What makes a hike “great”?
For some, it’s the thrill of the challenge, like tackling a 13,000-foot mountain or “13er,” or the lure of a pilgrimage. And there are certainly classic hikes around the globe if you want to create a check-the-box list. At AFAR, we’re interested in truly experiencing a place—its culture, its communities, its beauty—and putting our body to the test (though we’ll treat it to a good meal and warm bed at night). We also want to tread softly, leaving no trace and following guides down less-crowded paths. These 16 hikes, all AFAR tested—and approved—will carry you around the world one step at a time. —Laura Dannen Redman
Central and South America
The Salkantay Trek
Distance: 50 miles
We climbed through cloud forests where butterflies followed my feet. Slept in lodges where llamas grazed near the outdoor hot tub. Indulged in a traditional Pachamanca barbecue after an eight-mile descent from a 15,000-foot pass: This, dear readers, is the less-traversed Salkantay Trek, the ultimate crowd-free alternative to reaching Machu Picchu through the valleys of Cusco, Peru. After five days of trekking with Mountain Lodges of Peru, logging more than 50 miles—during which we were occasionally accompanied by a sandal-wearing, flute-playing shaman named Herman—our arrival at “The Sanctuary,” aka Machu Picchu, almost felt like an afterthought. Almost. The journey was certainly as memorable as the destination. —Sara Lieberman
South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Distance: 7 miles one-way
The shortest trail to the Colorado River winds down to the bottom of the biggest chasm on the continent with a deceptively steep 5,000-foot drop in elevation, all in just seven miles. Don’t rush it: relish all those gobsmacking views from Ooh Aah Point to the Tip Off on a guided REI Adventures backpacking trip. You’ll learn about endemic plants and ancient pueblo ruins, how to make the best cold lemonade on the planet, and the ABCs of tent pitching—the last of which happens at Phantom Ranch, a legendary creekside oasis and the only lodging below the rim. —Nina K. Hahn
Calf Creek Falls Lower Trail
Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, Utah
Distance: 5.8 miles round-trip
This gentle undulating trail deep into a red rock canyon teases you with a scene of staggering cliffs, wetlands flush with cattails, and sandy trails that change from rust to coral to beige. But keep tracing the creek and sound of cascades to a rewarding swimming hole: the 126-foot Lower Calf Creek Falls. On your way back, look forward to gourmet pizza at Escalante Outfitters and two memorable glamping options: the surprisingly well-outfitted Escalante Yurts and safari-like accommodations at the new Under Canvas Lake Powell–Grand Staircase. —N.K.H.
Superior Hiking Trail
Along Lake Superior, Minnesota
Distance: 310 miles
Difficulty: Varying degrees
Lesser known than the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails but no less impressive, this through-hike connects eight state parks in its 310-mile run from Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian border. The route is broken into 50 sections (many of which can be hiked in a day or a weekend), winding through deep gorges and old-growth maple forests, past thundering waterfalls, and along rocky cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. No reservations are needed to use the trail’s campsites but for a more pampered experience, lock in a lovely lakeside log cabin at Blue Fin Bay’s Temperance Landing in Schroeder. (Your aching bones will thank you when they’re soaking in a double-wide Jacuzzi.) —Ashlea Halpern
Lower Crystal Lake Trail
Distance: 4.6 miles round-trip
At 9,600 feet, Breckenridge is one of the highest towns in Colorado, and this moderately challenging hike delivers on a powerful high-altitude ascent. Staring at 10,174 feet, trek through a spruce forest, creeks, and alpine meadows straight out of The Sound of Music to a shelf at 11,9000 showcasing the sparkling oasis of Lower Crystal Lake—just a teaser given you can trek even higher on this seemingly endless trail to Upper Crystal Lake at 12,600 feet and jaunt over to the summit of a “13er,” the 13,640-foot Peak 10. Get grounded at Gravity Haus, primly positioned at the end of Breck’s historic Main Street and exactly the place to sign up for a guided hike to the heavens with Colorado Adventure Guides, located right inside the hotel. —N.K.H.
