The best day walks in the world – grab your boots and day pack for an on-foot adventure...
Difficulty: 4/5 Steep climb to an active crater
Our expert says: "A slippery ascent up loose gravel slopes, best done by moonlight to avoid sunstroke – but the lunar landscape at the top is worth the effort." Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa-based photographer
Heavenly and hellish, the symmetrical volcanic cone of 2,878m Ol Doinyo Lengai – ‘Mountain of God’ in Maasai – is an active adventure in more ways than one: the volcano rumbles and periodically spits out rocks and lava – taking local advice is a must, as is an experienced guide and a pre-dawn start. Ngare Sero village, at the base, is within touching distance of flamingo-friendly Lake Natron. On the climb itself expect wonderful photo opportunities plus the adrenalin buzz of peering down on the crater’s glowing lava fields (from a safe distance) and, clouds permitting, views stretching to the horizons.
Or try… Gran Cratere, Vulcano, Aeolian Islands, Italy – an easy climb to the lip of a rumbling crater.
Difficulty: 3/5 Long, gradual ascent
Our expert says: “One dramatic view after another appears: Eiger, Jungfrau, Schreckhorn – it’s a delight from start to finish.”Brian Bloomfield, Ramblers Holidays tour leader in the Alps for 45 years.
Traditional wooden chocolate-box chalets, meadows strewn with Alpine flowers, some of the world’s most iconic peaks – the paths of the Jungfrau region tick all the boxes. This high-level route is both achievable and dramatic: starting with the cog railway ride up to Schynige Platte from Wilderswil, the walk traverses meadows, passes, karst outcrops and the 2,680m Faulhorn. But it’s the views that dazzle: the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch duck into view intermittently from behind the peaks to the south, while the sharp summit of the Schreckhorn is reflected in the still Bachsee.
Or try… A day on the Stubai circuit, Austrian Tirol – use Neustift as a base for walks along the high route.
"There’s nowhere in the world with such a combination of natural beauty, stark wildness, lush flora and spiritual uplift as the Hill of Mullaghmore. Climb this twisted dome of contorted limestone among orchids, gentians and cranesbill; take a seat at the summit cairn and gaze over a rugged but bewitching landscape dotted with turquoise turloughs (vanishing lakes). Bring a pipe or a fiddle with you – it’s that kind of a place.”
Christopher Somerville, Walking Correspondent of The Times and the Irish Independent. Never Eat Shredded Wheat (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99), his geographical primer for grown-ups who love Britain, is out now.
Our expert says: “Awesome path clinging to precipitous cliffs hundreds of vertical metres above the gorgeous turquoise Gulf of Salerno.” Gillian Price, author of new guide Walking on the Amalfi Coast (Cicerone).
You might dream of exploring the Amalfi Coast’s pastel-hued cliffside settlements in an open-top classic car... but to enjoy the vistas in peace, take to the ‘Path of the Gods’. Leading past soaring cliffs, tiny shrines and cypress groves between the charming fishing settlements of Praiano and Positano (above), this walk burns enough calories to justify that extra-large tiramisu at the end.
Or try… South West Coast Path, England – many stretches make fine day hikes, but the section between Boscastle and Tintagel (or on to Port Isaac for the energetic) is hard to top for coastal beauty.
Our expert says: “Set off early to arrive at dawn, and pray for good weather – this walk offers the unmissable view of the park’s namesake torres, and is a pretty impressive taster for the full Torres del Paine Circuit.” Rudolf Abraham, author of Torres del Paine (Cicerone)
This trek will make you want to walk further – perhaps the multi-day ‘W’ or full circuit treks, both of which offer deeper insights into the varied geography, flora and fauna in the park (as well as the notoriously fickle climate). But the main raison d’être for this relatively gentle in-and-out walk is to savour views of those pinnacles – the three-plus-a-bit jagged teeth rearing up at the back of a huge cirque.
Or try… Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand – for views up towards Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Our expert says: “The mountains in this region rise so quickly that you get the best views by not being too close. At 1,600m, Sarangkot is perfect, with mind-blowing panoramic Himalayan vistas of peaks over 8,000m.” Bryn Thomas, author of Trekking in the Annapurna Region (Trailblazer Guides – new edition just out).
Like mountains? You’ll love the Nepal Himalaya, with a panoply of hiking opportunities. You could take on the three-week Annapurna Circuit. But you don’t have to. From Pokhara a brisk stroll either up Gyarjati, or from Naudanda along the ridge, brings you to the crest of Sarangkot. Though itself a relatively lowly 1,592m, the panoramic vistas from the top are little short of transcendental: peer left to gasp at Dhaulagiri (8,167m), right across to Annapurna II (7,937m), and due north at the perfect pyramid of Machhapuchhare (6,997m), the ‘Fishtail’ mountain. If you’re captivated by the views and fancy a special dawn performance, there are guesthouses in Sarangkot village, or drop back down to the lake along a path on the southerly hillside.
Or try… Plain of Six Glaciers, Lake Louise, Canada – four or five hours leading away from the crowds to views of mountains and glaciers.
Our expert says: “A walk through the green and leafy Ihlara gorge, with its ancient cave churches, provides an alternative to the better-known fairy chimney landscapes around Göreme.” Rudolf Abraham, author of the forthcoming Trekking in Eastern Turkey (Cicerone).
