Epic in length and challenge, long-distance hiking trails often represent the ultimate in adventure travel experiences for dedicated backpackers. These routes can stretch for hundreds of miles and often take weeks—or even months—to complete. Along the way, they pass through some of the most scenic and remote landscapes on the planet, where solitude and tranquility can be found in abundance.
If this kind of experience sounds appealing to you, there are plenty of trails that can provide it. From the summits of snow-capped peaks, to the sandy shores of the sea, these are the absolute best long-distance hiking trails in the world. So lace up your boots, grab your pack, and let’s get started, because there are a lot of miles to cover before we’re through.
The Appalachian Trail (United States)
Any discussion of the best long-distance hiking trails in the world has to include the Appalachian Trail in the U.S. Widely regarded as the finest long-distance route in the world, the AT—as it's referred to by backpackers—opened in 1921, making it one of the first big backpacking routes on the planet. Stretching for 2,200 miles between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine, the trail passes through more than a dozen states along its length. Along the way, it wanders through some of the most scenic locations that the Eastern U.S. has to offer.
Most hikers only take on short segments of the AT, walking for just a few days or even a couple of weeks at a time. But this iconic route has also given rise to the "thru-hiker," which is someone who hikes the entire route—start to finish—in one go. This can take weeks or even months to complete, but it is a challenge that many have completed. It is also now a common practice on many other trails too, but thru-hiking traces its origin back to the Appalachian Trail.
Te Araroa (New Zealand)
The 1864-mile Te Araroa Track in New Zealand is an utterly spectacular hike that gives the Appalachian Trail a run for its money when it comes to love from the backpacking crowd. The name is derived from the language of the indigenous Maori, and it appropriately means "the long pathway." To wander this route end to end, you'll need to start at Cape Regina at the northernmost tip of the North Island and walk all the way to Bluff, at the southernmost end of the South Island. In between, trekkers will find just about every kind of landscape imaginable, from snowcapped peaks, to wide-open meadows, to beaches and deserts, and more. This is a classic hike that should be on every backpacker's bucket list.
The Great Himalaya Trail (Nepal)
Nepal is one of the best destinations on the planet when it comes to trekking, so naturally it is also home to one of the world's great long-distance routes. The Great Himalaya Trail links up a number of smaller trekking routes, allowing backpackers to wander the entire length of Nepal east to west. The trail is more than 1,000 miles in length and has a surprisingly great infrastructure in place to support trekkers as they go. While camping en route is an option, there are many Nepali villages that fall along the GHT, allowing travelers to stay in rustic and traditional teahouses instead. It goes without saying that the scenery is epic, of course, as hikers pass in the shadow of the world's highest mountains, including Mt. Everest itself.
The Pacific Crest Trail (USA)
The U.S. isn't home to just one amazing long-distance hiking trail, but three. The second of the so-called Tripe Crown of Hiking is the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs for 2,653 miles through the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington. Backpackers taking on the entire PCT will essentially find themselves walking from the Canadian Border in the north, to the Mexican border in the south, crossing through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery that North America has to offer.
The Camino de Santiago (France, Spain, and Portugal)
One of the most famous hikes in all of Europe, the Camino de Santiago takes backpackers across France, Spain, and Portugal along a 500-mile path that has been walked by religious pilgrims for centuries. This hike is more than just a good way to stretch your legs, however, as it is an immersive trek through culture and history passing through villages and towns that have been on this path for hundreds of years.
The Camino is actually made up of a number of smaller, interconnected trails, so the length can vary a bit based on your chosen route. The most popular of those routes begins in Biarritz, France, and ends in Santiago, Spain, requiring about three weeks to complete. Even today, there is a strong spiritual component to this journey, with many backpackers taking inspiration from wandering through the wilderness in the footsteps of the thousands of pilgrims who have gone before them.
The Great Trail (Canada)
In terms of size and scope, it is hard to top Canada's Great Trail. The route runs for more than 16,000 miles across the country, though it isn't just the sheer length that makes this route so incredible, but the diversity of the landscapes, too. Stretching from the Atlantic in the east all the way to the Pacific in the west, while also dipping to the U.S.-Canada border in the south and heading north all the way to the Arctic, the GT passes through a stunning array of ecosystems. Hikers will cross open plains, climb through towering mountains, wander along rivers, and trek across glaciers. They'll also get the chance to not just walk, but also ride bikes and paddle canoes and kayaks along the way too.
