T+L hits the trail in search of the best hikes in North America and Europe for everyday amblers
With the help of leading guides and outfitters, we canvassed every scenic route in North America and Europe to find the most impressive moderate day hikes. Whether it's a two-mile stroll in coastal Maine or an eight-mile circuit beside the glaciers of Alberta, each accesses the same stunning landscapes that more-strenuous treks do, without the intimidation. To simplify your options, we picked the top regions on each continent, featuring one not-to-be-missed trail for each, plus two alternatives. Then we added 10 slightly less-trodden walks, all of them worth the detour, and gear that's guaranteed to keep you ahead of the pack.
France and Switzerland
Conquering peaks like Mont Blanc, at 15,771 feet the tallest in the Alps, and the Matterhorn may give serious hikers bragging rights, but the slopes and valleys beneath offer less ominous options, and the same views. Aiguilles Traverse, Mont Blanc (Chamonix, France, 4 miles) The rocky trail, which begins at 6,000 feet, is cut into the northeastern flank of Mont Blanc. It skirts the bottom of the Aiguille de l'M, a dramatic rock formation shaped like the letter M. THE WALK From the French resort town of Chamonix, take the Aiguille du Midi cable car halfway up to Plan de l'Aiguille (7,575 feet). Follow the path marked MONTENVERS to the Grand Balcon Nord.
After the trail's apex at the Aiguille de l'M, two miles from the start, it's downhill to Montenvers, where a cog railway carries hikers to Chamonix. (You can also walk back.) Along the way, Mont Blanc looms above, the Mer de Glace glacier sits just below, and paragliders soar in Chamonix Valley. WHERE TO STAY The main lodge at Le Hameau Albert 1er (119 Impasse du Montenvers; 33-4/50-53-05-09; www.hameaualbert.fr; doubles from $212) has 27 rooms that look out onto Mont Blanc. The property also rents 12 rooms in a pine-paneled farmhouse, each with a private balcony.
ALPINE EXTRAS Riffelalp Resort to Gorner Glacier (Zermatt, Switzerland, 4.5 miles) The natural 7,200-foot balcony above the Gorner Glacier, in the shadow of the Matterhorn, gives you an elevated view of the ice river with its deep blue pools and bottomless crevasses. THE WALK A cograil lift leaves from Zermatt to Riffelalp, where a path, which rises a thousand feet, heads to Riffelsee, a glacial lake, and the ridge trail. The moraine then levels off, letting walkers go as far as they like and return the way they came.
Gemmi Pass (Kandersteg, Switzerland, 6 miles) A village-to-village hike culminates in a high Alpine pass. THE WALK Take a cable-car ride from the fairy-tale village of Kandersteg to Sunnbüel (at 6,100 feet), and follow a wide path through the Uschinen Valley to the Gemmi Pass. Midway is the Hotel Schwarenbach (41-33/675-1272; www.schwarenbach.ch; doubles from $97); you can fuel up on raclette before the ultimate reward—an endless western view toward Daubenhorn peak. A gondola drops you into the town of Leukerbad to catch the train back to Kandersteg.
North Country of England
The hilly north country—the Lake District and the Yorkshire dales and moors—is pleasantly green, and its weather is mild. Yet wild walks begin just steps from its towns and villages. Old Coffin Route (Lake District National Park, 4.25 miles) The countryside around Grasmere is where William Wordsworth "wandered lonely as a cloud" and drew inspiration for his Romantic poetry. The Old Coffin Route is an easy ramble from Wordsworth's house in the village of Rydal to his beloved Dove Cottage. THE WALK Beginning at Rydal, it's 1.75 miles along the north shore of Rydal Water to Dove Cottage, now a small museum. To return, follow signs for Grasmere village, then to Great Langdale, and head south onto the path to Loughrigg Terrace. The trail passes Rydal Caves (an old slate quarry) and loops back to Rydal Mount, through Dora's Field, a flower-strewn pasture named for one of Wordsworth's daughters. You'll ascend just enough to overlook serene Rydal Water and the fells (high, barren moors) to the south—the kind of view that inspired Wordsworth to call the area the fairest place on earth. WHERE TO STAY Linthwaite House Hotel (Crook Rd., Windermere; 44-1539/488-600; www.linthwaite.com; doubles from $212), a 26-room manor, sits above Lake Windermere, England's largest lake.