The ‘fairy’ chimneys, troglodyte dwellings and tuff peaks around Göreme grab the headlines, but there’s more to Cappadocia. The red-walled gorge between Ihlara village and Selime blends natural beauty with historical curiosities – the churches carved into the cliffs north of Ihlara, many with fascinating painted frescoes depicting biblical scenes, and ancient rock-hewn Selime Monastery. Away from Ihlara, crowds thin to allow appreciation of the peaceful greenery and birdlife. With several entry and exit points into the gorge, and lunch options at Belisirma, it’s an easy walk with wonderful pay-offs.
Or try… Petra through the ‘back entrance’ – walk from Little Petra to its bigger sibling via the Monastery: a quite different perspective on the ‘rose red city’.
“This must be one of the most beautiful walks in the world, and suitable for hikers of all capability – though endurance is necessary because it is a day-long hike. From the Cathedral Peak Hotel in the Drakensberg Mountains, KwaZulu-Natal, follow the walkers’ route up Swine Hill, leading to a steep gully known as Orange Peel Gap. You then reach the upper tier of the Drakensberg into Bugger Gully, which takes you to the base of the peak. Head up the eastern face onto the summit. The weather can be changeable and lightning storms are common, which are obviously dangerous and spice things up a bit. If one does blow up, get down the mountain as fast as possible!”
Julia Bradbury presents BBC’s Countryfile, Wainwright Walks and Secret Britain. Her latest DVD is South Africa Walks (£17.50, juliabradbury.com).
Our expert says: “If Tasmania received the visitors it deserves, Cradle Mountain would be an icon to rival Uluru. This walk shows off some of the island’s best scenery.” Paul Bloomfield, Wanderlust.
Tasmania’s Overland Track is an 80km ramble past dolerite crags, through rainforest and moors, and alongside sparkling lakes and waterfalls – an iconic and challenging multi-day trek. The beauty of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Claire National Park, backdrop for the track, is that it’s not just for tough trekkers –many of the classic views are easily accessible from either end. Postcard-friendly vistas of Cradle Mountain itself are revealed from various angles on short walks from the northern park entrance. The 6km circuit of Dove Lake offers the views, plus chances of spotting wildlife including wallabies, wombats, quolls and –if you’re lucky – Tasmanian devils. Add on the climb up Cradle Mountain itself and you have a near-perfect Aussie day.
Or try… Half Dome hike, Yosemite NP, USA – the first day of the 350km John Muir Trail climbs to the shoulder of Yosemite’s trademark dome.
Our expert says: “The spectacular views over land and sea afforded by the hike, and the sense of remoteness so close to the hubbub of such a large city, creates a very special walk.”Jackie Peers, photographer and hiking guide with Walk Hong Kong (www.walkhongkong.com).
For most visitors, walking in Hong Kong means the stroll between air-con subway and air-con shop. But hundreds of kms of paths – including four long-distance trails – lace the territory, making it easy to escape the urbanity. The path running along the Dragon’s Back – an undulating ridge at the south-east of Hong Kong Island – is part of the 50km Hong Kong Trail, but a fine day walk in its own right; it’s been dubbed ‘Asia’s favourite hike’. Looping up through woodland, the path breaks into open ground on the ridge, revealing views of bays, beaches, villages and the South China Sea.
Or try… High Line Park, New York – get an alternative perspective on the Big Apple from this elevated park walkway.
The ‘world’s best day walk’ among brooding craters
Length: 17km, 7-8 hours
Difficulty: 3/5 or 4/5, depending on weather – it’s a testing day with steep climbs; cloud, wind and rain can make it much harder
Our expert says: “This remarkable hike crosses an outstandingly atmospheric volcanic area, complete with multicoloured rocks and craters, bright mineral lakes and a perfect steep cone. Varied, interesting vegetation and some huge views to Lake Taupo.” William Mackesy, founder of Walkopedia.net, online treasury of global walks.
In a land renowned for its Great Walks (capital letters intended), it’s a bold claim to label one hike ‘New Zealand’s best day walk’ – even the world’s best, according to some commentators – but that tag has been bestowed on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, itself essentially one stage of the four-day Northern Circuit.
One for cone rangers, its all about the volcanoes: the track hauls up to the saddle between Mt Ngauruhoe (2,291m) and Mt Tongariro (1,967m), for views (on a clear day) across to Mt Taranaki, way to the west. Continuing through the Middle-Earth landscape, you pass stinky geothermal springs, vividly coloured Red Crater and the Emerald and Blue Lakes until, heading north, Lake Taupo may be visible. Or try… Mt Bromo, Java, Indonesia – a relatively comfortable hike across a massive caldera followed by a straightforward climb up the crater slopes.
Al fresco gallery of awesome North American rock art
Length: 10.5km, 5 hours
Difficulty: 2/5 Relatively mild ascent and descent, but gets hot around midday
Our expert says: “This spectacular hike, deep into one of Utah’s most remote and ravishing red-rock canyons, is rewarded by the breathtaking sight of the so-called Great Gallery – a rock wall covered in mysterious, ghost-like but human-sized figures, painted by Native Americans at least 2,000 years ago.” Greg Ward, author of the Rough Guide to Southwest USA
This walk involves scenery typical of Canyonlands National Park, in which it lies – for example, the stretch from the trailhead across slickrock and into the canyon. But the main draw is at the bottom: Horseshoe Canyon, an incredible open-air rock art exhibition where pictographs of strangely shaped figures were painted many millennia ago.
Or try… The Barrk Sandstone Bushwalk in Kakadu National Park, Australia – for Aboriginal art.
So, did we choose the right paths?
With the help of our experts, we picked these routes based on a range of criteria: all are accessible, achievable and memorable as stand-alone day walks – with world-beating views, wildlife, unique scenery, or perhaps a novel perspective on a travel icon. But what do you think?
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