Some roads are best travelled alone, while others must be visited at least once. As a solo traveller, you can go almost anywhere, take any trail, and go as far as you want. Conquering a challenging route in a treacherous land not only gives you bragging rights but also the reward of a lifetime.
For the lone adventurer, pushing beyond your limits at some of the world’s harshest but starkly beautiful places can be an eye-opening experience. And here’s where to find the most epic hiking trails for solo travellers:
Shikoku Pilgrimage, Japan
An ancient trail that wraps around the coast of Shikoku Prefecture, this 12,000-km route winds through 88 historic Buddhist temples and over 20 Bangais (unofficial temples) hidden among forests and river creeks. A physically taxing journey that can take more than a month to complete, Shikoku Pilgrimage is a trial for the mind, body, and spirit. By hiking across this mountainous path, you’ll venture deep into the heart of Zen Buddhist culture and discover some of the most scenic and underdeveloped parts of Japan. Along the way, you’ll encounter overgrown hillsides populated by hundreds of jizo statues. Complete the pilgrimage by visiting all 88 temples and carry out Zen Buddhist rituals within their incensed halls.
When to go: Spring season to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom or Autumn when red maples cover the mountains in a sea of crimson.
What to expect: A transcendental journey that cleanses the mind, body, and spirit. Expect to go through forest-covered hillsides, river creeks, and climb many flights of stairs to hidden temples.
Pacific Crest Trail, USA
Featured in the novel and movie, Wild, this 43,000-km trail travels across high elevations through 25 national forests and seven national parks. Passing through several state lines, PCT meanders south from British Columbia, merging with the Forester Path in the Sierra Nevada mountains, before ending at the U.S. – Mexico border. On this gruelling hike through the untouched wilderness, you’ll traverse across the Mojave Desert to snowy mountain range soaring over 13,000-ft above sea level. Only a handful of hikers have fully completed the journey on foot, let alone doing a round trip yo-yo hike.
When to go: Late April to late September.
What to expect: Untamed wilderness that stretches across diverse geologies, ranging from arid desert, river valleys, forests to snowy mountains.
Inca Trail, Peru
A legendary hike to one of the most iconic archeological sites in the world, the Inca Trail is the rocky path intrepid travellers take to reach Macchu Picchu. At 43-km long, this trail passes through the Andean mountains, weaving across Alpine tundra, cloud forests, and several ancient settlements and ruins. Hikers usually take four to five days to complete this trail, which takes them upward to an altitude of around 4,000-m above seas level along the spine of mist-covered valleys. A highly popular hiking trail, you’ll find many tourists attempting to conquer the path throughout peak seasons. Although there is a limit placed on the numbers of people allowed on the trail at any given time, a shorter, alternative route, KM 104, will also take you to Macchu Picchu with considerably fewer crowds.
When to go: May to October.
What to expect: A challenging, undulating trail that crawls along high altitudes and across several types of environments, including cloud forests, Alpine tundra, jungle-covered river valleys, ancient ruins and settlements.
Tonquin Valley, Canada
With raw, majestic landscape made famous by the photographer, Ansel Adams, Tonquin Valley trail is a 44-km horseshoe-shaped pass carved along the western valleys of Jasper National Park. For many, the high points of this hike are the two silvery Amethyst Lakes, which perfectly mirror the snowcapped peaks of The Ramparts on their crystal-clear surfaces. Most hikers take around four days to circle around to the other end of the trailhead. Throughout the journey, you’ll encounter local wildlife frequently along the Eremite Valley, including caribou, moose, and grizzly bear.
When to go: Early summer to early fall.
What to expect: postcard-perfect sceneries, local wildlife roaming across vast green valleys, and crystalline lakes creating a mirror image of nearby mountain ranges.
Bay of Fires, Australia
With turquoise waters lapping against white-sand beaches dotted by rust-coloured boulders, Bay of Fires is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful corners of Tasmania. Stretching from Binalong Bay to Eddystone Point, this 70-km long nature’s reserve covers parts of Mount William National Park and a swath of oceanfront land brimming with indigenous wildlife. Walk a few miles along the orange lichen-covered granites on the bay’s remote beaches, and you’ll encounter dramatic landscapes painted in contrasting colours. Most hikers take around three to five days to complete the trek, passing by crystal-blue ocean inlets, verdant hills, and steep rock gullies along the way.
When to go: October to May.
What to expect: Quiet, remote beaches along the bay’s trademark orange-red boulders by the coast. There are plenty of quiet campsites, but you can always opt for staying at nearby eco-lodges.
Everest Base Camp, Nepal
You can pat yourself on the back for having made it this far. It’s not every day someone makes it this close to the top of the world. While you won’t be ascending Mount Everest on this hike, this trek is both gruelling as it is eye-opening. Most trekkers take the South Base Camp route, which reaches an altitude of 5,545-m above sea level at the foothill of the icy Kala Patthar peak. The three-week journey starts from the remote village of Lukla in northeastern Nepal before travelling up elevations to Sherpa villages, river valleys, and cutting across icefalls. During the spring season, shrubs and wildflowers are in full bloom on lower elevations, offering a nice contrast to the frozen Everest just above the horizon.
When to go: Spring and Fall seasons.
What to expect: An arduous hike to the base of the highest mountain in the world, stopping by remote Sherpa villages, river valleys, frozen icefalls, and haunting landscapes that can’t be seen anywhere else.
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