NORTH COUNTRY EXTRAS Muker-Keld Loop (Yorkshire Dales National Park, 6 miles) The Yorkshire dales are James Herriot country, the backdrop to the writer-veterinarian's folksy tales of rural life. THE WALK The trail crosses, then traces, the river Swale after leaving the village of Muker, then climbs steeply to a ruined farmhouse on the edge of the valley before sloping into the village of Keld. Head back through a section of the Pennine Way, one of England's most famous long-distance footpaths (268 miles). Reward yourself with a pint at the Farmers Arms Hotel (Lowick Green, near Ulverston, Cumbria; 44-1229/861-277; doubles from $92), a 14th-century pub.
Hayburn Wyke Loop on the Cleveland Way National Trail (North York Moors National Park, 7.5 miles) This section of the 109-mile Cleveland Way skirts the cliffs of the North Yorkshire coast and slices through inland moors before making its way to the wooded inlet of Hayburn Wyke. THE WALK Follow the Cleveland Way south out of Ravenscar. The trail inclines precipitously toward Hayburn Wyke—a coastal inlet with a small beach, waterfall, and seaside woods. Nip into the Hayburn Wyke Inn (Newlands Rd., Cloughton, Scarborough; 44-1723/870-202; doubles from $84) for bangers and beer. Complete the loop by tracing the abandoned Scarborough-Whitby rail line back to Ravenscar.
Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire
Quaint villages are left behind when you get high up in New England's mountains. There, rugged hills and temperamental weather take center stage. Long Trail (Mount Mansfield, Stowe, Vermont, 4 miles) Vermont's highest mountain and its longest trail open up a world of green schist and gray granite, arctic tundra and delicate alpine plants, all in contrast to the mixed forest spread out below. THE WALK This route goes to the roof of New England without the grueling climb other paths require. Just drive the 4.5-mile Mount Mansfield Toll Road in Stowe to the Summit House, at 3,850 feet. From there, the ridge joins a rocky section of the Long Trail, a 265-mile walkway that runs the length of the Green Mountain State and takes you to the 4,393-foot summit of Mount Mansfield. Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks are visible to the west, Jay Peak and Quebec to the north, the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the east, and Killington to the south. Just as interesting are the microviews of arctic plants—remnants of the last Ice Age that still flourish in Mansfield's harsh environment. WHERE TO STAY Topnotch at Stowe Resort & Spa (4000 Mountain Rd., Stowe; 800/451-8686 or 802/253-8585; www.topnotch-resort.com; doubles from $235) is laid out over 120 acres and has direct views of Mount Mansfield. The 80 rooms and 12 suites are done in rustic pine; many have private balconies. The spa, one of the best in Vermont, lists more than 120 treatments on its menu.
NEW ENGLAND EXTRAS Burnt Head Trail (Monhegan Island, Maine, 2 miles) The island is just a half-mile wide and 1.75 miles long, but a 17-mile warren of trails leads from the Village, its artsy community, to a jagged coastline. Grab a map in any Village shop. THE WALK Beginning at the Village, walk a leisurely three-quarters of a mile into a balsam fir forest to Burnt Head on the wild east side, where waves bash 160-foot cliffs and hordes of seabirds busy themselves finding lunch. Make your return loop by way of the landmark lighthouse, the island's highest point. Every morning, ferries to the island (800/298-2284 or 207/633-2284; $30) depart from Boothbay Harbor, 42 miles east of Freeport.
White Dot/White Cross Trails (Mount Monadnock, Jaffrey, New Hampshire, 4.4 miles) Freestanding Monadnock is the most-climbed mountain in the world, and with good reason. The 3,165-foot, bald-pate summit is reachable in two hours but offers the exhilaration of a true mountain conquest: a pounding heart and uplifting view of all six New England states. THE WALK Pick up the blazed White Dot Trail near the trailhead at Monadnock State Park Headquarters, then bear left on the slightly less steep White Cross Trail. The two rejoin just before reaching the top.
