Summer sun has finally arrived in North America, which means one thing. Many people are planning their summer vacations. For some people, that means hitting the beach or spending long weekends relaxing at the cottage. For you, the story is a little different. Hiking and backpacking are calling your name, sending you on adventures through deep woods and up mountainsides. You might stay close to home, or you may wander farther afield, crisscrossing international borders.
There’s often no better way to get acquainted with a country than to spend some time on its trails. You’ll get up close and personal with nature. You might need the help of a local guide to keep you on the right path. The experience of conquering a difficult hike or viewing a rare vista is all worth it at the end.
Some hikes are more challenging than others. If you’re an expert backpacker, you may want to check out some of the toughest trails the Americas have to offer up. These trails offer challenge, adventure, and a serious sense of accomplishment at the end. Did we mention they’re often gorgeous too? Backpacking beginners, don’t fret. If you’re not ready to tackle these behemoth trails just yet, you have plenty of choice when it comes to stunning hikes. We’ve also picked 10 of the most stunning and easy hikes you can tackle as you work your way up to tougher and tougher trails.
20 Arizona's Bright Angel Trail Seems Deceptively Easy
To an experienced hiker, a 9.5-mile trek sounds like a walk in the park. At most, this hike will take you 3 hours through the Grand Canyon, past the Colorado River. Don’t let the duration fool you: Bright Angel Trail sees many unprepared hikers, and around 200 rescues are needed each year.
The inclusion of rest stations and water resources along the trail should tell you what you’re in for. The hike is almost all uphill, seeing trekkers climb 4,500 feet through the oppressive canyon heat. The canyon traps heat, and temperatures often soar above 110F.
Come prepared and join a guide-led walk to appreciate the gorgeous 360-degree views of the multi-hued Grand Canyon all the more.
19 This Chilean Trek Has “Paine” In The Name
The Torres del Paine circuit through Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park is breathtaking. The trek will take you through 75 miles of Chilean Patagonia, South America’s tundra landscape. The “loop” takes about 7 days to complete, but you’ll also take rest days in between, extending your hiking adventure to about 12 days total.
And you’ll need those rest days. This is an extreme hike, featuring rocky footpaths, 90-degree uphill climbs, icy river crossings, slippery snow cover, and unpredictable weather. The stunning scenery, including the famous “horns” or “towers” and the Grey and Dickson Glaciers, is your reward for tackling this lesser-visited part of Chile.
18 Hawaii’s Kalalau Trail Is A Treacherous Hike Through Paradise
The Kalalau Trail winds its way around the gorgeous Na Pali Coast of Kuai’I, one of the Hawaiian Islands. Here you’ll find everything Hawaii is famed for: thick tracks of isolated jungle, steep volcanic slopes, and pristine, undeveloped beaches at the end of the hike. The 22-mile round-trip may indeed seem like a hike through paradise.
Backpackers beware, though! Kalalau’s narrow, cliffside trails are known for their extreme inclines and declines. Mudslides and falling rocks are omnipresent dangers. You’ll need to cross 3 major streams, which can swell with rainfall, and Crawler’s Ledge can be treacherous. And those beautiful beaches? They’re more dangerous than they seem at first glance, having committed many a hiker to the deep.
17 Get Off The Beaten Path In Peru’s Cordillera Blanca
Peru has many famous hikes, including the trail to Machu Picchu. The country’s more demanding trails will quickly weed out the tourists from the trekkers, however, which is likely why the Santa Cruz Trek through Peru’s Cordillera Blanca (White Mountains) is the road less traveled.
This 31-mile trail presents a 3- or 4-day trek showcasing rivers, lakes, and mountains. Be warned: This isn’t a trail for beginners. Even experienced hikers should go with a group or guide, as you’ll summit a peak of 15,580 feet during this trek! You’ll set out from Huaraz, any time between April and September. You’ll spend most of the morning walking, and you’ll make camp around 2 in the afternoon as the weather closes in.
16 You Might Get Lost In Utah’s Breathtaking Maze
Nobody is being overdramatic when they call this trail a maze; that’s quite literally its name. This remote section of Canyonlands National Park is a labyrinth of red rock, dead-ends, and gullies. It’s quite difficult to reach, taking about 3 hours by 4x4. It’s even harder to navigate.
Still, you may want to be one of the 2,000 annual visitors to this confusing and precarious natural wonder. You might glimpse the famous Chocolate Drops formation or view the ancient petroglyphs left on the rocks by Native peoples centuries ago.
Most people make the Maze a multi-day adventure. Talk to guides and read park communications before you embark. Rockfall and flash flooding is common here, so keep your wits about you.
15 Hike Machu Picchu’s Lesser-Known Sister Trail
Peru’s most popular attraction is the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. If you’ve seen a picture of Machu Picchu, however, you’ve also glimpsed the more treacherous and challenging hike: Huayna Picchu - That huge rock that towers over Machu Picchu in the background of most photos you've seen.
