I cannot really think of anything harder than narrowing this list down to just twenty. In fact, I probably deserve some kind of a medal.
For your reading pleasure I have combed every single continent on Earth, all of which are represented below with the exception of Antarctica. The Himalayas are in there, so too the Andes, Patagonia, the Alps, the Rockies, and a couple of hikes in Oceania. Indonesia, Nepal and Japan have Asia covered, while Egypt and South Africa contribute hikes at either end of Africa.
We have a troll’s tongue in Norway, a hike on a river in the USA, treks to see erupting volcanoes and remote beaches, ancient cities and ice fields. This planet and this list have one thing in common. They have it ALL.
If you agree with any of these, please leave a comment below! If you disagree, well, your opinions are not welcome here. Ha Ha! I joke, I joke…
1. Trolltunga, Norway
It is hard to imagine an uglier name being applied to a more beautiful corner of the world, but “Troll’s Tongue” in Norway does a pretty good job. It turns out to be aptly named, with a tongue-like section of rock sticking out over an impossibly blue lake.
With deep-cut fjords, over-hanging rock formations and ancient glaciers sitting high up in the mountains, there really is no trek on Earth similar to Trolltunga.
The landscape just feels… so… dramatic, with steep gorges dropping down all around you, the scale of which leaves your jaw in a permanent state of droppage.
Being very clever, the Norwegians have built a series of car parks in the area, so you can pick between hikes ranging from 12 – 25 miles in length.
That being said, you will need to be very fit to complete this hike. It is a tricky one.
Length: 12.4 miles
Time: 8-10 Hours
Elevation Gain: 2,625 feet
2. Mirador Las Torres, Patagonia, Chile
If you have a stereotypical image of Patagonia etched in your brain, you are probably thinking of the Towers of Torres, an unbelievably spectacular collection of granite spires in Torres del Paine National Park that rise dramatically from a lake-filled basin in the mountains.
If you are short on time and are looking for the perfect Patagonian taster, then look no further than the Mirador Las Torres to whet your appetite, and join hikers on either their first or last day of the world-renowned multi-day Torres del Paine ‘W’ Trek.
The hike is perfect for the early-risers among you, as the towers tend to glow mystical colors in the dawning light, so strap on head torches and leave extra early to be rewarded with stunning views.
You will want to pack multiple layers on this hike. The infamous Patagonian wind can quickly drag in bad weather, and temperatures plummet so fast in this region that it is scary! Be prepared!
Length: 11.2 miles
Time: 8-9 Hours
Elevation Gain: 2,950 feet
3. Petra, Jordan
Rather than being a typical point to point hike, strap on your hiking boots for an awesome day of exploration. Wander through the 0.7-mile long Siq – a spectacularly close gorge that carves a trail through the rugged desert terrain.
Emerge into the open space in full view of The Treasury, before spending the rest of the day finding your way to The Monastery, all the while exploring Roman theaters and climbing through tombs carved into the faces of cliffs.
It is easy to spend the day notching up the miles, exploring the ancient Nabataean city that remained lost to western culture for many hundreds of years, being naturally so well hidden.
It was named in the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007 for good reason. Go and see it!
4. Cradle Mountain Circuit, Tasmania, Australia
It is quite difficult to believe you are still in Australia as you climb steeply up to the Cradle Mountain summit. The views are oddly glacial. Think the fjords of Norway, or the rugged west coast of Scotland, combined with a touch of something… I dunno… Patagonian. And then you have something like Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain.
The hike takes in either the first or last day of the famed Overland Track, meant to be one of the best multi-day hikes in the country. I completed it in five nights in winter two years ago from south to north with my father, Gavin Alexander, and it was quite an experience, coming over the top of Cradle Mountain in a full-on blizzard in waist-deep snow. Am I still in Australia? – a disbelieving voice in your head keeps saying over and over again.
The day hike is quite difficult, involving a fairly epic scramble up a steep slope for some of the morning, but there are fixings in place to help in the more technical sections.
5. Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, USA
This is probably the most difficult of all the Yosemite day hikes. It’s that one that has the cables up the top so that you don’t need rock climbing gear. It is that steep, but that worth it too because of the panoramic views you will gain from the summit of Half Dome.
Sat like the hooded part of a hooded jumper on the top of a mountain, it is easy to see how Half Dome got its name. It really is the most peculiar-looking piece of geology, and well worthy of making this list. This is a strenuous day hike, to be undertaken only by fit hikers.
Related content: Is Hiking Half Dome Dangerous?
Length: 14 – 16 miles
Time: 10 – 12 Hours
Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet
6. Mount Bromo & King Kong Hill, Indonesia
Prepare to be wowed, but first you will have to wake up at 4am to begin the hike of King Kong Hill, itself not a particularly challenging endeavor that should take you no longer than an hour or two. Then wait for the sun to reveal a desert, the Sea of Sands, in which four volcanoes rise almost symmetrically in front of you, with the epic cone of Semeru framed on the distant horizon.
