While hiking might not be the fastest means of getting around, there’s no better way to immerse yourself in nature. Losing yourself in to the unknown of the trail, following the path of thousands, and listening to nothing but the sounds of nature, places you in a state of peace and tranquility. Reaching the end of your trail is a reward you get for putting yourself out of your comfort zone and into the hands of wilderness.
From spiritual pilgrimages to thru-hiking and backpacking, trekking is an activity loved by both the body and soul. Our beautiful planet is filled with natural wonders, waiting to be explored. Looking for the next trail to tick off your list? Take a look at the 12 extraordinary hikes listed below. Regardless of your preference or fitness level, you’ll find something to your liking.
4 Must-do Hikes For Adrenaline Rush Junkies
El Caminito del Rey
Destination: Malaga, Spain
Length: 5 mi (8 km)
Features: steep walls, narrow gorge, man-made wooden and metal walkways
Formerly known as the world's most dangerous hike, capturing lives of 5 hikers in 1999, the trail has been restored and reopened for adventure seekers since 2015. This rope and cable trail is at the top of any reputable hiker’s bucket list and it’s perfect for those seeking to test not only their physical limits but also mental capabilities. Wobbly suspension bridges and narrow boardwalks, hugging steep cliffs will put you on your toes and demand you to balance that thin line between life and death all the way to the end.
In such extreme conditions, the beauty of the trail often remains unnoticed although it’s truly breathtaking: reservoirs of turquoise water surrounded by pine forests, the steep limestone gorge towering above the Guadalhorce River and enveloping mountains - incredible landscape within such a short distance. To reach the path by car is impossible and the walk to it may seem like a challenge in itself but the extra effort is well worth it!
How can something so beautiful be so dangerous? Easy. Combine a 5 million year old volcanic island with one of the world’s wettest spots on Earth - Mount Waiʻaleʻale, and place it on the Hawaii hotspot. The trail is the only land access to this dangerously rugged, yet spine-tingling natural wonder that is known as Na Pali Coast. Hikers from all over the world are determined to put their lives at risk and finish this brief yet challenging trek.
The trail begins at Ke’e Beach and takes you through five deep rainforest valleys, each of which requires a steep ascent and descent until you eventually drop to the sea level at Kalalau Beach. Along the way, you can expect to wade tiny yet violently fast streams, hidden waterfalls, and cobblestone pathways. While the hike can be dangerous, the rewarding views you get along the way will keep you motivated.
Destination: Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Length: 37 mi (63 km)
Features: high altitude, steep and slippery, low temperature
The tallest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, is a freestanding stratovolcano that repays with a 360-degree view from its summit. Although to climb it is not as technically challenging as the Alps or the Himalayas, the steep and slippery trail, low temperatures, and high altitudes may make it difficult even to the most experienced of hikers. Nonetheless, the hike is extremely rewarding to everyone who dares!
While there are many different routes leading to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the “Whiskey” route or Machame route is the most demanding and scenic of them all. Standing still in the midst of the African tundra, Kilimanjaro is accessible by a car which takes you straight to the starting point of the hike.
The route takes you up the southern wall of the mountain and through the rainforest of Shira Plateau, then the path turns east and leads you under the Kilimanjaro's Southern Ice Field, which is followed by a long and strenuous hike to the summit. The Machame Trail is perfect for those who are into mountain hiking. Hiking Kilimanjaro is also a great way to see how your body deals with high altitudes.
Laugavegur Trail/Fimmvorduhals Pass
Destination: Highlands Region, Iceland
Length: 50 mi (80 km)
Features: unexpected weather changes, diverse terrain, cool temperatures
If you’re looking to experience the thrill of ever-changing weather, terrain and landscape - Iceland is the place to go. There, you’re never sure what kind of weather you’ll get - hail, rain, or sunshine, the terrain under your feet can be anything from glaciers to lava fields, and the surrounding landscape ranges from rhyolite hills to bubbling hot springs.
The Laugavegur Trail/Fimmvorduhals Pass combines two of the most scenic hikes in Iceland: the Laugavegur Trail between Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork, and the Fimmvorduhals Pass from Thorsmork to Skogar. The trail can be divided into a few smaller hikes, however, to fully immerse yourself in Icelandic nature we recommend that you hike it all at once, over a period of 4-6 days.
