15 Best Places to Hike
What is the best place to go hiking?
There are many amazing places to go hiking, so we would say there isn’t really one best place. But there are some locations that spectacularly lend themselves to exploration on foot versus others that are more easily or enjoyably explored by boat, bicycle, or car. A great trekking destination has specific characteristics that make it so good for hiking.
In this article, we are focusing on truly world-class places to hike. We’re not interested in average, or even good, here. We’re interested in the best. Below we elaborate on what to look for in a great place to hike and then we list our top 15 picks for the best places to hike in the world.
Characteristics of a Great Place to Hike
Great places to hike meet common criteria. We believe the following five things are needed to make a truly excellent hiking destination:
One of the most rewarding aspects of trekking is the scenery you get to experience. A truly great place to hike is going to be richly gratifying in this regard. Whether you’re hiking through mountains, deserts, canyons, oceans, forests, or prairies, the scenery should be spectacular. And of course, you have to be able to see the scenery, which means there must be views of the surrounding landscapes.
You should really be able to cover some ground. Even if a place is stunningly beautiful, if the longest hiking trail in the area is just a couple of miles, it is not – in our minds – a great place to hike. You should be able to choose between a half-day hike or a multi-day hike. Options must include trail hiking as well as off-trail hiking or “bushwacking.” One of the great joys of hillwalking, as it’s referred to in Europe, is the sense of freedom that people experience. Expansive amounts of space are a key factor in accessing that amazing feeling of freedom.
Walkable terrain or trails
A key characteristic of a great place to hike is that the terrain is walking friendly. Some places are stunningly beautiful and massive, but they aren’t good for hiking because the foliage is too thick, they’re swampy or watery, or they don’t have developed hiking trails.
Ability to Find Solitude
Not all hikers are looking for solitude, but many are, and for this reason, the ability to have a place mostly to yourself is essential. At the world’s best hiking destinations, you probably will not find an abundance of solitude on popular day hikes, but on more obscure trails and/or on multi-day trips it should be an option.
Finally, a great trekking destination will be wild and well preserved. “Ecological integrity” means the natural systems are largely undisturbed, at least to the extent possible in today’s world. The native plants and animals will be healthy, and the landscape as a whole will be intact, not divided or broken up by roads, clearcuts, mines…etc.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
There’s nowhere else on earth like the Grand Canyon, and Grand Canyon National Park is the heart of this 277-mile long geological phenomenon. It is also one of the best places in the world for hiking. It has all of the major characteristics of a great trekking destination: incredible scenery, vast open spaces, great trails, solitude, and ecological integrity. You can make the most of the Park by embarking on a day hike to a viewpoint or a backpacking trip down to the Inner Gorge and the Colorado River.
In Grand Canyon National Park, you can choose from many trails or even off-trail adventures. The most popular area — the Corridor — is home to the most moderate trails and also a lodge at the bottom of the Canyon called Phantom Ranch. But beyond the Corridor, you’ll find many more obscure trails to experience amazing desert wilderness and soak up soul-nurturing solitude. The bottom line is that — from a hiking perspective — the Grand Canyon has it all, and it deserves to be near or at the top of every avid hiker’s to-visit list.
2. The Alps
The Alps are hard to beat in terms of scenery, space and walkability. It feels like they were created specifically for trekking. One of the most amazing ways to enjoy the Alps is to link up mountain villages or huts on multi-day trips. You will experience not only breathtaking scenery, wildlife, and amazing hill walking but you’ll also get to enjoy delicious European cuisine, charming lodging and different cultures.
The ecological integrity and ability to find solitude in the Alps are not as high as in some our other top picks. If those characteristics are very important to you, then you may want to keep looking. If you want to soak up stunning views, tackle some world class hikes, have a cultural experience and eat like a queen or king, then the Alps are a phenomenal place to hike.
3. Colorado Rockies
The state of Colorado offers world class hiking and backpacking, and an almost endless supply of it. With one major national park – Rocky Mountain National Park – and 44 wilderness areas that cover more than 3.5 million acres (approximately the size of Connecticut), Colorado is a true hiking gem. You can camp, stay in any number of iconic mountain towns (Crested Butte, Winterpark, Telluride, Aspen, Steamboat…etc.), or go on a multi-day backpacking trip.
