Mountains cover 27% of the world’s surface, and make up some of its most unspoilt and beautiful landscapes. You find them everywhere from the frozen Arctic tundra to African deserts.
To celebrate them the United Nations have designated December 11th as International Mountain Day. One of the best ways to explore the mountains is to get out on a hiking trail, so we’re marking the occasion by highlighting five of the best mountain hikes from around the world.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing – New Zealand
It might be the shortest hike on our list, but the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on New Zealand‘s North Island packs a lot into its 12 miles. The incredible volcanic landscapes have made it a World Heritage site. The path’s altitude isn’t too high, but the stony ground mean it takes around seven hours to complete. The route passes three volcanic peaks across newly formed lava fields where nothing grows. With bubbling hot springs, plumes of sulphurous steam and crazily coloured lakes, it almost feels like you’re on another planet.
Tour du Mont Blanc – France, Italy and Switzerland
A long-distance walk across three countries and 104 miles, the Tour du Mont Blanc is epic in more ways than one. The route takes 10 days to circle the Alps’ tallest peak through glacial valleys, hair-raising passes and flower-filled meadows. You don’t have to rough it along the way either – if the mountain refuges don’t appeal, there are luxury hotels in famous ski resorts like Chamonix. And with a delicious multinational mix of fondues, patisserie and local wine available along the route you won’t go hungry.
Inca Trail – Peru
Some hikes are as much of an exploration of a different culture as the landscape, and Peru’s Incra Trail is one of them. The 20-mile trail follows in the footsteps of the ancient Incan people, climbing up and down through three high mountain passes, including the thigh-shaking Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 metres. There are also stunning cloud forests and ruins along the way. But the big finale is when you walk through the Sun Gate and get your first glimpse of the forgotten city emerging from the clouds – a truly breath-taking moment.
Mount Kilimanjaro – Tanzania
The climb to the top of Africa’s highest peak is one of the ultimate bucket list travel challenges. And at 5,895 metres high it’s a serious physical challenge too. The steep, high altitude trek normally takes a week to complete. From the summit you can see the Masai Mara and the Earth curving. But there’s plenty to see on the way up too – the landscape changes from tropical rainforest at the bottom to grassland then dry desert. Then right at the top, you pass through the world’s only snowfield on the Equator, to reach the peak for an amazing sense of achievement.
Appalachian Trail – USA
By far the longest hike on our list, the whole 2,175-mile-long Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states and would take you something like 180 days to complete. But there are lots of smaller sections you can take on for a taste of the trail, which inspired Bill Bryson’s book ‘A Walk in the Woods’. Some of the best sections to start out with are the 70 miles through the misty valleys and high peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains, or the 100 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park.
So help celebrate the world’s many mountains and embark on a stunning and breath-taking trek during your life and travels.