Seven Sacred Pools Trail (Oheo Gulch)
Distance: 4.5 miles
Of the many hikes I’ve done around the world with my family, our trek through Haleakala National Park to the Pools of Oheo, or “Seven Sacred Pools,” in Eastern Maui is easily the most memorable. It’s only accessible via the Hana Highway—famous for its hairpin turns, 59 bridges, and waterfall-studded landscape. Deep within a rain forest, the hike involves moving through lush, ecodiverse woodland, crossing freshwater streams (no bridges, just rocks to grab onto for balance) into a bamboo forest humming with apapane birds, and eventually ascending to a dramatic 400-foot waterfall. As we reached Waimoku Falls, it began to rain. Within minutes we were up to our knees in mud. Our muckiness—it was a slippery descent—commanded a scrub-down in the Pacific. It was glorious. —Amy Tara Koch
Australia and New Zealand
Distance: 20.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Completely owned and operated by Tasmania’s indigenous palawa community, the four-day, three-night wukalina walk is a unique way to explore the island’s rugged northeast coast and gain insight into Australia’s Aboriginal heritage. I planned my entire two-week trip to Tasmania in November around the experience.
My journey began with a hike to the peak of wukalina (aka Mount William). Six fellow travelers and I enjoyed a picnic lunch with views stretching from the Furneaux Islands in the north to the Bay of Fires in the south. Our guides were Hank, who had decades of touring experience, and Carleeta, a 19-year-old from Cape Barren Island.
A few hours later, we tramped into Krakani Lumi, a secluded camp a few hundred feet from the shore. Ecochalets were inspired by traditional Palawa huts, with pitch-black walls and domed interiors. As the stars came out, we dined on gamy muttonbird and fresh scallops roasted over an open flame.
The next morning, we walked along the white-sand beach to shell middens where ancient clans came to feast. I helped Carleeta dive for sea snails in the frigid waters of the Bass Strait, which we boiled and snacked on while learning to throw spears and make shell jewelry.
During the next day’s 10-mile hike along blustery beaches dotted with lichen-covered boulders, we learned about Tasmania’s tragic colonial past. I spent the night under a plush duvet in the renovated lighthouse keeper’s cottage at Eddystone Point while wombats and wallabies nibbled the lawn outside.
Before a final goodbye back in Launceston, I spoke to Clyde Mansell, the community elder who spent over 15 years setting up the wukalina walk. “The experience and scenery are just beautiful packaging,” he said. “The real purpose of the walk is to keep the community’s young people engaged with our culture and provide them with jobs in hospitality.” The walk had also allowed me to engage with the culture, and my time in Tasmania was all the richer for it. —Eric Rosen
Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks, South Island, New Zealand
Distance: 25 miles
The human body is amazingly resilient, capable of taking a beating from Nature—wind and biting rain to the face; knees throbbing from steep, rocky descents—and getting up to do it all over again the next day. The mind, though, seems a fragile thing, barely capable of processing the sheer magnitude of beauty and colors it encounters. Is that why we have cameras? After completing a three-day, 25-mile hike along the Routeburn Track in New Zealand’s majestic Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks, my body tingled with accomplishment and brain raced through the mental snapshots taken on our guided trek with Ultimate Hikes New Zealand. The Valley of the Trolls, where glacier-carved fiords turned from aquamarine to steely gray as the light shifted. A hot cup of Milo atop a hill covered in edelweiss and daisies. An alpine lake of polar plunge-worthiness beneath a glass-walled lodge where a hot fire and warm meal await. Our bright orange packs like a parade of tiny dots as we passed beneath freestanding boulders the size of giants. No wonder the South Island became a set for Middle-earth; no wonder they call these “Great Walks.” —L.D.R.