The scenery is out of this world. There is immense space to lose yourself in. Colorado has plenty of hiking trails including major ones like the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. The ability to find solitude is good, especially if you are willing to hike off trail. And the ecological integrity is strong, but not untarnished in that wolves and grizzlies were eradicated by humans and are still extinct in Colorado.
Peru is a big country with tremendous hiking for the eager adventurer. It really offers almost anything you could ask for. From the famous Inca Trail and Machu Picchu to the second highest mountain range in the world (Cordillera Huayhuash), to coastal deserts, cloud forests, the Amazon Rainforest and more. The scenery is without question world class, particularly in the high Andes. The mountains are vast and expansive with plenty of trails and alpine treks to choose from. Solitude is available if you seek it out, and many ecosystems of the Andes are still quite wild with native wildlife and pristine wilderness.
One of the most compelling aspects of Peru is its fascinating cultural history. Remnants of the Inca civilization are visible across the Andes, and are a part of nearly every trekking route. The Inca Trail is very worth doing if the cultural history is your primary interest, and solitude is less important to you. Otherwise, we recommend looking at more off-the-beaten-path hikes like Salkantay, Cordillera Huayhuash and Rainbow Mountain.
5. Washington State
Washington State has 3 major national parks – Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades – all of which offer tremendous hiking opportunities. Beyond the national parks, Washington has 31 wilderness areas with varying landscapes of lush rain forests, iconic peaks, wild rivers, plunging waterfalls, pristine meadows and more. Washington has it all – dramatic scenery, vast expanses of wilderness, an abundance of hiking trails, access to solitude and intact ecosystems.
The must-see highlights of Washington are the three national parks listed above: Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades. All three offer amazing day hikes as well as great camping and/or lodging and extended backpacking trips. If stunning mountain landscapes, rich forests, waterfalls, wildlife, volcanoes, glaciers, seashores and wildflowers sound like a great combination then plan your next hiking vacation in Washington!
Nepal is home to the world’s tallest mountain range, the Himalayas. This fact alone makes it a worthwhile trekking destination, but there are many other reasons to add Nepal to your must-hike list. Nepal is home to rich mountain cultures, Buddhist monasteries and fascinating mountaineering history. On a trek to Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Base Camp, you will follow ancient walking paths used by the locals for centuries. It’s almost as if you can hear the voices of the people who walked these trails long ago in the winds and rivers that sweep through these mountains.
In Nepal, the scenery is unmatched, with towering, glaciated peaks framing nearly every view. The Himalayas are expansive, but for the most part the treks follow well-established routes between villages and mountaineering base camps. So in terms of ecological integrity and solitude, Nepal is not at the top of the list. But when it comes to sheer beauty, cultural immersion, the quality of the trekking and the uniqueness of the region, it is profoundly engaging.
7. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park in California’s iconic Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is one of the most photographed places in the world, and justifiably so. Beyond its photogenic allure with towering, glacial-sculpted granite domes; thundering waterfalls and pristine meadows, Yosemite is also a diverse and very compelling place to hike. Many people camp or stay in lodges in or around the Park and embark on day hikes to a variety of world-class destinations. Others secure permits, load up their backpacks and set off into the wilderness for days of backpacking in the backcountry. Either way, Yosemite has many fantastic options.
When it comes to scenery, Yosemite is absolutely wonderful. Its wilderness, especially in the high country surrounding Yosemite Valley, is vast and expansive with plenty of room to lose yourself. There are plenty of trails, and if you’re willing to hike more than 1-2 miles from the trailhead, you can find solitude. Finally its ecological integrity is good but – like Colorado – its native populations of wolves and grizzly bears are long extinct, making it a partially intact ecosystem. Regardless, Yosemite is a must-visit national park for anyone who loves to hike.
Iceland is the “Land of Fire and Ice.” With active volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, black sand beaches, arctic wildlife, marine wildlife and more this place flat out rocks! What makes it even better? The hiking and trekking. Iceland has phenomenal hikes that show visitors the best of its multi-colored and diverse landscapes. There are fantastic day hikes, but hotels can be very expensive and the camping can be touch and go with harsh and unpredictable weather. The real gems in Iceland are the hut to hut treks. Iceland’s huts are remote and rustic, communal accommodations but they are warm, dry and cozy. After long hikes in wind and rain, these huts are wonderful, welcome sights.
