The world is full of natural wonders so beautifully unreal that it’s likely the bucket list of hikers in the United States line up pretty nearly with bucket lists of hikers in Africa and Asia. The top-tier names in hiking trails, those famous for grueling trekking, insane weather, and the most spectacular views in the world, are so widely known that even non-hikers have probably heard at least the names of some of the best hiking trails in the world. For most hikers, regular trekking excursions usually mean day hikes on two-day or perhaps three-day outings in the backcountry. What separates a normal hiking trip from a hiking vacation is the added variety of non-trekking activities and also the sheer scale of the hiking trip attempted.
The best hiking vacations are typically undertaken in one of the many awe-strikingly phenomenal national parks across the world. Just about every continent on the planet has a national park or multiple national parks that boast natural features that will last forever in the mind of any hiker that tackles them. Recall a location you’ve seen in the window of a travel agency or on a postcard in the airport; places like Machu Picchu, Mount Kilimanjaro, or the Grand Canyon. You can bet that those three examples and many other famous landmarks are replete with hiking trails that test hikers to the limits of both their exertion and their tolerance for stunning views.
We’ve organized this guide to the best hiking vacations in the world, organized by general geographic location, so hikers looking for the next great undertaking can get some idea of what part of the wide world they want to explore. Read on for our final verdict, then it’s just a matter of packing your backpacking backpack and grabbing your family or romantic partner for you to head out on the next world-trekking adventure. Make sure and follow these hiking safety tips as you try and see how many globe-hopping miles you can hike. These are the best hiking vacations in the world and they will not disappoint.
We’ll start our comprehensive look at the best hiking vacations in North America. The United States is home to many famous landmarks and tons of national parks, so don’t be surprised that it dominates this section of the guide. Remember before you set out that the U.S.A. is the land of the freeway so you’ll want to combine all or several of the North American national parks in this guide into a single, unforgettable, trekking-filled road trip to really see everything possible.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
With a whopping 244 hiking trails, Yosemite National Park is filled with valleys, waterfalls, and Giant Sequoia groves that will all leave a lasting impression on visiting hikers. Boulders mix with streams and the surrounding area of the park is teeming with wildlife and wildflowers. This is definitely one of the best national parks for backpacking since there is the possibility for so many different activities like bird watching, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the wintertime.
The star of Yosemite is Half Dome, a giant granite formation that is round on 3 sides and sheer on the 4th, making it look like a dome that has been cut it half. The Half Dome Trail offers some of the greatest views of Half Dome and the surrounding valley, but it is recommended only for the most experienced hikers. For more novice hikers, Half Dome is just as fabulous from lower in the valley on one of Yosemite’s many other hiking trails.
2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Rocky Mountain range is easily the vastest mountain range in North America and the fantastic views there will not disappoint hikers who go expecting hiking trails that live up to the reputation of the Rocky Mountains. Alpine lakes and wildlife fill in the wooded forests and mountain tundra of the national park, while the Colorado River flows in the northwestern region of the park. Before you head to this national park, remember it can get quite windy since the continental divide cuts through the Rocky Mountain National Park. For those interested in adding more views of the Rocky Mountain range to their hiking vacation, head north to Montana to check out Glacier National Park.
3. Zion National Park, Utah & Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Zion National Park was the first national park in Utah and hikers will delight in traversing its various cliffs and canyons. There are plenty of hiking trails that have been rated easy, so hikers vacationing with their families can feel comfortable bringing small children along to this park. Among the many wonderful natural features of Zion National Park, there is one called The Narrows, comprised of miles of easy to moderate hiking along a river that runs between two sheer canyon walls. Hikers will relish the experience of the rushing water sounding off the walls of the canyon and the overall serene atmosphere within The Narrows.
Continue your trekking road trip further into the western U.S.A. with a trip to Great Basin National Park in Nevada. The whole park is organized around the highest mountain within its borders, called Wheeler Peak. 5,000 year-old pine trees and glacial moraines are on full view in this national park. Don’t miss the Lehman Caves either. These caves are a national treasure that has been forming for thousands of years and are now home to animal species that can only be found in Great Basin National Park. The park service happily provides tours of the caves to groups and families, even during the wintertime.
4. Waimeia Canyon State Park & Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai, one of the islands that make up an archipelago of Hawaii, offers some of the most gorgeous Pacific hiking in the entire world, let alone the U.S.A. Waimeia Canyon State Park and Na Pali Coast State Park are only 22 minutes away from each other by car, so you and your fellow hikers can turn your Pacific trekking into a hiking road trip in Hawaii. Waimeia Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and hikers have the chance to take in fantastic views from the lookout points Puu ka Pele and Puu Hinahina, both of which have parking lots for you road trip hikers. There is also the opportunity to try out seasonal goat and pig hunting or fishing, so there will be plenty of diverse activity to fill out your hiking vacation.
