Whether you’re a newbie thru hiker or an aspiring mountaineer, here are six thrilling treks around the world that may be long, but they’re easy on the eyes and, in some cases, not so hard on the feet. Warning: Don’t try these in your flip-flops.
The dream of a “Long Trail” that links Cape Reinga on the northern tip of the North Island with Bluff on the extreme southern tip of the South Island has been kicking around since 1975. The 1,980 mile was finally completed in 2011 and is open for trampers willing to ford forests, farmlands, volcanoes, peaks, and river valleys. While there are no extreme altitudes to contend with, there are rugged river crossings and very dense sections of bush—the average tramping speed on North Island sections is 1.5 miles per hour. Don’t expect to go fast, but do expect to be inspired by the fantastic array of sublime New Zealand landscape.
It’s all about latitude. The 270-mile pathway that traverses Swedish Lapland across one of the largest remaining swaths European wilderness, starts in Abisko, 132 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Most of the well-trodden “King’s Trail” passes through wide-open tundra interspersed with intense blue lakes, with an occasional dip into a stand of birch. Spaced roughly six to 14 miles apart are 21 huts operated by the Swedish Tourist Association, most of which have comfortable bunks, a full kitchen, and a steamy sauna. The high point: Viewing 6,909-foot Mount Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest peak, while eating blikrau (caviar) in the restaurant at the 100-year-old mountain hut at its base.
Once a pathway used by the Roman Empire to traverse the precipitous, nearly impenetrable Amalfi Coast, the “Sentiero degli Dei” is now primarly the domain of shepherds and farmers who live high above the string of villages from Sorrento to Amalfi. It’s also the domain of visitors who want the best view of the magic coastline and the Mediterranean Sea—on a good day it’s possible to see Capri. An ideal access point is the village of Bomerano between Sorrento and Amalfi. From there the path winds up and up along numerous massive stone staircases, then flattens out to hug the precipitous mountains, winding through farmsteads, village settlements, and abandoned stone homes with wide-open views to the sea the entire way. At the village of Nocelli, take a local bus back to Positano or walk the 1,000-step stone staircase, which ends at SS-163, the only road that accesses the coast, and hop a SITA bus or walk back to Positano, just a few miles away.
It may be in the “land-locked” Midwest, but this 286-mile trail that follows the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border has water views that can compete with any coast. Traversing birch and pine forests, crossing whitewater rivers that fall high and fast into Lake Superior, and topping out on granite monoliths with views to the world’s largest body of fresh water, it’s no wonder the Superior Hiking Trail has a mini-cult following reminiscent of Appalachian Trail thru hikers. Camp at one of 89 backcountry sites that require no fee, permit, or reservation. Or if you want to sleep in a bed, take the Superior Shuttle, which runs on a fixed route Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, stopping at designated trail heads at designated times, back to your car and drive to one of the many inns that front Lake Superior along the North Shore.
Weatherbeaten and wind-swept, the Paine Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, at the southern tip of Chile, still feels like the end of the earth. Hike for ten days pass grazing guanacos and soaring condors, trek to glaciers with blue ice that cracks and crashes into the frigid lake below, and view 10,000-foot granite monoliths, like the iconic Cuernos del Paine. With rustic mountain huts and an eclectic assortment of climbers and trekkers from around the globe, neither the 52-mile six-day option or the 72-mile ten-day option will feel like enough.
At 14,009 feet, it may be the third-shortest of the 54 Fourteeners in Colorado, but what Mount of the Holy Cross lacks in height, it more than makes up for in iconic status—even Longfellow wrote a poem about the peak. Aspiring mountaineers who want to start knocking off lesser Lower 48 peaks to train for more technical peaks like Rainier, will want to consider this full-day 5,600-foot climb in the Sawatch Range, just west of Vail. After you push past the treeline at 11,600 feet, it’s a 1.6-mile push to the summit, the last 300 feet of which is a talus scramble. On the descent save some gas for the 1000-foot climb back up Half Moon Pass to the trailhead.