With so much challenging terrain, magnificent vistas, and unique cultural opportunities on the planet, shining a spotlight on the world’s best hikes is a difficult task. After all, there are various styles of hiking fitting different skill levels: some people enjoy long treks, while others like to get in and out in a single day. Some folks enjoy challenging, technical climbs, while others simply like to stroll through nature and appreciate her beauty. What follows is a list of ten of the top hikes in the world, offering a blend of styles that has something for everyone.
Mt Whitney, California
A fortress of peaks stands to the west of the small California town of Lone Pine. Driving north from Los Angeles, the Sierra Nevada range slowly begins to rise from the Mojave Desert and tops out at 14,505 feet on Mt. Whitney‘s summit. As the highest peak in the lower 48, Mt Whitney gets quite a bit of traffic.
This overnight — or very long day hike — requires a permit. Permits are obtained through the forest service and are dolled out by lottery. If you are one of the lucky few to be granted access, you’ll enjoy some of the best high desert views in the states… and perhaps the world.
Salkantay Trek, Peru
The ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu have been stirring spirituality and emotion in visitors since Hiram Bingham rediscovered them in 1911. Most hikers take the standard Inca Trail to reach this stone fortress in the clouds. However, alternate routes are also an option and the Salkantay Trek tops the list.This version of the Inca Trail takes hikers over a 15,000 foot pass and through rural valleys where farming practices are conducted much the same way they were during the time of the Inca empire. The hike ends in the hamlet oft Aguas Calientes known for it’s hot springs. The final day is spent touring Machu Picchu.
Bonus: Huayna Pichhu is the peak seen in the typical tourist photo of Machu Picchu. It can be climbed within a few hours from the main archaeological site.
Timberline Trail, Oregon
When three old college buddies wanted to meet up in Portland and hike the 41 miles circumnavigating Mount Hood, I did not hesitate. Starting out at the Timberline Lodge (the exterior was used in the classic film The Shining), the hike meanders through cool dark forests, across rushing rivers fed by snow melt, and over frozen snow patches.
Several other trails connect to get hikers onto the Timberline Trail. This makes section-hiking from Portland a perfect option for those who don’t want to overnight on the mountains slopes.
Everest Base Camp, Nepal
The expense for the flight and a guided trek in the Everest region may send many hikers into cardiac arrest. But world-class views of massive glaciers, yaks carrying equipment to Everest Base Camp, and quaint villages perched in an ancient landscape quickly make the money factor fade.
The dynamite photo opportunities are enough to keep a trekker’s mind spinning, but many return raving even more about their cultural experiences in this fascinating corner of the world.
Appalachian Trail, North Carolina
The Appalachian Trail is well-worn and easy to follow no matter where you hop on. But on the North Carolina section, good trail conditions aren’t the only thing hikers are treated to.
Beautiful grassy balds and rocking exposed summits provide spectacular views of the Smokies. Easy access from the East coast makes this area a prime day hike or overnight opportunity for many weekend warriors.
A few years back, I set out to tackle the Umbwe Route up the western slopes of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. With proper conditioning, this is one of the seven summits that can be notched into the belt of most hikers — if altitude doesn’t wreak havoc on you first.
Trekking through five distinct climate zones is something truly special, as hikers watch their surroundings change each day from lush jungle all the way to glaciated summit.
Zion Narrows, Utah
Slot canyons are narrow gorges carved into the earth by thousands of years of erosion. They are also an awe inspiring place to walk and connect with one’s inner self. Utah’s Zion Narrows has over 16 miles of these slot canyons. The narrows is a perfect place to escape from the bustle of daily life, take in the breathtaking power of nature, and melt into a world of smooth sandstone and intriguing shadow.
Pro tip: Going when dry weather is in the forecast is a must. Many areas are inescapable if a flash flood were to show up.
Haute Route, France/Switzerland
Spending two weeks backpacking Europe after college, the High Alps was by far my favorite stop. The Alps are known for their snow-covered peaks and bright green pastured valleys. This part of Europe evokes visions of fine cheese and expensive watches for the average visitor.
But to hikers, the Haute Route is a life goal. This alpine hike can be done with a light pack by utilizing the hut system dotting the trail. Fine food and fantastic views combine to easily put this trail near the top of any list.
John Muir Trail, California
The John Muir Trail comprises a 223 mile section of the much longer Pacific Crest Trail. Scrambling over Half Dome in Yosemite and ending on the Mt Whitney trail (see above), an ambitious trekker with several weeks off work can bag two of these top 10 hikes in one session.
Camping alongside crystal clear alpine lakes while staring up at the Milky Way makes for the quintessential night in the mountains.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Hiking through vineyards and along sheer granite cliffs the Cinque Terre or “Five Lands” is a foodie’s dream.
Connected by a trail system along the northwest coast of Italy, these five quaint fishing villages allow hikers to walk the trails during the day and indulge with exquisite seafood and fabulous wine after dark. A train from Milan passes each hamlet and can drop visitors off to allow for a one-way hike.
Whether staying state-side or venturing out into the international hiking world, these destinations are a sure-fire way to rejuvenate any work-worn desk jockey, or get them pondering how to make hiking a career path.
Need more inspiration to get outside? Keep reading!