10 of the best trekking routes in the world

Ask ten experienced hikers to nominate the best treks in the world and they’ll give you ten different answers.

Some treks are incredible because of the scenery. Some routes are epic because of the almost superhuman levels of effort and endurance required to reach the end point. For some trekkers, it’s all about the destination. For others, it’s the journey and the camaraderie along the trail.

But the world’s top treks all have one thing in common – a sense of mission that transforms the simple act of walking into a life-affirming expedition. With this in mind, we’ve compiled our own list of the world’s top treks, from jungle trails to breathless tracks through the mountains of Nepal. All require a sturdy pair of lungs and a fit pair of legs, but the experience of trekking is its own reward; decades later and you will still be talking about these hikes!

A woman with a backpack stands on a hilltop along the GR20 trail with rocky mountain peaks visible beyond her
Corsica’s unforgiving GR20 is Europe’s toughest trek © Franck Guiziou / Getty Images

1. GR20, Corsica, France

Best trek for people who love challenges

Distance: 168km (104 miles) round trip
Duration: 15 days
Level: Difficult

This character-building slog through Corsica is legendary for the diversity of landscapes it traverses, and for the level of grit it requires from trekkers who brave its rugged trails. There are forests, granite moonscapes, windswept craters, glacial lakes, torrents, peat bogs, maquis, snow-capped peaks, plains and névés (stretches of ice formed from snow) to conquer, and the tough terrain weeds out all but the most dedicated hikers.

Created in 1972, the GR20 links the town of Calenzana, in the Balagne, with Conca, north of Porto Vecchio, but the thrills don’t come easy. The path is rocky, uneven and frequently steep, with crossings over rickety bridges and exposed scrambles over slippery rock faces and loose, skittering scree – all part of the fun! You’ll be drawing water from springs and sleeping in rustic mountain refuges, but two weeks later, you’ll be able to tell the world you conquered Europe’s toughest trail.

An ancient ruined city tucked into mountain peaks - Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail to the ruined city of Machu Picchu is Peru’s most famous trekking route © Bérenger Zyla / 500px

2. Inca Trail, Peru

Best hike for modern-day explorers

Distance: 33km (20 miles) round trip
Duration: 4–5 days
Level: Moderate

The 33km (20-mile) trail to the 15th-century Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was used for centuries before it was brought to global attention when explorer Hiram Bingham “discovered” the route in 1911. Today, the secret is definitely out – but there are some rules and restrictions in place to control visitor numbers. Book at least six months in advance for one of the 500 permits available each day. That figure includes support staff – porters, guides, etc – so in reality, only about 200 lucky tourist trekkers are issued one.

The trek to Peru’s most famous ruin has giddying views of high cloud forests and Machu Picchu waiting ahead like a beacon. The trail climbs to 2430m (7972ft) from the Sacred Valley, winding its way up, down and around mountains, and crossing three high passes en route.

For those just visiting the “lost city” for the day, authorities have introduced three new circuits each with sub-routes around the site.

Elephants pass in front of a vast snow-capped mountain, Kilimanjaro
There are seven different routes up Kilimanjaro to choose from © Ian Lenehan / 500px

3. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Best trek for snow in the tropics

Distance: 37–90km (23–56 miles)
Duration: 5–9 days
Level: Moderate

Okay, it’s the favorite trek of fundraisers everywhere, and an almost obligatory trip for visitors to East Africa, but the week-long ascent of Africa’s highest mountain is still an epic undertaking. From the moment you first spy its misty prominence rising above the dusty plains, you’ll know that Kilimanjaro simply has to be climbed. Lions and elephants may mill around at its base, but the summit is snow-capped and desolate, and lofty enough to bring a risk of altitude sickness at 5895m (19,340ft).

There are seven recognized routes to the top, and trekkers can complete the ascent in anything from 5 to 9 days, with longer treks being recommended to reduce the risk of AMS. The final stage usually starts before dawn, reaching the summit as the first light of morning erupts across a vast sweep of African savanna. In practice, nearly two-thirds of trekkers opt for the Marangu (6 days) or Machame (7 days) routes on the south side of the mountain.