If you want to hike in Iceland’s wilderness, you have to be not only physically but also mentally ready. The fast-paced environment here can be dangerous if you’re unprepared or did not plan well in advance. Also, due to the increasing popularity of the trek, huts can be fully booked and the remoteness of the location can lead to the lack of resources.
To avoid all this hassle and to still enjoy the wilderness, why not let someone else do the planning and go on a guided tour? Leaving early morning from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, a day hike in the highlands is suitable for most hikers and showcases the stunning beauty of Landmannalaugar and its surroundings. Alternatively opt for a multiday hike that takes you across the whole Laugavegur/Fimmvorduhals Trail. On a guided tour, all you need to worry about is putting one foot in front of the other while enjoying Iceland’s wild nature.
4 must-do hikes for history nuts
Destination: Caucasus Mountains
Length: 1864 mi (3000 km)
Features: doesn’t yet exist, relics of Ottoman, Persia, and Russian Empires
Always dreamed of building a hiking trail? Now is your chance to join the passionate group of people, who are bringing the Transcaucasian Trail to life. While the full trail is not yet ready to be hiked, there are parts of it in Armenia and Georgia ready to be explored. Follow in the footsteps of our ancestors, explore the locations where human population began, and learn about the famous Silk Road along the way. The mountains are bursting with stories of the Persian and Ottoman Empires, the earliest evidence of winemaking lies there silently, and over 40 indigenous languages are spoken across the region.
The trail is not only historic but also picturesque, traversing the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains, which can only mean an abundance of awe-inspiring views at your fingertips.
Lost City Trek
Destination: Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria, Colombia
Length: 27 mi (44km)
Features: ancient architecture, remains from 800 ce, ongoing archeological research
Located in the jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria Mountain Range, this hidden gem is worth the visit for everyone interested in ancient history as here lie the remains of a forgotten city, older than Machu Picchu itself. The hike up to the city is not the easiest but the reward is obvious - you’ll be one of the few who have stood on the Lost City of Colombia. Keep in mind that the archeological research is still in the process, so you’ll need to be extra careful with your feet.
The approach to the hike is difficult but feasible aboard a 4WD vehicle. Once there, you’ll find plenty of local guides to help you hike to the Lost City.1,200 steps lead all the way up to this hidden gem and along the way you can expect to be fully immersed in the jungle, cross quite a few streams, and uncover some extraordinary pieces of ancient architecture. Keep in mind that hikers are required to be accompanied by a local guide.
Camino de Santiago
Destination: Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Length: 484 mi (780 km)
Features: pilgrimage, many possiblwe paths, easy
If you’re looking to simply disconnect from the chaos of the modern world and reunite with nature and yourself - Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is perfect. There are many different paths leading to the Santiago de Compostela and you can choose the length, difficulty, and scenery of your hike based on your needs and capabilities. The most popular is the French Way, starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
Walking any chosen Camino trail should be easily attainable for anyone who is determined. There are plenty of accommodation options and restaurants along the way, camping is also available for those seeking solitude and remoteness.
Camino de Santiago was first discovered in the 9th century when remains of St. James’ were found in Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrimage was most popular in 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries, although it declined in popularity later on. In the modern day, thousands of tourists are tempted to embark upon the pilgrimage solely because of the solitude and peace they find along the way.
Ganden to Samye Trek
Destination: Lhasa, Tibet
Length: 49 mi (80km)
Features: the first monastery in Tibet, high altitude, wildlife
This hike will take you from Ganden monastery, founded in the 15th century, to Samye, the first Buddhist temple. The hike is just as historical as it is spiritual. Samye Temple is a top destination for the Buddhists of Tibet, who hike thousands of miles to reach this sacred location.
During the hike, you’ll deepen your knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism, along with the culture and religion of the area. You’ll hike across snow-capped mountain passes, verdant alpine meadows, and around turquoise-blue holy lakes, where you’ll meet the nomads who live at high altitudes. At the end, you’ll be rewarded by views of the oldest known Tibetan temple, standing solemnly in the surrounding barren desert.
