Spend a little or spend a lot. Tackle a big challenge or take it easy. Whatever you do, get out there. The world won’t give you an invitation, but we’ll do the next best thing with life-list picks from our scouts: pro photographers, travel writers, and staff. Now clear a spot on the 2017 calendar and fill it with one of these epic trips.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
You don’t need to leave the country to have a week of adventure you’ll never forget. Just head to southern Utah’s Escalante region and explore the sculpted sandstone playground along Hole-in-the-Rock Road. From a basecamp along the dirt road (primitive car-camping available; BYO water), spend a few days hiking the area’s legendary slot canyons. Many narrow to just a few feet wide and conceal eroded rock that’s more like art than geology. Try Red Breaks canyon (takes all day) and a loop connecting Spooky and Peek-a-boo slots (shorter). Next: Backpack Coyote Gulch, one of the Southwest’s premier multiday trips. It’s 13 miles down to the Escalante River, so allow three to four days to explore the canyon’s arches, amphitheaters, and rock art. Season Spring and fall; beware of flash floods. Permit Required (free) for all overnight trips Estimated cost $500
–William M. Rochfort, Jr., contributing editor
Long Range Traverse, Gros Morne National Park, Canada
Newfoundland is only a three-hour flight from New York, but the scenery here will make you feel like you spent a lot more time in the air. From the sheer-walled fjord of Western Brook Pond to the vast tundra of the Long Range Mountains, Gros Morne serves up one of North America’s biggest backcountry prizes: a 26-mile, off-trail adventure that’s so challenging (due to remoteness and fickle weather), the park requires a mandatory orientation before you start hiking. Start the route with a one-hour boat ride beneath 2,000-foot cliffs up Western Brook Pond. From sea level you’ll climb 1,800 vertical feet to the plateau, where you’ll find only caribou trails. Tip: On the first day, skip the tent platforms at Little Island Pond and target Marks Pond (mile 7.1) for a more tranquil campsite. Spend at least three nights on this route and finish at James Callaghan trailhead. Season July 1 to October 15 Permit Required ($83 CAD/person, includes park entry; reservations are $25 CAD/group.)
–Adam Roy, Associate Digital Editor
An Teallach Traverse, Scotland
Pack sticky shoes for this all-day Highlands scramble. The 12-mile route crosses open grassland before gaining a rocky, horseshoe-shaped ridge punctuated by two Munros (peaks over 3,000 feet). But here the summits are just icing; the real prize is the knife-edge traverse, which you might want to literally straddle at some points. Take a rest on Lord Berkeley’s Seat, a rock throne with peak-and-water views that drop away hundreds of feet. Sneak-arounds let you bypass any portion of the ridge that looks too daunting, so any fit hiker can tackle the route. Combine this big day with a long-distance hike on the West Highland Way (moderate) or Cape Wrath Trail (hard). Season Summer Permit None
Huayhuash Circuit, Peru
Your Scouts: Dan and Janine Patitucci, adventure photographers based in Switzerland, dreamed of hiking the Huayhuash Circuit for years. “It’s a classic thanks to the whole package—the scenery, the people, everything,” Dan says.
With six peaks taller than 19,000 feet, the Cordillera Huayhuash should be on any list of the world’s great ranges. But the nearby Cordillera Blanca, slightly higher and easier to access, gets all the glory—and crowds.
Most of the 11-day Huayhuash trek is above 13,000 feet, with views of fluted mountains rising above green hills and blue lakes. The hike starts by following the Río Llamac before climbing over a 15,400-foot pass. The following days are filled with more passes, lakeside campsites, and peaks (including Peru’s second-highest mountain, 21,709-foot Yerupajá), as well as occasional small villages where Quechua-speaking locals farm and raise livestock in the thin air. A week in, look for views of ice-cloaked Siula Grande, where Joe Simpson, author of Touching the Void, was famously left for dead.
“The combination of scenery and culture makes this a lot like trekking in Nepal,” says photographer Dan Patitucci. But it’s a lot cheaper for hikers coming from the U.S.
