Hiking vacations remain a popular option for those seeking adventure, which has led to ever-more exclusive locations opening up to international travelers. Such exclusivity means that even younger travelers are willing to pay more – with one in three millennials, for example, saying they’d be willing to spend about $5,500 on the right vacation!
Choosing a more unusual location for your hiking trip is not only cheaper, it’ll also help avoid the overcrowding that can spoil the most famous routes. Here’s a few ideas for those willing to go further in search of rare challenges and unspoiled landscapes.
1. The Wave, Arizona, USA
In 2009, Microsoft refreshed its line-up of desktop wallpapers with an image of The Wave in Arizona. This now-iconic photo shows a dreamlike landscape of sandstone, full of curves and stripes, which has inspired thousands to seek out its real-life location.
However, experiencing it for yourself is still a real challenge, with the daily number of hikers strictly capped by the Bureau of Land Management to protect the unique attraction for future generations. Only 20 hikers are permitted on-site at a time, meaning those who make it won’t have their experience diluted by having to navigate crowds – but also that many won’t get the chance at all (as it stands, there’s a less-than-15% application success rate).
Getting a permit online is – literally – a lottery. So, if you want to be one of the few to walk The Wave, it’ll mean planning ahead, paying for a ticket and crossing your fingers.
2. Gheralta Mountains, Tigray Province, Ethiopia
While high-altitude trekking is always guaranteed to deliver breathtaking views, the real draw of Ethiopia’s rarely-visited Gheralta Mountains is what’s not even visible from the ground below. This is because, if you accept the challenge of hiking high into the cliffs, you will join one of the world’s smallest congregations – those who’ve set foot inside the churches carved directly into the rock there.
It’s not a route recommended for the casual walker, as even reaching the destination will involve free-climbing in challenging conditions. But for those who do, monks will welcome you into Ethiopian Orthodox places of worship where you can see beautiful frescoes of biblical scenes which are hundreds of years old.
Legend has it the churches were hidden in such inaccessible locations to hide them from armies – and also bring them closer to God. Conquering the sheer drops of Gheralta may well make you feel the same.
3. Laugavegur, Iceland
One of the strangest hikes in Europe is also Iceland’s most popular trail. And, although only really accessible for a fraction of the year (between mid-June and early September), it provides a constantly surprising selection of the country’s famous geothermal attractions.
The weather is often unpredictable in Iceland, but those taking a summer trek are guaranteed to experience 24 hours of daylight. And, as the altitude varies between 100 and 1,100 meters, natural sights similarly alternate between walls of lava, natural hot springs and black volcanic sand. Even the rocks here come in a spectacular rainbow of colors.
As befitting such a popular destination, the route is easily accessible from the country’s capital, Reykjavík. And to keep it that way for the foreseeable future, it’s very much advised that travelers prepare to leave as little trace of their journey as possible – the ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to litter.
4. The Great Wall of China
When most tourists consider this wonder of the world, they likely imagine a day’s visit. However, to really experience the enormity of one of mankind’s most awe-inspiring creations, it’s become increasingly popular to walk the wall and marvel at a broad swathe of China’s rich landscapes as you do so.
Different lengths of hike are available – from a day’s sampling of a stretch, to a more comprehensive 12-day expedition. Most trip organizers will focus on the parts of the wall less frequented by day-trippers because, wherever possible, the aim is to leave the traveler alone with the ancient structure and the rolling landscape.
Encompassing dramatic ruins, authentically-restored watchtowers and even the spot where the wall meets the sea, it’s a journey that will bring you face to face with history. When it comes to really understanding one of the world’s great civilizations, it’s seriously hard to beat.
This post is published as a guest post.