10 of the most epic hikes in the world

10 of the most epic hikes in the world

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From beginner trails to the hardest hikes, across the US, Europe, Asia and beyond, we find 10 of the best hikes on the planet

Here’s Kiwi.com’s guide to some of the top hikes in the world. We’ve got info on start and end points, length, how long you’ll need to complete each walk, permit requirements, accommodation and — as always — some wonderful photos to whet your appetite even further. Lace up those boots and tick these off your hiking bucket list!

Pacific Crest Trail

Hiker in North Cascades National Park — ShutterstockThe Pacific Crest Trail will take you through Washington’s North Cascades National Park — Shutterstock

Length: 2,653 miles (4,270 kilometers)

Start/end points: Campo, California, US/Manning Park, British Columbia, Canada

Recommended months: April — September

Completion time: approximately five months

Around 150 miles inland from the Pacific coast, this trail ranges across three states — California, Oregon and Washington — and through some of the most amazing scenery the US has to offer. From the deserts near the Mexican border, through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and up to the deep forests of the northern states, it truly is one of the great walks of the world.

Most hikers start in the south and follow the weather north as it improves. This means that the southern section isn’t as unbearably hot as it might be, and by the time you get to the north, the rains have ceased (or at least become less common — this is the Pacific Northwest, after all!). Since 1977, the trail has been maintained by the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and their website is full of excellent info on every element of your epic hike.

Camino de Santiago

Hiker sitting on Obradeiro Square in Santiago de Compostela — ShutterstockThe Camino de Santiago was originally a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela — Shutterstock

Length: various, but the Camino Francés (the French Way) is the most popular at 500 miles (800 kilometers)

Start/end points: Roncesvalles, Spain/Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Recommended months: April — October

Completion time: around 30 days

The Camino de Santiago was a popular pilgrimage route from the 10th century after the discovery of the relics of St. James and, in the 16th century, was declared one of the great pilgrimages, joining those taking people to Rome and Jerusalem.

The Way of St. James is a loose description of the route, basically starting at whichever place you begin, and finishing up Santiago. Later, however, a number of routes became recognized, such as the previously-mentioned French Way (beginning on the border of France and Spain) starting at either Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles, and going via the city of León.

Other options are the Camino Portugués (the Portuguese Way), beginning in Lisbon (380 miles/610 km), or sometimes in Porto (143 miles/230 km); the Camino Primitivo (the Original Way) starting in Oviedo; and the less popular Camino del Norte (Northern Way), lesser-traveled due to the mountainous terrain and lack of any real towns to pass through. However, as mentioned, the trail really begins from wherever you feel it does, with pilgrims having walked from as far as Poland and the Baltic states in the past.

Kalalau Trail

Coastal view along the Kalalau Trail — ShutterstockYou’re in for a rocky but very rewarding experience on the Kalalau Trail — Shutterstock

Length: 11 miles (18 kilometers)

Start/end points: Ke’e Beach/Kalalau Beach, Hawaii, US

Recommended months: all year round, although October — April can bring storms

Completion time: one day

11 miles might not sound much, especially to an experienced hiker, but this trail almost never crosses flat ground. Across towering cliffs and diving into lush, green valleys, stopping occasionally for a view across the clear blue sea, the trail takes walkers from one beach to another.

To extend your stay, you can camp at the trailhead at Kalalau (although you will need a permit), and you’ll also need a permit to hike the whole trail. It’s one of Hawaii’s most rugged yet most delicate areas, so obviously the authorities are at great pains to protect it. With a little paperwork, however, comes great beauty.

Wales Coast Path

Resting hiker on the Wales Coast Path — ShutterstockThis hike perfectly captures the beauty of the Welsh coastline — Shutterstock

Length: 870 miles (1,400 kilometers)

Start/end points: Chepstow/Queensferry, Wales, UK

Recommended months: late March — late October

Completion time: three months

When opened in 2012, the Wales Coast Path claimed to be the first footpath to trace the entire coastline of a country. It’s made up of a number of shorter paths that were eventually connected, newly signposted, and made more accessible from nearby towns and villages.

Passing through 11 national parks or wildlife reserves, with only around 20% of the total distance on public roads (and these roads generally being very quiet, single-lane tracks), the path truly captures the windswept beauty of Wales, as well as running close to historical landmarks such as churches, ruined castles, friendly fishing villages and the like.

You’ll pass through Cardiff, the capital; along the wide sweeps of the southern bays, along the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast (keeping an eye out for dolphins!), up past the mountains of Snowdonia, skirt the Italianate fantasy of Portmeirion, around the pretty island of Anglesey, and along the northern coast. All the way there are convenient campsites and interesting distractions; indeed, three months may well not be enough!

Angels Landing

Hiker along Angels Landing — ShutterstockTake in the amazing views along Angels Landing — Shutterstock

Length: 4.3 miles (7 kilometers)

Start/end points: The Grotto/Angels Landing, Utah, US

Recommended months: February — October

Completion time: three hours

One of the most popular day hike trails in the US, this strenuous three hours of walking in Zion National Park requires a permit, which are so sought after you might even need to enter a lottery to secure one.

It’s not hard to see why. So named in 1916 by Methodist minister Frederick Vining Fisher, he declared that the place was so beautiful, only an angel could reside there. Nowadays, it’s home to people scrambling up and down the tricky trail in a bid to get some amazing photos. The final climb up to Angels Landing itself is pretty steep, so if you’re afraid of heights you might want to think twice, and you’ll almost certainly have to wait your turn, but the views when you get to the top are pretty spectacular.

