While there are many trails around the world for a true hiker to walk through, we list some of the most scenic hikes that should definitely be a part of your bucket list.
The Basho Wayfarer, Japan
Almost every corner of Japan is beautiful. But one that stands out is the trail that traces the path renowned haiku poet Matsuo Basho took more than 300 years ago as he wrote Oku-no-Hosomichi or The Narrow Road to the North. The self-guided tour takes you through some of the breathtaking sights in the Tohoku region from Sendai to the temple at Yamadera. It leads you through a ruined fortress at Tagajo to Matsushima Bay, past temples such as Chūson-ji, the thatched Hojin-no-Ie building where Basho stayed, forests whose colours change according to season, the remote Natagiri Tōge pass, traditional Japanese hotels and onsen hot springs.
Hikers can walk at a leisurely pace over six days, staying at the accommodations as they experience how Basho’s time must have been spent. The total distance covered during this walk is approximately 85 kilometres. Mid-May to early November is considered the best time to take the hike.
St. Patrick’s Way, Northern Ireland
This picturesque 131.9-kilometre hike is like a long-distance pilgrim walk through some of the majestic sites in the northern part of the Emerald Isle. The walk, which is also known as Ireland’s Camino, starts at Armagh — known for its apple orchards and St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral — and takes you through some captivating peaks, coasts and parks. Along the way, you will come across quaint 19th-century homes and be able to walk through the Kilbroney Park; its enchanting landscape inspired author CS Lewis to write The Chronicles of Narnia. There is also a short detour known as Kilbroney’s Narnia Trail that is like an ode to the renowned literary work.
Take in the scenery of the imposing Mourne Mountains along the St. Patrick’s Way and the relaxing atmosphere of the unspoiled Dundrum Bay before ending the trek at the saint’s resting place in Downpatrick. The scenic hike takes between six and ten days to complete, depending on your speed. Despite being exceptionally beautiful, the route has been crowd-free since it opened in 2012 making it one of Northern Ireland’s best-kept secrets.
Refugio Frey in Cerro Catedral, Argentina
Multiple trails lead to Refugio Frey, a lodge at the foot of Aguja Frey (Frey needle) in Cerro Catedral (Mount Catedral) located in the Nahuel Huapi National Park. The lodge is named after the early 20th-century geographer Emilio Frey, who was the administrator of the national park and one of the founders of the mountaineering organisation Club Andino Bariloche. The lodge is itself Instagram-worthy feed with the awe-inspiring jagged needles of the Cerro Catedral reflected in the turquoise waters of the Tonček lagoon.
The site is an internationally renowned rock climbing destination and the Refugio Frey serves as a pit-stop for the climbers who want to rest and prepare before climbs. The most common hiking trail to Refugio Frey starts at the Catedral car park just outside the city of Bariloche. It is 10 kilometres in length and takes about four hours to cover. This serpentine route passes through the foot of the Andes mountain range as well as flower-covered forests.
Along the way, you will get to witness the classic natural landscape of Argentine Patagonia with its pristine lakes and towering mountains all around. Among the other routes is one that starts from Punta Princesa and can be accessed in a cable car. But due to its terrain, the route is taken only when the weather is good.
Trekking and mountain climbing is done in the summers as the winter season turns Cerro Catedral into one of South America’s largest ski resorts.
Jinshanling section of Great Wall of China
Officially measuring 21,196 kilometres, the Great Wall of China is one of the greatest man-made structures ever built in human history. Though only a few hundred kilometres of the official length survives, it continues to be one of the world’s most famous tourist locations due to its astounding construction, historic significance and natural surroundings.
Hiking up the Great Wall is an experience unto itself. Most tourists visit the Beijing, Badaling or Mutianyu sections of the wall, which are closer to the capital. But those looking for a less crowded hike should head to the Jinshanling section, around 130 kilometres from Beijing. Like most of the surviving parts of the Great Wall, it was built during the Ming Dynasty in 1368 and was renovated once around 200 years later. Named after the mountain ranges over which it was constructed, it features both restored and untouched portions of the Wall, including bricks with characters inscribed on them by Ming troops.
There are five passes, 67 watchtowers and three beacon towers along the 10.5 km-long route. The scenery around the Wall changes according to the season — the best of which is spring or autumn when you can see the clouds moving below you from the higher levels of the section. There are perfect spots for sunrise or sunset photography along the way.
