A long distance hiking path is typically defined as anything that takes longer than one or two days to complete. Well, what if we took that idea one (to five million) steps further and proposed a list of 10 of the world’s most epic long distance backpacking trips longer than 500-miles? Sure, we’d leave off quite a few amazing hikes across the globe, but we’d be left with a list of some of the most insanely beautiful, geographically intoxicating, culturally stimulating, and physically demanding treks this planet has to offer.
Note: We’re not responsible for any ensuing desire for adventure or debilitating sense of wanderlust.
1. Appalachian Trail
First, one that you’ve all probably heard of: the Appalachian Trail. The AT is a classic American walk in the woods, stretching 2,185 miles from lowly old Springer Mountain in Georgia to the grandiose summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Along the way, hikers pass through 14 states, 8 National Forests, 2 National Parks, and countless rural resupply points. This ancient mountain range, once the size of the Himalayas, has since been weathered and whittled down over time. But hiking the entire route is still equivalent to summiting Everest 16 times; so don’t underestimate this sleeping giant.
2. Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,663 miles of diverse and epic hiking, which begins in the desert and follows the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges through California, Oregon, and Washington. It passes through some of this country’s most spectacular parks and wilderness areas, including Yosemite, John Muir, Crater Lake, and Goat Rocks. The trail itself is graded for horses, meaning that hikers can typically bag high mileage days. But lack of water and infrequent resupply points pose their own set of inherent challenges.
3. Continental Divide Trail
The Continental Divide Trail is a transcontinental route, which stretches 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada along the craggy spine of the Rocky Mountains. While technically considered only about 70% complete, there are still a handful of hearty adventurers who set out each year to conquer what many consider to be the toughest leg of the US Hiking Triple Crown (the other two legs being the AT and the PCT). The CDT is a rugged trek with high elevations, exposure to the elements, and wildlife hazards, yet the wild western landscapes are truly jaw dropping.
4. Greater Patagonian Trail
This trail is so underdeveloped, isolated, rigorous, and remote that only a few hikers have ever attempted it, never mind completed it. Requiring just as much orienteering, map reading, and logistical planning as actual physical endurance and hiking, this roughly 800 mile route, comprised of horse trails, local paths, country roads, and even pack-raft river sections, traverses the Patagonian Andes along the border of Chile and Argentina. It is an unofficial route in its early infancy, but the pristine natural beauty of this region will surely attract intrepid backpackers in the years to come.
5. Grand Italian Trail
For a whopping 3,832 miles, the Sentiero Italia (or Grand Italian Trail) extends from the Northeastern port town of Trieste, into the Alps, and all the way down the Apennine spine of the Italian peninsula, before island hopping to Sicily and then Sardinia. The subalpine scenery along much of this route is simply spectacular, featuring jagged peaks, glacial tarns, and gouged out valleys. Add to that the bonus of quaint hamlets and ancient Roman history, and you’ve got yourself a bella formula. Oh, and of course, carbo-loading will never be a problem.
6. Wales Coast Path
Officially established in 2012 as the world’s only footpath to cover an entire country’s coastline, the Wales Coast Path is an 870-mile trek that combines some of the UK’s most romantic aspects. As it snakes its way up the shore, along coastal cliffs and verdant hillsides, past medieval castles, and through sleepy seaside towns, hikers get to experience the magic of this area in a truly intimate way. Just imagine wrapping up a rain-soaked 20-mile day with a bowl of warm lamb stew and a porter at a small local pub.
7. Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail
One of the only officially documented sections of the proposed Great Himalaya Trail, the GHT High Route in Nepal is a roughly 1050 mile trek scaling the world’s highest peaks from the eastern edge of the country to the western border with Tibet. Hiking this trail is a demanding adventure requiring mountaineering experience and roughly five months of time, but the rewards of passing through rarely visited villages, reaching some of the planet’s highest altitudes, and sleeping under unfathomably starry skies makes it an unforgettable experience.
8. Great Wall of China
Didn’t expect this one, did you? Sure, the Great Wall of China has sections that are jam-packed with khaki-clad tourists, but this celebrated structure also has some very remote sections with rarely seen beauty, including deserts, mountains, bamboo forests, and more. Government restrictions, time requirements, extreme weather conditions, and the sheer enormity of this 5,500-mile trek across China makes a thru-hike an extremely obstacle-laden adventure, but if the Mongols and other nomadic tribes could overcome their barrier to entry, so can you.
9. Tokai Nature Trail
Japan is increasingly becoming a world-class place to recreate. With its mountainous terrain, powder-packed ski destinations, and unprecedented biodiversity, it’s only natural that there should be a long distance trail. And the Tokai Nature Trail fits the bill. Running 1,054 miles from Tokyo to Osaka, this generally level and easy footpath takes hikers past iconic Mt. Fuji, through Imperial gardens with cherry blossoms and Japanese maples, and along fertile hillsides, lush wetlands, and hollowed out river canyons.
10. Te Araroa
Ah, the Te Araroa Trail (Maori for the Long Pathway). Obviously, any long distance footpath that’s located in New Zealand is always going to make the list — especially one that so fully encompasses the diverse natural beauty of both islands. Beginning at Cape Reinga in the north and winding 1,864 miles to Stirling Point in the south, this trail almost has too much to savor. Beaches lined with seals and penguins, impossibly lush rainforests, frequently active volcanoes, precipitous mountains, and electric blue glacial lakes. To coin a local Kiwi phrase, this trail is truly “Sweet As!”