Getting there Fly to Lima, then bus to Huaraz (the Chamonix of Peru). Your guide will arrange transport from there to Llamac and the trailhead. Season April to October GuideHuarascan Adventure Travel Agency; $440/person
–Dennis Lewon, Editor-in-Chief
Jungfrau Region, Switzerland
Your Scouts: Dan and Janine Patitucci
Glacier-rich mountains, well-signed and well-kept trails, and cozy huts: This three-day route from Grindelwald to Kandersteg serves up the quintessential Alps experience. Each day is about 12 miles, but with lots of elevation change you’ll be glad to have a light pack (no camping gear required).
Hike the Eiger Panorama Trail to Kleine Scheidegg, at the base of the Eiger. From there, walk (or train) to Lauterbrunnen and bus 15 minutes to Stechelberg, a tiny village surrounded by waterfalls. Sleep at the Alpenhof, a historic hotel located at the next day’s trailhead.
Climb a vertical mile to Sefina pass. You’ll hit Rotstock Hut just before the pass—and just in time for lunch. (All huts on this route serve food and drinks—and beds, with reservations.) Follow signs south to the glacier-view Gspaltenhorn Hut and spend the night.
Finish the descent to Gamchi Glacier, then climb steeply to Bluemlisalp Hut (and hope for freshly baked tarts). Continue down, beneath limestone walls, and skirt the mesmerizing Oeschinen, a turquoise lake at the base of a 7,000-foot wall of rock and ice. Descend to Kandersteg.
Getting there Fly to Zurich; train to Grindelwald Season July through September Hut
Tour du Mont Blanc, France/Switzerland/Italy
Long enough to feel like a thru-hike, short enough to do on a real-person vacation, the circumnavigation of 15,770-foot Mt. Blanc is the perfect full immersion into Alps trekking. Fast hikers can do the 110-mile route in a week, but allow at least 10 days and you won’t regret a single hour. The TMB roller coasters over seven passes as it circles the snow-capped pinnacle of western Europe. You can tent-camp or sleep in hostels, but we recommend treating yourself to the more luxe B&Bs where fondue and grappa (and beds) await. Start in Les Houches, France, and hike counterclockwise to save the best views of Mt. Blanc for the end. Season Midsummer to early fall; September is best for solitude Permit None
–Maren Horjus, Destinations Editor
Dientes Trek, Isla Navarino, Chile
Want to really get away from it all? Make your way to this Patagonian island, one stop north of Antarctica. Get to Puerto Williams, Chile, by boat or plane, and hike a five-day (roughly 35-mile) route into the Dientes (Teeth) de Navarino. Just a few miles from the sea, sharp rock fangs rise 3,000 feet. You’ll climb into the alpine tundra and camp beside lakes that sit below castle-like towers of rock (top spots: Del Salto, Escondida, Martillo, and Laguna Las Guanacos). This is raw Patagonia: Come prepared to deal with weather and navigation challenges (the route is mostly marked with cairns, but low visibility can set in any time). Still, it’s doable as a DIY trip for experienced backpackers. Toast your trip at the world’s coolest bar, the Micalvi, a half-sunken German boat. Season December to March Permit None
–Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, Rocky Mountain Field Editor
Overland Track, Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Tasmania
Think of this as the John Muir Trail of Australia: Permits are in high demand, and with good reason. The 40-mile Overland crosses Tasmania’s exotic interior, where you’ll walk through glacier-cut valleys, ancient eucalyptus forests, buttongrass moors, and alpine meadows where you’ll find some of the purest water in the world. Odds are good you’ll also see wallabies (kind of like small kangaroos). The route takes most hikers six days, but like the JMT, you get a start date and can go as fast or slow as you’d like (huts are basic and first-come, first-serve; pack a good tent and plan on using it). Tip: Permits are required only during the best hiking season (October 1 through May 31). Experienced backpackers who feel confident taking on colder conditions don’t need one. Season October through May for the best conditions, but Tasmanian weather can turn wet and cold anytime. Permit $200 AUD
–Annette McGivney, Southwest Field Editor
