Take a hike: 5 of the world’s best long-distance trails
From America to Australia and everywhere in between, these trails are sure to give both your mind and body a workout.
Long-distance hikes have become popular big-screen fodder. First Martin Sheen took on the Camino de Santiago in “The Way” then Mia Wasikowska set off across the Outback in “Tracks.” Soon Reese Witherspoon was stomping across the Pacific Crest Trail in “Wild” and later this year, Robert Redford will be tackling the Appalachian Trail in “A Walk in the Woods.” Have these movies got you itching for an epic adventure?
Long-distance hikes are tough and testing, but the rewards are undeniable. There’s the feeling of absolute freedom out among nature, the chance to escape workaday stresses and the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing one, not to mention the new relationships formed and bonds forged along the way. If you’re up for the challenge, lace up your boots and set off on one of these fantastic long-distance footpaths.
The Appalachian Trail, or the A.T. as it’s also known, is a firm favorite among thru-hikers. This 2,180-mile track snakes up through Georgia passing through 12 other states before winding up in the wilds of Maine. Often touted as the granddaddy of long-distance trails, the A.T. attracts a steady stream of ambitious hikers. With the upcoming film adaptation of Bill Bryson’s Appalachian Trail memoir due to be released later this year, a surge is expected. “We saw almost a 50 percent increase in thru-hikers the year after the book, ‘A Walk in the Woods,’ was published,” said Laurie Potteiger, who works for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “As the author himself noted, it's not so much the footpath that's crowded, it's the overnight sites where people cluster. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is taking a number of steps to prepare for the increased number of hikers, ranging from an online voluntary thru-hiker registration to promoting a lesser-known thru-hike variant known as a flip-flop.”
On ‘flip flops’, hikers abandon traditional end-to-end routes and instead follow part of the trail in one direction and the rest in another – a clever way to evade crowds and disruptive weather. “Starting a thru-hike northbound in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (known as the ‘psychological halfway point’ of the A.T.) in late April or early May allows hikers to avoid frigid temperatures at the beginning of their hike and start in the gentlest terrain,” explained Potteiger.
Israel National Trail
At approximately 620 miles long, the Israel National Trail (I.N.T.) offers up a lot of diversity. Running the length of the country, the I.N.T. zigzags from its starting point in the northern part of the country through the incredible landscapes such of the stark Negev desert where horned ibex and gazelles roam, down to the Red Sea at Israel’s southernmost toe. “The I.N.T. has much more variety than the A.T. [Appalachian Trail], although it is only around one-fourth the length,” said Richard Smith, an avid hiker and advocate for the trail who operates the Israel National Trail website. “The I.N.T. goes from desert to forested mountains to coastline and through urban settings. For cultural variety the I.N.T. exceeds anything on the planet, in my opinion.” For English-language hikers, Smith recommends purchasing Jacob Saar’s comprehensive guidebook, while the Israel Trail forum also provides a wealth of information about the track.
Want a first-hand account of what it's like to hike the Israel National Trail? Check out this diary by one of our reporters from her recent trip.
A hike on the Bibbulmun track in Western Australia offers peacefulness and serenity. (Photo: Dilettantiquity/Flickr)
If you are looking for a true-blue away-from-it-all wilderness escape, Southwest Australia’s Bibbulmun is it. Extending for 620 miles from Kalamunda near Perth to Albany, this track puts hikers out in the Australian bush where solitude is pretty much guaranteed. Follow the yellow markers past mountain peaks, lush forests, waterfalls, vineyards and coastal heathlands. Hikers have been known to encounter Australian wildlife such as kangaroos, emus and kookaburras, a native bird species known for its distinctive birdsong, which sounds not unlike human laughter.
For many, the biggest draw to Bibbulmun is its facilities. Huts and campsites are set up along the way, with most of them just a day’s walk apart. Check conditions on the Bibbulmun Track website before you go as bush fires have caused partial closures in the past.
Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail, a mammoth 2,650-mile route that runs from the Mexican border up to the Canadian border, has never been more in vogue thanks to Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," and the subsequent film adaptation. Jack Haskel, who works for the Pacific Crest Trail Association said, “We’re hearing from a lot of people that were inspired to trek the Pacific Crest Trail after seeing the movie, reading the book or hearing about it online. That people are excited about something as wonderful as connecting with nature is a really great thing. The P.C.T. is a superb place for personal reflection.”
The scenery is enthralling, with soaring mountain peaks, wildflower-covered alpine meadows, dense forests and plenty of absolute, unbridled wilderness. A word of warning, though: this arduous trail is not for novices. “Know that it’s a wilderness trail, and with that, there is a whole bevy of skills to develop,” advised Haskel. “Hands down, the best way to prepare is to get out near where you live and go trekking. Building personal experience and learning from knowledgeable friends is a really important step before you quit your job and move to the P.C.T.”
Te Araroa Trail
New Zealand’s stirring Middle Earth landscapes are ripe for hiking – or “tramping” as the Kiwis call it. Te Araroa, Maori Maori for “the long pathway,” is a rewarding expedition encompassing some of the most majestic and mesmerizing scenery anywhere on Earth. Stretching 1,864 miles from the tip of the North Island to the lowest part of the South Island, this epic pathway traverses coast, forests, rivers, volcanos, mountains, fjords and even the urban center of Auckland. The Te Araroa track is remarkably easy on the eye, though not on the body, with rugged and rough terrain making it particularly challenging.
Officially opened in 2011, Te Araroa is still new to the scene, with no best-selling memoirs or blockbusters to speak of yet. Though we suspect it won’t be long until a Hollywood exec arrives to take advantage of these cinematic landscapes.
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