Valley of the Winds Walk
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
Distance: 4.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
There are few destinations more iconic in Australia than Uluru, the massive sandstone rock in the Central Australian desert. For decades, it was known as Ayers Rock, a tourist attraction that visitors would try to summit despite pleas from the rock’s original custodians, the Anangu, to not climb all over it. It took until October 2019 for park policy to catch up to the Anangu’s request to treat Uluru as a sacred space and prohibit climbing—though you can still walk around it and explore the park with greater cultural context.
Several walks take you down the same path as the area’s Aboriginal ancestors—the base walk around Uluru is one of the easiest entry points—but we’d recommend the Valley of the Winds hike, a tougher and less-trafficked climb among the 36 dramatic Kata Tjuta domes.
The trailhead is a 30-mile drive from Uluru—just put “Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds” into your location finder. From the carpark, the 4.6-mile circuit is a mix of red dirt and loose rock, and it can be steep in parts and the heat unforgiving. But you’re rewarded with two lookout points–Karu, about an hour in, and Karingana at the 2.5-hour mark—and views of this Mars-like stretch of Northern Territory. The Valley of the Winds is also a culturally sensitive area; Anangu ask that you don’t post any photos on social media. “According to Anangu culture,” per the park’s website, “these rock formations hold knowledge that should only be learned in person and on location by those with the cultural authority to do so. By respecting Anangu’s wishes, you are ensuring the continuation of Anangu cultural beliefs and the protection of their spirituality.” —L.D.R.
Hiking the Faroe Islands
With 18 islands to explore, the hiking in this rugged North Atlantic archipelago is nothing short of spectacular. But to reach the wildest, windswept spots, you should tap the brains of insiders—people like Jóhannus Hansen of Reika Adventures, a Faroese native and international climbing instructor, and Tummas Rubeksen, a farmer near Tórshavn who runs the hiking outfit Heimdal Tours. When you’re all full up on the Tolkien-esque scenery, sit down to an intimate family meal with locals. The Faroese call this heimablídni, or home hospitality, and folks throughout the islands participate by opening their dining rooms to strangers. The spreads are as memorable as the sea cliffs, featuring anything from dry-salted whale blubber to strapping Faroese schnapps. —A.H.
The Hebridean Way
Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Distance: 165 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
The 165-mile Hebridean Way snakes through this windswept, 10-island archipelago off Scotland’s West Coast. The prettiest patch is in the middle, from Benbecula to North Uist, an easy to moderate 50-mile walk that’s ideal for a weeklong getaway. Amble through the rocky, peaty countryside as well as the fertile land known as machair, low-lying grassy plains that are studded with wildflowers through spring and summer. Practice your language skills, too: The locals here might speak English, but prefer to speak Scots Gaelic—madhainn mhath (má-tin va) is good morning. Stay in your own personal treehouse en route. —Mark Ellwood
Distance: 3 miles
In northern Norway’s legendary Lofoten Islands, where sheer mountains rise out of fjords to spectacular effect, it’s easy to embrace the friluftsliv, aka free air life, a Nordic ethos of maximizing an outdoor lifestyle. For one of the most accessible hikes (right off the main road through the archipelago), climb more than 1,500 stone steps up a mountainside to summit Reinebringen (1,469 feet). It’s less than a mile to the top, but from the lip of the cliff lies a nearly indescribable view. Let’s try anyway: Knife-edge peaks spike from a sheet of sapphire sea, with fishing villages jumbled like Lego blocks far below, crammed into nooks along the shoreline. When you’re back at sea level, reward yourself by driving four miles south to Holmen Lofoten in the fishing village of Sørvågen, where the seasonal migratory cod called skrei might be on the menu at the Kitchen on the Edge of the World. Sleep to the sound of lapping waves inside a rorbu—a seriously upgraded fisherman’s cabin that’ll have you convinced it was the Norwegians (not the Danes) who made a brand out of hygge. —Terry Ward
Distance: 60 miles
Difficulty: Varying degrees
The rocky islands that form the Cyclades cluster are ideal for hikers of all skill levels, but the well-established and -maintained paths on the island of Andros are a standout. Sixty miles of them quilt the 93,900-acre island, snaking between ancient villages and ideal for day hikes. Try the four-mile, one-way journey from the chora or old town of the town of Andros down at the waterfront, up into the interior—it’s largely cobbled, and coils through little mountaintop villages, with an easy detour to the Pythara waterfalls. —M.E.