At 12,060 feet, it is the highest point of Java, and is incredibly active, erupting on average every 20 to 40 minutes. Want a sunrise shot of an erupting volcano from a safe distance? You have come to the right place.
Mount Bromo, a gaping hole in the ground, will most likely be doing something volcanic, like erupting, or smoking, or something like that. Stay for as long as you like. It will be hard to drag yourself away, but there is a volcano still to climb.
You can trek yourself down along the road and into the Sea of Sands, although you will probably be thrown into the back of an old Toyota Land Cruiser for the short drive.
The climb up Mount Bromo is another short affair, but it can be eerie, particularly if the volcano is making a loud, banging noise.
7. The Narrows, Zion National Park, USA
This might end up being the most unique hike on this list, mainly because it is done through a river. The North Fork of the Virgin River to be precise. And it is pretty spectacular.
If you are mad for adventure, have a go at the “Top-Down Route”, a 16-mile slog that could take you as long as 13 hours, and will require a very good level of fitness. But if you are in it just for the good views, take the most popular trail up the river to see steep canyon walls with mind-blowing rock formations.
Just be aware that you are trekking on a river, which comes with its very own unique set of challenges. Make sure you do the appropriate research on flow rates and flash flooding risks before attempting anything like this.
8. Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal
Day hikes in the Nepal Himalaya are a bit like hen’s teeth. Rare. Normally you have to wander for days deep into the mountains to get to the giants. With Sarangkot, not so. It is a three-hour uphill climb from Pokhara, and sits at 5,300 feet above sea-level, so none of that annoying altitude stuff to deal with.
Yet what makes this day hike so special, is that you wander in the company of the Annapurna Massif, dominating the other side of the valley, crowned by Annapurna I, which at 26,545 feet is the tenth highest mountain in the world. Throw in the Fishtail Mountain, the Dhaulagiri Range and then views of Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world, and you start to get the picture. These are BIG mountains!
Pack an overnight bag and stay the night in Sarangkot. It is renowned the world over for its stunning sunrises, and you wouldn’t really want to miss that now. Would you?
Related content: Can You Trek in Nepal Without a Guide?
9. Harding Ice Field, Alaska, USA
Stretching for some 700 square miles, the Harding Ice field is a huge, frozen chunk in the Kenai Fjords National Park, and the basis for a stunning 6 – 8-hour hike. Be prepared to gain a thousand vertical feet every mile you walk. It is enough to classify this as a lung-buster.
This hike takes you back into the ice age, and really is one of the most spectacularly remote places on Earth. And it is bear country too. So be careful. Or better yet, join one of the ranger-guided walks during the summer months of July and August, so that they can deal with the bears for you. Damn, that’s good advice!
10. Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand
I was lucky enough to explore the acclaimed Tongariro Crossing just last month, and can now say that it deserves its fame. The stunning 12-mile point-to-point trek takes you within touching-distance of active volcanoes and around blue and emerald lakes.
It is a world away from the lush green usually associated with New Zealand, and you enter a desert-like lunar landscape, with the volcanic history of the region preserved in perfect detail.
Mount Ngauruhoe, which is actually Mount Doom from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, keeps you company for much of the morning, before you wander past shimmering, clear volcanic lakes and finally through an alpine forest.
From the top you can enjoy views over Lake Taupo, home of the largest eruption on Earth in the last 70,000 years, and to Mount Taranaki, probably the closest nature has come to producing a perfectly-symmetrical mountain.
You can read more about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing here.
Distance: 12 miles
Time: 6 – 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 2,625 feet of elevation gain and 3,691 feet of elevation loss (if you go the Mangatepopo to Ketetahi direction)
11. Laguna De Los Tres, Patagonia, Argentina
This is Argentina’s answer to Chile’s Torres del Paine. And what an answer it is. The Patagonian twin sister of Mirador Las Torres, the Laguna De Los Tres is an unbelievably delicious day hike, taking in the three magnificent peaks of Mount Fitz Roy, Aguja Poincenot and Cerro Torre.
With jagged peaks and rumbling rivers, hanging glaciers and luscious lakes, this hike thoroughly deserves its place in this list. It begins right on the doorsteps on El Chalten, an oasis for all things trekking.
If you have the time, break this trek down into two days and get up early to see the sunrise on the granite spires. If you are lucky (and I am sure you will be) the rock will glow a shade of red you have never seen before. It really is magical.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 8 hours return
Elevation: 2,300 feet
12. Laguna 69, Los Andes, Peru
What self-respecting list would not feature a hike from Peru? So we go to Huaraz, and the Cordillera Blanca, an exceptionally beautiful ‘tropical ice-cap’ mountain range in northern Peru.