In terms of our five criteria, Iceland hits them pretty darned well. Breathtaking scenery and viewpoints to take it all in – check. Vast and expansive wilderness – check. Walkability with good trails – check. Ability to find solitude – check. Ecological integrity – semi check because Iceland has been impacted by centuries of European settlement including widespread logging and sheep grazing. Overall though, Iceland is a place of profound and unique beauty that we recommend adding to your list of must-visit hiking destinations.
9. Asheville, North Carolina Area
The United States has a handful of really fun, character-filled small mountain cities that are worth visiting themselves, much less for all of the amazing country that surrounds them. Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Bozeman, Montana; Durango, Colorado; Bend, Oregon; Boulder, Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona; and – wait for it! – Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is surrounded by two hallmark features of the Appalachian Mountains – Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains. This area boasts the most ecologically diverse forests in North America, mountains with huge vertical relief, stunning viewpoints, the famous Appalachian Trail, unique wildlife and much, much more.
Our recommendations for enjoying this area are to stay at a hotel in Asheville and enjoy day hikes to the various areas around the city, or to secure permits and embark on a backpacking trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail is very worth hiking, as it often follows the highest ridges with the best views, but in terms of overnight camping it requires staying in shelters that are crowded and often overrun with rodents. Instead, we advise choosing routes that follow the Appalachian Trail but have you in campsites without shelters. Bottom line, Asheville is a phenomenal hiking destination and one we strongly recommend adding to your master list of adventure.
10. Chilean Patagonia
Patagonia is a region at the southern tip of South America that spills over the border between Chile and Argentina. Both sides of the border are wonderfully scenic and wild. In this article we are focusing specifically on the Chilean side of Patagonia as one of the best places to hike in the world, although the Argentinian side is excellent as well. In Chile, Patagonia has two major national parks very much worth visiting and trekking through: Torres del Paine and Patagonia National Park. Torres del Paine is a well-established park with amazing hut to hut treks, the two most popular famously called “The W” and “The O” for the shapes of the hikes. Most of the huts in Torres del Paine are full-service accommodations with cafeterias and dorm-style, co-ed lodging. The hiking in Torres del Paine takes you through a pristine wilderness with glaciers, glacial-fed lakes, soaring granite spires, unique wildlife, waterfalls, and much more.
Patagonia National Park is a very new, innovative park in the Aysen region of Patagonia donated to the Chilean government by American conservationists Kris and Doug Tomkins. Roughly the size of Yosemite National Park, it is largely unknown as of this writing, and now is the time to see it. Its scenery is out of this world, with towering alpine peaks, glaciers, turquoise lakes, unique wildlife and much more. Solitude is not difficult to find in Patagonia National Park, and it is an ideal setting for an adventurous backpacking trip or horse-supported trek.
11. Utah National Parks
Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks are best explored on foot. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands are the five parks that make up the “Mighty Five,” Utah’s clever marketing slogan for its slate of canyon country destinations. All five of these parks are high desert gems with amazing cultural history, wonderful geology, unique rock formations including arches and hoodoos, desert wildlife like desert bighorn sheep, slot canyons, vibrant oases and more.
In terms of scenery, all of these parks are mind blowingly beautiful. They are all expansive with plenty of open space, but with limited numbers of trails through that space, and many discourage off-trail hiking because of its impact on native soils. You can find plenty of solitude in Capitol Reef and Canyonlands, but Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches are more difficult. And finally, from an ecological integrity standpoint, these national parks are strong. If you haven’t been, take some time to visit Utah and make the most of these world-class areas with a series of day hikes or a well-planned backpacking adventure.
12. Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies are a wonderland of adventure for people who love to hike and explore in the mountains. The Canadian Rockies are made up of four major national parks: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho. Together, these four parks preserve nearly 8,000 square miles (more than 5,000,000 acres) of pristine mountain wilderness. These mountains are profoundly beautiful, with turquoise glacial-fed rivers and lakes, thundering waterfalls, massive peaks, glaciers, deep forests and more. They will feel a bit harsher and wetter than America’s Rocky Mountains, but have excellent networks of hiking trails. Solitude is not difficult to find, and the ecological integrity is high with the major predators of the region – Grizzly Bears and wolves – still very much a part of the habitat.
