Whether climbing Everest is at the top of your bucket list or you’d prefer a gentle hike through the British countryside, the world is full of jaw-dropping natural landscapes that beg to be discovered on foot. From Iceland’s otherworldly topography to unveiling the real Middle Earth in New Zealand, here are 10 of the best places to hike in the world.
Immortalized on film as the magnificent backdrop to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, New Zealand’s many attractions and dramatic scenery have had a revival of late, with Peter Jackson’s most recent offering, The Hobbit, reminding travelers what they’re missing. It’s no surprise that hiking – or tramping as it’s known to New Zealanders – is one of the best ways to take in the scenery, and well marked routes traverse the length and breadth of the country, served by a wide network of government-run campsites. Most popular are the nine Great Walks including the one-day Tongariro Alpine crossing, passing by the famous Mt. Ngaurube volcano (otherwise known as ‘Mt. Doom’ from the Lord of the Rings films); the 82km Heaphy Track, which passes a varied terrain from dense rainforest to rugged coastal cliffs; and the 53km famous Milford track, which offers spectacular views of New Zealand’s tallest waterfall.
Nepal’s legendary Annapurna Circuit tops many a hiker’s bucket list and the 230km loop is renowned as one of the world’s most impressive treks, tracing the awe-inspiring Annapurna massif and crossing the Thorung La pass at a breathtaking 5,416 meters. Nepal’s other famous challenge is, of course, the mighty Everest, and trekking to the base camp of notorious peak has become a popular undertaking even for non-climbers. Nepal’s appeal isn’t just the challenging trekking and ruggedly beautiful Himalayas though – the Buddhist country is noted for its unique hospitality and soaking up the culture is as much a part of the experience as the hike itself. Hire a local Sherpa guide, bed down in a traditional mountain village, visit serene mountaintop temples and sip yak butter tea with the locals, as you uncover a whole other world thriving in the wilderness.
With short walking trails and rambling long distance treks running to every corner of the British isles, the United Kingdom makes the perfect location for hikers to test out their navigation skills, with well marked routes doing away with the need for a guide. Head to one of England’s world renowned National Parks like the Lake District, the Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales, where the vast moorlands and sweeping hills are dotted with cobblestone villages and traditional pubs, or attempt the 182km Coast to Coast trail, spanning the entire length of England. It’s not just British soil that’s well trodden – you can also visit the Scottish Highlands which are home to the UK’s highest peak, Ben Nevis and a vast network of footpaths provide dramatic views over the windswept glens and glistening lochs of the northernmost county.
From scrambling through the volcanic valleys of Cappadocia to trekking the vast Taurus Mountains, Turkey has plenty to offer lovers of the outdoors away from sun and sand of the Mediterranean coast. The 500km Lycian Way, running along the coast from Fethiye to Antalya, and the St Paul’s Trail, following in the footsteps of the legendary evangelist from Perge and Aspendos to Yalvac, are the country’s two main long distance hiking routes, passing a number of key historic sites and showcasing the country’s incredibly diverse terrain.
With majestic glaciers, bubbling hot springs and looming volcanoes, hiking through Iceland’s otherworldly landscape offers some of the world’s most unique photo opportunities. Hiking is possible almost anywhere, but most adventurers head for one of the national parks – Skaftafell National Park is a wonderland of shimmering ice caps and jagged mountains, whereas Landmannalaugar’s striking rhyolite mountains provide the focal point of the celebrated 4-day Laugavegurinn trail. Another popular trek is scaling the country’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur, at 2110 meters, where you’ll be afforded spectacular views over the Vatnajokull glacier – one of the world’s largest.
The gateway to Antarctica has fast become a popular destination in its own right – a wintry playground of glaciers, penguin colonies and snow-dusted mountains. Stretching across the southernmost parts of Argentina and Chile, visiting Patagonia means seeing some of the continent’s most magnificent surroundings – swollen glacial valleys, pristine lakes and towering mountain peaks. The UNESCO biosphere reserve of Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean side, is a hotspot for hikers with well-marked trails offering expansive views of the famous pink granite Paine towers, or else make the pilgrimage to see the wondrous Perito Moreno Glacier, the ‘smoking mountain’ of Chalten volcano or the windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, the ‘Land of Fire’.
Hikers could spend a lifetime exploring the US on foot, but the varied terrains of California make the perfect place to start. While there are few pockets of wilderness left undiscovered, America’s third largest state still has plenty of jaw-dropping hikes up its sleeve, including some of the country’s most iconic landscapes. Hikers can choose from exploring the epic canyons and dunes of the Death Valley desert; the granite cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and vast rivers of Yosemite National Park; or visiting the world’s largest tree, the General Sherman Tree, in Sequoia National Park. The world famous parks aren’t the only options – the Joshua Tree National Park, Redwood National Park, Big Sur and the Golden Gate National Park all lie within Californian borders, with the landscape ranging from snow capped peaks to arid desert basin.
Hikers traveling to Europe will find it hard to miss a walk in the Alps, Europe’s principal mountain range, sprawling across eight countries. Throughout winter the Alps play host to some of Europe’s glitziest ski resorts but as the snow thaws, hiking the alpine slopes becomes one of the region’s most popular pastimes. Color-coded signposts mark out routes throughout the Alps, Europe’s open border policies means hiking between countries isn’t a problem and there’s such a high concentration of peaks over 4,000 meters that you won’t have to walk far to get a view. Explore the traditional villages and cheese factories in the Swiss foothills; follow one of the acclaimed tracks through the lush valleys and glacial passes of the French Alps; or travel to Chamonix to tackle the hugely popular trail encircling the iconic peak of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, straddling the border between France and Italy on a Half-Day Trip to Chamonix and Mont Blanc from Geneva.
Taking the famous train journey through the towering Rocky Mountains are one of Canada’s most celebrated attractions but to truly experience their magnitude, you’ll need to don your hikers and take to the hills. The vast Rockies harbor myriad opportunities for hiking but the best-marked trails and a network of alpine huts lie within the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site. Notable trails include the famous Berg Lake Trail, running through the Mount Robson Provincial Park and scaling the highest peak in the Rockies; the Mount Fairview trail in Banff National Park, offering panoramic views of the dazzling Lake Louise; and the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit in Yoho National Park, a scenic route through lush woodlands and shimmering glacial valleys.
Ticked the other nine off your list? Now’s the time to get truly off the beaten track and discover some of the world’s most inspiring and least-visited landscapes – hikes long overlooked by the tourist hoards. Kazakhstan has been steadily building a reputation among serious hikers for its remote and unspoiled wilderness, and with a number of reputable trekking companies operating in the country, it’s easier than ever to explore. The Tian Shan and Altai mountain ranges hold the most popular routes, with ancient pathways tracing the borders of Russia, China and Mongolia. Just make sure you take a local guide.