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5 bucket-list hikes around the world

Explore the world’s wild landscapes — from famous film locations to alpine lakes — with these must-try trails, ideal for any skill level.

By Alina Dizik | February 7, 2024

Some of Earth’s most spectacular destinations are best explored while wearing hiking boots, and luckily, there’s no need to be a pro to enjoy these trails. Whether you’re walking near active volcanoes or through ancient forests, hiking across the world is the ideal excuse to put life’s hustle — and your electronic devices — on “do not disturb” for a while. From Tennessee’s striking vistas to South Korea’s granite peaks, here are five jaw-dropping hikes for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels to try.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Located on the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to a fiery duo: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world’s most active volcanoes. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-visit attraction, covering a geologically diverse 523 square miles (1354.5 square kilometers) with everything from ash-covered deserts to lava tubes awaiting exploration. For a wheelchair- or stroller-accessible hike, try the Kūpinaʻi Pali portion of the Crater Rim Trail, also called the Waldron Ledge. The trek is approximately 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) long and rewards visitors with stunning views of the Kīlauea Caldera, a roughly 280,000-year-old volcanic crater, along with the Halema’uma’u crater, which collapsed in 2018. Visitors sometimes call it the Earthquake Trail to mark the falling rocks and deep cracks from the 6.7 magnitude quake that occurred on the island in 1983.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Stretching between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies are one of the oldest and most majestic mountain ranges in the world. Discover the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is only slightly smaller than Rhode Island and includes an estimated 10,000 species of plants and animals that were previously unknown and first discovered in the park. Start with an 8-mile (12.8-kilometer), roundtrip hike to Charlies Bunion, a stark stone outcrop along the Appalachian Trail, with striking vistas at every turn. For the ideal home base, wind down at The Park Vista – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel – Gatlinburg. Here, you can rest in your spacious (and pet-friendly!) room before enjoying a multi-level indoor pool with waterslides, stunning mountain views and trolly access to the city’s charming downtown, where you’ll find plenty of dining options, nightlife and even a pinball museum.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Located about 90 minutes north of Denver, the picturesque Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) beckons with 355 miles (571 kilometers) of hiking trails for an unforgettable day trip. Known for its 60 mountain peaks and more than 100 lakes, RMNP is popular year-round. Visitors come to view the fall foliage, experience the fragrant spring wildflowers and take in the summer vistas. Opt for the serene hike to Dream Lake, which offers views of the deep sapphire water, aspen groves and ponderosa pines. Or challenge yourself with a trek to the summit of Flattop Mountain, a rugged trail that reaches an elevation of more than 12,000 feet (about 3,656 meters). Bring your camera to snap pictures of the area’s thriving wildlife, which includes bighorn sheep, elk, mountain lions and various endangered species like the Mexican Spotted Owl or the North American Wolverine.

Bukhansan National Park, South Korea

If you’re visiting Seoul, South Korea’s largest city, don’t forget to pack your hiking boots. Hiking is a favorite weekend activity for South Koreans with numerous surveys counting it as the nation’s most popular pastime. In under an hour, public transportation takes you out of the megalopolis and into Bukhansan National Park, known for hidden temples and granite peaks. Locals particularly love to hike Bukhansanseong Course, a roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) trail, to Baegundae Peak, which is the park’s highest point and is reachable in roughly two to three hours. On the way, enjoy panoramic forest views and discover entrances to an 18th-century mountain fortress. Be sure to pack some snacks and take a break among the scenic picnic spots. The park offers hikes for all skill levels, so it’s best to start at the visitor center to get a sense of your options.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Just 27 miles (44 kilometers) outside of Reykjavik lies an otherworldly UNESCO World Heritage Site — and frequent filming location for hit TV shows — that is sure to impress even the most seasoned hiker. Once inside Thingvellir National Park, head to the Almannagjá, a visible rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which continue to move apart at about 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) per year. Thrill-seekers can bundle up and dive between the two continents via the Silfra fissure, a deep crevasse filled with glacial water. After your day of adventure, unwind at the centrally located Iceland Parliament Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton. With a full-service spa that includes a sauna and steam room, it’s the ideal spot to recharge after a day of outdoor adventure.

Lastly, no matter what hiking destinations are on your bucket list this year, make sure you’re prepared and well-informed before you hit the trails by consulting local websites for up-to-date recommendations and closures. With so many incredible options for visiting the world’s national parks, it’s easy to find spectacular scenery wherever your wanderlust takes you.

Alina Dizik is a veteran lifestyle journalist, covering travel, real estate, family, work trends and dining. Her work appears in The Wall Street Journal, BBC, The Cut, The Guardian and other top publications. She lives in Chicago and has spent time living in New York, Europe and the Middle East. She spends more than two months each year traveling internationally with her husband and two school-age children. She has visited more than 50 countries.

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