Great Hiking Treks of the World Compared

Thanks to the success of our European Grand Ski Tours comparison, we have decided to follow up with a summer version. In this case, ten famous treks found around the world. Obviously there are big ones missing, the PCT, Colorado Trail, Appalachian, Annapurna, etc… but we can’t do them all. Nevertheless, there are some famous ones, and others less so but special in their own way. And, we have done all of these so the comparison is possible.

The goal here is to rate them based on several criteria, provide some basic details for each, and then let the readers decide which is best for them should they be pondering a “What next”. Finally, should visitors want to see photos of the treks themselves to get an idea of what they would be in for, our site is the place, just search the site using locations and/or keywords. You’ll get professional imagery that should help you better understand how the treks look.

And now for our Top 10 list…

John Muir Trail : USA

Torres del Paine Circuit : Chile

Huayhuash Trek : Peru

Laugavegur Tour : Iceland

Tour of Mont Blanc : France, Italy, Switzerland

Summer Haute Route Chamonix to Zermatt : France, Switzerland

Dolomites Alta Via 1 & 2 : Italy

Sardinia’s Selvaggio Blu : Italy

Khumbu & Gokyo Valley Trek : Nepal

Langtang Trek : Nepal

The Criteria:

Views and Landscape : All of these tours have great scenery so this category is purely for the sake of comparison.

Wow Factor : Is the landscape and environment unique? Do you have scenery that leaves you stunned? And not just the standard mountain or natural environments, rather, big, awe inspiring, can’t believe where you are kind of vistas. Of course this one is subjective and relative to what else you have seen, so the rating is based on how the trek stacks up against the others on the list.

Food : If there are huts on the tour, and you have to use them, then the food quality there is judged. If your own cooking is required, then I don’t know how well you cook, so we’ll just default to a 4 out of 5 as the potential is there for great food. And, even freeze dried is fantastic when you carried that heavy pack full of cooking gear all day.

Logistics : Is the tour easy to drop in and do or are there a mountain of logistics; fees, permits, guides, porters, hut reservations, navigation, etc…? The number rating is based on how easy it is, a higher number is for how user friendly. Of course for some treks, using a guiding service makes all the difference between semi-epic and complete ease. And some treks, like Huayhuash, pretty much require you use a guide for many reasons which will be explained in the trek description. The rating will take into account all those things you must do to set out on the trek.

Culture : Are you going to experience something beyond the natural environment? Local people, lifestyle, history, etc…

Wildness/Remote : Are you on a journey that really removes you from the busy world? Is the likelihood of seeing others greatly reduced? Are you committed to the journey where that feeling of being “Out There” sets in?

Experience : The big factor and possibly the most subjective – we’ll consider the whole package of the trek. Again, this one must be considered only relative to the others on the list. How does the experience stack up – was the trip big in your life? Difficult situations tend to bring big reward, as do interactions with other cultures. The overall experience is based on what we walked away with in our hearts.

The John Muir Trail : USA

The John Muir Trail

Difficult, 12-20 days. This is the only trail we have not done in one push, rather in sections, so our packs were not as heavy as they might have been, as such logistics were made easier. The JMT ranks high on our list for a couple of reasons, it is very wild and remote and it is a trail you do entirely under your own power, it is the only true backpacking trail on the list. Difficulty comes from being at high elevations, often over 12,000 feet with many passes climbed throughout the length of the trail. Pack weight plays a huge role in the difficulty.

Logistical issues come in the form of permits & regulations. I loathe backcountry permits which may actually prevent you from going, and for the JMT these are required to set out, the dates of which may be affected based on availability. Bear canisters and lots of wilderness common sense are required.

Our great friend and photographer John Dittli has a superb book on the John Muir Trail : Walk the Sky

Torres del Paine Circuit : Chile

Hiking the Torres del Paine Circuit

Easy, 4-8 days. This is one of the tours where weather plays a huge role. Our first couple of days were in thick cloud cover and rain, we could have been anywhere. But when the clouds parted and the view developed, the wow factor was high. This is an all around tour, where there is a truly wild feeling combined with some local flavor in the form of the passing gauchos. For our trek, we used the huts, carried very little and did it quickly. Views of the Grey Glacier after the crazy descent of the “Monkey Trees” is unforgettable as are the glimpses up to the Towers.

As an overall experience the tour ranks high thanks to Chile itself. A visit to Puerto Natales, the bus ride to the park and the kindness of the people all left us impressed.

Huayhuash Trek : Peru

Hiking the Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Difficult, 9-12 days. Another trek critical with weather. Unfortunately our trip was greatly influenced by rain. But, we were a bit early in the season and set out knowing it would be wet. It was torrential. The season is really June – September, we went late April. Difficulty for this trek comes from being at such high elevation the entire time, always above 3500 meters with the majority of time above 4000 meters, camping as high as 4700 meters with passes to 5100 meters. The trails themselves are not difficult, mostly dirt paths.

We used a guide service for this trek, which most everyone does so as to utilize donkeys, a cook and get local knowledge. Also, unique to the tour are the “Protection Fees”. I thought they should be called camping fees, but apparently it is a kind of mafia that keeps trekkers safe. Each morning your camp is visited by a local who charges around US$5/person to pass through. Your guide will also help keep you clear of any issues. There is a bit of an odd feeling with the locals on this trek.

Food rating is low for the Huayhuash purely because the overall food quality in Peru is not great. I am biased as I hate chicken, and chicken is what they eat/serve. Nearly everyone who does this tour talks about food poisoning, I can vouch, I was extremely sick for two days. Bad food and funky logistics aside, the landscape is amazing and you’ll pass through small home sites at 4000+ meters that are truly unique and memorable. The overall experience is great, made complete with famous South American bus rides and strolls through native villages.

