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The best hikes in the world

If you're strong enough to take on the best hikes in the world you'll be rewarded with some of Earth's most gorgeous scenery.

Written by
Ted Alan Stedman
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The past couple years have seen a major uptick in people looking for new and epic experiences in the great outdoors (and the trend has only gotten bigger with social distancing in play). And while some might have attempted to chase the auora or tackle cold-water swimming during quarantine, the most basic way to start and finish an adventure is as old as when prehistoric human progenitors began walking upright. Hiking – a.k.a. putting one foot in front of another, then repeating – is one of the simplest of outdoor activities. Add in its health quotient and the fact that destinations around the globe offer a variety of breaktaking landscapes, culture and natural attractions, and hiking becomes an energized way to see the world.

It’s also true that some of the world's most gorgeous scenery is off-limits to all but those who lace up their boots and head into the wild. But equal opportunity can be hiking’s forte, too. There is something for every trekker (and every type of body) who wants to craft a memorable life experience on the beaten trail. Day hike or multi-day journey? Solo or with a group? Independent backpacking or a guiding operator who leads, cooks, cleans and has your back? And don’t forget the various types of terrain that can include mountain climbing, coastal treks, rainforest routes, desert rambles and those where historical treasures like ancient ruins and cultural immersion take center stage.

Inspiration is never far, and to light the fuse we’ve curated the top hiking destinations around the globe that should entice even the more recalcitrant readers. It’s a big world, now go.

RECOMMENDED: The best national parks in the world

Best hikes in the world

The Great Ocean Walk, Australia
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1. The Great Ocean Walk, Australia

The trek: Located 124 miles south-west of Melbourne, where the Australian coast meets the wild Southern Ocean, The Great Ocean Walk obliges hikers with plenty of only-in-Australia sights and ranks as the continent’s most superlative coastal foot path. Beginning at Apollo Bay, the 68-mile walk shadows the iconic Great Ocean Road, passes through Great Otway and Port Campbell national parks, and concludes with an encore at the world-famous limestone stacks known as The Twelve Apostles.

The sights: Along the route, hikers will undoubtedly encounter koalas resting in eucalyptus treetops, wallabies scampering along the headlands, as well as creek and river crossings, tall forests and deserted beaches with panoramic views from windswept headlands.

When to go: The Austral spring, autumn and summer are the preferred times to explore the trail. But the June-through-September winter season also has its incentives in the form of cool temperatures, wet, lush rain forests and being the best time to spot migrating humpback and southern right whales passing just offshore.

Trip tips: The Great Ocean Walk can be done independently over the course of eight days, and walkers can stay at various dedicated campsites or find off-walk accommodations nearby. For those who lean toward a more organized experience, Great Ocean Walk tour operators will handle the logistics and lodging.

Kungsleden, Sweden
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2. Kungsleden, Sweden

The trek: Spanning 270 miles in Sweden’s far north Lapland province, The King's Trail is superlative for its remote edge-of-the-world vibe, its 24/7 midsummer daylight that reboots your Circadian rhythm, and the August/September aurora borealis that lights up the sky. Hiking the entire trail takes about month, but because it's broken into sections you can choose the length of your hike; the most popular section, between Abisko and Nikkaluokta, covers 65 miles and takes between 10 to 12 days.

The sights: The trail is considered one of the world’s most famous hikes, coursing through a vast Arctic landscape home to birch forests filled with flowers, dramatic mountain passes with lunar-like terrain, lush grass meadows and wide glacial valleys.

When to go: Although the walking is fairly easy during the optimum June-September hiking season, water here is profuse. The well-marked trail has plank walkways and bridges that cross swampy bogs and non-fordable summer streams, though some areas offer rowboat crossings or local charter boats that operate in lakes. 

Trip tips: Anyone who’d rather leave the logistics to the experts can hire local guides who shepherd hikers along and prepare meals at a series of huts operated by the Swedish Tourism Association. The huts are separated by a distance a walker can cover in a day, about six to 14 miles, and self-supported backpackers can book advanced hut reservations as well. For a small fee, independent tent campers can pitch tents outside the same huts and use the cooking and latrine facilities.

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Gotemba Trail, Japan
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3. Gotemba Trail, Japan

The trek: Japan’s Mt. Fuji is one of the most popular mountain icons in the world, with its distinctive, graceful conical symmetry (technically a stratovolcano) forged over millions of years by violent eruptions that have left a scorched sea of volcanic ash and rock along its slopes. The mountain, highest in Japan at 12,380 feet, is synonymous with the country’s physical, cultural and spiritual identity. Understandably, then, climbing Mt. Fuji is on gazillions of travelers’ bucket lists. There are four main routes of differing difficulty ranging from 4,600 to 7,900 feet of elevation gain to the summit, and most plan for two days on the mountain. Typically, hikers start mid-morning on the first day and climb for six to eight hours to reach pre-booked huts by dusk, then rise after midnight on day two to complete the trek to the summit just before sunrise. Yes, it can get crowded.

