In this post, we explore the great outdoors. If you’re a nature-lover or you just like the feeling of fresh air on your face, there’s probably something great for you to explore on this list.
For the purposes of being as inclusive as possible to different preferences, our criteria for this list are pretty broad. You’ll find strictly nature hikes as well as more cultural walks (see Petra below, for instance). You’ll find daylong hikes as well as hikes that take over a week. Most of the entries on the list are trails, but a few are just national parks or recognized areas, at which we know you’re going to have a great hiking day.
So pack your daypack, pull on a pair of merino wool socks to keep you cool and lace up your hiking shoes: here are 18 of the most stunning hikes that planet earth has gifted us.
Stretching 2,653 miles, or 4,270 kilometres, the Pacific Crest Trail isn’t so much a single trip as it is a life’s work, although there have been a select, ambitious few who’ve done it in a fell swoop. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that it would take the average hiker about five months to finish the whole thing. If you’re pressed for time – like, say, you want to do something, anything else in the next five months – you can always hop on for a portion of the trail. The John Muir Trail, through Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, is a notable highlight.
The lush, evocative, misty temperate rainforests of Vancouver Island converge with the Pacific Ocean in what has to be one of North America’s most dynamic landscapes. The whole thing takes around a week to complete, but you can camp on the beach as you go. A testament to the demand and popularity of the trail, you have to reserve a spot in advance. But don’t worry if you don’t get in: the nearby Juan de Fuca Trail is less busy and just as pretty. In any case, brush up on how to deal with bears and cougars (not to scare you off or anything – all you need is a level head and maybe a can of spray).
Make of the Appalachian Trail what you please. The full trek takes around 50 days, but you can get on and off wherever and whenever you want. Regardless of what areas you cover, you’ll be treated to a pastoral Eastern American wilderness, as well as the odd rural town. Looking to do only a small portion? We recommend checking out the Great Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee/North Carolina border.
Sometimes know as “The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu”, or simply “Machu Picchu”, what we’re calling the Inca Trail has been a popular hike with travellers for decades. Winding along the Andes, through tundra and clouds, passing ruins all along the way, the Inca Trail would be beautiful all on its own, but the main draw is its big finale: Machu Picchu. The classic Incan architecture, imposing cliffs and dramatic panorama, combine to make one of the world’s most unique locales. In fact, Machu Picchu was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The striking, tepui – or “tabletop” – cliff of Roraima Mountain in Venezuela might be a familiar site to Pixar fans, as it was the inspiration for the fictional “Paradise Falls” in Up. What you get up close, of course, is better than any movie. This isn’t really a trek that you engineer all by yourself, though; go through a tour, usually starting in Caracas and lasting a week, for the easiest, safest point of entry to this magnificent mountain. The hike can be alternately hot and sweaty, chilly at night, and wet around the falls, so be sure to pack wool clothing for travel like Unbound Merino’s compact travel hoody and t-shirt.
Scotland’s well maintained, diverse and frankly fun trail is one of Europe’s best hikes (in our opinion, yada yada). It passes through the scenic, and awesomely named Devil’s Staircase, and through the boggy Rannoch Moor, which looks lifted out of a fantasy movie. Best of all, it passes through a bunch of amazing Scottish towns, including stops like Glengoyne, where you can kick off your hiking boots for the night and sample a few drams of the distillery’s prized Scotch whisky. All hikes should be like this.
An idyllic mix of waterfalls, bright blue lakes and limestone cliffs, Plitvice National Park is a popular destination for Balkan tourists, as well as those from further abroad. The color of the waters change depending on the time of day and the mineral content, making the landscape feel alive and dynamic. A day trip is enough to soak in the various sights, and the park paths are neither strenuous nor demanding. In other words, it’s a perfect low-key “hike” for those who just want to get out and enjoy some unique nature.
A 25km hike that snakes through two glaciers and a volcano: only in Iceland could such a thing be possible. The lush green valley of Thorsmork (literally, the Valley of Thor), where the hike ends, contains around it a number of other multi-day treks, just in case you catch the hiking bug and have to continue. As always in cold climates, it’s wise to pack some insulating merino wool clothing – especially on strenuous treks, when you need your clothing to be both insulating and breathable.
