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Updated: 14th November 2023
In a chaotic modern world, there’s no feeling comparable to escaping into nature and clearing our minds amongst the serenity of wilderness. But setting off on a multi-day hiking trail isn’t just good for our souls; it can also help us connect with new countries and cultures in a more in-depth way.
Sure, snow-capped peaks, hinterland hideaways and dense rainforest all promise a pristine backdrop, the kind we need for the introspection we often seek on our travels. But for me, the best multi-day hiking destinations also offer something else: a chance to understand a country through its landscapes, fauna and flora, and most importantly, the local communities we meet on the way.
There are plenty of articles already out there which summarise the most famous routes through the likes of Austria, Switzerland, Canada, and the USA. Instead, I’ve decided to highlight twelve mainly ‘offbeat’ multi-day trails I’ve discovered, some of which I’ve tackled multiple sections, while others I’ve just dipped into for a day.
Annapurna Circuit – Nepal
While submitting Nepal’s Mount Everest might be the loftiest goal of extreme mountain climbers, a trekking trip in Nepal doesn’t need to be defined by the world’s highest peak. Nor is reaching new heights necessarily the best way to get to know this Himalayan nation. For that, it’s best to combine the soaring scenery and cinematic vistas with more cultural experiences to get to know Nepal more intimately.
One of the best multi-day hiking trails to do so is the Annapurna Circuit, a high-altitude, advanced linear trek covering between 160-230 kilometres in 12 to 21 days, depending on your chosen route.
Yes, you’ll hit some heights as you cross the Thorong La pass at 5416 metres, but you’ll also have the chance to meet plenty of locals and discover Nepalese customs as you circle imposing Mount Annapurna. Family-run teahouses provide rest en route – which aren’t just for hot drinks, but also meals and accommodation – and sacred sites, such as the Muktinath Temple, offer insights into local communities and traditions. Plus, you’ll have the chance to appreciate a variety of landscapes, from snow-clad peaks to verdant lowlands, due to the serious elevation gain along the trail.
Fisherman’s Trail – Portugal
Portugal’s southern region of the Algarve is usually best known for its cliff-backed beaches and popular holiday resorts, while the neighbouring Alentejo region is celebrated for its viticulture. But the Fisherman’s Trail (Trilho dos Pescadores) — one of two multi-day hiking trails which constitute the Rota Vicentina — shines a spotlight on a different, more serene side of the country as it tracks the windswept rugged beaches, bays, and low-slung mountains of the west coast.
Starting near Lagos in the Algarve and ending in São Torpes in the Alentejo, this 226-kilometre linear trail crosses the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, a pristine and protected area of sands, Atlantic waves, scrublands, and remote villages. To complete the whole thing will take around 13 days, though it’s easy to dip in and out of sections or use luggage transfer companies if you’d rather hike bag-free.
As far as multi-day hiking destinations go, this track is not that intense, and there are plenty of gorgeous rural farm-style accommodations and local experiences to enjoy en route. One of the best things to do in the Algarve in spring, when wildflowers decorate part of the tracks, you’ll undoubtedly discover a different side of Portugal: a more gentle, laid-back time capsule of the country’s pre-mass-tourism past.
The Sacred Valley – Peru
Peru has earned its place on the legendary multi-day hiking destinations, with the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu being the country’s most extraordinary claim to fame. But in and around the Sacred Valley, plenty more options don’t require organising permits and applications months (or even a year) in advance.
As a (very) unorganised person who can’t plan that far ahead, my multi-day hiking trail of choice was the Lares Trek. A two to three day high-altitude 33 kilometre moderate linear trail that crosses some ancient ruins, dazzling lakes, and a magnificent valley descent. Camping under the stars in the Andes was an absolute starry-sky dream, and meeting some local villagers on the way added to the memories.
But if you’d prefer to discover this historic region of Peru without porters and chilly nights in makeshift accommodation, that is also easily done. Travel Differently offers a range of bespoke luxury tours in Peru with overnight stays in lodges rather than tents, alongside offbeat experiences in the Sacred Valley without compromising on comfort.