Steep cliffs covered in greenery rise above the sea
The incredibly scenic Kalalau Trail follows the cliff wall on the north shore of Hawaii’s Kauaʻi © Martin M303 / Shutterstock

4. Kalalau trail, Hawaii

Best coastal trek 

Distance: 18km (11 miles) each way
Duration: 2 days
Level: Moderate

When asked to pick the best treks in the US, most reach for hikes along the rim of the Grand Canyon, or the mobbed trails that climb to the summits of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. However, we prefer to choose something a bit more off-piste. Linking Keʻe Beach and the Kalalau Valley on the north shore of Kauaʻi, the beautiful Kalalau trail follows a towering cliff wall dripping with tropical foliage to reach an overnight stop at a splendidly remote Hawaiian beach.

The route along the Nā Pali Coast starts out easy, but gets progressively more challenging on steep dirt paths; the reward comes in the form of elemental views over primordial valleys, thundering waterfalls, secluded beaches and the churning waters of the Pacific Ocean. There’s a definite Lost World feel, and a bit of caution is required, as people have fallen from the track or been washed away by sudden flash floods.

Colourful Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the breeze as the sun rises over moutains
Cross high-altitude deserts in India’s high Himalaya on the Markha Valley trek © Beerpixs / Getty Images

5. Markha Valley trek, Ladakh, India

Best trek for: spontaneous trekkers

Distance: 80km (50 miles)
Duration: 6–7 days
Level: Moderate

Fewer people trek on the Indian side of the world’s mightiest mountain range, but those that do are rewarded with views to rival anything in Nepal, Tibet or Pakistan. There are spectacular treks all over the Indian Himalaya, from the breathless Goecha La trek in Sikkim to pilgrimage treks to remote mountain temples in Uttarakhand and Kashmir, but for our rupee, the best trekking country of all is in lofty Ladakh, crossing high-altitude deserts in the rain-shadow of the high Himalaya.

The Markha Valley trek strains for a week across a wonderfully desolate moonscape, circling south from Leh through the jagged ridges that flank the south bank of the Indus River before emerging near the famous Buddhist gompa (monastery) at Hemis. Best of all, no complex planning is required; you can reach the trailhead by bus from Leh, crossing the river in a dangling basket and stopping at whitewashed teahouses in timeless Buddhist villages along the trail.

A hiker follows a boardwalk through bushes towards a mountain peak
The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and must be booked in advance © Giantrabbit / Shutterstock

6. Routeburn Track, New Zealand

Best trek for fans of big landscapes

Distance: 32km (20 miles)
Duration: 3–4 days
Level: Moderate

New Zealand’s South Island is as alpine as you can get without actually being in the Alps, and the 3-day Routeburn Track is one of the best ways to cross this pristine natural wonderland. This is a trail for fans of big vistas and open skies, following glacier-carved fjords, truncated valleys and rugged ridges through the plunging landscapes of two stunning national parks: Fiordland and Mt Aspiring.

The preferred route runs from the Routeburn Shelter (north of Queenstown) to Milford Road, with overnight stops in spectacularly located campgrounds. Highlights include the views from Harris Saddle and Conical Hill, and chilly dips in spring-fed mountain tarns. The main challenge for this popular hike is securing a place among the limited numbers who are allowed at any one time – make bookings well ahead through the NZ Department of Conservation’s Great Walks booking site.

A volcanic crater lake with a volcanic peak in the center
Hit the high point of Lombok on this two-day trek up Gunung Rinjani © Kitti Boonnitrod / Getty Images

7. Gunung Rinjani, Indonesia

Best trek for early risers

Distance: 24km (15 miles)
Duration: 2 days
Level: Moderate

There simply has to be a Southeast Asian volcano hike on the list, and for our money, it’s Indonesia’s Gunung Rinjani. While Lombok’s blissful beaches simmer at sea level, the island climbs to a breathless height of 3726m (12,224ft) at the summit of this enormous lake-capped volcano, which still periodically rumbles into life, most recently in 2016.

Trekking to the summit of Gunung Rinjani is up there with hiking the Himalaya as one of Asia’s favorite adventures. To make the best of the views, the final push to the top starts in the dark, in order to gain the crater rim as first light pushes back the gloom, revealing the crater lake and its sinister cinder cones like a lost valley of the dinosaurs.

A trekker walks along a wooden-chalets-lined road that leads into the mountains
A high level of fitness is required to take on the passes of the Walkers’ Haute Route in the Alps © cdbrphotography / Getty Images

8. The Walkers’ Haute Route, France–Switzerland

Best trek for the summer months

Distance: 200km (125 miles)
Duration: 14 days
Level: Difficult

Leading from Chamonix in France through the southern Valais to Zermatt in Switzerland, the 2-week-long Walkers’ Haute Route trek traverses some of the highest and most eye-popping scenery accessible anywhere in the Alps. Hiking here is a summertime endeavour, tracing a different course to the famous winter Haute Route for ski-tourers. Every stage will test your endurance, with “pass hopping” that demands a high level of fitness on many sections of the walk.