Check out the Kukui Trail and stay overnight at the Williwilli campsite if you want to add some backpacking to your Hawaiian trek. There are tons of berries on the trees at Williwilli that fall off during the night if you want a unique midnight snack. The Kukui trail is one of the best hikes on the islands of Hawaii, offering stunning canyon views and distant waterfalls visible from various points along the hiking trail.
5. Wrangell-St.Elias National Park & Kluane National Park, Alaska/Yukon, Canada
This road trip vacation is for hikers looking for a longer trekking trip with a huge variety of trails and natural features. Plan your route ahead of time because this is one of the only hiking vacations in this guide that crosses a national border, and you may not want that hassle more than once on your trip. Wrangell-St. Elias is home to one of the highest mountain peaks in North America, Mt. St. Elias. There is also the ocean along the southern border of the park, so hikers have the chance to see both mountain landscapes and ocean vistas.
Kluane National Park is in one of the most rural and remote parts of the Yukon, just across the border from Alaska. Check out the trails around Mount Decoeli to see breathtaking mountain views and glaciers that will delight any hiker looking for wintry landscapes. You won’t be too far from Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, so depending on the trajectory of the road trip, hikers might be able to end their trekking journey with some more urban forms of entertainment there. It’s also a popular cruise-ship port if you want to dovetail your hiking vacation into a sailing one.
Considering its comparatively smaller size, Europe is replete with world-famous day hikes and mountain ranges that certainly top the bucket lists of hikers all over the world. Italy, Spain, Scotland, and Switzerland offer some of the best hikes in Europe and the most unique vistas in the entire world. Overall, for hikers looking to cross borders on a long-term hiking vacation, Europe is the place to go.
6. Tour du Mont Blanc, Switzerland, Italy, and France
The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most popular long-distance hikes in Europe and the most international hiking vacation in this guide. Crossing Switzerland, Italy, and France, this hiking trail runs 170 kilometers and offers hikers about 60 hours of hiking trails in the pristine Alps mountain range. Offering tour guides, historic hiking trails, and trekking routes for every kind of hiker, the Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most inclusive hiking vacations possible in the world.
The foundation responsible for tourism along the Tour du Mont Blanc also offers accommodation in many different huts in all three countries, meaning hikers with lots of time to spare might be able to tackle the entire Tour and stay nearby the route for a kind of Alps equivalent to the American Appalachian Trail, with much more stark mountain peaks and valleys. To really see what kind of landscapes hikers can expect along the Tour du Mont Blanc, check out the webcams they have placed along the hiking trail.
7. Teide National Park, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Home to many historical events and filming locations, the island of Tenerife offers a stunningly beautiful and self-contained hiking vacation for backpackers and families alike. The Teide-Pico Viejo is the highest mountain (although it’s really a volcano) in Spain, reaching a height of 3,135 meters. Hikers who have a hike around the rim of a volcano on their bucket list will want to take a hiking vacation to Teide National Park. In addition to the stellar views, atmospheric conditions create constantly changing textures and tones in the landscape as well as a ‘sea of clouds’ background for the mountain.
Tenerife is certainly not a large island and it’s become a world-renowned vacation destination, so hikers who travel there looking for day hikes and trekking with unmatched landscapes will easily be able to find accommodation or a nice place to camp if they’re backpacking.
There are tons of uncovered trekking opportunities in Africa that frequently get overlooked or diminished in comparison with other top-tier hiking destinations. Maybe you’ve heard of Kilimanjaro, for example, but the true scale of the mountain is really wonderful and should be highlighted. Africa has much more to offer to hikers willing to go off the beaten path on their hiking vacation.
8. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
The highest mountain on the African continent, Kilimanjaro reaches 5,895 meters above sea level and promises hikers an exhilarating and challenging hiking trail. It takes between 5 and 9 days to reach the top but the look of pride and accomplishment on the face of hikers who reach the summit is undeniable. Don’t be misled by the rumors that Kilimanjaro is just a walk-up mountain because it’s more difficult than it looks. The snowy summit that’s visible from all around the surrounding savannah has bested many unprepared hikers who have to be evacuated from the hiking trail.
