For people like us who spend a lot of time out in nature, it seems like every stretch of wilderness we explore makes us hungrier to conquer another. Sure, local trails will always be there, luring us in with their convenience, but every now and then we owe it to ourselves to give in to that urge brewing deep down inside of us to hop on a plane and set off somewhere truly wild.
This guide is for those adventurous men and woman who are ready to strap on their hiking boots and say “yes” to the next epic adventure. The five trails featured all have in common the traits we find most important: they are exhilarating, remote, and offer the type of trekking thrill that will last you the rest of your lifetime.
1) Zion Narrows, Utah, United States
Have you ever looked at images of the night sky and wondered what it would be like to trek through the canyons covering mars? Though you may never get a shot at extraterrestrial trekking in this lifetime, you can get a pretty god idea of what it might be like by visiting Zion Narrows right here in Utah.
The home of The Narrows, Zion National Park, is made up a sandstone landscape that has an unmistakably Martian quality. Towering red rock walls give way to narrowing trails that will have you knee-deep in water and trekking upstream in slot canyons that rise up over 3,000 ft. overhead. As if the sheer height of the walls wasn’t dramatic enough, certain portions of the canyon pinch to openings of only 25 ft. on top pitting you deep within the red wrinkles of the Southwestern earth. Perched high upon the walls you will also find hanging gardens and waterfalls cascading down over tremendous slabs of polished rock.
While weather may make planning this hike in advance a bit tricky (there can be no rain within 50 miles in order to mitigate risk of flash floods), the patient planner will definitely reap worthwhile rewards. It’s no coincidence that National Geographic just voted this hike one of the top five adventures in the U.S.A.
2) Petra Through the Back Door, Jordan
Beyond Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and the Appalachian Trail lie continents brimming with landscapes both transcendentally gorgeous and foreign. This 50 mile trek, which darts through the desert and mountain peaks of Jordan, is one such landscape, and the seven day journey’s buffet of breathtaking views easily justifies a trip beyond our borders.
The trail was found by the company Adventure Jordan and they’ll be the ones leading you through the ancient stairway and beyond. Of course, the final destination will be the Nabataean City of Petra, one of the East’s most precious treasures and a UNESCO world heritage site, but it is the journey to The Rose City that makes the trip worthwhile. The unapologetic ruggedness of the Sharah mountains, the otherworldliness of Bedouin camps dotting the wild landscape—this trip is unlike any you have done before and any you will ever do again.
3) Salkantay Trek, Peru
Since its rediscovery in 1911, Machu Pichu has swiftly become a household name with its wondrously preserved ruins and its high-mountain inspired imagery of Inca culture. The site draws casual hikers from all walks of life, but most flock quickly to the tried and true Inca Trail because it is the easiest route. Unfortunately, the popularity of this trail overshadows the alternate routes, meaning some serious trekkers fail to realize there are more challenging and worthwhile ways to ascend.
Salkantay Trek tops the list of the alternate routes, and hasn’t been hit with the same regulations as the Inca Trail, making booking a slot all that much easier (and at a price that’s half the cost). This ancient footpath heads out of Cusco and plunges directly into the divergent landscapes that make this region’s scenery so stunning—lush rainforests colliding with jagged snowcapped mountains. The trek itself is serious as it reaches a high point of 4,600 meters and it requires you do several acclimation days in Cusco before heading out. But once you are on the trail, heart beating, each step bringing you closer to the fabled temple in the sky, your body has a way its sustaining itself on the majesty of the world around it. The trek goes quicker than you’d imagine, and after a few incredible days of ascent, you’ll find yourself face to face with one of the most magnificent heritage sites in the world.
4) Long Range Traverse, Newfoundland, Canada
Vast. Remote. Overwhelming. These words might not always carry positive weight in every day conversation, but when it comes to wildlife expeditions, these adjectives are the life-blood of every adventurer’s dream. Lucky for you, they are exactly the qualities that the Long Range Traverse has to offer and the area belongs to our very own continent.
This low elevation route skirts Newfoundland’s inland fjords and offers exhilarating panoramas of some of North America’s least travelled wilderness. Open plateaus flush with wildlife lead to 2,000 ft. tall granite cliffs that plunge into pockets of sky-blue water. Glacially carved landscapes burst from the horizon line and offer endless opportunities for exploration in all directions without the slightest chance of human interaction. The area is so remote, in fact, that you’ll need to carry a locator beacon (cleverly called a Caribou Collar up north) in order to get a permit for Gros Morne Park. Skills with maps, compass, and GPS are also prerequisites in order to make sure you’re well prepared to safely experience this untamed wild.
5) Himachal Pradesh, Indian Himalayas, India
It is no secret that the Himalayas contains the world’s most celebrated mountains. From K2 to Everest, almost every man and woman on earth has grown up amongst images these iconic peaks. But for all of its fame, the beauty of the Himalayas can still be explored in isolation, and this is especially true on the Indian side of the range.
Home to the last undisturbed tantric Buddhist population on earth, the Himachal Pradesh region is cut off entirely from the world by snow for most of the year, but June-September offers a window for adventurous outsiders to come in and transport themselves into another world. Treks such as those from Spiti to Ladakh will have you following ancient trade routes accessible only by foot and that split unbelievably narrow passes high up Himalayan range. Settlements are scarce, trekking is arduous, and the lunar landscapes are so positively otherworldly that they inspired Rudyard Kipling to state, “Surely the gods live here, for this is no place for men.”
Have you trekked a truly unbelievable trail locally or around the globe? Leave us a comment and tell us all about it.