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Adventure / June 30, 2014

The world’s best long walks

Written by: Brenna Stevens

Nothing broadens the mind and refreshes the spirit quite like travel abroad. But nothing stifles the finer feelings quite like the smell of a crowded tour bus.

So the next time the travel bug bites, find a destination where you can stretch those legs. Some place like the five great walks below, for example.

 

The Walker’s Haute Route (France / Switzerland)

As is the case with many European treks, hikers along the Haute may use alpine huts for overnight lodging. Photo by Guillaume Baviere.

Hikers on the Walker's Haute are treated to stunning views of the iconic Matterhorn. Photo by Rick McCharles.

The 111-mile Haute Route from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland, is probably the world’s most sought-after alpine ski tour. And in the summer months, its lower stretches make for a world class hut-to-hut mountain walk.

Hikers usually complete the route in 14 days, hiking eight to ten miles each day. Nights are spent in Swiss mountain huts or hostels, where food, beds, and running water are usually available.

The Haute Route is best hiked in late June or early July, when the path is clear of snow. The preferred quidebook is from the prolific Kev Reynolds.

 

The Milford Track (New Zealand)

The Milford Track is named for the bucket-list-worthy Milford Sound. Photo by Bernard Spragg.

Each of New Zealand's emerald waterfalls is a destination in and of itself. Photo by Zhute.

More than 100 years ago, the London Spectator declared New Zealand’s 33-mile Milford Track “the greatest walk in the world.” And while a lot of things have changed in the last 100 years, no one has mounted a serious challenge to the title.

No one who has actually walked the Milford Track, at least. The hut-to-hut trek tours the fjordlands of New Zealand’s South Island, and takes hikers through wetlands (on dry, elevated boardwalks), over mountain passes, and past towering (and sometimes flooding) waterfalls.

If you go: Local regulations limit traffic on the Track to 90 walkers per day, so unguided travelers are urged to book huts several months in advance through the Department of Conservation. Guided treks are available through Ultimate Hikes. Most hikers complete the Track in four days, and do so from October–April.

 

The Laugavegur Hiking Trail (Iceland)

The Arctic landscape that surrounds the Luagavergur Trail is barren to the point of seeming otherworldly. Photo by Valta Meri.

Iceland's volcanic activity can be seen along Luagavergur in the form of thermal pools. Photo by Aurélien Coillet.

Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated places on Earth, which makes for good lottery odds and great hiking.

Iceland’s most popular long walk is the 48-mile hut-to-hut Laugavergur Hiking Trail, which connects the country’s Landmannalaugar and Porsmork nature reserves. And no, we don’t know how to pronounce any of these words.

Most hikers complete the trek in four or five days, and the huts are open from June to mid-September. It’s most commonly hiked from north to south.

 

The Torres Del Paine Circuit (Chile)

The iconic towers of Torres Del Paine. Photo by Miguel Vieira.

Icebergs (and sometimes penguins) can be spotted in the austral waters of Torres Del Paine National Park. Photo by Muray Foubister.

Hikers on this 52-mile loop trail through Chile’s Torres Del Paine National Park should expect a challenge. The trail winds over rocky mountain passes, across raging rivers and through muddy bogs—all in one of the wettest, windiest places on Earth.

But it’s worth it. So says every hiker who’s ever been there, anyway. The park’s jagged mountains are among the world’s most dramatic, and its wildlife includes wild llamas, Andean Condors, and the ostrich-like Lesser Rhea.

If you go: Because of its extreme latitude, the circuit is only friendly to travelers between mid-December and mid-March. Plan to travel the route counterclockwise, starting at the famous Hostería Las Torres. Bring a solid tent, rain-proof clothes, and plan to travel for seven to nine days. An excellent guidebook is available from Cicerone, and guided treks are offered by our friends at Mountain Travel Sobek.

 

The Drakensberg Traverse

A trail through the Drakensberg Mountains in Royal Natal National Park. Photo by Diriye Amey.

One of the more vertiginous paths in the Drakensbergs. Photo by Klim Levene.

The Zulu word for the Drakensberg Mountains—uKhalamba—translates loosely to “barrier of spears.” And the reasons for that are clear to anyone who has completed the Drakensberg Traverse: a (roughly) 40-mile hike among the steep basalt towers of South Africa’s most dramatic mountain range.

The traverse does not follow a maintained path but a series or ridges, valleys, and animal trails. Hikers walk in the shadow of 3,000 foot cliffs, pass by rock art painted by hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago, and cross paths with local herders, many of whom live in small villages in the area.

If you go: There is no one path through the Drakensberg Mountains, but most hikers choose to start with the exciting climb up Mont-aux-Sources and traverse high ridges to Cathedral Peak (and to a well-earned stay at the comfortable Cathedral Peak Hotel). The trip takes most five to seven days, and is best done in late summer (March–May).

Do you have questions or comments about this feature? Email them to us at [email protected]

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about the author

Brenna Stevens

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Brenna has spent more of her life outdoors than in. An avid camper, backpacker, and wine drinker, she writes primarily about outdoor culture for Shoulders of Giants.

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