From the moment Reese Witherspoon heaved on that huge backpack last year and began her epic climb on movie screens everywhere in the film “Wild”, it kicked off a renaissance in people hiking for exploration, self-help and just the joy of getting outdoors for an extended period of time.
We’re hopping on that bandwagon and sharing five of our favorite distance hikes all over the world. To sweeten the deal, we’ve also given you a reading recommendation to go along with it, just in case the optics aren’t enough (seriously – check out those views).
Appalachian Trail, USA
Distance: 2,200 miles
Let’s start with a classic walk, shall we? Even if hiking isn’t your thing, you’ve probably at least heard of this oldie but goodie. The AT stretches 2,185 miles from modest Springer Mountain in Georgia to the grand majesty of Mt. Katahdin in Maine to the north. On your walk in the woods, you’ll pass through 14 states, 8 National Forests, and 2 National Parks. and if you do the whole thing in one fell swoop, it’s going to take you 5 to 7 months. Don’t let that time frame put you off. Novices find this amble a treat. There are oodles of resupply points along the way, which virtually guarantees you’re not going to wander off and never be heard from again (well, that and the summer crowds – it’s not exactly a peaceful trek). Then again, you wouldn’t want to turn your nose up at the hike. If you manage the entire range, keep in mind it’s the vertical equivalent to summiting Everest 16 times. It’s a nice option if you plan to break up the trip into more manageable portions – families and friends have been doing it for ages.
Read: Nothing is more inspiring (and funny!) than Bill Bryson’s account of his decision to tackle the trail in A Walk in the Woods. It’s a classic piece of travel writing that will make you want to lace up your boots and say goodbye to the rat race. Getting there: South to north is still the most traditional way to do things, but if you choose to go this route be ready for a party atmosphere and crowds, especially if you start during early March or April (the most popular times to start). The trailhead for Springer Mountain is in Gainesville (easily accessible by train or bus from Atlanta’s International Airport). Flights into Atlanta are under $200 round trip from Denver on Frontier, and under $100 round trip on both United and American from Chicago O’Hare.*
Greater Patagonia Trail, Argentina and Chile
Distance: 1,932 miles
In the “Go Big or Go Home” category, we submit the Greater Patagonia Trail. This bad boy is NOT for beginners, and has only been completed by a handful of seasoned hikers over the course of the 3-4 months it can take. This trail is underdeveloped, isolated, rigorous, and quite remote. The aim is to traverse the Patagonian Andes that border Chile and Argentina. You’ll need beaucoup stamina and map reading skills to go along with your world-class planning and hiking expertise. For variety of terrain, however, this may be the ultimate hiking challenge. You’ll take in country roads, town paths, river rafts and horse trails to complete your journey. The Argentinian and Chilean governments are putting their money where their mouths are and hope to improve infrastructure in the years to come so more folks will visit. But for now, you can revel in the unofficial status of the route should you choose to tackle it – and know that you’re walking in places of otherworldly beauty not many have ever laid eyes on.
Read: In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin’s elegant memoir about the region. Getting there: Experts agree that hiking north to south is best to capitalize on weather conditions. Flights into Santiago from under $900 round trip on LAN.*
Pacific Crest Trail, Mexico to Canada
Distance: 2,663 miles
Want to walk the same path that Reese Witherspoon (aka Cheryl Strayed) took during that monster of a tragedy-fueled vision quest? Then brace yourself for some of the most diverse and challenging hiking known in the lower 48. The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,663 miles beginning in the Mexican desert and follows the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges through California, Oregon, and Washington. Your journey will take you through some of the most picturesque parks and wilderness areas in the U.S., including Yosemite, John Muir, Crater Lake, and Mount Hood. A word to beginners, the trail is known for sparse resupply points, so you have to pack in a fair bit of water and you definitely do not want to get on the wrong side of the weather, when winter snows make some of the range all but insurmountable. Do your research and you’ll be just fine.
Read: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed of course! Getting there: Most hikers start at the southern terminus, which is accessible at the border. Nonstop flights into San Diego from New York are right round $300 on JetBlue.*
Te Araroa, New Zealand
Distance: 1,864 miles
While 1,864 miles is nothing to sniff at, the fittest of hikers have been known to finish this spectacular walk in just under 3 months. A more leisurely paced walk will take closer to 4. Still, the Te Araroa (Maori for the Long Pathway) offers some of the most magnificent walkways found on the planet. On that point alone, if you’re going to make the journey, it’s well worth the time required. You’ll start at Cape Reinga in the north and wind 1,864 miles to Stirling Point in the south. What’s there to see, you might ask? Lush rainforests filled with diverse flora and fauna, frequently active volcanoes, beaches with basking penguins, vertigo-inducing mountain ranges mountains, and electric blue glacial lakes are just a few of the highlights.
Read: Long Cloud Ride: a 6,000 Mile Cycle Journey Around New Zealand, by Josie Dew or you can also read the memoir of the adventurer who spearheaded the Te Araroa project so the rest of the world can now enjoy it: Geoff Chapple. Getting there: If you’re planning to hike north to south, you’ll want to start by getting to Auckland (there’s a variety of ways to get you on to Cape Reinga from Auckland). On the other hand, if you choose to go south to north (starting point of Bluff), you’ll want to fly into Christchurch. Flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles to either Auckland or Christchurch can be purchased for under $1000 on Fiji Airlines right now for select dates in September 2016.*
Wales Coast Path, Wales, United Kingdom
Distance: 870 miles
And now onto the baby in the group, having only been officially established in 2012. The Wales Coast Path was founded as the world’s only footpath to cover an entire country’s coastline, and is an 870-mile trek combining some of the UK’s most romantic terrain. Your walk will wind you through massive coastal cliffs, impossibly green hillsides, past crumbling medieval castles, and through sleepy seaside hamlets in which to sample the local stout. This hike is certainly for lovers of the seaside. Prepare for rain. After all, this is the U.K. You’re going to need to get used to a moody tramp along the beaches.
Read: The Welsh Girl is a historical novel set just after the end of WWII by Peter Ho Davies. It’s an atmospheric introduction to this wonderful country. Getting there: You can get to Wales just by hopping a train that will have you there in less than 3 hours. Flights from Boston on Tap Air Portugal are under $800 round trip to Heathrow for select dates in September 2016 and under $700 from Westjet out of La Guardia in New York.*
That’s all for now. We hope this stoked your fires for a thru-hike adventure of your life. Please let us know in the comments below if you have any tips or comments about these destinations. We’d love to hear your thoughts. You can also share vacation photos that we may feature in an upcoming post. Happy walkabout from CheapAir.com.