One of the best ways to fully experience a travel destination is to get out of the city and out onto the trails of the local countryside. Forest paths, historic trails and nearby hillsides provide an unforgettable back-to-nature adventure. Nothing is better after a long plane ride or days of sightseeing on a cramped tour bus in a congested urban area, than breaking out the hiking boots, getting your muscles moving and breathing in the fresh country air. Although there are many challenging hikes more suitable for experts (the five-day trek to Machu Picchu or the steep Hindu Kush for example), beginners can also enjoy an invigorating walk, slowly building up stamina and strength so that they can eventually tackle the more difficult treks.
If you don’t have much experience hiking, it’s important to be prepared before you set out. Take a map of the trail that you will be hiking and a compass; take at least a liter of water (more depending on the length of the hike and the climate); use sunscreen and insect repellant and wear a hat and sunglasses; wear sturdy hiking boots or good walking shoes and use a walking stick; take frequent breaks and never multi-task (e.g. taking photos while still walking: pay attention to where you’re stepping at all times). Keep an eye on the weather; if it looks like it may storm and especially if there is a chance of lightning, turn back immediately. Pace yourself and listen to your body; if you need to rest, rest. If the sun is too much, sit in the shade for awhile. Most importantly, keep hydrated and eat regular small snacks of salty, carbohydrates like trail mix.
Here are some great starter hikes around the world:
1) The Rennsteig Trail, Thuringian Forest, Germany: this 169 km (105 mile) trail sounds daunting, but most parts of the trail can be done in short half-day or full-day segments. German trails in general are very well-marked, safe and well-maintained and are good starting hikes for beginners. The trail is generally flat and shaded and one of the oldest in Germany, boasting interesting glimpses of history along the route (such as old train tracks) along with gorgeous scenery.
2) Lakeside Great Wall Hike, Huanghuacheng, Beijing, China: with elevation changes between 282 and 364 feet and a distance of 3.42 miles, this is a gentle trail and the perfect way for first-timers to hike The Great Wall of China. Sections of the wall can be much more challenging to hike, especially in more remote areas, but this loop hike is easy and allows for an incredible visit and amazing views.
3) Okutama, near Tokyo, Japan: only a couple of hours from Tokyo by train or car, this is one of the best places to get away from the bustle of the city and quickly out onto the trails. Okutama is famous for its outdoor beauty and large lake and many Japanese escape for the weekend to this hiking paradise whenever they can. The area is a treasure trove of trails and activities, ranging from easy beginner to advanced level. The Okutama Station Visitor Center has maps and information about current trail conditions and lists of other outdoor activities.
4) Valle de Cocora, Salento, Colombia: about a 45 minute jeep ride from Salento lies the Valle de Cocora, a mostly uninhabited area of rural Colombia. The valley is the home to the tallest palm tree in the world, the Wax Palm, growing up to 70 meters high (about 230 feet). One of the most beautiful beginners’ hikes in the world, the breathtaking views include the Andean volcanoes known as Los Nevados, cloud forests, lush, green rolling hills, waterfalls and colorful, iridescent hummingbirds. At times, the trail can be rocky and includes some creek crossings and rickety wooden bridges, so it is a little more challenging, but overall, a fairly easy, and incredibly beautiful, hike. Allow 5-6 hours.
5) Cape Final, Grand Canyon, USA: this hike is perfect for the summer hiking season when the trails going down into the canyon can be crowded and hot. The four-mile length trail on the North Rim is on a plateau, but gently rises as it stretches through cool Ponderosa Pine forests until it reaches an incredible vista on the east rim of the Kaibab Plateau. Allow a full day if you’re not used to walking and take frequent breaks and lots of water.