Utah and Arizona
For all the spacious beauty of the Southwestern desert, what draws admirers by the millions are its massive crevasses. The canyons of Utah and Arizona—Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon—illustrate the sculptural wizardry of water and wind. Zion Canyon Narrows (Zion National Park, Utah, 16 miles) The "trail" here is the northern fork of the Virgin River, which leads you through a 2,000-foot-deep slot canyon of fiery orange-red sandstone that constricts in places to a mere 20 feet in width. THE WALK Take the park shuttle from Zion Lodge to the Temple of Sinawava, following Riverside Walkto the start of the canyon path, and go upstream. Three hours of hiking will bring you to a junction with Orderville Canyon and the start of the narrowest part of the main canyon. Go as far as you wish, then about-face for the walk back. A word of caution: Zion Canyon Narrows is generally safe in summer and fall, when the water is warm and shallow, but late-summer thunderstorms can create flash-flood conditions, so check with the visitors' center before setting out. As rays of daylight find their way into the deep shaft of Zion, the sediment takes on the colors of sunset. High above you'll see tributary streams tumbling down from side canyons. WHERE TO STAY Zion Lodge (Zion National Park, Springdale; 888/297-2757 or 303/297-2757 for reservations, 435/772-3213 for the lodge; www.zionlodge.com; four-person cabins from $107), the only accommodation inside the park, sits in a valley that looks up at sandstone cliffs. Each of its 40 pine-paneled cabins has a stone fireplace and sleeps four.
AMERICAN SOUTHWEST EXTRAS Under-the-Rim Trail (Bryce Canyon National Park, 5.8 miles) Trace the contour of one of Bryce's scalloped tiers just below its main precipice, which is crowned with fantastic pink, red, and orange spires of limestone and sandstone, called hoodoos. THE WALK The complete trail runs 23 miles from Bryce Point to Rainbow Point; turn around after stopping to admire the Hat Shop, a wonderland of top-heavy capped spires, 2.9 miles from the trailhead.
Widforss Trail (Grand Canyon National Park, 9.8 miles) This generally overlooked, easy North Rim path undulates gradually as it skirts the lip of a side canyon called the Transept, then enters a fragrant forest of cedar, hemlock, and spruce. When you emerge at Widforss Point, you're at the edge of the canyon—and you'll very likely have the panorama all to yourself. THE WALK Begin at the Widforss Trail parking area, one mile north of the North Rim Campground, and hike southwest on the clearly marked path.
The trademark landscape of the Canadian Rockies and their impressive national parks—Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, and Jasper—is a rugged one, with glaciated 10,000-foot summits marking the Continental Divide and broad, forested basins in between. Because the valleys create such convenient access, by road, rail, and trail, it's easy to day-hike into high country, normally the province of mountaineers. Plain of Six Glaciers (Banff National Park, 9 miles) Glaciers are the artists, geologically speaking, of the Canadian Rockies, carving the valleys, defining the peaks, and filling narrow chasms with blue-green water. The hike starts at 5,700 feet and climbs taluses left by ancient ice floes, then heads into Plain of Six Glaciers, all of which are active—most notably, massive Victoria Glacier, which wraps around 11,361-foot Mount Victoria. THE WALK Start with the Shoreline Trail along Lake Louise and ascend gradually for three miles out of subalpine forest. A teahouse (403/522-3833) built in the 1920's by Swiss mountain guides serves tea and sandwiches. To return, backtrack less than a mile and join the Highline Trail, which leads to Lake Agnes and the hundred-foot cascade between Agnes and tiny Mirror Lake. It's a switchback descent from there. In addition to the glaciers at the peak of the hike and the panoramas of Lake Louise far below, a one-mile optional extension from the teahouse, on a razor-sharp trail, leads to a wild overlook of rock, plummeting water, and an ice chute called the Death Trap. WHERE TO STAY Established in 1890, the turreted, 487-room Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (111 Lake Louise Dr.; 800/441-1414 or 403/522-3511; www.fairmont.com; doubles from $329), with its stone façade, stands above the shore of the lake and looks east to Mount Whitehorn and west to the Victoria Glacier. Some rooms have balconies.
CANADIAN ROCKIES EXTRAS Iceline Trail (Yoho National Park, 8.5 miles) Unobstructed views of the Yoho Valley, the President Range, and numerous glacial tarns are what draw walkers out of an old-growth spruce forest at 4,900 feet into treeless, alpine country. THE WALK Begin beside the roar of Takkakaw, Canada's tallest waterfall (1,200 feet), near the Whiskey Jack Hostel, and then climb to the rocky moraine beside Emerald Glacier. The trail loops back to the falls.