It is a good altitude acclimatization day in preparation for some of the longer treks in the region, such as the Santa Cruz Trek and the world-renowned Huayhuash Circuit.
Related content: Santa Cruz Trek in 4 Days – Trip Report and Guide
However, Laguna 69 is a feast for the eyes, a magical blue lake high up in the mountains, surrounded by jagged snow-capped peaks everywhere you look.
Huaraz is a trekker paradise in itself, and it would be a great idea to go an explore this region, which also features Huascaran, the highest mountain in Peru, and the largest tropical mountain on Earth. Go and see the glaciers while they are still around. If global warming continues at the current rate, they will be gone within 50 years.
13. Subashiri Trail, Mount Fuji, Japan
The Japanese proverb goes, “A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice.” So you may as well do it right the first time, with the path less-traveled.
The Subashiri Trail begins at 6,400 feet and heads up Japan’s most prominent landmark, the 12,388-foot volcano. It is a big day out. Expect the climb to take between five to seven hours, while allow two to four hours for the descent, depending on how good your knees are. Or how much rugby you played in your youth, in my case.
Maybe allow some extra time for the crowds, if visiting in the peak season months of July and August, when you can expect some 300,000 hopeful climbers on the slopes. And no, that is not a typo. Although the Subashiri Trail is quieter, it does converge with other trails at times, and can get congested during the morning rush hour(s).
14. Puez-Odle, Dolomites, Italy
This UNESCO World Heritage Site in north-east Italy is home to this face-numbing 9-mile day hike. And the best thing… you can skip 2,300 vertical feet of climbing by taking a chairlift to the trail head. Isn’t that convenient?
It is hard to fathom the scale of the Dolomites and the canyon-like, forest-filled valleys that stretch on for days, for as far as the eyes can see. And then walk through those U-shaped valleys with the canyon walls rising sharply all around. It is a unique experience, and a wonderful trek.
Distance: 9 miles
Time: 6 – 7 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,640 feet ascent, 3,610 feet descent
15. Rockbound Lake, Canada
It is not fair to give Canada just one place in this list. And it is even more unfairerer to make me pick one. So eenie meenie miney moe – I pick Banff National Park’s Rockbound Lake.
Wander through canyons and lovely pine forests, past glinting emerald lakes and towering rock formations. There is something to see everywhere you look. If the weather is clear, the impressive frame of Mount Rundle dominates a corner of the world, and then rolls away, for as far as the eye can see.
If you are lucky, the weather will be still, offering remarkable mirror-image reflections of mountains upside-down in lakes.
16. Mt Sinai, Egypt
If you would like to climb to the supposed site where Moses received the Ten Commandments, then I have the perfect hike for you! This five-hour return classic is often attempted pre-dawn, with a view to catching the sunrise over the desert.
After taking the summit, join the crowds for a visit of St Catherine’s monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can still visit an actual bush that claims to be a descendant of the one from the Bible. You know, the burning bush.
17. Ben Nevis, Scottish Highlands
Being the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, Ben Nevis attracts a great deal of attention – about 150,000 people climb it every year – but what about getting off the traditional, well-trodden path and climbing this mountain the way it should be climbed?
Get ready for an epic day in the mountains, climbing Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, involving a big 4,940-foot ascent, before a long airy traverse of the arete. It is for experienced hikers only, but it has been described as the finest way to climb Ben Nevis.
You will need to allow at least 11 hours for this epic 11-mile hike. A mile an hour. Shows how tough it is, right? You can find out more about this awesome day hike, and about the best day hikes in Scotland here.
18. Sentinel Peak, South Africa
Adrenalin junkies, listen up! There is a hike at the bottom of Africa that climbs to the top of the second highest waterfall in the world, the 3,110-foot Tugela Falls, over chain ladders hung across vertical rock faces. Does that sound like you? Read on, read on…
This 7.5-mile hike in the awesomely-named Drakensberg, or Dragon’s Mountains, is in the Royal Natal National Park in the Kwazulu-Natal Province. Experience the vast natural amphitheater, look out for troops of baboons, and enjoy it all with relatively few other people around.
The views into the valley below are nothing short of astonishing, and the scale of the place can leave you with your jaw bouncing off the ground.
19. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii, USA
The magic of this hike comes from wandering to a remote beach, accessible only to those with a like-minded sense of adventure. If your idea of Hawaii is of lush coastlines and steep, dramatic mountain faces that climb away from the sea, then this is the hike for you.
Most people camp overnight, before coming back the next day, but this is short enough to be classed as a day hike.
20. Hooker Valley Trail, New Zealand
There is not a better (or easier) way to get among the mountains than with New Zealand’s Hooker Valley Trail. This 6-mile return trail keeps you in the shadow of Mount Cook, the country’s highest mountain.
The trail is flat and the return walking time is no longer than three hours. A pretty easy time to get among glaciers.