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Hit the Trails: Five Places You Absolutely Need to Hike This Year

This is the year you do it. This is the year you get out and experience the majesty of nature in all her glory. It’s not just about being fit — though that’s part of it. It’s not just about connecting spiritually with nature — though that’s getting closer. When it comes down to it, hiking is a beautiful (and sometimes brutal) test of who we are as people and what we’re made of. Being out in nature explores existential questions like why we’re here, and it connect us to the primal beauty of the elements on a fundamental level.

While it’s always cool to explore your own neck of the woods, we came up with a list of places that you need to put on your hiking goals for this year. We’re already almost half way through it (gasp), but we’re also just entering prime hiking season. So grab your gear, your passport, your bottled water, and renew your sense of adventure with these five prime hiking spots that are guaranteed to take your breath away.

The King of Domestic Hikes: The Grand Canyon

Sure, putting the Grand Canyon on a list of places you have to hike in 2018 might feel a little basic, but there’s a reason that this has remained such a huge part of our national identity. The awe-inspiring vistas and natural geological formations are the perfect way to spend a long weekend (or full week). From the Kaibab Limestone, which shows us millions of years of geological history, to the colorful Colorado Plateau, a hike through the Grand Canyon offers something for everyone. Even the most seasoned hiker comes away changed.

Recently, Peter Potterfield, renowned author, hiker, and photographer shared his thoughts with National Geographic for an “insider’s guide” on how to best hike this national treasure.

“Bomb down from the South Rim via the uber-direct South Kaibab Trail to cross the Colorado River on the Black Bridge and camp at Bright Angel camp,” Potterfield told Nat Geo. “Then ascend through the Box, the inner heart of the canyon, up to Cottonwood Camp and the remote North Rim. On the return trek, cross the Colorado on the Silver Bridge and ascend to the South Rim through Indian Garden via the Bright Angel Trail, better suited for uphill travel.”

Looking for Vistas on Vistas? Try Grindelwald, Switzerland

If you’re all about living out your sound of music fantasies, maybe the best place to go this summer would be across the pond to Grindelwald, Switzerland. Located at the base of the alps, Grindelwald represents a beautiful mix of hiking and old-world luxury, with plenty of places to rest and relax while enjoying your time amongst the grand views and startlingly clear lakes. Sure, this is a long way to go for a shorter trek (two or three days of leisurely hiking), but with passages open well into fall, you still have plenty of time to look for cheap flights, and going later in the year means less European tourists, who typically have the summer months to travel and vacation.

For a more luxurious route that truly savors the Swiss experience, make sure that you have lunch at the Waldspitz on the way back down. This internationally renowned restaurant is a hidden treat — only accessible on foot or by toboggan!

Yosemite Grand Traverse for a Trail Experience You’ll Never Forget

Known well to Californians with a sense of adventure and spirit, the Yosemite grand traverse trail reaches peaks of 12,000 feet, and stretches from the Sierra Nevadas through Yosemite National park, and finishes in the tranquil Tuolumne Meadows. While this can be a grueling trek (lasting at least a week, even for most seasoned hikers) the views are breathtaking, and the wildlife is plentiful. This trail is open most of the summer and into the early fall, but Potterfield recommends taking a trail guide with you to truly enjoy the experience.

“The trailhead logistics for this trip can be challenging, so make things easy by doing this trip with Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, who pioneered the route and have mastered the journey from start to finish,” says Potterfield.

Adventure in the Tonquin Valley and Amethyst Lake in the Canadian Rockies

The harsh and beautiful Tonquin Valley has been known to hikers and adventurers of all kinds since the early 20th century. It has captured generations of imaginations thanks in large part to Ansel Adams, who documented this area on his very first photography trip for the Sierra Club. At a medium-difficult 27 miles, you can typically hike these trails in five days, making it an ideal excursion if you’re crunched for vacation time this year, but still need your fix of the majestic. While there is the very real threat of grizzly bears in these woods, a few wilderness lodges sprinkled along the trail (and Amethyst Lake) make for safe and fun accomodations for the faint hearted.

A Sunny, Beautiful, and Leisurely Hike through Charlotte Track, New Zealand

Perhaps the outright prettiest of all the hikes we’ve recommended, Charlotte Track traces the South Island of New Zealand, skirting wine country amongst the glittering island hills. This is a trail dappled by sunlight and green, lush foliage. New Zealand is a magical country, and perhaps nowhere more so than the Dragon’s Back Ridge trail which separates Queen Charlotte Sound and Kenepuru Sound. You can huff this trail in five days or less, but this is a hike to be savored. We recommend giving yourself a week or two to savor all the beauty and soak up the experiences, like sunlight kissing your skin once more after a long, hard winter.

So where are y’all hiking this year? Don’t let life pass you by, we want to hear your transformative experiences and recs in the comments below. We’re excited to share this journey with you, wherever it leads.