Where can you go to find that perfect hike? The hike that leaves you breathless as you climb the summit of the mountain. The hike with the awe-inspiring views. The hike that is so enjoyable because the terrain and its views are always changing. The hike that has you saying “Wow!” over and over again. The hike that looks great in photos but is even better once you are actually there. The hike that you hope to do again someday. Here is our list of the best hikes in the world.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Length: 93-mile loop
Just because this trail circumnavigates, rather than summits, 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, don’t assume it’s an easy walk in Mount Rainier National Park. Think of it this way: with a total elevation gain of 22,000 feet, it’s sort of like summitting the active volcano twice, minus the scary crevasses. Spread the hike over 10 to 14 days to fully appreciate this epic meander through the most beautiful terrain in the Pacific Northwest, from lowland forests and subalpine meadows to wide-open valleys with views of Rainier’s icy glaciers. With 18 designated wilderness camps and four resupply mailboxes, the trail is well maintained and designed with thru-hikers in mind. Apply for a permit well before the April 1 deadline to get a coveted July-to-September slot and avoid the snow that lingers in the higher elevations into June.
Length: 22 miles round-trip
Patience is a virtue when planning to hike this lush, steep trail along Kauai’s famously fluted Na Pali Coast. With its 300-foot-high waterfalls, views to the crashing Pacific, and access to two stunning sand beaches, Hanakapiai and the completely isolated Kalalau, this out-and-back trek is worth every rigorous step. But because of heavy flooding in 2018, it will be closed until at least mid-2019. Even when the trail is open, access can be hard to come by. Hiking farther than two miles requires a permit, and to mitigate growing congestion and overtourism on Kauai’s north shore, the state is also building a new parking area near the trailhead that will limit daily visitors to 900. Monitor access and updates on the Hawaii Division of State Parks Kalalau Trail web page.
Camino Primitivo, Camino de Santiago
Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Length: 230 miles one way
There are many paths to the Shrine of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela, but in true pilgrim spirit, sign on for the ninth-century route that the original pilgrim, Alfonso II of Asturias, took from Oviedo in northern Spain. The 15-day route receives only 4 percent of annual Camino trekkers, because it crosses the craggy, 8,000-plus-foot Cantabrian Mountains. The payoff, however, is killer views of the peaks of Picos de Europa and a halfway point marked by the third-century World Heritage site of Lugo, the only city in the world still surrounded by a fully intact Roman wall. In the lively market town of Melide, the Camino Primitivo joins forces with the more crowded Camino Frances for the last 36 miles. Stay in private or municipal albergues, hostels specifically for pilgrims, which vary in price, charm, size, and cleanliness. One of the most highly rated on the trail is the private, 14-room Cantábrico Fonsagrada. If time is an issue, REI offers a condensed nine-day version of the route.
South Maroon Peak
Maroon Bells, Colorado
Length: 12 miles round-trip
Choosing the best of Colorado’s 59 fourteeners is a little like being forced to pick your favorite child. We love the Bells because few peaks on the planet are more impressive than the behemoth 14,163-foot South Maroon (and its 14,019-foot twin, North Maroon, a third of a mile away). The alpine views of Maroon Creek Valley and the surrounding Elk Range from the summit of South Maroon, the true fourteener of the two, are astounding. And the awe is earned: these peaks are largely composed of sedimentary mudstone and are notorious for their loose, rotten rock up high, so bring your helmet. Even the standard, Class III South Ridge Route to the summit of South Maroon requires extensive time above the tree line, scrambling up often vertical rock. It’s a worthy 4,500-foot challenge, but it would be more relaxing to stay low and stick to the 1.5-mile-long Maroon Lake Scenic Trail.
Length: 22 miles one way
Slightly shorter in length and higher in altitude that its famous sibling, the Inca Trail, this two-to-three-day trek starts in the village of Lares and traverses the Urubamba mountain range. It’s the best way to experience true Andean culture. You’ll see farmers hand-tilling potato fields at 10,000 feet, Quechua women wearing beautifully colored woven shawls while herding llama-like vicuñas, and cross 14,435-foot Ipsaycocha Pass, the highest point on the trek, before descending to the town of Ollantaytambo, where you can catch a train to Aguas Calientes, the jumping-off point for Machu Picchu. No permit is required for the trek, but going with a local guide is recommended. Hire the best through Explorandes Peru. For a more luxurious option, Mountain Lodges of Peru offers multi-day adventures combining day hikes, visits to villages and archeological sites, and farm-to-table meals at its tasteful, plush lodges throughout the Sacred and Lares Valleys.