It’s funny, at home I fall into a set routine and honestly don’t deviate from it that much. That routine almost never includes hikes and walks; I use my car as often as I can. When I travel though, something changes. A part of my personality reemerges from its hibernation, an active part, a part of me that loves to get out and not just see the world, but to be a part of it. So that’s probably why I find myself on so very many hikes and walks whenever I travel, from light city escapades to more daunting, day-long efforts. I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite hiking and walking experiences because I know many of you agree with me when I say there is no better way to enjoy the beauty of a new place than to get out and to use all of your senses to capture it forever.
Located on the tiny Hawaiian island of Lanai, the Koloiki Ridge Trail is a five-mile hike along the island’s beautiful highlands area. Although it’s small, the terrain on Lanai is remarkably diverse, from those sandy beaches we all dream about to mountainous ridges, complete with beautiful pine trees. It was the latter that I found myself in as I hiked the Koloiki, trudging through primordial forests and along the spines of the lush mountains themselves. Along the way I was lucky enough to spot the elusive mouflon, a skittish mountain goat that now calls the island home. The star of the attraction and the main reason for taking the hike though was the view of the Naio and Maunalei Gulches as you approach the ocean. I love Lanai for a lot of reasons, but principally because it is such a quiet place. Looking out across the gulches there was nothing but beautiful nature for as far as the eye could see, like giant green dragons sleeping next to the sea. It’s not the only reason why you should visit this amazing island, but it is a highlight of any trip.
Before traveling to Antarctica, I had no idea that it’s a big hiking destination, but after a few days the comforting burn in my calves confirmed that fact. Some aren’t much more than nice walks, but a few are full on, sweaty hikes including one that took me up a mountain in search of penguins and jaw-dropping views. Orne Island is one of a thousand small enclaves along the Antarctic Peninsula, not immediately more recognizable than any of the others. But it was in the island’s harbor where our ship dropped anchor one morning and it was the peak of the island that promised a wonderful adventure. Traversing a steep, switchback path up through snow and ice, the hike was no easy feat, especially under a few layers of clothes. I slipped, I fell but I always got back up with my eye on the prize above. Once there, the effort was worth it, as it always is. Looking out across the icy waters it finally hit me that I was on the bottom of the world, I was in Antarctica. The scale was enormous, people looked like mere specks amongst the canvas of white. We weren’t alone though, also resting on the mountaintop were penguins, thousands of them. This colony called Orne Island home, trekking to and from the waters below to get food to feed their hatchlings. Sitting there on a rock, drinking some water and watching as a penguin walked a foot away, not at all caring about my presence was a special moment – one I know I’ll always remember and proof that the hike was worth every grunt, groan and drop of sweat.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Unless you’re South African, and probably not even all that familiar to them, then chances are you’ve never heard of the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. But you need to add it to your outdoors exploration list, along with a visit to beautiful Stellenbosch. More known for its wines and creative food scene, the Stellenbosch region has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts including many amazing hikes and walks. Part of the UNESCO recognized Cape Floral Region Protected Area, Jonkershoek is incomprehensibly ancient and features mountains with green, velvety folds that line the reserve. We were utterly alone as we started along the trail, navigating large rocks and scraggly outcroppings along the way. About mid-way through I realized that I was focusing too much on my next step so as not to trip and decided to stop and just soak in the atmosphere. I lost my breath as the natural scene unfolded around me. It was gorgeous, shockingly so and not for the first time I wondered why every visitor doesn’t include a Jonkershoek stop on their trip.
One of the best destinations in the world for outdoors experiences, my favorite place (so far) in Alberta is without a doubt Dinosaur Provincial Park. Located about 48 kilometers from the nearest town, Brooks (population 13,000), and close to any number of small villages, Dinosaur Provincial Park is not a place one chances upon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site may not be an urban site, but that is part of its charm. Calling the Canadian Badlands home, the Park includes nearly 20,000 acres of stunning badlands terrain and hiding just beneath the soil those oh so famous dinosaur fossils. The park does a great job offering visitors a variety of experiences, including the Centrosaurus Quarry Hike. This 3-kilometer hike begins in the middle of the sprawling park and a knowledgeable ranger leads the way through the scrub. Along the way visitors learn more about the process that led to the huge number of fossils now found in the area, as well as some recent discoveries that have helped the world better understand both dinosaurs and the era in which they lived. More than anything, I was surprised by the barren beauty of the park itself. The Badlands are called that for a reason and while they may be inhospitable, they have a certain desert charm and appeal. I loved them and personally, that was as much fun as was seeing fossils stuck in the dirt.
Traveling to Northern Norway in winter may not be everyone’s idea of a vacation, but I loved every second of it. There’s a lot to be said for visiting places when they’re at their best and for Alta, that’s definitely the winter. I enjoyed many active experiences up there, but a favorite was something that frankly surprised me, snowshoeing. I’d never tried it before and the modern snowshoe is a far cry from the tennis-racket devices I had envisioned. I was out with the local tour company GLØD, the go-to provider for most experiences in Alta and under their supervision, I strapped on my shoes and went searching for the elusive moose. There are a lot of reasons to visit Alta, but for me it was being out in the virgin forests, not a person around for miles that meant the most and snowshoeing is the best way to experience that. Traipsing over knee-deep snow, the shoes did their job and while walking in them was a little awkward at first, they worked and trekking along the trails couldn’t have been easier. We never did find that moose, but it was enough for me to just be out there, breathing the crisp Nordic air and enjoying the moment for what it was.
Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan
Jordan’s largest reserve, Dana is a common stop for tourists to Jordan, either for the beautiful views of the mountains and valleys below or for a stay at the world-famous Feynan Ecolodge. Less common are those who, like me, tackled the daunting 16-kilometer trek through the valleys, starting at the visitor’s center and ending at the Ecolodge. I enjoy hiking, but due to some physical limitations I have to be careful about what I do and don’t attempt. Had I understood all that was involved with the rigorous hike, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it but, like all of these experiences, at the end I was thankful for having done it. An all-day trek, the trail takes intrepid hikers through valleys, up ridges and provides access to some of the most remote but beautiful areas of Jordan. You start to appreciate the beauty of the desert terrain and by the end of the hike, you feel like the night’s stay at Feynan is the best reward for all of that physical activity. This hike isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy premium outdoors experiences, there are few better in the world.
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