Inca Trail, Peru
Location: Andes mountain range, Peru
Distance: 26 miles
Can you think of any other hike that would lead you to an ancient city hidden high up in the mountains?
The Inca Trail in Peru does not only offer stunning views of the Andes mountain range and its numerous valleys, rivers and cloud forests— it also gives you the unique opportunity to see the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is an Inca citadel thought to have been built back in the 15th century, before the Spanish colonized much of South America. It is one of the world’s New Seven Wonders and is a sight to behold.
There are 3 major hiking routes to Machu Picchu, but the most popular one is arguably the Classic Trail, which begins at about 82 kilometers from the city of Cusco.
This trail usually takes 4-5 days to complete and passes through the ancient Inca sites of Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Winay Wayna before ending with a stunning sunrise at Machu Picchu. Along these sites, you can find archeological ruins from the 15th century, cloud forests full of rare orchids and plant species, and an ancient bath where ritual cleansings might have taken place. You’ll also encounter stairs— lots of it— and agricultural terraces paved right on the side of the mountain.
Since the trail is the most popular one in all of South America, the government only allows 500 people per day to prevent erosion and overcrowding. Pack animals like llamas and donkeys have long since been banned, but you can hire a porter to help you carry your things.
While most of the trail could be accomplished by anyone who is moderately fit, it does climb to a steep 4,200 meters once you reach Dead Woman’s Pass on day two, so you’ll have to properly acclimate. Spending a couple of days in Cusco (it’s around 3,400 meters above sea level) should prevent any altitude sickness while on the trail.
The last day of the hike begins at sunrise on the ruins’ Sun Gate, and the rest of the morning is spent exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yosemite Grand Traverse, USA
Location: California, USA
Distance: 60 miles
There’s a reason why the Yosemite Grand Traverse made it to NatGeo’s World’s Best Hikes list: it’s simply spectacular.
This scenic 60-mile backcountry hike cuts through the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, starting from a 4.4-mile hike to Knoblock Meadow. From the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the trek makes its way to Yosemite proper through Isberg Pass. The trek offers stunning views of 10K Lake and the Merced River as well as numerous waterfalls and canyons along the way. The trail also includes a summit hike to the iconic Half Dome where you can take in the view of the entire wilderness below, before ending in the Toulumne Meadows.
All in all the hike is a wonderful combination of alpine forests, granite rock faces and rushing rivers and brooks. It’s Yosemite like you’ve never seen before.
Location: Southwest Iceland
Distance: 34 miles
How does trekking around a giant volcanic island sound to you?
Iceland is not only one of the safest countries in the world, it has also long been famed for its unique geography. The island is home to glaciers, hot springs and lava fields that can’t be found anywhere else on the globe— and the best way to experience this stunning landscape is by taking the Laugavegur Trail.
Laugavegur is a 34-mile trail located in the southwestern part of the island. It runs between Landmannalaugar and Porsmork, but can be done vice-versa. The trail is open only from mid-June to mid-September each year. Beyond this window, the trail becomes impassable due to harsh weather conditions.
The more popular route is by going north to south, but hikers who want to avoid crowds start the trek in Porsmork and end in Landmannalaugar, where hot springs await. The epic trek takes around 3-4 days to complete. Along the trail you can find stunning vistas like black lava fields and snow-capped mountains; peaceful lakes and glaciers. Huts that offer basic accommodation and showers are also available. Vacancies run out fast during the hiking season, so make sure to book months in advance.
The weather in Iceland can turn into a mix of wind, rain, snow, and fog, so be prepared with rain gear. The constant geothermal steam lends the smell of boiled (and sometimes rotten!) eggs, too— but with a landscape this good, who cares?
Kalalau Trail, USA
Location: Kauai, HI
Distance: 11 miles
The famed Kalalau Trail in Hawaii only runs for a short 11 miles, but it’s known to be one of the most dangerous treks in the world.
Running through Kauai’s Na’Pali coast, the trail features ravines, sheer cliffs, muddy paths and streams that can rise into a flash flood in a blink. The most infamous section of the trek is Crawler’s Ledge— a rocky overhang on the side of a cliff located around 7 miles into the trail. The ledge is barely two feet wide— one slip and it’s a long 107-foot drop into the Pacific Ocean. However, once you get over your fear of heights, it’s all wonderful tropical scenery. The trek ends in Kalalau Beach, one of the most inaccessible and breathtaking beaches in the world.
Hiking the Kalalau trail usually takes 2-3 days for the average Joe, but expert hikers can accomplish it in a day. Only 30 people are allowed on the trail per day and permits are needed to proceed to Hanakoa Valley and to camp out in Kalalau beach, so make sure to obtain them beforehand.
Angel’s Landing Hike, USA
Location: Zion National Park, Utah
Distance: 2.4 miles
Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park is arguably one of the most famous rock formations in America.
It is only around 5 miles both ways and takes about 4 hours to complete, but it does rise up to a crazy 460 meters with lots of steep drop-offs and intimidating switchbacks in between, so it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. The trail is open all year round but spring and fall are the best times to do this awesome day hike.
The hike begins at the Grotto trailhead and passes by Refrigerator Canyon. It’s a pretty exposed hike, so bring something to protect you from the sun, especially if you’re hiking in the summer.
The last half mile to the summit is where it gets serious— there’s a narrow section with seriously steep drop-offs on either side. You gotta keep your hands free so you can hold onto the chain cables. All the effort will have been worth it because once you reach Angel’s Landing, you’ll get a 360 view of the entire park and of Zion canyon’s 200-million-year-old landscape.