We discussed the Danakil Depression on this blog back in February in our post about surviving hot destinations – it contains the hottest inhabited area in the world. This, you might assume, would not make for the most pleasant hiking conditions. Granted, the hike is hot, but the multi-coloured, otherworldly landscape makes up for it (aside from just being compared to Martian planets by those who have seen it, the sulphur springs have actually been studied by scientists looking to gain insights into how life on other, less hospitable planets might survive). Don’t sweat it, though: if you go between November and January, you can catch the area at its coolest.
Mount Toubkal may be Morocco’s preeminent hiking destination, but for our money, the Jebel Sahro hike is more rewarding. A mountain range tucked within the Anti-Atlas Mountains Southeast of Marrakesh, Jebel Sahro offers some incredible views of the surrounding deserts and gorges. It is also home to many nomadic Berber tribes, whose villages you are encouraged to explore. It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t try this hike without a guide; the desert isn’t exactly known for its distinguishable signposts, and getting lost is very easy to do.
Pay no attention to the misleading name: it is quite possible to get into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The Forest is recognized by the World Wildlife Federation as one of the most biologically diverse parts of the planet, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It contains a number of endangered species, including (arguably) its main attraction, the wild mountain gorilla. Treks range from gruelling to “light exercise”, but in either case it’s wise to coordinate in advance.
Whereas others on this list might strictly be about nature, the Pays Dogon hike is as much about the culture (literally) embedded in the nature. Pays Dogon is home to numerous secluded villages built into cliff-sides, and trekking through will give you access to traditional accommodation, eating, festivals and dances. Yes, the rocky, reddish landscape is beautiful in and of itself, but the real draw – to use an tired old cliché – is the friends you meet along the way.
Like Pays Dogon, Petra is more about the manmade culture than any natural wonder; also like Pays Dogon, Petra’s main attractions are the structures carved into cliffs. You’re probably familiar with the Al Khazneh in Petra, either from travel shows, friends’ Instagram posts or the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Up close, it is breathtaking to behold, even if by the time you reach it you are sweating out every last ounce of moisture. Turn it into a full-blown hike by doing the Dana to Petra trek, an eight-day immersive trip along the rugged Jordan Trail, shepherded by Bedouin guides.
Japan’s most popular hike, at least among tourists, is the Basho Trail. It’s a great hike with lots of natural beauty to see. But for a more spiritual hike, one with a long, rich history and spectacular mountain views, head for the Kumano Kodō. An ancient pilgrimage route, the Kumano Kodō remains filled, to this day, with shrines, torii gates and statuesque pagodas. Start your trek in the town of Tanabe, and stay at ryokan, traditional guesthouses, along the way.
Choose your own adventure: do you want the sparsely populated, crumbling wildness of the Jiankou section of the Great Wall? Or do you want the stately, beautiful, but admittedly a little crowded Jinshanling section of the Great Wall? Or, if you have enough time, why not both? The beauty of the Great Wall of China is that it contains a multitude of different hikes, each offering a unique variation on a theme.
You probably aren’t going to climb Mount Everest. But what may be within your experience level is the Annapurna Circuit, which tours the Central Nepalese mountain ranges. Taking between 8 and 25 days to complete (17 is the average) and requiring at least an intermediate hiking competency and physical fitness, the Circuit still isn’t for everyone. But for those hikers out there who don’t want to risk it all on Everest, Annapurna is a satisfying way to dip your toes in the water.
The whole Great Ocean Walk along the Southeast beaches of Australia is 100km, but you can get on and off at any point. And to further customize your experience, you can either book beachside campsites as accommodation, or one of the many guesthouses dotted along the way, ranging from bare bones to fancy. The ocean is obviously gorgeous, as are the “12 Apostles”, a collection of 12 humongous limestone stacks you see when passing Port Campbell. If you get too hot or tired on the trek, and even the best travel clothes can’t keep you cool, you can always jump in the Pacific to cool off.
The cratered, volcanic terrain of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is just as striking as some of the other “moonscape” type entries on this list, but it isn’t as difficult to get to or to trek. This popular one-day hike takes you around some vibrant turquoise lakes, red rocks, calderas and old lava plains, but it’s all along well-manicured and safe trails. This is the perfect hike, in other words, for someone who wanted experience a magnificent site without also experiencing the arduous physical strain of a long hike.Know of any hikes that should’ve made this list? Comment below and let us know where you’re traveling. And be sure to check out our ever-expanding collection of breathable, insulating, soft merino wool clothing, to keep you comfortable on even the most uncomfortable parts of a hike.