The sights: Despite being loved by the masses, Fuji still ranks as one of the world’s most desired hikes – an admirable goal for hikers wanting to experience the summit’s see-forever views and the resulting sense of achievement alongside scores of others who chant at daybreak. 

When to go: Nearly all climbs are attempted from early July to mid September, when weather is mild and the mountain is free of snow.

Trip tips: The hike isn’t technically difficult and most people won’t need a guide, which undoubtedly eased apprehensions for the 236,000 who attempted to climb to the summit in 2019.

Kalalau Trail, USA
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4. Kalalau Trail, USA

The trek: Even people who’ve never heard of the Napali Coast will likely recognize it. The stunning photogenic grandeur of steep, verdant cliffs and deep, narrow valleys spilling into the sea is known the world-over on so many screen savers, posters and travel site bucket lists, making Napali one of the most recognizable coastlines anywhere. Crowd appeal notwithstanding, the 22-mile round-trip Kalalua Trail is one of hiking’s ultimate Nirvanas – a tropical island experience nearly unmatched.

The sights: The 11-mile trail is maintained but steep as it crosses above towering sea cliffs and through lush tropical valleys festooned with exotic birds and waterfall rivulets. The first two miles of the trail are a popular day hike and provide a sublime snippet of what’s to come, but to proceed beyond Hanakapiai Valley hikers must have an overnight camping permit.

When to go: Any time of year is open season for the hike, as temperatures seldom drop below 60 F, though October to May can bring unpredictable rain showers.

Trip tips: The trail to the spectacular 300-foot Hanakapiai Falls and beyond is recommended for experienced hikers only. Confident backpackers mounting an early start can continue on the rigorous full-day 11-mile hike to the shore, where the crashing Pacific and two idyllic sand beaches await. Experiencing Hanakapiai and the completely isolated Kalalau make this out-and-back trek worth every arduous step that many claim as an ultimate bucket list endeavor. 

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Whale Trail, South Africa
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5. Whale Trail, South Africa

The trek: Each year, between June and November, one of nature’s most stunning spectacles occurs off the southern tip of the African continent. Hundreds of endangered southern right whales breech, breed and calf close to shore in an event considered to be among the best land-based whale watching experiences in the world. Their chosen waters are just offshore of South Africa’s De Hoop Reserve, one of the largest Marine Protected Areas (MPSs) in all of Africa, and home to the fittingly named 33-mile Whale Trail. The six-day hut-to-hut guided trek takes every opportunity to witness the coastline’s transformation into a critical whale nursery for these magnificent mammals.

The sights: There are plenty of natural wonders shoreside as well. De Hoop Reserve is a World Heritage Site and part of the Cape Floral Region, recognized as one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots where 20 percent of the continent’s flora naturally occurs. Hikers on this idyllic coastal trek traverse through varied terrain, from some of the most pristine fynbos (fine-leaf flowering plants endemic to the region) shrubland to Day-Glo orange cliffs overlooking long stretches of blinding-white beaches.

When to go: The best time for spotting whales is from June through November, with peak sightings occurring mid-August to mid-October.

Trip tips: At Stilgat bay, hikers can trade their boots for fins and masks and snorkel around tidal pools swimming with sea life. 

Dientes Circuit Trek, Chile
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6. Dientes Circuit Trek, Chile

The trek: Mention Patagonia and images of the toothy Three Towers of Paine in Torres del Paine National Park come to mind, with the Torres del Paine Circuit being one of the world’s most sought hiking circuits. But roughly 560 miles southeast lays a lesser-known circuit every bit as worthy of a hiker’s obsession as its northern flagship sibling. The Dientes Circuit Trek, or 'Teeth of Navarino' as it’s called, is the southernmost trek in the world, a 23-mile circuit in the Chilean Patagonia just 60 miles from the tip of South America and by all counts one of the world’s most remote treks. It was established in the early 1990s and receives fewer than a hundred trekkers a year, partly due to its isolation. The staging point is Puerto Williams, a remote home to about 2,000 residents connected to the outside world by six prop flights a week.

