Summer is the best time to commune with nature. And the best way to really appreciate that natural beauty of a local or national park is to go hiking! Now, you may have already heard about some of the most popular hiking treks in the world, including an adventurous journey around the Grand Canyon, along Pacific Crest Trail, around Cinque Terre or near Mount Everest, but more outdoor adventures still await you. So, grab your hiking boots out of the closet because there’s much more ground to cover. From Hawaii to Tanzania… here are a few familiar and lesser-known hiking destinations that pros and novice backpackers should add to their to-do list.
Keene Beach to Kalalau Valley (Kauai, Hawaii)
How Many Miles: 22 miles
How Many Days: 3-5 Days
When to Go: May to September (drier weather); April and October (less crowded)
Although the first 11 miles along the Na Pali Coast are physically demanding with steep trails and muddy slopes; the real reward comes when the long-rugged route leads you to the serene golden Kalalau Beach with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. Yes, this little slice of heaven can be all yours if you can make the strenuous trek. Don’t worry about a lot of foot traffic and crowds because there’s only two ways to get to this beach and the Kalalau Valley… kayaking and hiking. And just a word of advice, plan on purchasing your camping permit to stay in the area overnight. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources issues a limited amount of permits every year. And trust me… you’ll want to crash here for at least one night.
Kilimanjaro National Park (Tanzania, Africa)
How Many Miles: 35
How Many Days: 7-9 days
When to Go: June to October, December to February (plan to trek through snow)
Known as the “world’s tallest walkable mountain,” Mount Kilimanjaro stands 19,341-feet tall – the highest peak in Africa – however, the trek to reach the dormant volcano’s summit doesn’t require the skills of a professional mountaineer. Yep, even the newbie hikers – with moderate level of fitness, a positive attitude and a body that adapts well to altitude change – can experience the thrill of climbing to new heights above the clouds. What an amazing sight to behold! With only six major trails, Mount Kilimanjaro attracts 35,000 climbers a year, and that means it will be hard to find a less-crowded route. However, some hikers follow the Lemosho trail and a portion of the Rongai trail to avoid the busiest areas on the mountain. You’ll need a couple extra days, but it will give you more time to explore the mountain. And walking on a path less-traveled will make this an unforgettable adventure.
The Torres del Paine “W Circuit"
Torres del Paine National Park (Patagonia, Chile)
How Many Miles: 37 miles
How Many Days: 5 days
When to Go: October to April (Avoid Winter from June - August)
More than 250,000 people converge on Torres del Paine National Park each year. This popular hiking destination has clearly marked paths that backpackers are required to follow always. But don’t worry… you’ll still get a chance to see the volcanic peaks, glaciers, lakes and other beautiful scenery such as Grey Glacier, Pehoe Lake, Los Cuernos, The Towers and the French Valley. For backpackers looking for an overnight spot, you should know that camping is only allowed at specified campsites, and no wood fires are allowed throughout the park, but a hike here is SO worth it! Discover why National Geographic selected it as the fifth most beautiful place in the world.
Post Peak Pass to Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite Grand Traverse (California)
How Many Miles: 60 miles
How Many Days: 6-7 Days
When to Go: Mid-July to mid-September
Experienced hikers will enjoy exploring this 60-mile trek through Yosemite National Park and the Ansel Adams Wilderness, reaching an elevation of 12,000 feet. Along the way, backpackers will have spectacular views along Merced River – which cuts through the Yosemite Valley – as well as other natural highlights such as peaks of the majestic Sierra Nevada, Half Dome, Cathedral Peak and Isberg Pass, a section of the John Muir Trail. And if you’re looking for a less strenuous hike to tackle in a day; the park features easy and moderate trails, ranging from 1.5 to 8 miles. For example, you can hike the 4.8-mile trail around Elizabeth Lake at the base of Unicorn Peak, or hike the 8-mile Mono Pass to check out a few beautiful waterfalls. There’s no shortage of trails for hikers of all levels.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee Border)
How Many Miles: 70 miles
How Many Days: 4-5 Days
When to Go: May to August, Weekdays (less crowded)
There are dozens of trails to choose from along the 2,200-mile stretch known as the Appalachian Trail. But without a doubt, adventurous hikers should head to the Great Smoky National Park to hit the scenic trail that straddles the North Carolina/Tennessee border. This trek covers the highest elevations of the entire Appalachian Trail, including 6,643-foot Clingman’s Dome, the trail’s highest point. Just remember this is the only section of the entire trail where a permit for overnight hiking are required. For shorter and easier trails, novice hikers should visit Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, which offers access to numerous side trials that seldom exceed 500 to 1,000 feet. Just a word to the wise… avoid this park in June, when backpackers usually converge on the trail for an arduous trek from Georgia to Maine.