Huayna Picchu is the green slope that flanks the back of Machu Picchu’s ruins, and it provides a serious hike.
Nicknamed “the hike of death,” you’ll climb up an ancient Incan staircase carved from slippery granite, gaining 1,000 feet in altitude over the course of 1 mile.
You’ll brave mist, cloud cover, and tropical showers, but you’ll get the ruins to yourself. If that’s still not tough enough, continue to the caves below. Plan accordingly, however. Huayna Picchu is sometimes completely closed during the rainy season.
14 California’s Mist Trail Is a Lightning Hazard
The Mist Trail is a very popular hike through Yosemite National Park’s famous Half Dome. Around 3,000 people head up the trail every day during the summer, which might trick you into thinking this 14.5-mile, round-trip hike is literally and figuratively a walk in the park.
Don’t be fooled. The Mist Trail still has its tricky spots. The sleek, steep path around Vernal and Nevada Falls can become quite slippery. Further up the trail, you’ll need the assistance of steel cables to finish the ascent of the last 400 feet of trail. Rainfall can make the cables and the ground slippery, and lightning is a serious threat. No wonder you need to obtain a permit to summit beforehand.
13 Challenge Yourself On Canada’s Most Dangerous Trail
The West Coast Trail had a noble purpose when it was carved in 1907. It was created to help save shipwreck survivors. Today, the trail is known as Canada’s most dangerous. It features a mountain climb, with bridges, ladders, and staircases like those pictured here. To say it’s tricky to traverse is something of an understatement.
Covering a total of 75 kilometers (47 miles), the West Coast Trail will bring you face to face with some of Canada’s wildest.
You’ll need to keep an eye out for bears and cougars along the course of this trek.
The good news is you can pick your starting point. The easiest access point is the Pacheena Bay Trailhead.
12 Trek Through The Jungle To A Lost City
It’s little wonder Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida is considered lost. The trek will take you 5 to 7 days to complete. You’ll hike through dense jungle across steep and uneven paths, climbing nearly 4,000 feet over the course of the hike. You’ll traverse rivers, which can be chest-deep during the rainy season in October and November. On top of it all, the weather is likely to be sticky and humid.
It’s one of the world’s most challenging hikes. Those who complete it are rewarded with a glimpse of the Teyuna ruins, built by Tayrona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries and “forgotten” until the 1970s. Pair with a local guide and head out of Santa Marta to tackle this trail.
11 Ecuador’s “Avenue Of Volcanoes” Is About As Extreme As It Gets
Some people climbed Ecuador’s Cotopaxi volcano and thought, “Why stop at just one?” Thus a tour of the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” was born. This 5-day trek will take you along around the highest volcano in the country. You can climb 4 massive volcanic peaks: Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Cayambe, and Antisana.
The good news is although Chimborazo is Ecuador’s highest volcano, the trek isn’t too technically difficult. Still, it’s best to come prepared if you plan to conquer the Chimborazo Circuit. You’ll climb more than 20,000 feet (6,200 meters) up Chimborazo. Around 5,000 meters up, you’ll rest at the Whymper hut, surrounded by ice and snow, and take in the stunning views.
10 Lassen Peak Trail Is A Better Way To Summit A Volcano
If you read about climbing up Chimborazo and cringed, just know there’s a better way to summit a volcano. You can head to California’s Lassen Peak Trail and conquer one of the Cascades’ massive volcanoes. Lassen Peak is the southernmost of the volcanic peaks and the largest of 30 volcanic domes in Northern California.
Around half the height of a giant like Chimborazo, Lassen Peak presents a relatively easy hike.
You’ll need to put in moderate effort for this 5-mile (8 kilometer) round-trip trek, but reaching the summit doesn’t require you to travel for hours across deadly terrain full of crevasses and falling rock.
Lassen Peak is a great way to get climbing a volcano under your belt!
9 Get Above The Clouds In Monteverde, Costa Rica
Monteverde and the St. Elena cloud forest are perhaps one of Costa Rica’s most famous natural attractions. Cloud forests are similar to rain forests, except clouds gather over the mountain, keeping everything misty and rain-damp. Here, you’ll find an amazing abundance of wildlife. In fact, the sheer biodiversity of the area is one of Monteverde’s tourist draws. The views from the top aren’t bad either.
Monteverde offers some fairly accessible hiking for being in the mountains. There are many trails to choose from, and the wide paths are well-kept. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can also try ziplining or bungee jumping.
8 The Muliwali Trail Is Still Challenging For Beginners
Some people consider Hawaii’s Muliwali Trail quite rigorous, and beginners will indeed find a challenge waiting for them here. Although it’s not the easiest trail, it’s still suitable if you’re just starting out, and it’s much more accessible than some of Hawaii’s other trails, such as the Kalalau Trail.
Before you undertake this popular 28-mile trek through the Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys, you’ll want to do some training beforehand. The trail presents many of the same hazards as Kalalau, and it also has many staircases you’ll need to ascend and descend. All that stepping will pay off with views of the gorgeous scenery of tropical paradise and even a glimpse of a black sand beach.