If you want a truly epic challenge the Great Trail will definitely deliver everything you could ask for, and more.
Jordan Trail (Jordan)
The aptly-named Jordan Trail can be found in the country of Jordan, starting at Um Qais in the North and ending along the shores of the Red Sea in Aqaba in the south. At 400 miles in length, it is one of the shorter routes on this list, but that doesn't mean that is isn't a grand adventure—wandering this ancient path will take hikers across the entire length of the country. Along the way, they'll trek through the desert, past ancient Roman ruins, through the rose-red city of Petra, and over surprisingly rugged and remote mountains. It is a truly remarkable journey that deserves its spot among the best long-distance trails in the world.
Continental Divide Trail (United States)
The third leg of the Triple Crown of Hiking runs through the Rocky Mountains. That's where long-distance hikers will find the Continental Divide Trail, a route that covers 3,100 miles starting at the Mexican border in New Mexico and crossing into Canada before ending in Alberta. As the name implies, the CDT, as it is known, follows the Continental Divide of North America, passing through incredibly remote and scenic landscapes along the way. Longer and more challenging that the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail, this route sees much less traffic, making it a more peaceful walk from end to end.
Tokai Nature Trail (Japan)
Hiking and backpacking culture is alive and well in Japan, as evidenced by the fantastic Tokai Nature Trail. This route runs from Tokyo's Meiji no Mori Takao Quasi-National Park all the way to Meiji no Mori Mino Quasi-National Park in Osaka, passing countless scenic vistas. The connection with nature is a big draw for most trekkers, though the path also connects with numerous cultural and historical sites along the way. The route was specifically chosen for its ability to lure hikers away from busy cities and large crowds, immersing them instead in the tranquil solitude of the Japanese wilderness. The Tokai Nature Trail even passes through the shadow of Mt. Fuji, the most famous and sacred of mountains within the country.
Drakensberg Grand Traverse (South Africa and Lesotho)
Despite the fact that the Drakensberg Grand Traverse is "only" 150 miles in length, it still requires two to three weeks to complete. That's because it passes through some of the more remote and rugged wilderness in all of South Africa and Lesotho, and requires strong navigational skills in order to do so. Technically, there is no preset route to be found here, and backpackers can choose the path that most fits their needs. But in order to claim a successful completion of the Traverse, hikers must pass through a series of eight checkpoints along the way. To achieve that they'll have to summit six individual peaks, including reaching the highest point in either country.
Trekking the DGT requires an adventurous spirit and the ability to be self-sufficient. This is a trek through a wilderness region that isn't as well marked or maintained as most of the other trails on this list. If your goal is to get away from other hikers and find solitude in the wild, you'll find a lot to love here.
The Snowman Trek (Bhutan)
Bhutan's Snowman Trek is a legendary hike through the Himalaya that is lauded for its stunning beauty, as much as its difficulty. The route takes backpackers on a journey deep into the heart of the world's highest mountain range, past beautiful jagged peaks and over icy glaciers. With more than 48,000 feet of elevation gain spread out across its 200-mile length, this trail is not for the faint of heart. But those who do venture out onto this path will discover that it can be a life-changing experience in terms of learning more about themselves and their connection with nature.
Greater Patagonian Trail (Argentina and Chile)
Occupying the southernmost tip of South America, and stretching across both Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is undoubtedly one of the best wilderness regions on the entire planet. In order to experience it in all of its glory, trekkers should hike at least a small segment of the Greater Patagonian Trail. The entire route stretches for over 1300 miles and usually requires more than a month to complete. But those who do wander the full distance will be treated to landscapes that are unlike anything else found on Earth. The route takes hikers through the Andes Mountains, past glacially fed lakes, around spectacularly beautiful fjords, and across open meadows that have to be see to be believed.
The GPT itself is cobbled together using hiking paths, horse trails, old jeep roads, and even some pack rafting from time to time. Good navigational skills come in handy too, but the payoff is a complete traverse of one of the best adventure travel destinations on the planet.