The Baltic Coastal Trail – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
This summer, I was blessed to spend eight glorious weeks exploring the three Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I was blown away by how laid-back and nature-focused this trio of nations are.
Aptly, if you plan to tackle the complete Baltic Coastal Trail, you’d also need to spend around the same amount of time here, as it stretches for some 1420 kilometres – the inland forest version being even longer.
Still, these three multi-day hiking destinations are ideal for breaking down into sections so that you can experience a part of each country’s tracks. For the most part, it literally hugs the shoreline, occasionally moving into a pine forest or away from the protected dunes. I opted to take a three-day section across the border from Lithuania to Latvia, a serene passage of soft sands, colourful pebbles, and footprint-free beaches, with camping courtesy of the historic wooden village in Pape.
The Fann Mountains Lake Loop – Tajikistan
Central Asia’s hiking scene has long been celebrated by in-the-know trail hunters and expert hikers who don’t mind going it alone. But that has changed in recent years, with various new multi-day hiking trails and support systems being set up in these magnificent countries.
One of the most impressive multi-day hiking destinations I’ve discovered in recent years was Tajikistan. It’s fair to say I knew little about the country when my friend Nicole invited me to join her on a return visit, but after spending two weeks touring the country with her and our tents, I can’t stop praising this unsung land.
Perhaps the most magical of the hiking trails we embarked on was the ‘Fann Mountains Lake Loop’, which will vary in length depending on how many of the seven lakes you visit and whether you opt for a linear or circular route. Most people will spend around three to five days covering 30-50 kilometres, which includes crossing a couple of passes. While the gravel terrain and uphill slogs can be exhausting, all is forgiven as you look down on the glistening lakes and set up camp with barely anyone else around.
Via Dinarica – Bosnia & Herzegovina
I’ve been waxing lyrically about Bosnia and Herzegovina for nearly a decade, and after a handful of visits to the country, I’m still convinced it’s one of the most beautiful in the world — seriously, it’s hard to believe some of the lakes here aren’t straight out of photoshop.
Thankfully, many others are starting to appreciate just how special this Balkan nation is, and that’s seen a fair pur of support and investment coming into the country to support creating new tourism products, attractions and trails.
The Via Dinarica is, however, not just in Bosnia & Herzegovina but actually connects Albania in the south to Slovenia in the north, with the ‘White Route’ spanning some 1260 kilometres. Of course, very few people would be able to tackle these multi-day hiking trails in one go, but it’s easy to plan to do a section at the time.
Anchored to the limestone karst range of the Dinaric Alps, the route has a few different options – the White Trail is complete, while others are still developing – usually with accommodation in mountain huts where you’ll be showered with the legendary local hospitality. En route, you can stop and detour to some of the best places to visit in Bosnia & Herzegovina, such as Lukomir, an isolated village in the Bjelasnica Mountain, where traditions are preserved.
The Pouakai Circuit – New Zealand
Unsurprisingly, for a nation where nature writ large, New Zealand has established itself as one of the top multi-day hiking destinations. Across Aotearoa’s two main islands, you’ll find a bevy of routes to pick from, with some of the most famous, such as the Routeburn and Milford Track, seeing heavy footfall in the peak months.
However, one of my favourite memories of the country comes from the Taranaki region, where I circled the mountain of the same name that sits at the heart of Egmont National Park. At the time, it was very much one of New Zealand’s hidden gems, as few international tourists came to this region, but the mountain’s majestic beauty has started to catch on.
A near-perfect conical shape, Mount Taranaki has served as the stand-in for Mount Fuji in the film ‘The Last Samurai’, and one of the highlights of this 25-kilometre (two to three days) circular route is seeing — if the wind is on your side — a near perfect reflection in the tarns. DOC Mountain huts offer a warm place to stay and work on a ticketing system, and if you’re lucky like I was, you’ll barely see another soul on the trails.
Waitukubuli National Trail – Dominica
When you think about the Caribbean, I guess you’re imagining indulgent soft sand beaches rather than multi-day hiking destinations. But Dominica isn’t your standard Caribbean island, and it wears its title as ‘the Nature Island’ with pride, something which was further accentuated in 2013 when it launched the Caribbean’s first long-distance route, the Waitukubuli National Trail.
