Conquering a mammoth trail through some of the world’s most astonishing landscapes isn’t only about bragging (although it certainly can be), but primarily about facing your fears, testing your endurance (both physical and mental), and achieving something you never thought you could in a truly spectacular part of the world — and who wouldn’t brag about that? The world’s most epic trails for bragging rights are awe-inspiring and brutal challenges that, ultimately, make for unforgettable and rewarding adventures for all types of thrill seekers. Here are five of the best to add to your bucket-list:
W-walk, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Torres del Paine is Patagonia’s most famous national park, one that boasts an impressive array of unique wildlife and some of Latin America’s most incredible landscapes. Remote, volatile, pristine and arresting: that’s Torres del Paine in a nutshell. Here, you’ll see snow-capped volcanic peaks, glacial lakes, raging rivers and wild horses, all the while experiencing some of the world’s harshest climate.
Torres del Paine is the undisputed hiking king of the continent, and it boasts a collection of short and long trails for all types of thrill seekers. The W-walk, named after the shape of the trail when seen on a map, definitely belongs to the latter. This arduous 5-day, 80km-long trail guides you around a mesmerizing glacier, through a luscious forest set in a deeply-carved gorge framed by sky-reaching peaks, finally ending on a glacial lake. Sensational mountain views the entire time, a startling array of climatic changes that range from warm and balmy to eyeball-freezing cold, sprinkled with the kind of wind that threatens to send you home without the need for a plane. The scenery along this trail is unrivalled perhaps anywhere on earth, as is the satisfaction that comes from successfully completing it.
Verdict: The W-walk isn’t particularly difficult if it weren’t for that darn crazy climate. A guide is not necessary, although it’s advisable to trek this in company, should anything happen. At the height of trekking season here (October to March) there can be hundreds of people on the trail and although that’s comforting, it also means you must book your beds and meals in refugios well in advance.
Everest Base Camp, Nepal
My beautiful little friend Maya Bristol recently became the youngest Australian thrill seeker to trek to Everest Base Camp. She’s 6. I cried. Not because Maya trekked for 19 days straight (she’s used to that sort of thing with her adventurous parents), but because she did so at death-defying altitudes in the heart of the Himalayas.
Everest Base Camp stands at a breathtaking altitude of 5380m, and hiking the trail that takes you there certainly earns mega bragging rights (let’s not even talk about the nutso folk who make it all the way to the 8848m peak). If you take the Classic Trail, you’ll be following in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing, the first two mountaineers who conquered Everest in 1953. You’ll start your trail in Lukla and follow a trail that leads in-between a wall of stupendously high peaks. You’ll cast your eyes on four out of the six highest mountains on earth (including Everest, of course) and will have weeks to soak up the magnificence of Nepal’s Khumbu region.
Verdict – The trail to Everest Base Camp is not technical or particularly difficult, but it is long, and what makes it a real challenge is the extreme altitude. This is especially true at the very beginning when you reach Lukla by plane from Kathmandu. Acclimatization is the key to a successful hike. A guide is not mandatory, but it’s certainly recommended.
The King’s Trail (Kungsleden), Sweden
Swedish thrill seekers call this ‘the mother of all trails’, and in many ways (at least in Europe), they’re certainly not long. This trail stretches for a leg-aching 440km through some of Europe’s most pristine wilderness. This is Sweden’s Lapland region, one that is starkly different from its southern (and mostly flat) half. It takes about 6 days to cover this distance in summer, traversing amazing Arctic landscapes, the tundra, glistening glaciers, the highest peak in the country (Kebnekaise), and meeting gorgeous Arctic wildlife along the way. A series of genially-placed huts along the way provide protection and also a chance to explore nearby peaks, wildflower-covered valleys, and rivers, so if you have a few days to spare, spend them mid-way to rest and enjoy the superlative landscapes.
Verdict: Lapland is a stunning region to explore both in summer — when you get 24hr of daylight — and in winter, when you swap your hiking boots for skis and have the unrivalled chance to spot the Northern Lights. Preparation is essential though, as the huts along the King’s Trail are basic, at best.
The Yosemite Grand Traverse, USA
Yosemite has certainly boasted plenty of epic trails for years so there really wasn’t any need to invent a new one. But Ian Elmen, ultimate thrill seeker and founder of Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, did just that 10 years ago. Because, why not?
This truly epic trail traverses the Yosemite Nationall Park for 100km, meandering through some of its best highlights, including the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the Cathedral Range, Tuolumne Meadows, the Post Peak Pass, and even Half Dome, which you can climb as a side trip. You’ll cross rivers and granite plateaus, hike along the shores of sapphire lakes and raging waterfalls, and spend days on end crossing high-altitude, flower-filled meadows. The landscapes are classic and memorable, the hike enjoyable and contemplative: the best Mother Nature has to offer.
Verdict: If you hail from abroad and are overwhelmed by the sheer choices of trails in Yosemite, go for gold and pick this beauty for the grandest bragging rights of all. It’ll deliver an incredible array of visual feasts and offers the unrivalled chance to be completely immersed in this pristine nature for an entire week, totally disconnecting you from the rest of the world. SYMG bagged an award from National Geographic for this trail and although it can certainly be done independently, the preparation (and food + camping gear packing) really is quite substantial. SYMG offer two guided options: one is a backpacking trip and the other an assisted journey with the addition of packhorses.
The Overland Track, Tasmania, Australia
The mere mention of Australia usually conjures up images of Outback trails covered in red sand, unbearable heat and endlessly flat horizons. Although this stereotypical visual isn’t exactly false, there is a side to the country most people don’t even know exists. Welcome to Tasmania!
The tiny island at the southern tip of the Land Down Under is a world unto itself; a mountainous and wild pocket of gorgeousness that’s best explored on foot, given it’s almost entirely comprised of national parks and nature reserves. Whilst the mainland may be renowned for epic road trips, Tasmania is the home of iconic ‘bush walks’ with short trails traversing the island every which way possible. No trail is as epic as The Overland Track, a 65km bushwalking trail that starts at the Cradle Mountain National Park in the south and ends on Lake St Clair in the south. In this western half of Tasmania is its World Heritage Wilderness Area, home to glacial valleys, alpine meadows, eucalyptus forests, and some of the most ancient rainforests on earth among picturesque peaks. You’ll encounter wombats and pademelons (a small and ridiculously cute marsupial) along the trail and will undoubtedly wake up to the laughing call of kookaburras on some mornings.
Verdict: This is a quintessential Australian trail where you get to experience unique southern wilderness coupled with a vast array of endemic creatures. It can be done in 5-6 days, although most thrill seekers add a day or two to either take a side trip to a nearby peak along the way or to circle Lake St Clair at the very end.