Tour du Mont Blanc, EU
Location: Circumnavigates Mont Blanc Massif, passing through Switzerland, Italy, and France
Distance: 110 miles
Wanna travel to 3 countries by foot?
Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is one of Europe’s longest— and most beautiful— hiking trails. The trail goes all around Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc Massif, and passes through France, Italy, and Switzerland. It’s a decent long distance hike of around 110 miles and takes around 11 days to complete. There are various starting points in each country and the hike can be done in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction from there. The hike’s highest points can be found in Italy and France at around 2700 meters.
What makes Tour du Mont Blanc special is that this hike allows you to experience each country’s culture through its food, architecture, and people. TMB not only gives you stunning views of the Alps’ snow-capped peaks, valleys, meadows, and pristine streams, it also goes through small towns that offer accommodations and local delicacies like wine, cheese, deli, fresh fruits, and vegetables. It’s like exploring this side of Europe on foot and by the time you circle back to your starting point, you’ll have had a grand old time.
Enchanted Valley, USA
Location: Olympic National Park, WA
Distance: 14 miles
Olympic National Park is perhaps one of the most ecologically diverse places in all of North America.
At almost a million acres, the park is home to 3 distinct ecosystems: temperate forest, subalpine forest and of course, the Pacific shoreline. In other words, you can experience rainforests, snow-capped mountains, and ocean life without ever leaving the state of Washington.
One of the best hikes to take in Olympic National Park is through the Enchanted Valley trail. It’s only around 14 miles one way but it gives you some of the best views in the country. The hike starts at Pony Bridge and goes through Quinault Rainforest, one of the largest temperate, old-growth rainforests this side of the globe. It is home to some of the largest and tallest tree species on the planet like the Western Red Cedar and Sitka Spruce. Wildlife is also abundant on the way to Enchanted Valley; it’s not unusual to see herds of elk and mountain goats while on the trail. Remember, the trail is also deep inside bear country, so make sure to take the necessary precautions, especially in storing your food.
Along the way, you’ll see the historic Enchanted Valley Chalet. Built in the 1930s, the chalet looks like something out of a European town. The area around the chalet provides a stunning view of the surrounding mountains, including the famed Chimney Peak. Avalanches around the peaks can happen, so take this into account, especially when traveling during the warmer months.
Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
Location: Khumjung, Nepal
Distance: 38.58 miles
Mt. Everest is so insanely tall that traveling to its very foot is already a grueling challenge.
Hiking to the Everest Base Camp (EBC) spans a distance of 38.58 miles and takes about 8-9 days to complete. The hike has some of the most beautiful and certainly unforgettable sceneries in the world. There are views of high, snowy peaks, steep ravines and flora and fauna found nowhere else.
The EBC is not only a treat for nature junkies— you also get to experience Sherpa culture firsthand as the trek passes through many mountain villages, temples, and monasteries.
The hike begins at Lukla, where the airstrip is located. After a short plane ride, hikers will make their way to Phakding and then spend a couple of days in Namche Bazaar to acclimate.
At around 5,400 meters, climbing the EBC is no easy feat. Altitudes that high can cause acute altitude sickness, so, acclimatization is vital. Hiking the EBC trail from March-April will allow hikers to experience amazing views of flora and fauna around these mountainous areas.
Pacific Crest Trail
Location: The Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain Ranges, USA
Distance: 2,650 miles
Finishing the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) can be considered an achievement of a lifetime.
At 2,650 miles, the PCT is one of the longest and most scenic hikes in the US. Thru-hiking takes an entire snow-free season or an average of 5 months to complete, but section hiking is also possible.
The hike runs through 7 national parks, 25 national forests, at least two huge mountain ranges and across the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. One can start the hike at its southern end at the US-Mexico border and finish at the northern end near the US border with British Columbia, or vice versa. Either way, it’s a crazy way to see the country, because you’ll be doing it all by foot.
The PCT is not for the faint of heart— the geography drastically changes from desert to alpine forest to snowy mountains the farther you go along the trail. Some sections, like the Mojave desert, might require hikers to do their hiking at night to escape the sun’s heat.
The PCT also takes a lot of logistics and planning since numerous resupplies are needed along the way. Nonetheless, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime hike and one that you should definitely do.
Torres del Paine, Chile
Location: Chilean Patagonia
Distance: 68 miles for the O circuit, 37 miles for the W circuit
The geography of Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia looks like it’s from an entirely different planet.
It’s otherworldly glaciers, mountaintops and steppes are something you wouldn’t expect from South America. The main highlight of the park are the Torres— three sharp peaks that have once been called “Cleopatra’s Needles”. Glacier Grey is also a sight to behold.
2 circuit trails are available: the “O” circuit, which circles most of the park, and the shorter but more popular “W” trail. The “O” circuit runs for around 68 miles and can be completed in around 8 days, while the “W”, at around 37 miles, can be finished in about half the time. Refugios, or large cabins equipped with food and accommodations, as well as campgrounds are available within these circuits.
Nothing quite beats hiking when you want to get away from the world and just be with nature. It’s a unique way to stay physically fit, explore, and even do some soul-searching on the side. Sometimes the trails and their awesome geography can also remind us that there’s a whole world out there, just waiting to be explored. They may take us out of our comfort zones and push us to our limits, but the experience is a reward in itself.
We’re pretty sure there are lots more hikes out there that need to be on this list. Which hike took your breath away? Which ones should we add on this list? Let us know in the comments below!