Completing a thru-hike is on the bucket list for many outdoor adventurers, but finding the time to complete one can be near impossible. After all, we are talking up to five or six months here. Few people are able to take that much time away from their career or family life, not to mention the large time investment required for logistics before even setting foot on the trail.
Rather than dreaming of hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Camino de Santiago, why not consider something shorter that you can do right now? Sure, you won’t come home with the same experience or bragging rights, but it’s something you can achieve in days or weeks rather than months, making it a trip that is attainable no matter how packed your schedule.
It’s also a perfect way give thru-hiking a go to find out if it really is for you. If you still aspire to a mega-trip, you can get some experience under your belt while you plan for an extended thru-hike in the future.
The other great thing about many of these trails? They are often far less crowded than the much longer and more famous tracks. So if more solitude and less trail time is what you’re looking for, a shorter thru or loop hike might just be the right choice.
To get you started, here are four alternate trails to some of thru-hiking’s most popular hikes across the globe.
USA: Boundary Trail
Most people have heard of the Pacific Crest Trail, the 2,650 mile trail spanning from the southern border of the United States to the Canadian border. It crosses deserts, mountains, forests and glaciers, taking around five months for most people who actually manage to finish the epic journey. But few people have the time or the stamina for it, and while sections can be undertaken instead, there’s another opportunity located in the Pacific Northwest that you may want to consider: Boundary Trail.
Covering 80 miles and traversing the magnificent alpine Passaytan Wilderness, Boundary Trail is one of the best sections of the much longer Pacific Northwest Trail. Its incredible scenery and miles of solitude make for an exceptional escape in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
Peak baggers are in for a special treat, too, with half a dozen summits to choose from along the trail – some as close by as half a mile. For more information about Boundary Trail, visit the Washington Trail Association’s dedicated page.
Europe: Tour du Mont Blanc
If a summer hiking trip to Europe that can be completed in days and still cross three countries is your idea of a vacation, then the Tour du Mont Blanc is for you. This is the perfect alternative to the Via Alpina, an arduous 3,000+ mile trek from Monaco to Trieste that crosses six countries and numerous mountains over 13,000 feet.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 105 mile trek that circumnavigates Mont Blanc Massif. This alpine loop trail traverses mountain passes and valleys in France, Italy and Switzerland, offering views to spectacular mountains and glaciers at every turn. The super fit can hike it in as little as 3-4 days, although even if you are a fast packer, why rush? With landscapes this stunning, most people will want to slow it down and really make the most of their time. Plus, if you choose to stay in the villages and huts dotted along the trail, you can enjoy local hospitality, culture and food along the way, although you can also camp if you prefer.
A good resource for more information on the Tour du Mont Blanc can be found here.
Nepal: Everest Base Camp Trek
Whether you dream of climbing Mt Everest or hiking the Great Himalaya Trail, a much shorter, more realistic alternative is the Everest Base Camp trek. Rather than the 2,800+ miles spanning the entire Himalayan mountain range that is required to complete the Great Himalaya Trail or the hyper-intensive training, risk and cost associated with summiting the tallest mountain in the world, the Everest Base Camp trek can be undertaken by most fit people.
You can go with an organized tour or plan your own trip, either hiring guides and porters or doing it all by yourself. The hike to the base camp from the starting point of Lukla is only around 40 miles, however, due to altitude acclimatization requirements, it takes most people eight to nine days. The walk out can be completed in less than half that time, with most returning to Lukla in four days or less.
You’ll be hiking through stunning snow-capped mountains and staying in traditional villages along your journey to and from base camp, giving you the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the local culture as well as the wondrous beauty of the tallest region on earth.
Despite its shorter length, the trail is still a steep ascent in elevation. You’ll climb to 17,650 feet to reach base camp, which means it might not be an option for people with certain medical conditions. Be sure to check with your physician first if you have any health concerns. For a comprehensive overview of the Everest Base Camp Trek including information on getting to Lukla, when to go, permits, costs and itineraries, check out this great article by Stingy Nomads.
New Zealand: Kepler Track
The jaw-dropping scenery of New Zealand is renowned worldwide thanks to the Lord of The Rings movies, and every year, more and more people travel across the Pacific Ocean to experience it first hand on Te Araroa, the trail crossing the entire country from the very top of the north island to the bottom of the south island.
Opened in 2011, Te Araroa means “the long pathway” in Maori, which is an apt name for the patchwork of tracks and roads that make up the 1,864 mile journey across the varied terrain of this rugged country, from beaches to high tussock, mountains and volcanoes, to forests and lakes.
But for those without four or five months to spare, there are a number of multi-day hikes located across both islands of New Zealand, which offer a chance to experience the country’s spectacular scenery in a much shorter amount of time. Called “Great Walks”, these maintained tracks traverse some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in New Zealand, with huts and campsites to stay in along the way.
One of the best Great Walks is Kepler Track. Just 37 miles long and taking 3-4 days to complete, this loop walk showcases the natural beauty of the Fiordland area. From lakes, glacier-carved valleys and mountain vistas as you hike mountains and exposed ridgelines, to forests, rivers and waterfalls as you meander through valleys and flatlands, this trail offers up some of the most dramatic scenery in the south island.
Those wanting to read more about Kepler Track and the logistics of hiking the trail can find more information here on the NZ Department of Conservation website.