Laugavegur Tour : Iceland

The Laugavegur Trek, Iceland

Easy, 4-6 days. Probably a tour few in North America have heard of but undoubtedly one of our very favorite trips, we have done this trek three times! This is a trip that actually sets the standard for Wow Factor as day one and two are truly remarkable in terms of unique landscapes. We have a fully detailed write up here.

Tour of Mont Blanc : France, Italy and Switzerland

The Tour of Mont Blanc high above Chamonix

Medium, 3-12 days. The Tour of Mont Blanc is a unique tour in that if you are new to European hiking, it scores well on Wow and Experience. But, for veterans of the Alps, folks who have other big Euro treks notched on their belts, it is an average trek. Yes, the views are good but they are somewhat limited, it is the nature of having this beast of the Mont Blanc massif in the way all the time. Nevertheless, to walk around Mont Blanc is cool.

Our journey around Mont Blanc was not by hiking, we ran it, in three days. The tour is venue to arguably the world’s biggest and best Ultra Race, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Known for quality terrain, we gave it a go and spent the nights in Courmayeur and Champex. To be fair, it is possible that I looked at my feet more than the views when we did it. Still, it is a great tour, and certainly a classic. Our report of the three day run around Mont Blanc is here.

Summer Haute Route : France, Switzerland

Summer Haute Route in the Swiss Alps

Difficult, 12-15 days. Now we’re talking. A long, committing tour, big days, stunning views, culture, alpine terrain, this trek has it all. And it starts in one of the world’s most incredible places, Chamonix, and ends in one of the world’s most beautiful places, Zermatt. In between is a lot of walking up and down passes, through thick forests, and alpine fields.  Due to the length of the trek, weather is bound to be an issue. Carry good maps and take care to stay on course.

My memories of this trek are some of the best I have of hiking in the mountains. Being in the Alps for so many consecutive days, making walking what you do, and living in the mountain huts all make for an unforgettable experience. Instead of walking the Haute Route trail through the Mattertal, cap off the trip with the Europaweg Trail into Zermatt and you have the Matterhorn to stare at all day for the gran finale.

Dolomites Alta Via 1 or 2 : Italy

The Dolomites

Medium, 5-12 days. Both the Alta Via 1 and 2 are listed here as they are so similar. The AV1 is the classic long trail through the Dolomites, but the AV2 rivals it in many ways. Since it is the #2, it loses #1 status, which it may well deserve. Get my drift? Both trails are absolutely superb and while they parallel one another in close proximity, they are quite different. The AV1 stays closer to roads, towns and passes more through busier areas. Much of the AV1 is popular for day hikes making for much heavier trail traffic. Meanwhile, the AV2 is more remote, tougher to access some of the higher points, and it has the option of some very classic Via Ferrata right along the trail.

Both trails can be read about more extensively on our DolomiteSport Alta Via pages AV1 and AV2.

Sardinia’s Selvaggio Blu : Italy

The Selvaggio Blu, Sardinia

Medium, 4-5 days. This is probably the trail you haven’t heard of. While not necessarily deserving to be on the list of World’s Great Treks, it is a very unique experience in what is certainly one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines. Beginning in the small seaside village of Santa Maria Navaresse, the trails heads north along sea cliffs for 3- 5 days. There is almost no trail, only faint blue dots to mark the way. Almost everyone goes with a guide as the way is surprisingly difficult and actually quite remote. Several rappels are required and necessary water drops make logisitcs tricky. Each night, we dropped down from the high sea cliffs to the white sand beaches, which are busy during the day but empty in the evening. There we slept, and this is what makes the trek so fascinating. I really enjoyed this trek as it is not the typical hiking tour.

Khumbu & Gokyo Valley Trek : Nepal

Trekker in the Khumbu Valley, Nepal Himalaya

Difficult, 10-15 days. What has not been said about Nepal? Everyone knows that Nepal is home to Mount Everest and the Himalaya. The Khumbu Valley is the walk to get to Everest Basecamp and while it is very busy and commercial, it is truly a necessary experience for anyone who loves the mountains. The parallel valley, Gokyo, is an alternate to the busier Khumbu and can be done on the same tour as Khumbu, or all on its own. Gokyo Valley is equally as beautiful but without the name and as many famous stops along the way.

For us, Nepal was one of the best experiences of our lives. Not just for the mountains but for the overall experience, the people, the culture, Buddhism, and of course the Himalayan villages and Temples. We are planning our return to Nepal as I write this.

Langtang Trek : Nepal

Trekkers in the Langtang Valley, Nepal

Medium, 5-7 days. I decided to include this trek as it is appreciated more if one has also done the Khumbu or Gokyo Treks. This was the first trek we did in Nepal and while we liked it, we didn’t realize the importance of doing it until after we also did the Khumbu trek. Langtang Valley is a few days journey to its end. The scenery is nice, but not spectacular. It isn’t until the last day that you finally see some high mountains, and much of the trail is under a forest canopy. But, what the trail is for is the culture, the people you speak with, the tea you share with Tibetan nomads, the meals you eat in someone’s home and the time you spend just seeing how the people live in this remote part of the Himalaya. While the Khumbu is now developed as a huge, wide trail, complete with internet points, TV in the guesthouses, and locals very accustomed to seeing foreigners, Langtang is going back in time to a simpler way of living.

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One Comment

  1. Annie January 29, 2015 at 4:45 am #

    Thanks for sharing! I’m planning a 40th birthday trekking extravaganza this summer and wasn’t sure where to start. This helped narrow the list. Thanks!

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