In the fall of 2010, I was on Jeju island, South Korea to attend the first ever World Trail Conference. Trail experts from around the world shared interesting information about their trails, stirring my interest in traipsing these trails. Since then, my interest in trail walking skyrocketed, and I decided to tackle the Camino de Santiago in the summer of 2014. I’ve barely gotten started, but after talking to those trail experts, I’m pretty sure I’ll be walking more of them sometime in the future. Meanwhile, as I plot my plans to walk them, here’s a list of the most well-known trails around the world.
1. Camino de Santiago, Spain
The Camino de Santiago, or St James Way, is the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. With over a thousand years of history, this is one of the most important Christian pilgrimage routes in the world. Today, it draws walkers from around the world – not just for religious purpose. There are a few routes to choose from, with the most popular being the 800km-long Northern Trail: starting from Paris and crossing from east to west of Spain. It’s important to plan ahead and pack according to the season before taking off.
Getting there: Fly into Paris, where you can take a train to the start of your desired route. Different routes begin in different cities, so buses or trains from Paris will be the easiest way to get to wherever you’d like to begin.
2. Great Ocean Road, Australia
The Great Ocean Walk stretches 104-km along the southeastern coast of Australia in the Victoria region. From trekking through dense forests to traipsing the edge of coastal cliffs, the walk traverses a wide variety of coastal landscapes. Some of the highlights of the walk include the iconic 12 Apostles, the beautiful and serene Johanna Beach, picnic heaven of Apollo Bay and Cape Otway where koala bears are plentiful. The walk can be done independently – before setting off, it’s best to stock up on camping gear and Australian travel insurance.
Getting there: From Melbourne, Australia, it’s a two-hour car ride. Alternatively, you can take a train on V/Line from Melbourne and get off at Geelong or Warrnambool. There are also bus services operating throughout the area to various stops on the Great Ocean Road, such as Apollo Bay and Warrnambool.
3. Bruce Trail, Canada
As the oldest and longest trail in Canada, the Bruce Trail follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It runs for 850km from Niagara to Tobermory, with side trails extending out to 250km. There are many waterfalls, streams and rivers along the Bruce trail, expect to see a myriad of plant and wildlife. Niagara Falls, by far the most famous watercourse in the area, can be reached by a side trail of the Bruce Trail.
Getting there: Fly into Toronto, and the Toronto Section of the Bruce Trail is located around 1 hour away by car or bus. Alternatively, you can begin your walk at Niagara Falls. Many participants choose to camp during a walk through the Bruce Trail.
Flickr photo by Derek KP
4. John Muir Trail, USA
Running 358km through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the John Muir Trail reveals the wild and primeval nature of North America. The trail starts from the Yosemite National Park and ends at the summit of Mount Whitney. Along the way, you’ll pass through the Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park. The trail was named for naturalist John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club. The best time to visit is from July to September, though snow may still linger on the higher passes.
Getting there: From the Reno, Nevada airport, take the Eastern Sierra Transit Bus to Lee Vinning or Mammoth Lakes. From either of those terminals you can take the YARTS bus to the John Muir Trailhead. Most hikers camp outdoors during their treks.
5. Shikoku Pilgrimage, Japan
With 1,200 years of history, the Shikoku Pilgrimage (or Shikoku O-Henro) runs through 88 temples and 200 bangais along the coast of Shikoku. The trail not only puts your determination to the test, but also gives a peek into Japan’s history and tradition. As one of the longest trails in this list, it runs for over 1,400km and can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days to complete. There are a number of shorter imitative trails in Japan, such as the 150km circuit on the island of Shōdoshima, a 3km course in Ninna-ji, Kyoto and a route on the Chita Peninsula.
Getting there: Fly into Kansai International Airport in Osaka, then take the bus to Tokushima Eki Mae., which departs from outside Terminal 1. The fare is 4,100 yen one-way and it takes just under three hours to arrive. Once you begin your trail there are small, family-owned inns that offer accommodation to trekkers for 4,000-8,000 yen per night (depending on if you’d like food with your stay).
6. Jeju Olle Trail, South Korea
As a newly-developed trekking course on the Jeju island, the Jeju Olle Trail is made up of 22 courses covering a total of 347km in length. The beautiful isle’s craggy coastline is lined with emerald bays and lapping beaches, while further inland hills are studded with oreums (dormant volcanoes), ensconced waterfalls and green prairies. On average, each Jeju Olle Trail is 10-18 kilometers in length and each offers a different side of Jeju. These quick shifts in topography allow walkers to enjoy farmland and forests, grasses and palm trees, fresh water ponds and ocean vistas, waterfalls and cliffs, often all on a single journey.
Getting there: Fly into the Jeju International Airport, and you can either begin your walk at the airport itself or choose from one of 21 different interconnected routes throughout the island.
7. Cotswolds Way, UK
Cotswold Way is the most famous trail in the United Kingdom, running from Chipping Campden in the north to the city of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The course is 162-km long, passing through picturesque villages and scenic views, such as those at the meanders of the River Severn and the Forest of Dean. The distinctive shape of May Hill and the long spine of Malvern Hills can also be seen during much of the route. Some of the higlights of the trail include the Somerset Monument, the majestic Broadway Tower and the site of the Battle of Lansdowne.
Getting there: Fly into Birmingham airport – there are flights from most major cities in the UK – then head to Chipping Campden via taxi. There are also regular trains to Moreton-in-Marsh and Straford-Upon-Avon, and from either city you can take a taxi to the trailhead in Chipping Campden.
Flickr photo by Chen Zhao
8. The Pacific Crest Trail, USA
The Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking trail located in the western United States that stretches 4,286 km bordering the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Famously trekked by Cheryl Strayed in her memoir, Wild, the trail is known for its rigor and stark natural beauty. It starts on the USA/Mexico border and spans all the way to Canada, passing through 25 national forests and 7 national parks. There is also a corresponding bike trail that runs parallel to the Pacific Crest Trail for 4,000 km.
Getting there: Fly into San Diego then head to the El Cajon Transit Center via taxi or public bus. Bus #894 runs three times a day from the transit center to the southern terminus, and costs about $5 for the 2-hour ride. Most people camp throughout their trek.
Flickr photo by Andy Porter
9. The Appalachian Trail, USA
Running through the eastern United States is the Appalachian Trail, a historic walking path that spans approximately 3,500 km and runs through 14 states. This scenic route is home to the famous Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Home to striking bridges, rural towns and over 2,000 species of plant and animal life, this trail offers hikers a diverse set of experiences. The Appalachian Trail, along with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, comprise the “Triple Crown” of famous walking trails in the United States.
Getting there: There are multiple points of entry to the Appalachian Trail, with access from most major cities on the East Coast of the US. Atlanta, Washington DC, Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York City are all hub cities that give access to the Appalachian Trail. Depending on your route, and in which direction you’d like to travel, you can choose an entry point accordingly. There are many towns and cities along the Appalachian trail where you can book a hotel, or during the milder seasons you can camp in designated areas.
Flickr photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli
*All photos uncredited are taken by myself. They cannot be used without permission.