When it comes to getting to know the spirit of a country, there is no better way than to tackle an epic hiking trail that takes in history, culture and landscape. If you love exploring at a slower pace (or if you’re feeling fit and adventurous), here are some epic trails around the world that are worth visiting for the journey alone.
Mount Kailash – For spiritual enlightenment
Considered sacred to 5 religions, the perfect pyramid of this 6,638m-tall mountain remains unclimbed, although the 51km surrounding it is an important pilgrimage path (kora) that draws plenty of pilgrims seeking enlightenment. The trail encompasses waterfall meditation sites, sacred caves and a 5,670m mountain pass. After completing the circuit, a dip in nearby sacred Lake Manasarovar (4,590m) completes the Kailash pilgrimage.
WHEN TO GO: April to September
Laugavegurinn / Fimmvorouhas Pass – For volcanoes and Icelandic wilderness
The trail through this visceral landscape – with ice caps of 2 glaciers and raging coastline – takes you along lava fields, volcanic rocks and craggy mountains. The trail is ideal for taking in the twin steaming craters of Magni and Mooi and ravines filled with countless waterfalls, and should Katla erupt, the trails could be closed or changed. Plenty of well-maintained huts line the trail.
WHEN TO GO: late June to mid-September
SOUTH AFRICA / LESOTHO
North Drakensberg Traverse – For amazing views of dramatic cliffs
The highest mountain range in South Africa, the vertiginous escarpment is crowned by Amphitheatre – regarded as one of the most impressive cliffs faces on earth. The hiking trail begins with a set of chain ladders to reach the plateau of Mont-au-Sources before crossing the high plateau past rock formations, huts (some used by Sotho herdsmen), waterfalls and archaeological caves to reach the Cathedral Peak Hotel.
DISTANCE: 64km (round trip)
WHEN TO GO: March to May
Queen Charlotte Track – For an idyllic hike with plenty of options
The coastal Queen Charlotte Track takes you through the sunny hills of the Marlborough Sounds following the narrow dragon’s back ridge that separates the turquoise waters of Queen Charlotte Sound from the Kenepuru Sound. Start from Ship’s Cove (by water taxi from Picton), and finish at Anakiwa, camping the whole way (3-5 days) or luxe it out at lodges. The breathtaking track is also open to mountain bikers.
WHEN TO GO: Year-round
Hayduke Trail, Utah & Arizona – For red-rock and desert hikers looking for a challenge
The Hayduke traverses 6 national parks of the Colorado Plateau – including Arches, Canyonlands and Grand Canyon – climbing up to 1,830m and plunging to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Highlights include the Grand Staircase and secret ruins in Dark Canyon. The trail is mainly unmarked, and is split into 14 sections; those pressed for time can try the 76km-long section between the Colorado River and the Needles District.
DISTANCE: 1,300km in 14 sections
WHEN TO GO: Spring and fall
SOUTH GEORGIA ISLAND
Shackleton’s Route – For explorers and history buffs
The traverse of this route – which includes travelling across perilous glaciers and snow-capped mountains – takes you past black-sand beaches teeming with penguins and elephant seals, along with plentiful seabirds like albatrosses and terns. A guided tour is recommended (the marine navigation is perilous), and the British government has limited visiting groups to 100 people thanks to its popularity.
WHEN TO GO: mid-December to mid-March