I just finished reading “Wild”, Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical account of her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I can imagine myself on an epic hike such as this…or maybe following in the footsteps of pilgrims on the 500-mile Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port, France to Santiago, Spain…
Okay, okay, I will probably only experience this hike in my dreams. But Cheryl’s story of physical endurance and self-discovery is all the more inspiring to me because she was a relatively inexperienced hiker, but determined to reach her goal.
For the rest of us… hiking is an adventure you can scale to your ability and timetable, and is usually free. Public walking trails are available around the world, and they often get you out of the tourist crush and lead you to wonderful natural places you couldn’t access by car. Here are eight great walks for inspiration – some we’ve experienced and others are on our list.
1. The Pacific Crest Trail, USA
The Pacific Crest Trail runs from Mexico to Canada, along the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Mountain ranges. Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles, and a few determined hikers complete the whole trail. But like many epic hikes, there are points you can experience parts of the trail as a day-hike. The section that includes Crater Lake National Park sounds really interesting to me.
- When to go: summer, as the trail can be snow-covered much of the year.
- Distance: roughly 2,650 miles long
- For info check the Pacific Crest Trail association website
2. The Lake Louise Tea House Hike, Alberta, Canada
A hike to the Tea House from Lake Louise is one of many that can be done as a day trip from our home in Calgary, Alberta. This forested hike up a mountain rewards you with spectacular views of Lake Louise, two more lakes and a waterfall. At the top of the hike, next to Lake Agnes and under the Beehive peaks, is the very popular Lake Agnes Tea House. It has been serving tea since 1905, and is a great spot to relax before the hike back down, or continuing your hike further.
- When to go: June to October
- Distance: 7 km (4.5 miles) return, about 1-2 hours each way
- Elevation Gain: 400 m (1300 ft)
- Altitude: 2135 m (7005 ft)
- Difficultly: moderate (early June or fall may have snow)
- Check here for more info.
3. Hadrian’s Wall Path, UK
This path follows Hadrian’s Wall, which the Roman emperor Hadrian ordered constructed across the width of England in AD 122.
Today, most of the wall still exists, and it can be walked coast to coast, while enjoying spectacular views across the countryside. Highlights along the way include Roman forts, bridges, wildlife, pubs, cafés, and market towns. This is one I want to try!
- When to go: May to October
- Distance: 84 miles coast to coast (135 Km) There are also shorter circular walks based on the Trail.
- Difficulty: Relatively easy but with rough and uneven ground. Some of it is steep, and there are a lot of stone and timber steps.
- It is recommended to book accommodation along the trail in advance.
- Baggage services are available along the Trail.
- Check the The National Trails website for more information on the Hadrian’s Wall Path.
4. Hiking the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall was constructed to protect the vast Chinese empire and its vast lands, and is one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering. It was constructed and rebuilt over the centuries, but a majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty. Climbing the wall’s path up steep steps and down valleys is a bucket list experience, and you can choose from a range of areas to climb that suit your interest and ability.
We chose the Mutianyu section, which is good for a day trip from Beijing, but much less crowded and touristy than the nearer Badaling section. The day we went was cool and misty, and we almost had the wall to ourselves. Eventually the sun broke through and the views were spectacular. We spent a couple hours at Mutianyu hiking and taking in the scenery. If you want a bit longer hike there is the Jinshanling to Simatai route, which is about 10.5 kilometers.
- When to go: year-round
- Difficulty: Moderate. Some of it is steep and there are a lot of stairs. Some of the less-visited sections are in ruins or missing, so are more challenging.
- The Badaling and Mutianyu sections are well maintained.
5. Meteora, Greece
About four hours northwest of Athens is Meteora, where unique geological peaks form a dramatic and beautiful natural landscape. Upon these seemingly inaccessible peaks, monks in the 11th century began building monasteries. Eventually twenty-four of these amazing monasteries were built. Ancient paths weave throughout the area, and guided or independent hikes are possible. We were so glad we had the opportunity to visit this magical and off-the-beaten-track part of Greece.
- When to go: year-round
- Difficulty: There are options rated relatively easy to expert.
- The trails are generally not sign-posted, so only experienced hikers should venture out on their own. To experience Meteora as we did, I would recommend contacting the friendly Visit Meteora office in Kalampaka. Visit Meteora offers guided tours and hikes, but will also assist you with maps and information if you wish to hike independently.
- For more about our Meteora visit click here.
Our excellent hiking adventure in Meteora was facilitated by Visit Meteora. All opinions are our own.
6. Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce Canyon is another geological wonder with spectacular colors and hoodoos. There are countless walking trails through the canyon, including the day-long Fairyland Loop, Wall Street trail, which laces its way through an alarmingly narrow gorge, and Navajo/Queens Garden Loop. Bryce Canyon is on my list to visit soon.
- The trails are well laid out and maintained.
- Spend a day or a week. Camping and lodging facilities are available.
- To plan your trip check the National Parks Service website.
7. Yoshida Trail, Mount Fuji, Japan
The Yoshida Trail starts at the Fuji-Subaru Line 5th Station and leads to the summit from the north side of Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture. There are mountain huts and pitstops en route, to rest your feet and bed down for the night.
Mount Fuji is apparently the most climbed mountain in the world, so is more of a community experience, than an alone-with-nature one. Viewing the sunrise from the summit is said to be unforgettable.
- When to go: early July to early September, perhaps avoiding the busiest week (Obon Week) in mid-August.
- 170,947 people climbed the Yoshida Trail in summer 2014.
- It is recommended that climbers stay at mountain huts one night on the way to the summit to adjust to the altitude and temperature.
- For more information about climbing Mount Fuji click here.
8. The Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, Spain
The epic Camino de Santiago is really any pilgrimage route that leads to the Cathedral of Satiago de Composela in Galicia, Spain. The most famous is the 500-mile route from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port, France. But there are many others including the Portuguese Way, which begins in either Lisbon or Porto in the north of Portugal. Some go for a religious experience, but people do the walk for many reasons. I would love to try even a portion of this hike some day.
- When to go: spring and fall are recommended to avoid the heat of summer, and the cold and snow of winter.
- Most hikers carry a pilgrim’s passport, or credencial, which is stamped with the official St. James stamp along the way.
- Pilgrims hostels are available along the route.
- Martin Sheen starred in an inspiring movie, “The Way”, about a father’s journey on the Camino de Santiago. The Way was produced and written by his son, Emilio Estevez.
- For more about the Camino de Santiago click here.
“Go forth on your path, as it exists only through your walking.” ~ Saint Augustine (354-430).