There are multiple hiking routes on Jinshanling, each with differing lengths. For example, the distance from the Zhuanduokou pass, via General Tower, to the Shalingkou pass is only three kilometres and can be completed in about 1.5 hours. You can also walk from the Jinshanling section towards the Gubeikou section, or choose the other way round. Either way, this route would take around six hours, depending on your speed. There are camping sites at the foot of the mountain, too, for those who want a more immersive experience.
Dragon’s Back, Hong Kong
Hong Kong is not just about vibrant city life and skyscrapers; the mountainous islands that form the region offer some stunning natural vistas too. One of these is the Dragon’s Back — a mountain ridge on Hong Kong Island. Its highest point is called the Shek O peak. There are viewing points along the route, treating you to panoramic sights of the Shek O peninsula, golf course and beach, Tai Tam Bay and Big Wave Bay beach. You can even see Lamma Island if the day is clear.
The dirt path hike begins at To Tei Wan bus station. Approximately four hours later, you’d have covered a distance of approximately eight kilometres to finish at Big Wave Bay beach. This is the point where you can unwind by taking a dip in the sea or just relax on the beach.
Tahoe Rim Trail, United States
Considered one of the finest hikes in the US, the trail passes through four national forests across the states of California and Nevada. Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a loop around Lake Tahoe, literally making it the trail’s centre of attraction. TRT technically starts and ends at Tahoe City, covering a total distance of 265 kilometres through six counties over the Sierra Nevada and Carson mountain ranges. Experts cover this distance in around 11 days. But since it is a loop, there are 10 trailheads from where hikers can gain access to, or exit at, any of the eight segments of the trail.
Beside the lake, hikers would be greeted with views of meadows, conifer forests, ancient firs, Truckee River Canyon, Relay Peak (which is the highest point of the trek), alpine terrain and scree slopes. The best time to hike this trail is between July and September and there are designated campgrounds at specific points of the route.
Around 80 kilometres of this trail shares the route with the 4,270 kilometre-long Pacific Crest Trail. In 2003, 154 kilometres were designated as National Recreational Trail. Mountain biking is one of the most popular adventure sports here. And, the 35-kilometre section between Tahoe Meadows and Spooner Summit is recognised by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) as one of its EPICS — a grade identifying a mountain biking track as among the best in the world.
Otter Trail, South Africa
Located within the Tsitsikamma National Park, the scenic hike covers a total distance of 45 kilometres and takes about five days to complete. Opened in 1968, it is South Africa’s oldest hiking trail and is named after the Cape clawless otter, or African clawless otter, which can be found in the estuaries and rivers in coastal South Africa.
The trek is moderately difficult with some steep climbs and river crossings such as Bloukrans crossing which is best navigated during low tide. Yet intrepid hikers would find the entire length extremely exciting. Expect to cross a river almost semi-submerged or climb a small stretch with a rope while traversing through this path. There are alluring coastal forests, beaches, estuaries, tidal pools, streams, marine life, and flowers of many varieties including ericas and king protea — South Africa’s national flower. The trail offers great vantage points to capture the perfect sunset photos for your social media feed.
Trekkers can halt for rest in the six-bed huts that can be reached at the end of each day of the trail. The best time is from October to April, between the spring and summer season in the southern hemisphere.
The Great Ocean Walk, Australia
This is perhaps among those few hikes which end at one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. If you take the Great Ocean Walk, you’d indeed feel like a pilgrim at the end of their pilgrimage as you stand awestruck by the enchanting beauty of the Twelve Apostles. These are limestone stacks that have been carved for millions of years by coastal erosion and now stand separated from the seaside cliffs of which they were once part.
The trail begins at Apollo Bay, which is around 200 kilometres from Melbourne, and stretches just over 100 kilometres in the shadow of the Great Ocean Road. From Apollo Bay, the Great Ocean Walk follows an undulating path. It passes through riverine sections, forests of the Otway National Park, beaches and rugged terrains all the while kissing the coast. Along the way, hikers get to see the richness of Australia’s flora and fauna including koalas, wallabies as well as different species of snakes. There are also shipwrecks like the anchor of the 19th century Marie Gabrielle at the aptly named Wreck Beach on the way. A visit to the Cape Otway Lightstation, the oldest lighthouse on mainland Australia, is a must for a much deeper understanding of the history of why this region is called the ‘Shipwreck Coast’.
The hike usually takes around eight days. You have the option of shorter or guided treks. Facilities for accommodation and food such as Apollo Bay Bakery are available along the way. Though the Great Ocean Walk can be undertaken at any time of the year, summer is preferred because of fewer rainy days.
(Main and featured images: Max van den Oetelaar/@maxvdo/Unsplash)