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.
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.