5 destinations for experienced hikers
If you want to really experience a taste of the country you’ve voyaged to, hiking across it is unbeatable. If you’re already a seasoned veteran, it’s time to leave those well-trodden trails and test your courage on unknown terrain.
Here are 5 destinations that will push your body to the limit:
- Lake Baikal, Russia
- Kungsleden, Sweden
- Nunavut, Canada
- Salavan, Laos
- Paro Taktsang, Bhutan
Lake Baikal, Russia
The ancient Lake Baikal, often simply referred to as ‘Baikal’, is located in the not always hospitable Russian region of Siberia. Estimated to have formed 20-25 million years ago and with a maximum depth of over 5,000 feet, it is the oldest and deepest freshwater lake on earth. It has a lot of appeal for experienced hikers, especially the Frolikha Adventure Coastline Track, a 62-mile trail along the northern edges of the lake. Taking the track, you will walk along the shoreline as well as old hunting routes and game trails, crossing paths with wide rivers, steep cliffs and virgin forests in between.
Eventually, the Frolikha Adventure Coastline Track will become part of the Great Baikal Trail, a 1300-mile, environmentally sustainable route that has been under construction since 2003. It might be best to avoid visiting in winter, though, when temperatures can plummet to -50 degrees Celsius.
If you’re looking to walk amongst some of the most beautiful and untouched wilderness in Europe, add Sweden to your list. The northern section of Kungsleden, or the King’s Trail, in the province of Lapland offers intrepid backpackers the most spectacular portion of the route. It has a total distance of almost 500 miles and is divided into a northern and a southern section.
You can choose either one, with both routes indicated by clearly visible markings. Along the way, these will lead you past lodges where you can rest your feet and take shelter. However, those who like a more challenging environment should venture into Sarek National Park, one of Europe’s oldest, which has no marked routes, six mountains over 2,000-metres high, deep valleys and wild, turbulent waters. Oh, and no lodges to shelter in either.
The almost limitless Canadian territory of Nunavut is not only the home of the indigenous Inuit peoples, it is also home to Alert, the northernmost permanently inhabited settlement in the world. For savvy hikers, Nunavut offers challenging trails that will take you far from your usual comfort zone.
You are unlikely to get stuck behind the meandering procession of groups of other hikers – out here you will more than likely be on your own, spending nights between dense forests and prehistoric rock escarpments and formations. The Northern Lights and the midnight sun, which can be seen from only a few other places on earth, are simply stunning. Among the best hiking areas are the Auyuittuq National Park and the area around Cambridge Bay. The latter features Arctic shores, archaeological sites and excellent places to fish.
Flowing waterfalls, dense jungle, little tourism: all are essentials on the checklist of any hiker seeking their next big challenge, and the Laotian province of Salavan ticks them all. Within it you’ll find Phou Xieng Thong National Park, home to exotic animals such as Asian collar bears, leopards and tigers.
The area around the ruins of the Khoua Ban Danh Bridge, which was once on the main supply route of the communist Pathet Lao liberation movement before it was blown up by the US, is well worth exploring. If this isn’t spectacular enough, you should travel by bus or motorbike to the village of Tad Lo, a renowned trekking stopover, and bathe beneath one of its three waterfalls.
Paro Taktsang, Bhutan
If you want a little more altitude on your travels, take a trip to the Taktsang Palphug Monastery – more commonly known as Paro Taktsang – a Buddhist temple complex that lies 3,120 metres above the sea level on the side of a cliff in the upper Paro Valley of Bhutan. After a not inconsiderable 900-metre climb, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of one of the most extraordinary monasteries in the world. The temple complex, also called Tiger’s Nest, is surrounded by narrow paths, unstable bridges and stony steps, so best not make the ascent if you suffer from any degree of vertigo.
You’ll never truly know a country until you explore its culinary side. To expand your palate as well as your horizons, take the plunge and sample as many of a region’s specialities as you can. Talk to the locals and find out where they prefer to eat. Your curiosity may uncover several gastronomic marvels.