Ngare Ndare

Length: 4.3 miles (7 kilometers)

Start/end points: Ngare Ndare Forest, Kenya

Recommended months: June — October, December — March

Completion time: three — four hours

This is one of only two ranger-led adventures on our list, and for a good reason: the Ngare Ndare Forest, a few hours’ drive from Nairobi, is one of the most important wildlife corridors in the country, and the animals roam around freely. The park is also where you can find seven crashing waterfalls, and this hike will take you via two of them, as well as a 450 meter canopy walk.

Upon entering the park and being assigned a guide, you’ll walk up to the two pools with their stunning waterfalls. You can swim in these pools, so bring a change of clothes to make the most of this unique opportunity. Throughout the trip, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful birds, and animals like elephants drinking from the rivers and pools throughout the forest. The hike ends with the canopy-top walk, ten meters above the ground, before meeting up with your ranger again to return to your initial starting point.

Cape to Cape Track

Coastline at Cape Leeuwin — ShutterstockCape Leeuwin is Australia’s most southwesterly point — Shutterstock

Length: 84 miles (135 kilometers)

Start/end points: Cape Naturaliste/Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia

Recommended months: all year round

Completion time: six — seven days

Down in the very south-western corner of Australia, around 160 miles south of Perth, is the Margaret River coast, on the Indian Ocean, home to some of the country’s best vineyards, and also one of its finest coastal hikes. Named for the lighthouses on the two capes that mark the start and end points of the route, the entire route is in a national park, and the entire thing is free to do, and doesn’t require any sort of permit. You’ll have to pay to camp (you can’t wild-camp on the trail), but the fees are low, around $10 per night.

You’ll be rewarded for even making it to the trail by a week or so of wonderfully fresh air, spotless beaches, ancient rock formations, crashing waterfalls and fields of wildflowers populated by kangaroos. Blue skies and a refreshing breeze make this one of Australia’s less stifling hikes, and if you don’t feel like camping, there are more comfortable accommodation options such as lodges, chalets, and even four-star beach resorts along the route if you feel like rewarding yourself.

Half Dome Hike

Steel cables on the Half Dome Hike through Yosemite National Park — ShutterstockThe Half Dome Hike isn’t for the faint of heart — Shutterstock

Length: 17 miles (27 kilometers)

Start/end points: Yosemite National Park, California, US

Recommended months: only accessible May — October

Completion time: 10 — 14 hours

Another popular day hike, another one that severely restricts numbers, so another one you’ll have to get a permit for. Again, like Angels Landing, you’ll probably have to go through a lottery system, and you’ll be informed the following April if you’ve been successful. Steel cables and wooden planks are placed along the route in the summer to assist hikers, and removed at the end of October, making the route impassable.

A maximum of 300 hikers are allowed on Half Dome each day, and none of them take this route lightly. It’s a toughie. You gain 4,800 meters of elevation along the trail, with dehydration being the most common cause of needing assistance or rescue. This makes an already strenuous hike even harder, because you’re recommended to bring at least four to five liters of water with you, making your pack heavy. It’s one to tick off your list if you can do it, but there are other, lesser-scrambled over routes across Yosemite National Park, all of them giving great views and a sense of achievement.

Bukit Lawang

Sumatran orangutan in trees — ShutterstockGunung Leuser National Park is home to the Sumatran orangutan — Shutterstock

Length: various 

Start/end points: Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia

Recommended months: all year round, but December and January are very wet

Completion time: from three hours to five days, depending on the package

Gunung Leuser National Park is a protected region that’s home to all manner of animals, including orangutans, monitor lizards, macaques, even rhinos, tigers and snakes! Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking runs ecotourism programs that include hikes as short as three hours and child-friendly jungle exploration, to longer hacks of up to five days, through swampland and thick forest, across jungle peaks, to a new campsite every night.

All hikes include permits to enter the park and a guide, and on these longer treks, your guide will tell you about the local culture, point out rare and medicinal plants, and give a history of the park and the region. The longer hikes don’t mean you have to carry all your gear either; there will be campsites ready for you featuring a tent and locally sourced food, so all you have to take is a day pack with water, insect repellent, band-aids, etc.

Each nightly stop will be next to something of interest, be it a lookout point, a lake, or a river, meaning you can swim, take amazing photos, and hopefully even spot some of the wildlife. Camping with the noises of the wild jungle all around you only adds to the adventure! When you’re done, you can even opt to return part of the way by raft!

The Harz Border Trail

Length: 60 miles (97 kilometers)

Start/end points: Hornburg/Tettenborn, Germany

Recommended months: April — October

Completion time: five — six days

We finish with a more straightforward hike over the (relatively) untaxing terrain of the Harz wilderness. The trail runs along what used to mark out the Iron Curtain; when the Soviet Union fell, a vast strip of land from the Barents Sea off northern Finland all the way to the Black Sea became a kind of no man’s land, and was gradually reclaimed by nature.

Today, it’s a route beloved by both cyclists and hikers, and this section of trail is connected by a series of wooden shelters for overnighting in something sturdier than a tent, and small villages along the way, so you’re never far from somewhere to restock or reward yourself with a cold German beer after a long day. You can also get a wonderful little souvenir, if you can manage it: the Harz Mountains have something called the Harzer Wandernadel, basically a walking passport that guides you to interesting places in the region. If you get your Wandernadel stamped at 20 of the 222 checkpoints, you’ll get a pin badge to remind you of your trip.

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