The sights: Naturally, there’s no shortage of Patagonian splendor. Like the famed Torres del Paine, the spiky Dientes rise up from the sea and reach almost 4,000 feet at the Dientes de Navarino massif. But unlike trekking in popular Torres del Paine, the Dientes offer an unadulterated man-on-the-moon experience that’s almost unheard of these days, and any group of trekkers will likely be the only ones on the circuit. 

When to go: December through early April is the window for hiking the Dientes.

Trip tips: Independent hikers can take a crack at the six-day circuit, but the logistics of getting to the remote staging area means most hikers will want the logistics and experience provided by a guiding outfitter

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Ratikon High Trail Hut-to-Hut Circuit, Austria/Switzerland
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7. Ratikon High Trail Hut-to-Hut Circuit, Austria/Switzerland

The trek: Straddling the borders between Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein, the limestone precipices of the rugged Ratikon form the geological border between the Eastern and Western Alps and stretch from Austria’s Montafon Valley as far west as the Rhine River. The majestic mountain range is favored by day and cross-country hikers alike for its jaw-dropping alpine scenery and accessible trails that mere mortals can do with the right preparation.

The sights: With its vaulting peaks topping at 9,724 feet and sloping green pasturelands populated by goats and cows (with bells, of course), Ratikon could be a stand-in for the famous Sound of Music scenes where the Von Trapp family reveled in wildflower-studded alpine meadows.

Trip tips: Hikers can experience a slice of this alpine fantasy – with non-technical Class I climbing – on a number of five-day hut-to-hut hikes offered by several mountain tour operators. The guide-led Ratikon High Trail Circuit is a hands-down classic that begins above Lunersee, one Austria’s most spectacular lakes, continues into Switzerland and eventually circles back to Lunersee. Daily hikes range from 6 to 10 miles, with a total trip length of 28 miles and 12,000 feet climbed. While days can be pleasantly exhausting, nights are often filled with communal revelries with other hikers eager to swap stories and toast the day’s accomplishments.

Camino de Santiago, Spain
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8. Camino de Santiago, Spain

The trek: Spain's Camino de Santiago is having a moment. The pilgrimage that began in the ninth century was nearly lost to history until the past couple decades when historians uncovered obscure literature describing the significance of the pilgrimage. Now, the Camino is one of Europe’s premier thru-hikes, growing massively from under 10 certified hikers in 1976 to over 350,000 in 2019. The focus and namesake of the Camino de Santiago is the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain's far northwest. Legend says it was here that the martyr St. James is buried, which became a rallying point for Europeans fighting the Moors in the eighth century after a shepherd claimed to have seen a bright light in the skies. While there are many routes to “the Camino,” the most popular continues to be the nearly 500-mile Camino Frances, or the French Way, that begins at St. Jean Pied-du-Port, France, traverses the Pyrenees Mountains with a challenging 4,600-foot ascent, then heads west across Spain.

The sights: The trek requires 30 to 35 days and passes through time-worn towns and villages, past farms, across valleys and waterways, and through the cities of Pamplona, Burgeos and Leon.

When to go: The Pyrenees can have deep snows into the spring, so hikers doing the French Way should plan on beginning the trek in May/June or September/October, avoiding both winter conditions and mid-summer heat.

Trip tips: Hikers can do the Camino on their own or choose from a number of guide providers who can accompany you or make lodging arrangements and transport luggage. 

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The Jordan Trail, Jordan
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9. The Jordan Trail, Jordan

The trek: Formally established in 2015, The Jordan Trail is the Middle Eastern country’s first and only long-distance hiking trail, traversing the length of Jordan from Um Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south. Of the world’s recognized long-distance trails, it is simply singular. The alluring desert landscape, Biblical history, ancient ruins and Bedouin camps together extol a sense of timeless antiquity that captivated T.E. Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame) in his 1926 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The entire route is an ambitious undertaking, requiring 40-days and covering 420 miles of trails that pass through 75 hamlets, villages and towns.

The sights: Despite first-glance appearances, hikers are pleasantly surprised that the trail is not a ceaseless desert. Throughout the trek, expect a diverse landscape that includes the rolling wooded hills of the north, the jagged cliffs rising above the Jordan Rift Valley, the mystic experience of the 'Lost City of Petra,' the dramatic desert sands and soaring mountains in Wadi Rum, and finally, the cool azure waters of the Red Sea at trip’s end.

When to go: Best times to embark on the hike are March and April, and October and November. 

