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The classic treks have plenty of scenery, culture, and wildlife, but they also have hundreds or thousands of yearly visitors you have to share it with. And once the dust settles and the vitamin D-deprived masses hit the trail, those very classics will be the most trafficked. Try one of these lesser-known trails for equal natural beauty—and even better chances of wildlife spotting—in blissful solitude.
Instead of the West Highland Way, Scotland, try Glyndŵr’s Way, Wales
Follow in the footsteps of Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh prince who led Wales’ unsuccessful final war of independence against England in the early 15th century, on this 135-mile trek through one of the least-inhabited regions of Britain. Tracing the marching path of Glyndŵr’s troops through moors, forests and rolling hills, this route passes the ruins of Cwmhir Abbey before climbing past Llyn Clywedog—an artificial reservoir—to the trail’s high point, 1,530-foot Foel Fadian. From Foel Fadian hikers drop back into the Dyfnant Forest before reaching the migratory bird haven of Lake Vyrnwy, where you can spot peregrine falcons and siskins (see them year-round) beneath mountain slopes and tumbling waterfalls. Finish at 13th-century Powis Castle in Welshpool, then hit up one of the several local pubs for a celebratory post-hike meal of Welsh rarebit.
Contact National Trails: Glynŵr’s Way Length 9 days, 134.8 miles
Instead of Tour du Mont Blanc, Switzerland/Italy/France, try Tour de Monte Rosa, Switzerland/Italy
More than 35,000 feet of elevation gain discourage less-hardy visitors from tackling this circumnavigation of the glacier-hung Monte Rosa Massif, but that just means you’ll share the trail with more locals than tourists. Most hikers start and end in Zermatt, easing into the route with stays at Swiss alpine huts before dropping into the remote villages of the Italian section. The views start spectacular and only get better; the Matterhorn, the Breithorn, and of course Monte Rosa itself dip in and out of view throughout the nine-day trek. Hit the trail’s high point—literally—at 10,810 foot Theodul Pass, where the trail crosses Theodul Glacier below the looming cliffs of the Matterhorn.
Contact Zermatt Tourism Length 7-9 days, 86.9 miles
Instead of the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal, try the Chandrashila Trek, India
With a Himalayan summit, bright-blooming rhododendron forest, and one of the highest Shiva temples in the world, the Chandrashila Trek has all you need for a life-list Himalayan hike and none of Annapurna’s crowds. After the first three miles, where you’ll share the trail with pilgrims on their way to Tungnath Temple, more songbirds than hikers crowd the hillside. The bigtime views really start past treeline: Nanda Devi, Mandani Parvat, and every other major summit in the Indian state of Uttarakhand are visible from the 12,083-foot summit of Chandrashila.
Contact India Hikes Length 3-5 days, 16.8 miles
Instead of the Laugavegur Trail, Iceland, try Hesteyri to Kögur Loop, Iceland
Sheep outnumber people in the Westfjords, where the 42-mile Hesteyri to Kögur Loop winds through roadless Hornstrandir Peninsula. Long, narrow mountains rise between the fjords, where the trail winds between cliff bands and grassy meadows without a tree in sight. Tiny towns huddle close at their gentler edges, while the backs of peaks like Kögur—the loop’s second-to-last campsite—drop straight into the sea. Watch for arctic foxes on the hillsides and humpbacked whales in the fjords, where they will swim nearly to the beach if the water is deep enough.
Contact Visit Westfjords Length 4-7 days, 42 miles
Instead of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, try Mount Mulanje, Malawi
It may not be the “roof of Africa,” but what Mulanje lacks in sheer height, it also lacks in traffic. The highest peak in Central Africa at 9,852 feet, Mount Mulanje rises abruptly from the tea-growing plains of Chizardzulu in a burst of granite cliffs. Mulanje is actually the name of the entire massif, home to cedar forests, kestrels, and a tiny antelope called the klipspringer; the highest point, Sapitwa, is a rounded granite peak at the massif’s southwest end. Six different routes bring you to the high point, traipsing through green valleys draped with waterfalls and past big walls lousy with prime granite climbing, including a few fully-bolted multipitch routes. You can hire a guide (required) and make a reservation for one of the eight huts scattered over Mulanjeat Likabula Forest Lodge.
Contact Malawi Tourism Length 3-5 days and 15-25.5 miles, depending on route