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5 best hikes: Life-changing treks around the world

This year, challenge yourself to tackle a hike that will leave you feeling inspired by the views, and by your accomplishment. | By Joanna Tweedy | January 7, 2022

A hiking vacation is a wonderful way to make everlasting vacation memories. It can be one that serves as a sightseeing tour on foot, or a real physical test that will wow friends and family. Here are five of the best treks in the world that you can tackle on your own two feet.

Explore the best hikes on trails like:

  • Royal Mile to a regal view: Hike up to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh

  • Red rocks and badlands: A bird’s-eye view of Utah at Dead Horse Point

  • Tackle the Adirondacks: Hikes here range from gentle to challenging, and can come with a refreshing lake dip at the end

Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh

The Scottish capital is wrapped in dramatic scenery. The 340-million-year-old Salisbury Crags and the rolling 20-mile range of the Pentland Hills make for one of the best hikes for nature lovers and history buffs. For an incredible 360-degree view of Edinburgh, one that’s sparked a thousand proposals over the centuries, pull on a sturdy pair of walking shoes and embark on the two-hour round-trip trek to Arthur’s Seat.

Start at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, which sits grandly at the bottom of the Royal Mile, also home to the majestic Edinburgh Castle and St Giles’ Cathedral. There are several routes up — including a short, steep climb for the brave — but most walkers, including those with kids, choose the moderate route on a well-marked path that winds out to a track (it can get muddy if it rains) near the top.

At the summit, take in the far-as-the-eye-can-see views of the rural Scottish landscape, medieval Old Town and the Georgian elegance of the New Town before descending to toast to your accomplishment with a glass of whisky at The Royal Mile Tavern in Old Town.

Hiking the Adirondacks

If you’re looking for more rugged places to hike, adventures on foot don’t get more life-affirming than losing yourself among the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains in rural upstate New York. There are trails in the High Peaks region to suit every fitness level, from the family-friendly Mount Arab to the mighty Mount Haystack, which soars 4,960 feet (around 1,512 meters) up and requires a lot of prep to reach the summit.

Tackle the 5.4-mile round-trip Ampersand Mountain Trail. This hike is perfect for experienced hikers looking for a challenge; it promises one of the area’s most beguiling 360-degree views at a height of 3,353 feet (1,022 meters).

Relax on the first half of this trail; it’s easy on the legs and the views get more lovely with each step taken. As you get higher, the terrain steepens and by the time the old fire observer’s cabin is in sight — about a mile from the top — those calf muscles will be aching in the final ascent.

Distraction from the gradient comes via giant boulders of rock on the route, which act as a gateway to the top. When you’ve made it back down, there’s no better way to soothe hike-weary feet than with a cooling dip. The indigo waters of Middle Saranac Lake — a five-minute drive from the Ampersand Mountain Trailhead — are perfect for a refreshing swim. Walk lakeward from the slim sandy beach that fringes it — the waters start shallow — and then submerge for an invigorating swim, that comes with a wonderful view of Ampersand Mountain's silhouette.

When it's time to unwind from such an adventurous day, Hotel Saranac, Curio Collection by Hilton is close to Saranac Lake and is a great base for your Adirondacks hiking trip.

China's Daqishan National Forest Park

Daqishan National Forest Park, which lies 35 miles (56 kilometers) south, lets hikers spend half a day taking in the lush forests and sparkling waters of Daqishan’s breathtaking main trail; access will cost you a small fee.

The route starts as mountain roads before morphing into trails, with steppingstones and suspension bridges adding to the fun. The gentle ascent eventually leads to Daqi Mountain, around 2,000 feet (600 meters) above sea level. The air is clear and a pretty waterfall welcomes visitors at the top, with koi carp darting around in the pools below it.

Those looking to rest tired legs can swap the hike down for a ride on the roller coaster; it whizzes walkers back to where they started in just minutes.

Perched on the banks of Tianxi Lake, with the misty Tonglu hills providing an atmospheric backdrop, the luxurious Conrad Hangzhou Tonglu offers a soothing — and stylish — way to wind down after a day exploring the region’s most popular places to hike.

Calgary challenge

Cowboy culture might be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Calgary — it’s home to the famous annual Stampede, after all — but it’s also a veritable nirvana for those wanting to connect with nature and seeking places to hike. The stunning mountains that rise up around this Canadian city, in the western province of Alberta, are teeming with exhilarating hikes that’ll win you bragging rights for decades.

Many of them carve a path through Banff National Park, 70 miles (roughly 113 kilometers) west of the city and one of the most beautiful places to visit. Close to the hamlet of Exshaw, the 3-mile Grotto Canyon Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park is suitable for every level of walker, including families, boasts staggering scenic snapshots en route as you walk through the rocky former riverbed.

Alongside the surrounding mountains, a waterfall spills glistening water out over the rockface and there’s the Inukshuk Garden that symbolizes Canadian friendship and community. It’s a trek back in time too; rust-colored ancient pictographs — so faint they're very easy to miss — can be spotted on the canyon walls.

Explore national parks in Utah

Where should you begin in this naturally wonderful region? A 7-mile trek through Dead Horse State Park is a great one for families (and dogs are allowed, too) because it can be broken up into sections. From the park’s Visitor Center, Dead Horse Point is accessed via an easy 1.5-mile walk on the East Rim Trail and Basin Overlook. When you reach the Point itself, the trail dramatically falls away to reveal unbelievable views of Utah’s badlands, carved by millennia, with the Colorado River flowing through it.

Those with energy can seek out even more big skies and desert landscapes by continuing on the West Rim Trail and then on to Bighorn Overlook to complete the 7-mile round-trip hike. Ensure your phone is fully charged; there are photo opportunities galore, especially as the sun rises or lowers.

Check into Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton to see Utah’s extraordinary, red-rocked scenery right on your doorstep. Arches National Park is the closest, just 5 miles away, while Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park are both less than 40 minutes’ drive from here. All three have bucket-list best hikes for every ability of walker.

No matter which trail you set out to conquer this year, make sure to always pack the essentials (water, food, layers, sunscreen, a phone) and do your research before you go. This way you’ll feel mentally and physically prepared to tackle the climb, no matter how steep. You’ll reach the top invigorated and with memories that’ll earn you bragging rights when you’re back on flat ground.

Plan Your Perfect HikeView list of Hilton hotels

Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.

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