Mount Prana, The Apuan Alps
Distance: 5 miles
The Apuan Alps are an underrated corner of Tuscany, a rocky ridge a short drive from the glorious beaches of the Versilia coast. There are countless day or half-day hikes dotted around them, mostly centered on the town of Camaiore: head to Gabberi mountain for a 3.5-mile hike with spectacular views along the way back over the Mediterranean, or Mount Prana—the southernmost peak of the range—where you’ll climb through terraced fields and chestnut woods before you reach the 4,000-foot summit. The white caps you’ll spot aren’t snow, though; rather, they’re scars from the marble quarries here, including the source of Michelangelo’s David. —M.E.
Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
Distance: 42 miles
“‘You’re going alone?’ a friend asked me. I had been talking about a five-day trek on Japan’s Kumano Kodo, a 10th-century network of trails roughly 100 miles south of Kyoto that was named one of two 2004 UNESCO World Heritage spiritual pilgrimage sites. (The other is the Camino de Santiago in Spain.) My 42-mile route, dotted with more than 100 Shinto and Buddhist shrines, would traverse the secluded Kii peninsula through sleepy farm towns and forests of cedar, cypress, and bamboo, over mountain passes, across rivers, and past waterfalls. And yes, I was going alone.” —Peggy Orenstein. Self-guided tours from $1,455.
The Garhi Hike
Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, India
Distance: 8.7 miles round-trip
It’s early in the morning. Winter’s turning to spring. But the slopes of the Dhauladhar mountains in the lower Himalayas are still blanketed by snow. Raj Mal, our shepherd-guide from Exsul Travel, leads us through mustard fields and pine forests. Past the tree line, the land is all stone and bramble. Geckos sun themselves on rocks while kites circle above watching for prey. Raj Mal has walked this route since childhood. His sheep-rearing community takes their flock every summer to graze on fresh grass up on the mountain. Our destination, the abandoned village of Garhi, at 8,000 feet above sea level, is but a pitstop on their annual journey. Along the way, we stop for a picnic breakfast and French press coffee. Raj Mal points out wild medicinal herbs and flowers foraged for food. When we reach the top, six hours later, the view is breathtaking. A galaxy of twinkling lights stretches below us, all the way from Dharamshala to Palampur, where we’d begun our journey. After an Indian dinner by the campfire, we turn in for the night, our beds made inside mud huts the shepherds use. It’s as authentic as it gets. —Prasad Ramamurthy
Africa and the Middle East
The Whale Trail
De Hoop Nature Reserve, South Africa
Distance: 36 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Western Cape’s De Hoop, a coastal nature reserve, is an easily planned weekend getaway and, thanks to the addition of new hotels in the area, a must-add to any Cape Town trip. Within the 84-acre wilderness area, travelers can go on both guided and self-guided safaris, laze on the pearly beaches, and hike a stretch of the Whale Trail, a fynbos-carpeted hiking route that winds along the coast for 36 miles. Although the Whale Trail is a registered hike (which you have to sign up for in advance), visitors to De Hoop can still follow the trail’s coastal walkways. Morukuru Beach Lodge and Lekkerwater offer walks with nature guides who help point out local plants like king proteas. If you want to see animals, drive around the reserve and look for antelope, or head down to the beach at low tide to spot marine life. —Mary Holland
Read more in “Weekend Getaway From Cape Town.”