Early European explorers who claimed to have seen a snow-capped mountain in Equatorial Africa were dismissed as delusional. Kilimanjaro is, in fact, the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain on the planet. Several routes lead to the summit, and thousands of hikers attempt the five- to six-day trek every year (though a number are forced to turn back due to altitude sickness). None of the trails requires mountaineering skills, but it may well be the most demanding climb you've ever done. The sheer variety is staggering: you hike for more than 55 miles as you ascend 13,000 feet to Shira Peak, traversing moors, desert, rainforest, snow, and ice. The culmination: a heart-stopping view from "the Roof of Africa."
For More Info: Hoopoe Safaris is one of the Kilimanjaro region's most recommended outfitters.
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Tour du Mont Blanc, France/Switzerland/Italy
The Tour du Mont Blanc (known as the TMB) is rightfully the most popular hiking trail in Europe. The trail circles the towering Mont Blanc Massif and covers a distance of roughly 105 miles with six miles of ascent as it passes through seven valleys in three countries—Switzerland, Italy, and France.
Insider's Tip: Walk the circular route in a counterclockwise direction in seven to 10 days from numerous starting points in any of the three countries. You can find accommodations and food along the entire route, and there are trails to suit any level of hiker.
Popularly known as the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal's 190-mile trek around the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas follows ancient trade routes between Nepal and Tibet that have been used for millennia. The trek itself reaches an altitude of 17,388 feet at the Thorung La pass, skirting the edge of the legendary Tibetan plateau, to Annapurna at 26,545 feet and the magnificent
Dhauligiri at 26,794 feet.
Insider's Tip: Depending on how you arrange your itinerary, the trek can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Along the trail there are many small villages, trekker's huts, and food stores that can facilitate a more comfortable experience as you stroll by some of the Himalayas' greatest peaks.
The Na Pali Coast is quite possibly the first thing people think of when they hear the word "Hawaii." The iconic coastal landscape of verdant tropical vegetation, including nearly 50 endangered plant species from rare hibiscus to orchids, and plunging cliffs, or pali, that careen into the azure Pacific, is as symbolic of the islands as the big waves of the North Shore. The Kalalau Trail provides the only land access to this part of the rugged coast. The trail traverses five valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach, which is boxed in by sheer cliffs. The 11-mile hike crosses above towering pali and through lush valleys where rare tropical plants abound and wild goats roam.
Insider's Tip: Break the hike into two days and camp one night on Hanakapiai Beach. Be forewarned: trails can get crowded in the summer months.
Among Morocco's High Atlas Mountains, the most popular trek is to the top of Jbel Toubkal, a mountain peak in the southwestern part of the country. At 13,671 feet, it is the highest peak in North Africa, a convenient 40 miles south of Marrakesh. Beyond the stellar scenery, this is one of the best areas to experience
local Berber culture.
Insider's Tip: Hikers usually approach from the road-end village of Imlil and head forth with local guides prearranged from Marrakesh, as well as mules and porters. For experienced hikers, guides are not necessary, and there is no need to carry food or camping gear if you stay in the trekker's refuges, which are all within a day's hike of each other.
The famed spires of Torres del Paine (Paine's Towers) jut up from the Patagonian steppe like a series of granite skyscrapers. However, the park is much more than just its namesake towers. The W trek (simply named after the shape of the trail) takes hikers through the highlights of the park, including craggy horn-shaped peaks, glaciers that have calved icebergs the size of houses, and
pristine green lakes.
It's easy to forget how much of Japan exists outside of its bustling urban centers. Hiking in the North Alps is one of the best ways to explore Japan and see a side of the country and culture that few Westerners ever experience. The challenging trek for experienced hikers rises steeply through dense pine forests along slender, rocky trails to 10,000 feet among the snow-speckled peaks themselves.
Insider's Tip: In order to relax after a full day of hiking, you can spend the night in tidy and comfortable mountain huts, rejuvenate your muscles in steaming hot springs, and make friends with enthusiastic Japanese hikers.
Here lies the far west of North America in its raw splendor: old-growth evergreens line rocky beaches with views south to the Olympic Mountains or of whales spouting in the open Pacific. The West Coast Trail follows nearly 50 miles up the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island, winding five to seven days through forests, bogs, and beaches. It passes massive Sitka spruce trees, waterfalls, and streams, and often diverts inland to maneuver around impassable cliffs that descend straight into the sea.
Insider's Tip: The trail is challenging, but any determined hiker in reasonably good shape can do it. To cross some of the rivers and valleys, hikers should be prepared to pull themselves on cable cars, walk suspension bridges, or climb up and down some three-dozen ladders.
What better way to reach Machu Picchu, the so-called Lost City of the Incas, than as the Incas once did: by foot. The most famous trail in South America, the Inca Trail receives hikers from all over the world, who make the three- to five-day trek in guided groups. The trail starts in the Urubamba River Valley, climbs to Dead Woman's Pass at nearly 14,000 feet, ambles through several other Inca ruins, and descends ancient paved stairways. It takes you through jungle and cloud forest, past mountain streams and colorful orchids, and ends at the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu spread out below. Hiking with a guide is obligatory.
Insider's Tip: Cuzco, the nearest city to the trail, is stacked with excellent hiking outfitters and travel agencies that organize the groups and supply guides, porters, food, and camping essentials.
Perhaps Yosemite's most recognizable sight, Half Dome's smooth, sloping granite face appears more daunting from afar than it actually is. The trail that spirals around the back and up to the summit is one of the most popular day hikes in the United States, offering gentler lower-altitude landscapes. It takes hikers through miles of Yosemite's forested lower areas before subjecting them to the cable-gripping slog to the top of the dome. Dozens (sometimes hundreds) of people do this hike—17 miles round-trip with about 5,000 feet of elevation gain—every day during the summer. In seven to 12 hours it will take you to 8,842 feet and back.
Insider's Tip: It is best to avoid hiking Half Dome on summer weekends due to the crowds. If you must go on such a day, an early start will help to avoid the heavier traffic.