While the trek might not be technically demanding, you shouldn’t underestimate it. You start your journey at 13,940 feet (4180m) above sea level and your body will need to acclimatize prior to ascending further. Halfway through the trek, you’ll reach the highest point - 17,224ft (5250m) above sea level, after which you’ll start descending towards your goal - Samye Monastery at 11,600ft (3540m). Previous hiking and camping experience at high altitude is necessary if you wish to go there by yourself. Otherwise, we recommend hiring a guide.
4 must-do hikes for nature and wildlife lovers
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
Destination: Brooks Range, Alaska
Length: 8.4 million acres
Features: no official trails, no campsites, no roads
Even for the most seasoned hiker, exploring Gates of the Arctic National Park can be very challenging. While there are no official hiking trails in the park, the hiking and backpacking possibilities are endless. You can completely lose yourself to the untamed and untouched nature of the Arctic.
Travelers from all over the world are drawn to this remote hidden jewel in the North for many reasons, some of which are the lack of facilities, resources and people. Accessible only by a scheduled plane, survival in the wilderness of the Arctic can become a true challenge and it’s not recommended for inexperienced hikers.
Dense vegetation, boggy ground, an abundance of streams and tussocks will make your hike slow yet worth the effort. You’ll find it easiest to hike in the stream beds if the water is low and above the tree line. There are no camping restrictions in the park, however, you should be conscious of a footprint you embed at every step. Maps, a compass, and the ability to use them is essential. Grizzly bears and barren-ground caribou consider this land their home so respect their privacy for your own safety.
West Coast Trail
Destination: Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Length: 46 mi (75 km)
Features: Indian Reserves, First Nations archeological sites, abundant wildlife
Travel in the footsteps of the First Nations People as the exceptional landscapes and untamed wildlife of Vancouver Island unfold in front of you. Back in the day, the indigenous people of the area used the trail for trade and travel and later on it was an access point for rescuers to shipwreck sites. Now, it is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world and requires a reservation made in advance to guarantee entrance and avoid overcrowding.
Hikers need to come well prepared with a solid hiking plan. At times, you’ll wade shallow yet violently fast streams, climb steep and slippery slopes or use cable cars where it’s impossible to hike. Black bears, cougars, hummingbirds, wolves, gray whales, orcas, seals, eagles, and sea lions are a common sight, be careful not to invade their space and keep a safe distance. Because of the considerable amount of planning required for the hike, many travelers opt to hike the West Coast Trail with an experienced guide.
Destination: Georgia to Maine, United States
Length: 2,200 mi (3,500 km)
Features: longest, hiking-only trail in the world
Join 3 million people and cross 14 states on the world’s longest hiking-only trail. This isn’t just a trail, it also becomes home to every through hiker as it takes approximately 5 to 7 months to complete it. The trail was built in 1937 after more than a decade of construction and it is ever-changing as extreme weather conditions in certain areas often cause damage to the trail.
Although not as diverse in wildlife habitats as the West Coast Trail in Vancouver Island, the trail is home to black bears, who tend to appear very rarely. You should also be aware of venomous snakes, deer, and elk. However, the biggest headaches to most of the hikers are mosquitoes, ticks, and flies.
Destination: Jasper National Park, Canada
Lenght: 27 miles (44 km)
Features: above the treeline, unpredictable weather, picturesque
Cited as the most picturesque trail in the Candian Rockies, Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park definitely has it all! Stretching from Maligne Lake to Maligne Canyon and Signal Mountain, the trail takes you across alpine ridges, where snow-capped peaks are visible until late August, turquoise-colored lakes are enveloped by overarching mountain ranges and borderless glaciers are home to black and grizzly bears.
There are two possible starting points to the trail: at the shores of Maligne Lake and at the Signal Mountain. We recommend starting at Maligne Lake, as the elevation at that point is higher and the views are better. While the trail isn’t technically challenging, at times steep elevation and unpredictable weather conditions can make it more demanding than it is. Campsites are located at every few miles, but because the trail is a popular destination, you need to book your spot well in advance or join a guided tour where you will get to explore not only the best parts of Skyline Trail but also the best of Banff and Jasper National Parks.