World-Class Walks

(Image credit: Colegota)

The following article is from the new book Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.

When you’ve had enough of the news, the noise, the office, the traffic—and the Kardashians—there’s nothing like a good long walk to clear the hubbub out of your head. And if your local footpath isn’t quite enough, here are a few world-class hiking trails you may want to put on your walk-it list. (Which is kind of like a “bucket list”—only more walky.)

THE INCA TRAIL

Location: Peru

Distance: 26 miles (recommended time: 4 days)

Best Time to Go: May to September

Details: This fairly grueling hike through the Sacred Valley of the Incas in southern Peru takes you across high rocky mountain plateaus, into densely vegetated cloud forests, and past ancient ruins, all surrounded by the stunning Andes mountains, and finally ends at the most famous Incan site, Machu Picchu. It’s not for everyone: the path has a lot of ups and downs, climbing from elevations of about 6,000 feet to 13,000 feet, so aside from the work, there’s the danger of altitude sickness. The Inca Trail is one of the most popular treks in the world, meaning you need a reservation and a permit (required) at least six months in advance.

Note: Since 2001, trekkers are no longer allowed to hike the trail alone. Most people go with guided tour groups (porters, cooks, food, tents, and sleeping bags provided). But you can certainly go smaller—just you (or you and a small group) with one guide—for a more personal trail experience.

THE SENTIERO AZZURRO

 

Location: Italy

Distance: 7.5 miles (3 to 4 hours…or 3 to 4 days)

Best Time to Go: In the spring

Details: This is the most popular walking path in the Cinque Terre (Five Lands), a historic and picturesque section of the Italian Riviera in northwestern Italy, comprised of five villages on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. (The entire area is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.) The Sentiero Azzurro, meaning “Blue Path,” connects those five medieval Italian villages, famous for their pastel covered buildings, while passing sandy beaches, coursing along steep rock cliff faces overlooking the sea, and climbing stone steps up into the forested hillsides. The entire trail can be done in just a few hours, but most hikers take their time, taking in the sights, stopping for a swim, drinking some of the local wine, and staying overnight in guesthouses or hotels along the way. (Tip: Seasoned hikers suggest starting in the southernmost village of Riomaggiore and finishing in the northernmost, Monterosso al Mare. The hike starts off a bit easier this way, and gets you ready for the more difficult northern part.) This trail is extremely popular—so much so that there is now a small fee and a daily limit on the number of people who can walk it. Hotels must be booked far in advance, too.

THE GOECHALA TREK

 

Location: India

Distance: 55 miles (about 11 days)

Best Time to Go: Mid-April to May; October to mid-November

Details: This Himalayan mountain trek, called by many avid hikers the best in the Indian Himalayas, starts in the northeastern town of Yuksom at an elevation of 5,670 feet, and ends at the 16,000-foot-high Goechela Pass, a few miles from the eastern border of Nepal. Like on the Inca Trail, most people do guided treks, with porters, gear, and food included (carried by yaks!), but you can do it without guides, provided you’re fit and have experience with high-altitude hiking. Sights include the spectacular Himalayan mountain range—including Kanchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world (at over 28,000 feet); sprawling alpine meadows of wildflowers; forests of giant ferns, bamboo, and rhododendron; turquoise-blue alpine lakes; gushing rivers, possibly with some frozen waterfalls; many glaciers; and a lot more. (The trek is not recommended during the summer rainy season. You can do it in November and December, but be prepared for very cold, very dry weather.)

THE GREAT BAIKAL TRAIL

 

Location: Siberia, Russia

Distance: Varied

Best Time to Go: June to October

Details: The Great Baikal Trail is a Russian nonprofit organization founded in 2003 to promote environmentalism and ecotourism in the region by getting volunteers to help build hiking trails all the way around southern Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest lake on earth. Over the years, more than 5,000 volunteers from all around the world have built or improved more than 400 miles of trails in the region. One of the most popular: the 34-mile-long path between the lakeside villages of Listvyanka and Bolshoye Goloustnoye (recommended time: 3–4 days). It takes you along the lakeshore, up to the top of rocky cliffs overlooking the lake, across lush green meadows, and through dense forests, passing little villages and staying in cabins, guesthouses, or tents along the way. (Bonus: You might even see some nerpa, or Baikal seals—the only freshwater seals on earth—swimming in the lake or sunning themselves on the beach.)

THE KUMANO KODO


Location: Japan

Distance: Varied

Best Time to Go: Spring and fall, but winter is okay, too. (Summer isn’t—it’s the rainy season.)

Details: The Kumano Kodo (Kumano is a type of Shinto shrine; kodo means “road” or “passageway”) is a network of seven trails that wind through the densely forested, often misty and mysterious Kii mountain range, in the south of Japan’s main island, Honshu. The trails have been used by Japanese people for more than 1,000 years, and are used for making pilgrimages to three sacred Shinto shrines, collectively known as Kumano Sanzan. Called “one of the best (and possibly most overlooked) treks on the planet” by CNN’s On the Road series, individual trails can be hiked on short day trips, or the entire set of seven main trails can be trekked over the course of four to five days. (You can camp or stay in bungalows along the way.) Highlights include lush cedar forests; the many oji (mini shrines) along the path; the three main shrines, each elaborately constructed in ancient Japanese style; the many farms and gardens along the route; numerous creeks and rivers; and Nachi no Taki, a 436-foot-tall waterfall (Japan’s highest).

