Not everyone can climb Mt. Everest. The world’s tallest mountain is probably the number one fitness challenge for a select few, but most travelers have other slightly more doable but still epic feats on their lists.
Here are 10 of our favorites.
Take on the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming
There are three long-distance swims that recreational swimmers strive to complete: 21 miles across the English Channel, 20 miles from Los Angeles to Catalina Island, and 28 miles around Manhattan Island in New York City.
Ken Immer, the president of Culinary Health Solutions, has two of them on his list: Catalina and Manhattan. He also wants to tackle the 26-mile Ka’iwi Channel Swim between the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Oahu, and to swim 12.5 miles around the entire island of Key West.
In preparation, he recently swam 16 miles around Folly Beach in South Carolina, which took 6 hours and 40 minutes.
“It was an amazing swim,” he said. “The big deal about it though, is that it took very precise tidal timing to be able to accomplish the swim without having to swim against the tide at any point. We pulled it off perfectly, me and my two intrepid kayakers. Marathon swimming is intense. The distances may seem smaller compared to running or biking, but the equivalent of effort and danger really takes things up a few notches.”
Hike the Camino de Santiago
This trek across northern Spain traces the routes Christian pilgrims made to the shrine of St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Hundreds of thousands make the 500-mile journey each year, some for the experience and some as a spiritual retreat.
It’s on a bucket list for Anthony Bianco, who writes the blog The Travel Tart.
“Sounds like a great excuse to get fit for walking for a month, and then sipping some great wine at night along with chowing down on some Spanish food,” he said. “I enjoy hiking, plus really love the hospitality and fun of the Spanish people. This a form of slow travel that I'm aspiring to, and would be a great way to take in the landscape and culture of northern Spain.”
Scale Yosemite’s Half Dome
Ashley Boarman tackled this 20-mile roundtrip hike in August, which include a string of cables to grip as you climb on sheer rock.
“My brother and his fiancé failed to get up the cables previously because it’s an incredibly scary and dangerous climb, but this time around we all did it together,” she said. “It was a priceless and unforgettable moment for me individually and for my family. The trail itself was the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced – think meadows, wildflowers, waterfalls, Black Bears, winding rivers and more.”
Boarman says she scaled up to the Half Dome hike by tackling smaller treks first.
“If you hike 10 miles one day you think, well, I can probably do 15,” she said. “Once you do 15, then you think, well, I can probably do 20 and so on. Elevation is the same way. If I’ve hiked a peek that is 3,000 feet, then I can probably work my way up to 20,000.”
Trek to Cinque Terre
This wandering trail spans almost 25 miles and passes through five fishing villages on the Italian coast. There are two sets of trails, the coastal blue trail and the higher-elevation red trail.
Maggie Kravchuk tried to hike the blue trail on her last trip to Italy, but portions of it were closed. So now the red trail remains on her bucket list.
“It has quite an elevation,” she said. “So I can only imagine how great the views are from up there. I hope to take advantage of this trail on my next visit.”
Run the Comrades Marathon
This race in South Africa exceeds the description in its name: It’s almost twice the distance—56 miles—of an actual marathon. The course travels between the two cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg and alternates directions each year.
Meghan Kennihan said the race should be on any ultramarathoner’s bucket list.
“It is the most treasured race in the country and the entire community supports the runners and comes out to cheer and give aid,” she said. “The runners are treated like celebrities and it is one of the only point to point road ultras in the world.”
Cycle up Mont Ventoux
Mont Ventoux in Provence, France, is often part of the Tour de France course, but also offers its own challenges.
There are three routes to the summit, so the bucket list challenge could be climbing one of them. For more advanced cyclists, it’s climbing all three in one day at a total distance of 85 miles and 14,436 feet of climbing.
Jace Gifford, who leads the bike tour company In Situ, knocked this item off his list.
“I had climbed Mont Ventoux many times before, from each of the sides, but I had never done more than one side at a time,” he said. Not knowing how I'd fair, I tried to settle into a pace that I could sustain for the whole day. Things were going pretty smoothly until the last climb. My water was running low and I had gone through almost all of my food. It took quite a bit of mental concentration to keep focused on making it to the top, but I made it. Despite all of the riding I've done in my life, this day stands as one of my most memorable days on the bike.”
Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
This multiple-day trek is on the bucket list of many travelers and hikers. Guided tours lead travelers to the peak, but that doesn’t make the elevation gain any easier.
In fact, most who attempt the trail spend a few days in Cuzco, Peru, before beginning the journey. The city is at 11,200 feet above seal level, and from there the trail falls to 7,900 feet above sea level.
Those who complete the journey are rewarded with panoramic views of mountains behind the ancient Inca city.
“Reaching the Sun Gate was amazing. Looking through it to the sight of Machu Picchu below made all the difficulties of the trek disappear,” wrote travel blogger Gillian Duffy. “Sitting on a plateau below, the site looked just as beautiful and mysterious as I had expected.”
Run the Great Wall of China
With more than 5,000 steps, the Great Wall of China may encourage you to walk more than run, but it’s still a feat worth accomplishing.
Runners can join in organized tours and races that tackle portions of the 5,500-mile wall.
Marathon Tours brings participants to the annual Great Wall Marathon, Half-Marathon and 8.5K run each May.
“This Great Wall Marathon has to be considered one of the toughest yet most picturesque marathons in the world,” organizers said. “Along the course pass through beautiful farmland and tiny, picturesque villages. Do not let the challenging course intimidate you. The Great Wall offers an event for everyone and many of our travelers choose one of the shorter distances.”
Climb Mt. Fuji
The tallest mountain in Japan is actually pretty doable for even most average hikers. At 12,389 feet elevation, it takes on average 6 hours to climb. But the hike is only recommended in July, August, and September.
If you reach the top of the active volcano, you can peer into a crater more than 650 feet deep.
According to an ancient Japanese proverb, “He who does not climb Mount Fuji is a fool, but he who climbs Mount Fuji twice is also a fool.”
Walk the Abel Tasman Track
This 37-mile trail long trail traces the coast through the Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand. It extends from Marahau in the south to Wainui in the north, and takes most travelers three to five days to complete.
The journey is picturesque from start to finish, with turquoise ocean waters and endless alcoves and beaches to cool your feet.
“Anapai Bay has a pristine beach surrounded by dramatic cliffs. There were not a lot of people in Abel Tasman at this time of the year, and I usually found myself all alone at many of its beaches,” wrote the hiker Kevin on his travel blog. “I can’t exactly pinpoint what it was, but I felt a special vibe there, as I spent almost two hours taking pictures and enjoying the solitude as the sun was setting.”