Taking its title from the island’s original name, as given by the Kalinago People, it’s fitting that Dominica is one of the few Caribbean islands left with a pre-Columbian tribe, and indeed, this path passes through their territory. In fact, the multi-day hiking trail stretches for around 185 kilometres, allowing you to see many of the highlights of the interior – think exotic birds, waterfalls and rainforest – as well as some of the dark sand beaches of the coast.
While it will take around 10-14 days to complete the whole linear trek, it’s easy to dip in and out to different sections over a day or more, meaning it can be adjusted to suit your ability. The areas that start at the coastal Scotts Head, or mighty Middleham Falls, are suitable for getting a taste of the trail.
Shikoku Pilgrimage – Japan
The land of fast and efficient bullet trains might make Japan a surprising candidate for a multi-day hiking destination. But if you think about just how lush and green the landscapes are, it actually makes total sense.
Still, you’ll want to make sure you’re picking a multi-day hiking trail showcasing Japan’s best, and the Shikoku Pilgrimage does precisely that. A pilgrimage route linking 88 temples together, it tracks near the coast of Shikoku island, crossing the four prefectures of Ehime, Tokushima, Kagawa, and Kochi.
In total, the route is 1200 kilometres, so while it’s sold as a circular trail, it will only be if you have around six or more weeks to spare. Pick a section in one prefecture, don the typical conical hat, and set off to see some of the gorgeous temples on this moderate trail. As a bonus, this is also one of Japan’s best wellness destinations, meaning you can rest your weary feet with a massage, an onsen visit, or some deep sea water therapy on your overnight stops.
Jurassic Coast (South West Coast Path) – England
England’s South West Coastal Path – the longest in the country – has established itself as one of the best multi-day hiking trails in the United Kingdom, covering over 1000 kilometres. But it’s easily broken down into manageable sections, and there’s no part that I’d recommend more than the 185-kilometre linear stretch between Starcross and Poole.
Here, you’ll be literally following in the footsteps of dinosaurs as you track the coast-hugging trail between Devon and Dorset. Sure, it’s a quick and fun road trip along the Jurassic Coast, but by taking it slow, you’ll have plenty more time to look for fossils both imprinted into rocks and hidden on the beaches.
Alternatively, it’s easy to break this down into day sections to enjoy on your South West England beach holiday. I mean, how many multi-day hiking destinations can boast 185 million years of geological history?
Pekoe Trail – Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka‘s first long-distance multi-day hiking trail opened to little fanfare in 2021, partly due to tourism being shuttered globally. But now that visitors are back, they are reporting how magical an experience the Pekoe Trail is.
That’s not to say it’s all-new, though, as even when I visited many years ago, I took on some parts of this mainly highland route. Instead, sections and new stretches have been linked together to form a 300-kilometre, 22-day track that links from near Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.
Mostly, you’ll be very much in nature: think tea plantations and dense forests. Accommodation comes in the form of different lodges and guest houses just off the trailhead, and if you do the whole route, you’ll have seen a big chunk of one of the best islands to visit in the world. For most visitors, though, it likely makes more sense to spend a few days enjoying the sections around the highlands, starting at the end in Nuwara Eliya, especially if you plan to include the gorgeous train ride from Kandy to Ella.
The Circle of Toubkal – Morocco
Arguably Morocco’s best multi-day hiking destination, the Atlas Mountains, a vast series of ranges across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, are a true adventure playground, with plenty of different sceneries to take in once you’ve strapped on your hiking boots.
For a moderate yet still high-altitude exploration of the region, The Circle of Toubkal in the High Atlas offers a great introduction. The entire multi-day hiking trail can be covered in around four to six days, making it ideal for a one-week holiday.
The circular route is around 60 kilometres, starting and ending in the village of Imlil. The great diversity of landscapes makes this trail particularly special, as you’ll see not just dry and dusty scenes but also lush valleys and shimmering lakes, with Jebel Toubkal’s mighty 4167 metres always as a central point – and yes, you can detour to summit it. Just be aware, a severe earthquake struck the region on September 8 2023, and while the resilient local communities are rebuilding, parts of the trail and some villages may still be under repair into 2024.