7 Peru’s Most Popular Trail Is Also The Most Friendly
Machu Picchu, high in the Andes Mountains, requires a trek to reach. Luckily, the hike through the jungle on the ancient Incan Trail is surprisingly easy. The trail will take you from Sacred Valley to the lofty heights of Machu Picchu. You’ll wind 20 miles (33 kilometers) up and down mountains, across 3 high passes, and through cloud forests, approximating the journey the ancient Incas would have undertaken to reach the sacred city.
Perhaps South America’s most famous trail, the Inca Trail can be conquered in a day thanks to more tourist-friendly hiking options. Although it's also common for hikers to take the 4-day trek. No matter what you choose, be sure to book in advance.
6 Take In The Tundra On The Harding Icefield Trail
If the thought of jungle treks make you break out in a sweat, consider heading north for some stunning hikes. The Kenai Peninsula of southern Alaska will take you through a frozen wilderness, where snow can dust the trail until July.
Kenai Fjords National Park is a spoils of natural wonders, including the Harding Icefield, the famous Exit Glacier, and numerous fjords. A 1.6-mile trail and an hour’s hike take you directly to the foot of the glacier. The icefield itself is a little more difficult, taking you a little more than 8 miles through the Alaskan tundra and gaining about 1,000 feet in altitude. You can make the trip suit your ability by taking in just part of it.
5 Meander Through The Forest And Summit Mount Erskine
If the West Coast Trail sounded far too taxing or dangerous, you may want to consider the climb up Mount Erskine. Hop a ferry from the north shore of Vancouver and take a short ride to Salt Spring Island. From there, you’ll head out of town to the base of Mount Erskine.
This trek is a short 2 kilometers long, but it’s steep. You’ll meander through the forest, checking for whimsical fairy houses along the way. At the end, you’ll reach an outcrop, presenting you with a gorgeous vista of the surrounding area. If you were hoping to escape wildlife encounters on the West Coast Trail, be warned. Residents say a cougar lives on the island!
4 The Appalachian Trail Lets You Select Your Difficulty
The Appalachian Trail can be as difficult or as easy as you like. The trail spans 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers), running through 14 American states. If you want to truly test your trekking skills, you could decide to tackle the entire length of the trail, heading south from Maine’s Baxter State Park, or trekking northwards from Georgia’s Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area.
If you’re looking for a more relaxing experience, you can easily choose chunks of the trail to explore. You can wind your way through the Eastern United States, exploring different states and appreciating the beauty of the ancient Appalachians mountain chain. Whether it’s the Catskills in New York or the Blue Ridge Mountains, stunning vistas await.
3 Get Away From It All In Colombia’s Valle de Cocora
Hop in a jeep and head about 45 minutes out of Salento, into the Colombian wilderness. There you’ll find a mostly uninhabited, rural area known as the Valle de Cocora. The trails here aren’t necessarily the easiest treks in the Americas, but they’re incredibly beautiful and deeply rewarding. You’ll trek for a total of about 5 or 6 hours along a rocky trail, crossing creeks and rickety wooden bridges.
Here you can glimpse the world’s tallest species of palm tree, the Wax Palm, which can reach heights of 230 feet. Rising beyond the trees, you’ll glimpse the Andean volcanoes known as Los Nevados. A cloud forest, waterfalls, and an abundance of colorful wildlife will round out your experience.
2 Horseshoe Canyon Is A Great Canyonlands National Park Alternative
If you read about Utah’s Maze trails and shook your head, you might want to consider another Canyonlands National Park trek. Horseshoe Canyon has many of the same great features, including typical Canyonlands red-rock scenery, without the bewildering construction of the Maze.
Horseshoe Canyon is still a trek. You’ll want to allow about 5 hours to complete the 10.5-kilometer hike. It features a relatively mild ascent and descent. The sun is your enemy here. Midday temperatures can get quite high, especially since canyons trap heat. Bring plenty of water.
If you choose to undertake this trek, you’ll be rewarded with glimpses of Utah’s ravishing red rocks, in addition to the Great Gallery - a rock wall covered with ancient petroglyphs.
1 Conquer The World’s Second Largest Canyon With An Easy Trek
Colca Canyon in Peru is the world’s second biggest canyon, right after Peru’s own Cotahuasi Canyon. At 4,160 meters, Colca is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. And you can conquer it! You’ll start out in Arequipa and walk down into the canyon. The trekking here is fairly easy, so you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the steep cliff walls and the diving condors (one of the biggest birds on the planet).
You’ll spend the night in the canyon. On Day 2, you’ll need to climb back up out of the gorge, which is more difficult. A reward awaits you in Arequipa. A well-deserved dip in the hot springs will help you soothe sore muscles and appreciate the astounding power of nature.
References: Outsideroneline, iExplore, Lonelyplanet, MyWildEarth, National Geographic, Backpacker