Valley of Five Lakes (Jasper National Park, 3 miles) It's a rare route in the Canadian Rockies that's essentially flat, but on this one you stay low (about 3,500 feet) and saunter through a forest of willow, poplar, and lodgepole pine en route to five small, jade-green lakes at the base of Mount Edith Cavell. Go early or late in the day and you'll have a good chance of spotting deer or elk, and perhaps beavers and bears. THE WALK The trailhead for the blazed hike is on the east side of Icefields Parkway, about 5.5 miles south of Jasper.
10 More Walks in North America and Europe
Virginia: Hawksbill Mountain Trail (Shenandoah National Park, 2.9 miles) Get a small taste of the world's most famous hiking path: the 2,173-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. Follow the AT south from the Hawksbill Gap parking lot (off Skyline Drive), then take Hawksbill Mountain Trail to reach the 4,050-foot summit, the highest in Shenandoah Park. Minnesota: Split Rock River Loop (Lake Superior, 5.1 miles) This particular section of the 200-mile Superior Hiking Trail (the trailhead is 43 miles north of Duluth on Route 61) traces the cascading Split Rock River to a giant rock formation, then crosses the river and doubles back. Montana: Highline Trail (Glacier National Park, 11.5 miles) The route, from Logan Pass Visitors Center to the loop on Going-to-the-Sun Road, parallels the Continental Divide, but at a merciful 2,000 feet below its serrated summits. California: Woodward-Bear Valley Loop (Point Reyes, 13.5 miles) The payoff is out by the Pacific, but getting there offers its own reward: it's an easy stroll through Woodward Valley's Douglas fir and coastal oak forests. Hawaii: Pihea Trail and Alakai Swamp (Kokee State Park, Kauai, 9 miles) Up-country Kauai, at 4,000 feet, abounds with rare native plants (lehua and olapa trees) and flitting songbirds. Much of the hike, from Kalalau Lookout to Kilohana vista, is on a boardwalk laid down to protect the bogs and their plants, but a few stretches are on steep, slick clay where hiking poles come in handy. Newfoundland: Skerwink Trail (Bonavista Peninsula coast, 3.2 miles) Much of the scenery featured in The Shipping News was filmed here, where forests and meadows abruptly meet rocky headlands on a trail between Fishers Loft Inn (www.fishersloft.com) near Port Rexton and the village of Trinity. British Columbia: Juan de Fuca Marine Trail (Vancouver Island, 5.4 miles) The segment between Sombrio Beach and Parkinson Creek is a one-day "best of" version of the coastal Juan de Fuca route, easily done as a day trip out of Victoria. Italy: Sentiero degli Dei from Bomerano to Monte Pertuso (Amalfi Coast, 5 miles) The "path of the gods" hugs a contour of the Lattari Mountains high above the clifftop villages of Praiano and Positano. Below lie the rocky Li Galli islands, home to Ulysses' sirens. Spain: Ruta del Cares (Picos de Europa, 8 miles) An ancient walkway out of Poncebos, in the northwest province of Asturias, runs along the narrow gorge of the Cares River to the village of Caín, cut into a sheer rock hillside. Ireland: Kerry Way (Iveragh Peninsula, 10 miles) This remote segment of the Kerry Trail starts at Climbers' Inn (www.climbersinn.com), rises out of Bridia Valley, then descends into the ancient oaks of the Black Valley.
PLUS: GEAR: Happy Trails
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Grand 1892 resort with one of the world's most majestic settings: a sparkling, glacial blue lake surrounded by snowcapped Rocky Mountain peaks. Swiss-inspired public spaces add to the property's alpine feel; guest rooms have less charm but are still cozy. In winter, there's a free shuttle to the enormous nearby ski area, and plenty to do if you don't want to wander that far afield: cross country ski paths start just beyond the hotel's front entrance, and out back there's a lakeside skating rink embellished with a hand-carved ice castle. Summer brings endless options for hiking, canoeing, fishing, and lazing— kick back with an elderflower cocktail and enjoy the knock-out views of Victoria Glacier, one of the jewels of Banff National Park.
Staying here lets you roll out of bed and onto a trail (it’s right across from the Emerald Pools hike). Ask for one of the historic 1920’s cabins with a fireplace and front porch.