Many endangered species, like the famous African elephant, live in the area surrounding Kilimanjaro to add some once-in-a-lifetime wildlife viewing for hikers who want to cross that off their bucket list. Enjoy the challenging hiking trail up Kilimanjaro, crossing through five vegetation zones: the lower slopes, montane forest, heath and moorland, alpine desert, and finally the summit. Witness the snows of Kilimanjaro at its summit and you’ll join the exclusive cadre of hikers that travel the world looking for the best hiking and most fantastic views in the world.
9. Tsitsikamma National Park, South Africa
This national park is truly a wonder and offers the full range of outdoors activities and accommodation that hikers look for in the best hiking vacations. It offers coastal scenery, reefs, rivers, lush forest, and fynbos. Take the Garden Route hiking trail to witness breakers on the Indian Ocean, dolphins playing, and whales swimming inland to breed at certain times of the year. Since the border of this national park stretches about 5 miles into the ocean, the reefs and sea life are well-protected and will add undersea exploration to a hiking vacation here. That’s a pretty unique addition not found on just any hiking vacation anywhere in the world!
The most famous hiking trail in the Tsitsikamma National Park is the Otter Trail, where hikers can spend 4 or 5 days traversing 44 kilometers of coastal mountains, forests, and beaches. Hikers have the opportunity to stay in huts along the trail. For those who don’t wish to carry tons of camping equipment, there is also the luxurious and fully inclusive Dolphin Hiking Trail. Wildflowers and wildlife set this national park apart from other hiking trails in Africa and the rest of the world.
The continent of conquistadors and compradors has a lot to offer hikers looking for the perfect rainforest or mountainous hiking vacation. Ancient civilizations both existing and passed into the annals of history have left their mark on South America, adding a level of culture and history to hiking trails across the continent. For trekking and backpacking along mountain ranges and rain forest hiking trails with that added adventurous zest, South America is the ideal location.
10. Torres del Paine, Chile
Patagonia, the region of Chile that the Torres del Paine calls home, is world-renowned for its jagged glaciers and pristine blue lakes. Patagonia is about 400,00 square miles, so plan ahead if you plan to extend your hiking vacation to the greater region. Torres del Paine is definitely one of the main attractions in Patagonia, though. The sheer number of phenomenal natural features there launch it to the top of many bucket lists. The aquamarine blue of the lake will remain for a lifetime in the mind of hikers who witness it in person. The natural grandeur of the various massifs, turquoise lakes, icebergs, rivers, lenga forests, and extensive pampas visited by wildlife such as guanacos, ñandúes and puma leave no question as to why the Torres del Paine was voted the 8th Wonder of the World in 2013.
11. Machu Picchu, Peru
The location of these world-famous Inca ruins in the Cordillera de Vilcabamba of the Andes Mountain range make it home to some of the most exhilarating and adventurous hiking in the world. Follow the Inca trail to the old quarry or to the Sun Gate, the erstwhile entrance to Machu Picchu in its complete state. Referred to in the local Quechua language as Inti Punku, the Sun Gate is a top destination for hikers, backpackers, and other travelers from all over the world. The vistas from the summit add a dramatic background to the ancient artifacts and pre-Columbian Inca trails.
There are also the ruins of some Inca village houses, which for those hikers who are motivated by historical details as much as by breathtaking views to reach the end of the hiking trail will add an unbeatable dimension to a hiking vacation to Machu Picchu. Hikers the world over can join the countless generations of unknown humans who have hiked on the Inca Trail, traversing the countryside of Peru, subtropical jungles, and wide-open high-altitude vistas you can only find in South America.
Though it may seem sometimes that our world is constantly becoming more urbanized, technological, and concrete, there are still so many national parks and natural wonders in the backcountry of the world that can fill up a long bucket list. There’s no need to feel the pressure to see every wonderful thing in the world, but for your next hiking vacation, we hope this guide has given you some idea of the things that are simply unmissable. Compare the feeling of hiking trails in Spain with those in Patagonia in Peru to see if there are any common features. Or compare the Tour du Mont Blanc with the Torres del Paine to see which you before. Whatever particular location you choose, a hiking vacation is sure not to disappoint.
From the mountain ranges of Yosemite in North America, the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe, and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in South America, to the singular wonders of amazing natural features like Kilimanjaro in Africa, trekking on a backpacking vacation, whether on individual day trips or longer journeys, is a serious undertaking that yields seriously amazing rewards in terms of views and hiking experiences. There are some stories that get passed down from generation to generation, and you’ll find that the locations on this guide to the best hiking vacations pop up in quite a few of those stories.
Bonus tip: Interested in African hiking trips? Check out this video of a hike on Kilimanjaro!