This article was published in en Voyage, EVA Air’s inflight magazine in 2016.
In an age when speed is the traveler’s watchword and when sights and destinations are collected rather than experienced, it’s good to slow things down and really take in the sights and sounds of the places you visit. There’s no better way to do that than grabbing a backpack and making your way along one the world’s great hiking trails.
The Inca Trail, Peru
Undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous hiking routes, the Inca Trail leads hikers 43km through the Andes before spectacularly terminating at the 15th century Incan city of Machu Pichu. The ancient settlement is the highlight of the walk, but the trail would be on many trekkers’ bucket lists even if the city had never been built.
The trail starts at an altitude of 2,800m, climbs to 4,200m at the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass and finishes at a height of 2,500m. Along the way, you’ll pass through forests and jungles and encounter towering mountains that, between June and October, are capped with snow. You’ll see scores of Incan ruins, tunnels and paving stones laid well over half a millennium ago.
It’s now impossible to hike the Inca Trail without a guide, and since permits for the route are limited, you should plan your adventure well in advance. Most tours last four days, which may sound like a long time for a 43km walk, but doing it this way means you can properly enjoy the scenery and avoid suffering with altitude sickness.
The Narrows, the US
The Narrows is the most spectacular of Zion National Park’s many hiking trails. Like so many of the other routes in this Utah hotspot, the Narrows winds its way along the base of a huge canyon with dizzyingly tall pink, cream and red sandstone cliffs. What makes this path so special is that while it’s around 600m deep, the walls are little more than 6m wide in some places. These dimensions leave hikers with a sense of the natural world’s awesome power.
Any hike through the Narrows will require that you get feet wet, as you will be walking along the bed of the Virgin River, but in the hot summer months, the cool water around your feet and shins can be refreshing.
Many people start their walk at the bottom of the canyon, heading upstream before turning round and heading back. However, if you get a permit, you can make your way downstream and cover the full 16km trail. While some hikers make the journey in a single day, others prefer to stretch it out over two, camping under the stars somewhere along the way.
The Coast to Coast Walk, the UK
Although not particularly old, this walk in northern England is iconic. It was originally devised in 1973 by celebrated Lake District hiker Alfred Wainwright, and it immediately became popular. The route is 309km long and goes through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks.
Though hikers can start on either coast, the original, and still far more common, route is West to East. That means beginning at St Bees in Cumbria, where Wainwright advises walkers to dip their boots into the sea. From there, you make your way over several Lake District fells, along the area’s deep, beautiful valleys and through some of the world’s most picturesque villages. The rolling hills of the Dales provide slightly different landscapes, and walkers pass through the market town of Richmond before heading over Yorkshire’s vast, open moorlands. The walk, which is normally done over 1-2 weeks, ends at Robin Hood’s Bay, where you should, once again, dip your boots in the sea.
Hell’s Gate National Park, Kenya
At Hell’s Gate National Park, the idea of a walk on the wild side is taken one step further as you’ll be in an area with huge numbers of untamed animals. Africa’s big cats are not usually seen here, but over the last 50 years, lions, cheetahs and leopards have all been spotted. The park is home to giraffe, warthog, hyena, gazelle and buffalo, which are regarded as one of the continent’s most dangerous animals. Despite the dangers, you can walk here without a guide, and many trekkers say exploring the park on your own affords you a lot more freedom.
The park is around 90km from the capital city of Nairobi, so it’s fairly easy to reach, and it’s popular with hikers and cyclists. In addition to the wildlife, they come for the beautiful and varied scenery which is a mixture of grassland, rock towers and gorges with ridged, water-eroded cliffs. Hell’s Gate is also an area of geothermal activity, and it has a number of hot springs and geysers.
Overland Track, Australia
The Overland Track in Tasmania is a 65km trail that winds its way through some of Australia’s finest and most varied scenery. The trail, which most hikers take six days to complete, starts beside one of Tasmania’s top tourist destinations, the 1,500m tall Cradle Mountain. From there, it goes south through rainforest, alpine meadows, swamps and glacial valleys. The path also passes a number of dolomite mountains, which more enthusiastic and energetic trekkers climb as additional side-trips, before ending at the picturesque Lake St Clair.
Inexperienced hikers are advised to tackle the track in the summer, but since this is the popular time, you will have to book and pay for your trip. From June through September, hiking the trail is free but also more difficult due to poorer weather conditions and shorter days.
The Holy Ridge Trail, Taiwan
Possibly the most punishing of these hikes, the Holy Ridge is not suitable for inexperienced hikers. Even for those used to hiking in the high mountains, this is a tough path that includes steep climbs and a number of roped, near-vertical slopes. When you factor in the extra challenge of carrying all your equipment, this is one challenge that definitely shouldn’t be taken on lightly. The pay-off for those brave, fit and skilled to try is a unique ridge walk and unparalleled views of Taiwan’s incredible Central Mountain Range.
At a minimum, you’ll spend four days on the trail, though those in the know say five would be preferable. You’ll be above 3,000m on each of those days. Given the route’s difficulty, a permit isn’t easy to get hold of, and you will need a guide. If you want to take on the ridge, contact a local tour group. Taiwan Adventures www.taiwan-adventures.com is one of the best.