If you understand the difference between cuben and carbon fiber, spend more on hiking gear than on everyday clothes, and know the calorie content of every energy bar on the market, then chances are you’ve got the hiking bug.
You’re also probably aware of a trend for hiking long-distance trails from end-to-end. Thru-hikes such as the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail are seeing record numbers as a result. But outside of the United States’ borders, equally incredible trails are lying basically untouched. Many offer the same distances and caliber of scenery, with the added bonus of a cultural experience. So, whether you’re a peak bagger, a soul-searcher, or a ‘one day’ dreamer, here are five trails outside of the United States packed with everything but people.
Via Alpina: The Red Trail, Europe (several countries)
Length: 1,553 miles
Hiking season: June to October, but you’ll probably need to start earlier if you want do it in one season.
The longest of the 3,100-mile network of Via Alpina trails, the Red Trail crosses all eight countries of the European Alps. From Trieste on Italy’s Adriatic Coast, it arcs through Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and France, before finishing up in Monaco on the Mediterranean. On the way, it passes in the shadow of some of the best-known names in mountaineering, including Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Triglav and the Barre des Écrins. But what makes the Via Alpina unique is the vast array of cultures and languages that it encompasses, many of which are reminders of former borders and historic trade routes.
Baekdu-Daegan, Republic of Korea
Length: 455 miles
Hiking season: June to August approx.
I know what you’re thinking. Korea isn’t big enough for a thru-trek, right? Wrong. The Baekdu-Daegan chain of mountains runs unbroken along the entire Korean peninsula for about 1,050 miles, connecting the holy mountain of Baekdu-san on the China-North Korea border with Cheonwang-bong peak in the south. It’s one of those geographic lines that just begs to be trodden, and, at least for 455 miles, it can be. The South Korean half of the Baekdu-Daegan takes about two months to complete. Dotted with shrines and monasteries, it’s as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical one. Roger Shepherd and Andrew Douch became the first foreigners to walk the South Korean section in 2007, and luckily for us they’ve co-authored a guidebook, together with David A. Mason. For more information, visit www.hikekorea.com.
Great Divide Trail, Canada
Length: 745 miles
Hiking season: June to September
The Great Divide Trail (GDT) crosses the continental divide about 30 times as it weaves through the Canadian Rockies. Despite connecting with the Continental Divide Trail at its southern terminus, the GDT still sees fewer than 20 thru-hikers each year. From Waterton Lakes National Park in the south to Kakwa Provincial Park in the north, it passes landmarks such as Lake Louise, Athabasca Glacier and the 12,972 ft. Mount Robson. With the recent creation of a GDT Facebook group and a GDT app rumored to be in the making, the next few years could be the best time to tackle this epic route before the crowds descend.
Te Araroa, New Zealand
Length: 1,864 miles
Hiking season: September to April
Since its official opening in 2011, the Te Araroa (TA) has become increasingly popular among thru-hikers looking to break away from the classic Triple Crown of hiking – the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Spanning the entire length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south, the TA takes in beaches, rainforests, volcanoes, glacial lakes and remote wilderness (think: Lord of the Rings). It’s mostly complete, but don’t be fooled into complacency – this is tramping* as the Kiwis* like it best –muddy, rough and often undefined.
*New Zealand’s slang is unique – ‘Tramping’ means hiking, and a ‘Kiwi’ is a New Zealander (as well as a flightless bird native to New Zealand, and a furry, green fruit).
Great Himalaya Trails, Nepal
Length: 1,056 miles (high route) or 932 miles (low route)
Hiking season: Varies, but the September to November period typically offers the best weather.
Eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains are in Nepal – each over 26,272 ft. (8000m) – and the Great Himalaya Trails’ high route takes in all of them. Once complete, this network of trails will stretch from Bhutan to Pakistan. For now though, hikers must settle for the more-or-less complete Nepalese section. There are two thru-hikes to choose from – the 1,056-mile high route and the 932-mile low route. Unsurprisingly, the best views are gained on the high route, where the highest pass sits at just over 20,000 ft. The ballpark completion time for a thru-hike of the high route is 150 days, with fewer than 10 people on average completing it each year.
Amelia “Possum” Caddy thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015. She is a writer and producer, with a deep love of nature and a penchant for the unknown. She currently lives on an island at the bottom of Australia.