Trip tips: Joining a guided group is the most practical way to hike The Jordan Trail, or you can hike it in DIY fashion and hire a private licensed guide. Those who simply want to do shorter sections on their own can book lodging in advance through a network of certified accommodation providers

The trek: There are other scenic and historic paths in England, but to see the best of the countryside the Coast to Coast Path gets the Full Monty award. Devised by Alfred Wainwright, the late guidebook author and raconteur created the ultimate English puzzle by piecing together a maddening mosaic of time-worn bridleways, country roads, mountain trails and obscure public right-of-ways across private lands that link hamlets and villages roughly a day’s walk apart. Traversing England’s narrowest midsection from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood’s Bay along the North Sea, the official distance is 182 miles.

The sights: The C2C gets extra high marks for undulating through three contrasting national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dells and the North York Moors. Unlike American parks, British parks are a different breed; there is no vast wilderness. Instead, they adapt to the realities of the English countryside and weave together a landscape that includes small villages, farms, B&Bs, crumbling castles, cow pastures and wandering sheep.

Trip tips: Some hardy souls walk the route independently, carrying their needed provisions. The majority, however, sign on with tour organizers who provide logistical support and book nightly accommodations while transporting luggage throughout the journey. For most, the standard 18-day itinerary used by tour operators provides enough time to comfortably cover 8 to 16 miles per day.

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The trek: Tasmania is Australia’s smallest state, a sizable island 150 miles south of the mainland and the last stop before Antarctica. The same isolation that attracted British penal colony settlements here has been a blessing for protected lands that for decades were off-limits. As penal colonies were decommissioned, many reverted to protected parks such as Maria Island National Park, considered the crown jewel of the country's parks system. Today, the designated World Heritage site off Tasmania’s east coast is a hiker’s hit for its 36-mile cross-island trek that brims with oddities found only in the Land of Oz.

The sights: Like a Noah’s Ark for endangered Australian wildlife, the island is teeming with rare Forester kangaroos and Bennett’s wallabies, as well as other austral oddities like pademelons (think miniature kangaroos), wombats and fairy penguins.

When to go: The maritime hiking season is best November through March, when Austral temperatures hover between 55° and 75° F

Trip tips: With the required Parks Pass needed to visit or camp on Maria Island, explorers on this isolated outpost can also find Robinson Crusoe-style solitude along the island’s expansive and utterly pristine paper-white sand beaches. Primitive camping is wide-open, or you can opt for a four-day guided walking tour where accompanying guides do the heavy lifting and provide nightly gourmet meals at permanent tent camps. 

Paria River Canyon, USA
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12. Paria River Canyon, USA

The trek: Hiking the slot canyons of the American Southwest is beyond surreal. Following red rock canyons carved into riverine labyrinths that include sand beaches, quiet pools, frothy spillways and echoing alcoves hemmed in by 200-foot vertical walls can make you think you’ve entered a Matrix-like alter reality. Indeed, one of the premier examples of this bucket list experience is the famed backpacking trek in the Paria River Canyon.

The sights: There are several entry routes of varying difficulty, but the classic is the 38-miler from White House Trailhead to Lees Ferry. Footing can be tricky as hikers repeatedly wade across the river at shallower sections while avoiding quick sand and deeper swirling pools. And it goes without saying that hikers attempting the Paria must be weather-wise and understand that distant rainstorms can turn the sun-lit canyon into a deadly flashflood within minutes. But the aforementioned highlights make this hike a lifetime experience that you’ll be talking about months (and years) later.

When to go: Like most backpacking trips in the desert, the best time to hike Paria Canyon is spring and early fall.

Trip tips: Hikers average between eight to 10 miles daily, completing the route in four or five days. This is full-fledged strenuous backpacking and canyoneering rolled into one, and not suitable for children. Permits are required, and know that the application process is competitive and best submitted months in advance.

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Tour du Mont Blanc, Switzerland/Italy/France
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13. Tour du Mont Blanc, Switzerland/Italy/France

The trek: In Europe, it would be difficult to find a more international contingent of climbers and trekkers than those you’ll encounter on the slopes of Mont Blanc. French, Italian, Swiss, German, Spanish, etc. are some of the nationalities who regularly complete the Tour du Mont Blanc circuit around the 15,781-foot massif, the highest in Western Europe. With international appeal like this, it follows that the Mont Blanc circuit is extraordinary. It is. The seven-day loop isn’t as much a hike as it is an immersion in mountaineering, following 112 miles of remote trails that traverse anti-clockwise around Mont Blanc. There are multiple starting points and plenty of route options, but it’s hard to beat the Mont Blanc circuit that begins and ends in Chamonix, an adrenaline-infused mountain town that’s become a thriving hub of adventure sports in the French Alps.

The sights: Trekkers can expect upwards of 32,000 feet of accumulated elevation as the circuit negotiates the rocky slopes, boulder fields and forests that intermingle with perfectly preserved mountain hamlets.

