If you are a keen hiker, you would have realized that there are amazing trails to be found in every corner of the planet. Some treks only last a few hours. However, the best thru hikes in the world will require months of your time and planning.
From historic pilgrimages to trails that cross entire continents, one lifetime is not nearly enough time to complete them all! In the least, you should add a few of these famous hikes to your bucket list.
In no particular order, let's take a look at the best long distance hikes in the world.
11 Best Through Hikes In The World
1. The West Highland Way, Scotland
This is a 96-mile / 155km trail that runs from Milngavie to Fort William. It first opened in 1980. These days The West Highland Way is one of the most popular hikes in Europe.
Along the way, you get to see some iconic views in the Scottish highlands including Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moore, and, Glencoe Village.
The trail passes through diverse landscapes and gives hikers the chance to visit historic castles and ruins. Fast trekkers can complete the route in as little as 5 days but most people take 7-8 days.
2. Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), USA
A 2,650-mile, 4265 km trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. The PCT traverses California, Washington, and Oregon. As well as hiking, this is also a popular equestrian trail.
The trail passes a wide range of landscapes including the Pacific coastline, multiple national parks and forests. The Pacific Crest Trail also encompasses more than 100 passes in the North American Mountains. This includes the Sierra Nevada range and the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range.
Depending on your fitness, you can hike the Pacific Crest Trail in sections.
3. The Inca Trail, Peru
The 4-day Inca Trail ends with a sunrise view of the most iconic ruins of all, Machu Picchu. It is not a difficult hike but you will need to be fit enough to make it up the stairs of the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass.
4. Appalachian Trail (AT), USA
The Appalachia Trail stretches 3540 km / 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. The trail through the Appalachian mountains crosses Great Smoky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks. You will need about 5-7 months for the entire route which crosses 14 states.
Because it is so long, most people only hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. The Virginia section of the Appalachian trail is the longest. The trails through Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Maryland are also popular.
A great aspect of the Appalachian trail is the sense of community. 1000s of hikers set off in March or early April every year.
5. The Otter Trail, South Africa
The Otter trail is one of the most popular trails in South Africa and one of my favourite on home turf. This is a 45km (28 mile, 5 day) route along the Garden Route coastline.
You need to book this hike a few months in advance. Places are limited to 12 hikers each day as there are only two huts at each camp site with 6 beds a piece. You are unlikely to see anyone else on the trail except those in your hiking group.
Its not a particularly difficult hike but there are some steep bits. There is also a river crossing. If you time it right with the tide, this is only a wade up to your ankles.
September to November is an ideal time to be hiking this trail as it is whale season in South Africa. Its hard to keep your eyes on the trail when baby whales are breaching playfully right off the rocks!
6. Great Himalayan Trail, Nepal
Great Himalayan Trail (GHT) is a network of trails that cover over 2, 700km / 1,700 miles. It is one of the longest hiking routes in the world. The trail includes diverse landscapes and links some of the world’s most famous trekking regions.
The trail passes by major trekking routes including the Annapurna circuit, Everest Base Camp and Langtang Valley. Hikers will see some of the highest peaks in the world. As well as these more famous parts of the Himalayas, many sections of the GHT are off the beaten Track.
This epic trail network has everything. From subtropical jungles to alpine tundra and a chance to experience life in rural mountain villages.
7. Camino de Santiago, Spain
There are several route options for hiking the Camino de Santiago. All trails converge at the shrine of St. James in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Trails spread across several European countries including France and Portugal.
The Camino de Santiago has been a pilgrimage route for over a thousand years. Each year, more than 200, 000 individuals from all over the world walk this 500-mile / 800km trail. Many people still hike the Camino as a religious pilgrimage. However, there are different motivations for doing the Camino de Santiago.
The trail has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers hikers the chance to visit numerous historic churches and monasteries along the way.
8. Bibbulmun Track, Australia
A 1,000 km / 600-mile trail that takes adventurers through Western Australia's forests and coastline. The track starts in Kalamunda hills near Perth and ends at Albany on the south coast. Some sections of this trail can be walked as Australian day hikes.
The Bibbulmun Track gets its name from the indigenous name for the prickly banksia shrub which grows along the trail. The path is well-marked with triangular signposts about every 500m.
The trail passes through 50 of Australia's most beautiful national parks and reserves. Walkers should look out for unique wildlife, such as the western ringtail possum.
9. Te Araroa Trail, New Zealand
The Araroa Trail is one of New Zealand’s best multi-day hikes. The 3000 km / 1,864-mile trail spans the entire length of the country. Araroa translates to ‘Long Pathway’ in the Maori language.
This is a relatively new multi-day hike. Several existing routes were included to connect Cape Reinga in the north to the Bluff in the south. The connecting trails can be done in sections.
If you follow the entire Te Araroa trail, you will get to see New Zealand's best features. This includes beaches, forests, volcanoes, mountains lakes, and sand dunes.
10. El Camino Real, Panama
The most famous long-distance hike in Panama is El Camino Real (The Real Road). It is also known as the ‘Camino de Cruces’. El Camino Real was originally used by the Spanish in the 18th century to transport gold and other treasures from South America to Spain.
The trail starts in Panama City and ends in the town of Portobelo on the Caribbean coast. The hike usually takes 3-5 days and covers a distance of 80 km(50 miles).
Today, the Camino Real is a popular hiking trail for adventurers and nature enthusiasts who want to experience the beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife of Panama. The trail passes through tropical forests, rivers, and hills, and offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
11. Continental Divide Trail (CDT), USA
- The CDT is a 4, 800 km / 3,100-mile epic of a trail that runs the entire length of the United States. One end is at Chihuahua, Mexico, and the other is at the Alberta border with Canada.
The CDT follows the Rocky Mountains, which geographically divide the west pacific from the rest of the USA. If you were to walk this entire trail, you would cross 5 states. Namely; Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. This trek takes more than 5 months.
You should start this trail, or section thereof, around April. If you set off too early in the season you are likely to encounter impassable sections of snow. You will need permits for some sections of the CDT.