The faint chime of cowbells amid a high altitude backdrop, an up-close-and-personal view of a snow topped “wedding cake” mountain and an impulsive dip in a natural springs pool only yards from the crashing sea; all are mere perks of traversing the globe by hiking its trails. Motives vary: from searching for adventure and seeking out nature to gaining fitness and losing pounds. But whatever the inspiration to indulge in this out-of-doors phenomenon, it’s clear that the passion gives the directive “Take a hike!” a meaning that is good for all soles. Here are six one-of-a-kind hiking haunts.
Austrian Alps (Northeastern Tyrol, Austria) Hiking in the heart of the Alps translates to 600 peaks topping the 10,000-ft. mark, more than 9,000 miles of marked trails and nearly 500 mountain farmhouses and taverns for rest and relaxation (intrepretation: pints of beer and platters of hearty grub). A favorite is Gruttenhutte, a famous hiking hut reached after an ominous trek up Wilder Kaiser (Wild Emperor).
Green Mountains (Central Vermont, U.S.) “New England quaint” best describes the landscape, known for colorful farmhouses, Victorian B&B’s and densely forested hills. Many hiking paths follow the renowned Long and Appalachian Trails; of the others, Mt. Tom is one of the most picturesque, where a walk through a covered bridge from the Norman Rockwell-like town of Woodstock leads to the trailhead. Prime time: foliage season (typically 1st week in October).
Haleakala National Park (Maui, Hawaii, U.S.) Though 27 miles of trails may seem modest, the varied landscape is staggering – from a sun-drenched path that drops into the volcanic Haleakala crater to the lush land of O’heo Gulch (informally called Seven Sacred Pools). This trek passes a series of pools (many more than seven) and through a highly concentrated bamboo forest before culminating at the dramatic 400-ft. Waimoku Falls.
Khao Yai National Park (Pakchong District, Thailand) Home to one of Asia’s largest untouched monsoon forests, the country’s oldest national park is populated with bears, tigers and one of earth’s few remaining wild elephant herds. Guided hikes are advised on some of the 13 tracks (many configured by animal activity) that zigzag the park. The best viewing spot for elephants: Elephant Crossing.
Kootenay Lake Forest District (British Columbia, Canada) The setting is pristine – an alpine lake flanked by the rugged Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges. Negotiating fast flowing rivers and flower-laden meadows, most paths follow turn-of-the-20th-century miner trails. Highlight: after traversing grizzly bear country and scrambling over innumerable boulders, the reward of Whitewater Mountain trail is an unparalleled view of the glacier-topped peak.
New England National Park (New South Wales, Australia) An ecosystem wonderland, the World Heritage park includes an Antarctic beech rainforest. Situated on the edge of the Great Divide is Point Lookout platform (5,000 ft.), which treats hikers to a Pacific Ocean view on a clear day. Bushwalking throughout the trek network varies; 1.5-mi. Eagle’s Nest circuit along a steep cliffside is one of the most dramatic.