Think Hawai'i and you will probably think balmy beaches, but if you bring along some layers, you can go from those beaches to an Arctic environment in just a few hours, then return to the beach again to watch the sunset. Mauna Kea rises 14,000 feet out of the ocean, and its frigid summit can be visited with a four-wheel drive vehicle via a sometimes-treacherous mountain road, though it's much easier to take a commercial tour, especially in winter and spring, when snow and ice is common. There's ample info here.
What's your preference: trekking through virgin rainforest, zip-lining through the jungle, sea kayaking? On the Pacific side of this peaceful Central American nation, the Osa Peninsula is a tropical, eco-tourist paradise that's quick and easy to reach by air from the capital city San Jose. Besides the Corcovado National Park with its secluded beaches, there is some of the most diverse wildlife on the planet, funky towns, friendly people and world-class resorts. If you want a lot of choices in once place, this is the place. There are many travel guides available online.
This is one of the most amazing volcanic regions in the world, with at least one of its more than 300 volcanoes erupting or quaking on any given day. Located in the northwest corner of the Pacific Ocean, the Kamchatka Peninsula has six UNESCO World Heritage sites featuring not only those fiery mountains, but glaciers, the world's largest species of salmon, sea otters, brown bears, Stellar's sea eagles and other raptors. Kamchatka can be reached by air from Alaska, Japan and from various Russian cities. For more info see the Wikitravel page.
If you have two weeks off and don't mind the long flight, New Zealand's six-day Grand Traverse walk is a perfect fit. The trek through the South Island's high country takes you along the lush and dramatic Greenstone and Routeburn Valleys, rich in native wildlife. There are luxurious guided tours of the Grand Traverse, as well as shorter segments and self-guided treks for hiking purists. Because New Zealand is a mecca for hikers, expect to meet and make friends with outdoors enthusiasts from all over the world. Just google the trek for more info.
This is another one that requires a bit of time getting there, but it's worth it. The 75-kilometer (47-mile) Hoerikwaggo Trail is a famous five-day, four-night hike through a World Heritage site. Along the trail, hikers pass over mountain peaks, through forests, along beaches and even get to walk through restricted conservation areas in Table Mountain National Park with some of the world's most diverse plant life. There's more info at the South African National Parks page.
In southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, there is a forbidding landscape dotted with “heavenly pits,” or tiankeng, which are among the most remarkable features of their kind on the planet. Hundreds of feet deep with treacherous vertical walls, they are sinkholes, or essentially caves without roofs and inhabited by thousands of varieties of plants. The tiankeng were, for centuries, inaccessible and not well known to the outside world. But now they can be visited and you can learn all about them in the nearby town of Guilin. More info can be found here.
This spectacular trail is 179 kilometers long and takes an adult about nine days to walk. The route is along ancient tracks, over mountains and on quiet rural roads around the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula. The trek starts in the town of Tralee and like any good walking tour, includes daily vistas of mountains, the sea and islands. The route also goes deep into the Dingle Gaeltact where the Irish language is still spoken and other traditional ways are kept alive. There are organized tours of the Dingle Peninsula, and it’s generally easy to stay at B&Bs along the way and take shorter sections of the Dingle Way. For more information visit www.dingleway.com.
This could be one of the most dramatic and beautiful trails in the world. It starts in the world-famous Yosemite National Park and wends its way south through 215 miles of the highest and most remote part of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountain range, until it reaches Mount Whitney -- the highest peak in the lower 48 states. The trail stays far from roads and takes about a month to cover on foot. But shorter sections can be covered in much less time. A good place to start studying up on this premiere trail is johnmuirtrail.org.
Take this one in parts, because the whole thing is 2,181 miles long and passes through 14 states. But if you ever wanted to travel back in time and taste what Appalachia once was, this is your trek. And you won’t be alone, since more than 4 million people travel this trail annually. The north end of the trail begins at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. The southern end is at Georgia’s Springer Mountain. The whole trail takes about six months to walk, but few people do that. Smaller sections are the way to go and the place to begin hunting for your piece of the trail is at appalachiantrail.org.
This isn’t a long walk, as treks go, but it’s one of the most unusual. The Strada delle 52 Gallerie (which means Road of 52 tunnels) is an historic military mule supply route built in a few months during during World War I. The road, located not far from Venice, is 6,550 meters long, 2,280 of which are inside of the 52 tunnels, which are blasted out of solid rock. The road was built to take advantage of the deep canyons and rock cliffs, which gave cover from the Austro-Hungarian artillery. Today the route is a fascinating hike on many levels. Start your trek with a visit to the Wikipedia website to learn more.