Not the beach vacation type? Want to escape the crowds and take your own path? Hiking guarantees you an exhilarating, unique getaway. The travel experts at Insight Guides have picked out the trails that will take you to some of the most stunning places on earth, from frozen glacial wonderlands to 500-year-old ruins and to the shadow of the world’s tallest mountain.
When to go: June – September
This Icelandic trail is famous for the sheer volume and variety of its scenery. A round trip takes about four days and covers some 50 miles: Starting in southwest Iceland, the Laugavegure Trail takes you from the famous hot-spring areas of Landmannalaugar to the glacial valley of Þórsmörk. Expect to see lunar-like volcanic landscapes, rocks draped in thick coats of lichen and breathtaking views of Iceland’s rhyolite mountains. One of the highlights is the 200-foot-high Skogafoss waterfall.
When to go: March – May; September – November
One of the most iconic hikes in the world, this strenuous trek is one for the purists. The trip from Lukla to Base Camp and back takes about 16 days and is a 70-mile assault on the body. It may not sound like much to cover in that time, but acclimatizing to the effects of high altitude will slow even the most experienced hiker. The trail leads through the Khumbu region of Nepal, where Sherpa villages sit peacefully, rickety old rope bridges criss-cross glacial rivers, and the ever-present Everest and Lhotse dominate the skyline. The final hurdle before Base Camp is the treacherous Khumbu icefall, often regarded as the most challenging part of climbing Everest. Craning your neck to see the 29,030-foot-high summit from base camp (which is 17,598 feet above sea level) is an experience that will stay with you forever.
When to go: May – September
The Inca Trail is also one of the most popular hikes in the world, although considerably shorter in distance and time than Everest. In about four days, you’ll cover roughly 26 miles of steep, craggy mountain paths, starting at Sacred Valley and ending at the ruins of the world-famous Machu Picchu, an Andean city built in the 15th century. The trail leads through mountainous terrain encompassing three high peaks, dense forests and high clouds. Although it’s one of the most popular in the world, this trek is the least physically demanding on this list.
When to go: August – September
Meaning “King’s Trail,” the Kungsleden is a mammoth 275-mile path that leads through Lapland, well inside the Arctic Circle. It can be broken down into sections for those who don’t have the time or fitness to spend a whole month trekking. The trail covers an immense variety of scenery, from verdant valleys to arctic tundras. En route, you might encounter the indigenous Sami people, who herd reindeer in remote settlements. (Remember the computer game Lemmings? If you’re lucky, you may well get to see some real-life lemmings too.) If you’re not too exhausted, climb Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain, which sits on the northern section of the trail.
When to go: October – April
Widely considered the best hiking trail in the Middle East, this trail starts from Dana Nature Reserve and follows ancient Bedouin migration routes and hunters’ tracks. Trekking through one of the remotest areas of Jordan, hikers who embark on this trail will be rewarded by the stunning city of Petra at the hike’s end. This 50-mile trek takes in dramatic desert scenery, such as gorges, dunes and ridges, which have a magical glow at sunset, over its nine-day duration. Sleeping under the stars in the desert is a once-in-a-lifetime-experience.