking the length of the country through the iconic ancient city of Petra and ending at the Red Sea, it's no wonder the trail is nicknamed the “Inca Trail of the Middle East.”
What to Know: The trail is well-managed thanks to the Jordan Trail Association, making the trip as smooth as you like. Jordan relies on tourist revenue, including that from trekkers, so the only thoughts you’ll have are on the hike itself and staying well-hydrated. Do be sure to download or purchase the latest maps, as several sections of the trail (including the Petra portion) are continuously updated.