THE URIQUE-BATOPILAS TRAIL

Location: Mexico


Distance: 32 miles (3 to 4 days)

Best Time to Go: October to March

Details: This hike takes you between the towns of Urique and Batopilas in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, in Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua, and runs through six interconnected canyons, collectively known as Copper Canyon. The hike starts at the floor of Urique Canyon, the deepest of the canyons, in the historic mining town of Urique, at about 1,800 feet. It climbs more than 4,000 feet of rocky desert pathways, past cacti and agave, to the canyon’s rim, amid patches of mesquite, sycamore, and wild fig trees. It then descends into neighboring Batopilas Canyon, ending at the mining town of Batopilas. The breathtaking Grand Canyon–like vistas, the bizarre rock formations, the burbling creeks (fed by the winter rainy season), and night skies filled with more stars than you’ve probably seen in your entire life make this one of Mexico’s most memorable hikes. (Bonus: you can also take side trips to the villages of Tarahumara Indians, who have lived in the canyons for centuries. You might also spot some rattlesnakes, mountain lions, wild boar, and wild burros on your journey.)

MOUNT KAILASH KORA


Location: Tibet

Distance: 32 miles (3 to 4 days)

Best Time to Go: May to October

Details: Mount Kailash is a 21,778-foot Himalayan mountain peak in southwestern Tibet, and is considered one of the most sacred places in the world by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and Bons. (Bon is a native Tibetan religion.) The Mount Kailash Kora (kora means “circumambulation”) is a 32-mile-long pilgrimage trail around the base of this stark, rocky, dome-shaped and snowcapped peak that has been followed by practitioners of these religions for millennia. The trail has also become increasingly popular with tourists over the last few decades. The path itself passes over barren terrain, intermixed with an occasional lush meadow, but the views of the surrounding Himalayan peaks, and the diverse groups of pilgrims and tourists traveling together along this path, make the Mount Kailash Kora a combination of geographical, cultural, and religious wonder, and one of the highest-rated hikes on earth. And while it’s difficult—the average altitude is about 16,000 feet and the path follows a lot of uneven ground—there are regular guesthouses along the way, as well as tents where you can get hot meals and drinks. So take your time!

THE ISRAEL NATIONAL TRAIL


Location: Israel

Distance: 620 miles (45 to 60 days)

Best Time to Go: Spring and fall

Details: The Israel National Trail (INT) was the brainchild of Israeli journalist and environmentalist Avraham Tamir, who was inspired to see such a trail in his country after hiking America’s Appalachian Trail in 1980. The INT zigzags its way across the entire nation of Israel, from the kibbutz community of Dan near the Lebanese border, to the southernmost point in Israel, the Red Sea resort city of Eilat. The trail covers a range of terrains, from greener regions in the north, to beaches on the Mediterranean coast, across parts of the Judean mountain range on the outskirts of Jerusalem, to deserts in the south, crossing many ancient archaeological sites along the way. This is a very difficult hike, especially in the desert sections, where you will have to hire people to bring your supplies. It’s recommended that all hikers either get a guide or do serious research before attempting it. One of the great things about the trail: the INT “Trail Angels,” people who open their homes at various spots along the way for showers, a place to cook a hot meal, a yard to set up camp, and some friendly conversation. Several kibbutzes along the way offer inexpensive food and lodging, as well, as do some Bedouin communities in the southern desert regions. Of course, like most of the trails listed here, if you don’t have time to do the whole thing, you can always do small sections at your leisure.

Couch Potato Hiking Bonus: Over the course of three months in the summer of 2015, about 250 volunteers, organized by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Google, took turns hiking the trail with 360-degree cameras strapped to their backs—so you can now enjoy the entire INT on Google Street View from your home computer.

OTHER WALKS OF LIFE


The Kungsleden (King’s Trail) is a popular 270-mile-long trail in the arctic north of Sweden that offers comfortable cabins at regular intervals along its length. The trail is especially popular around the summer solstice, when daylight lasts for nearly 24 hours. (In the winter, the Kungsleden is open as a cross-country ski trail.)


The Thorsborne Trail is a 20-mile trail on Hinchinbrook Island, five miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Only 40 hikers are allowed on the path each day, and there’s a small entrance fee, but it’s worth it: you can camp on tropical beaches (where you might see dugongs, sea turtles, or crocodiles); on rocky outcrops overlooking the Great Barrier Reef; or beside waterfalls in lush and misty rain forests.


Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the tallest mountain in Africa (19,340 feet), and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. (It’s not part of a larger mountain range—it just suddenly rises out of the African plain.) It’s one of the rare tall mountains that doesn’t need any special gear to climb, and there are a number of fairly easy trails to its summit, although it will take six to eight days. The trek will take you from hot African savanna at the mountain’s base up through the clouds to glaciers near the mountain’s snow-covered peak.


The Narrows is just 16 miles long, but it’s one of the most beautiful hikes on the planet. It takes you down the Virgin River at the base of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park, Utah. Much of the hike is actually spent walking in the shallow water of the river—refreshing in the heat of the Utah summer—in a sandstone canyon that is sometimes just 20 feet wide, with beautifully sculpted, terra-cotta-hued sandstone walls stretching straight up as high as 2,000 feet above you. You can do the walk in one day, but it’s best to take your time and camp in one of the 12 designated campgrounds provided. (Happy trails!)

_______________________________

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's newest volume, Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader. The 29th volume of the series is chock-full of fascinating stories, facts, and lists, and comes in both the Kindle version and paperback.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!


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Might I suggest hikers look at any of the long distance trails in Britain? The newest is the John Muir Way across Scotland. The granddaddy is Coast to Coast Walk. The advantages of these is that you speak the language, there are BnBs all along the trail, and there are porter services that move luggage between stops.
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