Five Passes Route, Mt. Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, New Zealand
If you want a hut hike without the crowds, check out the Tararua Peaks Traverse (left). But when you’re ready to experience New Zealand’s backcountry the way it was before huts were even a concept, tackle this 40-mile route. As the name suggests, it links five passes to cross Lord of the Rings territory that’s dominated by high peaks and deep valleys. Plan at least five days for the mostly off-trail hike, crossing Fohn Saddle, Fiery Col, Cow Saddle, Parks Pass, and Sugarloaf Pass. There’s nothing technical on the route, but South Island weather can be wet and cold any time of year; this is for experienced backpackers with good navigation skills and great raingear. But the reward is a side of New Zealand that even locals rarely see. Season December to March Permit None
–Ted Alvarez, Northwest Field Editor
Lofoten Archipelago, Norway
Not sure if you’re on the trail in Norway? No worries. The country’s “freedom to roam” law allows you to hike and camp basically anywhere that’s not right next to someone’s house. You can also stay in rorbus, which are converted fishermen’s huts (basic and affordable, like mountain huts). Best plan: Rent a car and link the following trips. Reinebringen: a short, steep dayhike with sea-to-summit views close to where the ferry drops you off in Moskenesoya (consider camping on top to savor the vista). Kvalvika Beach: Target the more secluded southern section of this hike-in coast; reach it via a little rock scrambling aided by fixed chains and rungs. Justadtinden: A long dayhike (eight hours round-trip) to this 2,400-foot mountain yields 360-degree views of the island paradise. Season May to August Permit None
–Kevin Corrigan, contributor
Tararua Peaks Traverse, New Zealand
Your Scouts: Pro photographers Matt and Agnes Hage, based in Alaska, have had a love affair with New Zealand for years, returning repeatedly in search of hidden adventures. “We saw a picture of that ladder hanging down a collection of volcanic spires and knew we had to check it out,” Agnes says.
“The track across the Tararua ‘tops’ is like a catwalk across the sky,” says photographer Matt Hage. “The ridge drops a thousand feet away on each side.” Add the primal beech forests, the Kiwi-style aid (a hanging ladder), and the cozy huts, and you have a New Zealand classic that only New Zealanders know about. “We had only locals for company,” he says. Too good to be true? Keep in mind that the exposure is not for the faint-hearted, and the area is plagued by bad weather, so allow time to target clear skies. You’ll have better footing and expansive views of the Marlborough Sounds and the Kaikoura Mountains. Connect the Kime, Anderson Memorial, and Waitewaewae Huts to make a 29-mile loop. Getting there Start at Otaki Forks, a 1.5-hour drive from Wellington. Season December to March Permit None, but hut fee is required ($5 NZ/night; first-come, first serve) )
Amphu Lapcha Pass, Nepal
Your Scouts: Dan and Janine Patitucci
Ever wished you could have trekked Nepal a couple generations ago, before tea houses and Everest mania took over? This is your trip. A technical, 19,000-foot pass keeps the casual trekking crowd away, leaving the region to hikers who want a Himalayan challenge with their Himalayan views.
The three-week trek starts in bustling Lukla, but you head east while the Everest crowds go west. After two days, you’ll join the Mera Peak Trail and continue for a week through forested valleys and increasingly alpine terrain (expect to see a few more people on this section).
Then the villages (and trekkers) vanish and it’s five days of wilderness camping as you climb to the head of the Hunku Valley. From here, the only way forward is over Amphu Lapcha Pass. “You’ll look at the wall above and think, No way!” says Janine Patitucci. But there is indeed a way through the glacial maze, followed by a series of rappels on the descent. Continue to the town of Chukhung and views of Lhotse, Nupste, and Ama Dablam.
You’re back in the Khumbu crowds here, but the guesthouses, restaurants, and web access will likely be welcome. Finish the loop: Hike five days to Lukla.
Getting there Fly to Lukla from Kathmandu. Season Spring and fall Guide Thamserku Trekking ($2,600 / person)