So why put your body through all this exertion? The mountain views, obviously! Some days pass through yodel-worthy alpine meadows, while others struggle over glacier-carved outcrops guarded by mountain giants. And with this being northern Europe, the infrastructure along the way is excellent, with hotels, gites d’etape (rest shelters), auberges (inns) and mountain refuges dotted all along the route. You’ll appreciate a warm bed and a hot meal as you tackle over 14,000m (46,000ft) of elevation gain.

Snow-covered Mount Everest seen from Kala Patthar with two tourists carrying large backpacks
There is excellent infrastructure for trekkers heading to Everest Base Camp © Daniel Prudek / Shutterstock

9. Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Best trek for would-be mountaineers

Distance: 130km (80 miles) round trip
Duration: 2 weeks
Level: Moderate

Climbing to 5545m (18,193ft) at its highest point, the 2-week trek to Everest Base Camp is Nepal’s best-loved trek, with 8849m (29,032ft) Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) rising ahead like a petrified giant. Tracing winding river valleys and the creaking mass of the Khumbu glacier, this mighty mission visits mountain monasteries, soaring lookouts and precariously balanced Sherpa villages, with grueling days of altitude gain that will test your muscles and endurance to breaking point.

It’s not all hard work though. The trekking infrastructure is unparalleled: permits can be bought easily, porters and guides wait on arrival at Lukla’s tiny mountain airstrip, cozy teahouses provide warm beds and nourishing plates of dal bhat (lentils and rice) along the entire route, and side trails open up a mountain playground of summit ascents and high pass crossings for a taste of real mountaineering. Sure, the trails are mobbed in season, but the sense of camaraderie amongst trekkers is hard to beat.

The golden rule, however, is respect the altitude. Acute Mountain Sickness is a risk if you rush, so take it slow and steady and pause for the recommended rest days to let your body catch up with the elevation.

A hiker sits on a boardwalk above a lake surrounded by mountain peaks - Torres del Paine National Park
There’s heavy demand on campsites and mountain huts in Torres del Paine National Park, so plan your trek well in advance © Michele Falzone / Getty Images

10. The Torres del Paine Circuit, Patagonia, Chile

Best trek for photographers

Distance: 136km (85 miles)
Duration: 9 days
Level: Difficult

Many visitors to Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park draw up short when they see the scale of the terrain and opt for the shorter “W Trek”, but we recommend following the full 9-day “O Trek” circuit, to soak up the sheer variety of landscapes in this magnificent wilderness reserve. As you follow the trail from Las Torres, you’ll pass some of the world’s most photogenic vistas: crystal-clear rivers, sculpted mountains, open grasslands, old-growth forests, deep and silent lakes and the icy tongue of Grey Glacier.

That’s a lot of variety per trekking mile, but you need to plan ahead as camping sites and refugios are in heavy demand. Make bookings with the companies operating the lodges and camping areas months in advance if you hope to secure a slot during the busy November to March trekking season.

Top tips for trekkers

Before you load up your backpack with trekking socks and Kendal mint cake, give some thought to the infrastructure on the route you plan to conquer. Some treks require total self-sufficiency, sleeping under canvas and purifying water as you go; other routes have refuges or rustic teahouses every step of the way. Here are some of the key considerations: 

  • Travel light: Every extra gram will weigh you down on the trails; if it isn’t essential, leave it behind.
  • Respect your feet: Boots offer more support, but all-terrain trainers are lighter and dry more quickly after a soaking.
  • Protect your knees: Trekking poles can help control the knee-crushing descents that are a feature of pretty much every trek.
  • Climb slowly: Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can kill, so ascend slowly and take rest days to acclimatize on any trek above 2500m (8202ft) in elevation. 
  • Check the weather: When treks go wrong, it’s normally because of the weather, so check the forecasts; if conditions look bad, stop somewhere safe and sit it out, rather than pushing on over the next pass.
  • Be prepared: Don’t launch straight from the sofa to the summit – warm up with gentler walks, hikes and runs to get your body used to the exertion.
  • Plan ahead: Many trekking routes require a permit and advance booking for lodges and campsites; for some routes, you need to book months ahead.

This article was first published Aug 6, 2019 and updated Jul 3, 2024.

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