In the Canadian Rockies you can base out of any number of mountain towns or hotels and embark on daily hikes into the mountains, or you can secure permits and enjoy a backpacking trip of almost any length you prefer. In terms of size, Alberta’s national parks go from largest to smallest as Jasper (4,335 mi2), Banff (2,564 mi2), Kootenay (543 mi2) and Yoho (507 mi2). Banff is the most famous, but all four are stunning and well worth exploring.
13. Southern California Deserts
Southern California has two national park gems (Joshua Tree and Death Valley) as well as a massive state park that is in fact the largest of its kind in the United States, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. These three destinations are very much in the desert category, and are best visited and hiked in the winter or shoulder season months. They are extremely arid with sporadic oases that are difficult to not completely fall in love with. Backpacking in these parks may require “dry camping,” depending on which route you do which mean hiking with enough water for one or more camps.
In terms of scenery, these parks are stunning if you like desert landscapes. Joshua Tree is arguably the most scenic of the three. In terms of space, you’ll find more than you could possibly want in these parks, and the hiking is either on good trails or is pleasant off-trail hiking. Solitude is very easy to find if you’re willing to leave the highway and set out on foot. Finally, the ecological integrity is high with the caveat that climate change has exacerbated the aridity of these parks with severe drought. Springs that were reliable are now unpredictable, making some backpacking routes more difficult and dangerous. But don’t let that stop you – these parks are phenomenal, especially in the winter, so load up your backpack, tie up those boots and make the journey!
14. New England
New England is a collection of states including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. In this article we are specifically referring to three of those states: Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Maine – which is the home of the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain – is wild by Eastern standards and has a plethora of great hiking opportunities. It is also where Acadia National Park lives, a stunning spot on the Atlantic Coast. New Hampshire is similar to Maine in its weather and amount of mountains you can hike, the most famous of which are the White Mountains. In “The Whites” you can link up mountain huts for treeline traverses that reward with phenomenal views. And finally in Vermont, it’s similar to Maine and New Hampshire with big mountains and plenty of hiking trails. The Green Mountains are probably the most famous area of Vermont, with the spectacular Long Trail snaking across their high ridgeline.
In terms of scenery, these mountains are beautiful but be prepared to do a lot of forest hiking. Often a full day’s hike will include hours in the forest with a final reward at the top of views out above the trees. The mountains in these states are not as vast as their Western counterparts, and are best hiked on trails. The trails tend to be well maintained, but can be very steep compared with the switchbacking horse trails of the Western USA. Solitude is accessible during certain times of year, but not a hallmark feature of New England. And in terms of ecological integrity, these mountains have been settled by – and therefore impacted by – European descendants for centuries. Expect healthy wildlife populations and vibrant forests, but not untouched wilderness.
15. New Zealand
New Zealand has exploded in popularity over the last decade and a half, at least partially in part to a series of very popular movies being filmed there (Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies). These movies put on full display the fantastic beauty of the Kiwi homeland, which combines towering, glaciated mountains with rugged coastlines. New Zealand is made up of two islands, creatively referred to as the North Island and the South Island. The North Island is where Auckland, the largest Kiwi city resides, and is a more temperate and less mountainous landscape. The South Island is where more of the hiking gems are located. The most famous hikes are the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track and the Kepler Track. But beyond those classics, there is an almost unlimited amount of walking and trekking to choose from. New Zealand has 13 national parks that preserve more than 30,000 square kilometres of land.
In terms of scenery, New Zealand is world class and stunning. In terms of open space, you will find plenty of room here to explore and access that invigorating feeling of freedom. The hiking trails are excellent, and many areas have backcountry huts you can sleep in which vary but can be very nice. Solitude is something you can find in New Zealand if you are willing to work for it. And from an ecological integrity standpoint, New Zealand is in pretty good shape, but does have a problem with introduced species (like rabbits) that don’t have natural predators and have reproduced dramatically. All in all, New Zealand is one of the best places to hike in the world and definitely one to add to your list.