While it is possible to travel hundreds of miles in a day by airplane, train or car, one of the best ways to really connect with a destination is to explore it on foot. The history of the long distance trail dates back to the historic pilgrimages made by wealthy European Christians to the religious sites in the Middle East several centuries ago. Today, the best long distance trails take in a variety of different scenery and offer a real sense of accomplishment, and here are five of the best trails that the world has to offer.
The Way Of St James
The shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain was founded in the ninth century, and as early as the eleventh century there are records of pilgrims crossing the Pyrenees in order to reach the site. Today, the Way of St James refers to a series of paths that run from across Europe to the city, with the most popular being the Via Regia, particularly the section traveling through France to Compostela. Because of its popularity, many of the most popular parts of the route are signposted, while the Shell of St James is an icon that is used to mark the route, particularly along the Spanish stage of this epic journey.
Covering over a hundred miles of footpath around the Annapurna massif in Nepal, this route has become one of the most popular paths in the Himalayas, usually taking between fifteen and twenty days to complete. At its highest point the mountain scenery is spectacular, and the side trek to the Annapurna base camp is a must for those who really want to get some amazing close up views of the mountains. The development of road access to these remote areas means the trek can now be shortened, but it is still well worth exploring.
A 112 mile path that crosses some of the most scenic areas of the island of Corsica, this is often referred to as the best long distance walking route in Europe. The path takes around fifteen days to complete for most visitors, with most nights spent in the mountain huts, while the drop into the town of Vizzavona providing a useful halfway point with railway access out from the center of the island for those only completing half the route. The northern portion of the trek is usually considered to be the most technically difficult, with steep paths and climbing sections, but the southern part of the route visits lower lying terrain, where warmer temperatures are common.
The Snowman Trek
An amazing challenge for anyone looking to get into the high Himalayan area of Bhutan, this month long expedition is only open to a limited number of visitors every year. Traversing nine passes over 4,500 meters above sea level, this path is challenging and it is wise to be aware of altitude sickness, but the spectacular Himalayan scenery is second to none. This trek takes visitors into remote areas where tourism has had very little impact, and while it is an expensive adventure, it is certainly one that offers an experience that cannot be matched anywhere else in the world.
The Appalachian Trail
Located in the north east of the United States, this amazing trek is around 2,200 miles in length and covers territory in fourteen different states. The trail is usually attempted from south to north, beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia, and stretching up to Mount Katahdin in Maine, with the hardy breed who set out to cover the route in one season known as 'thru-hikers'. The route was the idea of former forester Benton MacKaye who saw the first sections of the path opened in 1923, but even fifty years later his vision for the full path was only just coming to fruition.
The most traditional kind of overland travel is simple hiking. Slow, diligent, just the right speed to feel nature all around you, without the sounds of engines or modernity creeping in. These hikes will take you back to your humanity -- which is a road well worth traveling down.