When to go: Mid-June through early September is the standard season. 

Trip tips: Once on the trail, hikers have the luxury of exiting the circuit at many points and using public transportation to shorten the trip if something goes awry – or if a trip to town for a quick shower and relaxing at bars and restaurants seems in order. There’s also a variety of accommodation options, from mountain huts to five-star hotels, and there are any number of qualified mountain guide operators who do the planning and handle all the details. 

Waitukubuli National Trail, Dominica
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14. Waitukubuli National Trail, Dominica

The trek: Crossing the self-christened 'Nature Island' of Dominica by foot amounts to a rugged two-week nature hike defined by challenging climbs, steamy rainforests, countless waterfalls, butterflies, orchids, tropical birds, windswept cliffs, ocean vistas, elfin forests – you get the picture. The aptly nicknamed Caribbean island stood up to its claim when in 2013 it created the Waitukubuli National Trail, a 114-mile route divided into 14 segments that pass through coastal villages, up woodland hills, into lush rainforest, past waterfalls, down to rivers, up and over the mountains, and then down again to the sea. History is intermingled as well, as the WNT passes through traditional Kalinago, or Carib villages, ruins of 18th century French settlements and the 'secret' Maroon passages once used by escaped slaves running for their lives.

The sights: Throughout portions of the trek, the smothering rainforests of the mountainous interior give way to small communities and farmlands that yield a cornucopia of exotic island produce. Other sections are rugged and volcanic, with deep chasms, natural hot springs, and Dominica’s piece de resistance, Boiling Lake – a volcanic fumarole in Morne Trois Pitons National Park flooded with bubbling blue-gray water and surrounded by a vapor cloud.

When to go: Spring is the best time to visit for hikers since the weather is usually dry and temperatures are still comfortable.

Trip tips: You’re cleared to do any or all of the segments with the purchase of a 15-day pass, but camping isn’t allowed and hikers instead use small lodges and B&Bs. There’s also the option of hiring guide-led outfitters who handle all the logistics for cross-island treks. 

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Mount Meru, Tanzania
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15. Mount Meru, Tanzania

The trek: While 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro gets the most glory in climbing circles as Africa’s highest summit, its little brother, 14,980-foot Mount Meru, reins as the more approachable mountain for those less-obsessed with altitude and more attuned to the African experience. Often considered a warm up for Kili, Africa’s fourth-highest mountain offers a stunning trekking experience in its own right. The dormant stratovolcano is just 43 miles west of Kili and the centerpiece of Tanzania’s Arusha National Park, a famed safari location known for a menagerie of giraffe, Cape buffalo, zebra, warthog, monkeys,  flamingo, elephant, leopard and other African wildlife. Typically, a Mount Meru climb takes four days, though some take six days and enjoy a slower acclimatizing pace. Unlike Kili, there is only one official route to the summit of Meru, the Momella, which posts an elevation gain of 12,060 feet.

The sights: Summit views are beyond spectacular. Meru lies on a nearly 200-mile axis of Africa's most famous national parks, extending from the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in the west to Kilimanjaro National Park in the east.

When to go: Climbing between June and February is considered optimum, with December to February being the best months for clear views of Kilimanjaro.

Trip tips: Meru hopefuls can try organizing their own summit attempt, but must have a licensed guide, plus a cook and porters. And a kicker: the abundance of wildlife on and around Meru’s base means an armed ranger will accompany trekking groups on the first day to ensure they make it safely to the first campsite. The better option is to hand the keys to a tour operator who handles every aspect of the climb. 

The trek: The Wales Coast Path is one of the globe’s premier walking routes, an 870-mile footpath distinguished as the first and only path to follow a country’s entire coastline. While the Herculean effort of walking its entirety has seen a few rugged takers, most walk parts of the best sections: the chiseled headlands of the 19-mile Gower Coast and the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast paths in South Wales.

The sights: There are castles – tons of castles. Wales claims the densest concentration (600!) of medieval fortresses in the United Kingdom.

When to go: During the main season from May through September, the sublime landscape is a visual feast of quilted pasturelands grazed by wild Welsh ponies, rocky Neolithic burial sites protruding from wind-scoured hillsides, and the seals, whales, dolphins, puffins and seabirds that can be seen at almost any given time.

Trip tips: The distance between trailheads is usually not more than a mile or two, so there’s always the option to exit and hitch a ride aboard a charismatic Puffin Shuttle, a public bus fleet that transports walkers to local villages and other trailheads. At day’s end, some independent walkers use bushwalking tent camps, but most hire tour operators who help plan daily itineraries and book overnight lodging.

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