These trails reveal stunning glaciers, ancient ruins, geyser basins, plunging canyons, and more
on July 12, 2018
As iconic as its glittering namesake, Oahu’s Diamond Head Trail offers a steep but thrilling 0.8-mile climb to the 760-foot summit of the island’s volcanic landmark.
There’s nothing like heading out on an open trail in search of a memorable view. No matter the challenge, the reward can be an ooh-ahh Instagram-worthy moment of a lifetime.
Here are six trails — from an easy glacier walk to a strenuous uphill climb — where the payoff is a view to remember. So lace up your boots and take a hike.
1. Inca Trail, Peru
Not up for the full 26-mile-long Inca Trail? On VBT’s “Peru: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley” 11-day tour, you can take a shorter eight-mile hike on the famous trail, one of the world’s most iconic. As you ascend some 2,000 feet, you’ll see spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and cloud forests, capped with an unforgettable entry into the iconic Inca sanctuary. Expect to be on the legendary trail for six hours with a mostly continuous ascent. Your effort is rewarded when you arrive at Intipunku, the Sun Gate, at 8,954 feet, which was the original entrance to the “Lost City.”
The payoff: As magnificent as the ruins are, their setting on a mountain saddle surrounded by dramatic plunging valleys and soaring peaks will simply take your breath away.
How to explore: VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations offer more than 55 deluxe, small-group bicycling, walking, and barge & sail vacations in 27 different countries and 10 U.S. states. Each trip includes all accommodations, many meals, two expert local trip leaders, unique sightseeing and cultural activities, full van support, and round-trip international airfare from more than 30 U.S. cities and select Canadian cities. Visit vbt.com or call 800-245-3868 for more information.
2. Hike to Telescope Peak, Death Valley, Calif.
From your base at The Oasis at Death Valley resort, you can enjoy unobstructed and epic views of Death Valley by climbing the eastern slope of the Panamint Mountains toward Telescope Peak. The 14-mile round-trip trail takes about seven challenging hours to complete, while ascending some 3,000 feet. You’ll pass through pinyon pine and aromatic mountain mahogany forests, meander along the flat and narrow ridgeline, and skirt scenic meadows until you reach the highest spot in Death Valley, 11,049-foot Telescope Peak. To the east sits the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level.
The payoff: On a clear day far to the western horizon you can spot the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Mount Whitney rises to 14,505 feet as the highest point in the contiguous United States. It’s guaranteed to fill the memory card on your camera.
How to explore: Stay at the Oasis at Death Valley, situated in a lush oasis surrounded by the vast desert of Death Valley National Park. The resort has two hotels — the historic, AAA Four Diamond, 66-room Inn at Death Valley and the family-oriented, 224-room Ranch at Death Valley. The entire resort is undergoing an extensive renovation to be completed in the fall of 2018. It includes natural spring-fed pools, an 18-hole golf course, horse and carriage rides, and world-renowned stargazing. Visit oasisatdeathvalley.com for more information or call 800-236-7916.
3. South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon
The best way to grasp the natural architecture and sheer scale of one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World is by hiking one of its trails. One of the best three-hour round-trip hikes in the world is the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge, located on the canyon’s South Rim. The only one in Grand Canyon National Park that dramatically follows a ridgeline descent with often-tight switchbacks, it reveals panoramic views unmatched on any other trail in the canyon. The steep dirt trail typically takes about three hours to hike round trip, starting from its 7,000-foot-high perch as it descends towards the Colorado River. (Beware: The trail lacks shade and water, so be sure to prepare accordingly.)
The payoff: It provides an exhilarating sense of exposure as the canyon’s vastness unfolds in awe-inspiring splendor, climaxing with the stunning overlook at Cedar Ridge.
How to explore: Stay in one of the six distinctly different Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, the premier in-park accommodations. From the 1905 El Tovar hotel, long considered the crown jewel of national park hotels, to Phantom Ranch, the only lodging on the floor of the canyon, you’ll find lodging to help you get the most out of your visit to the Grand Canyon. You can also book rafting, railway, and motorcoach tours. For more information and reservations, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.
4. Snæfellsjökull Glacier Hike, Iceland
Take a walk on the ice side — by taking one of the best glacier hikes in the world. The seven-day itinerary on Windstar Cruises, “Around Iceland,” offers a dramatic six-hour excursion to Snæfellsjökull Glacier, where you can go on a safe and easy glacier walk through stunning scenery to explore a wonderland of ice sculptures, ridges, and deep crevasses. (Helmets, crampons, and an ice axe are provided.) One of the most picturesque mountains in Iceland, this famous volcano rises up to 4,800 feet in the middle of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and is visible from more than 62 miles away. But its real fame derives from Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, where he described entering the center through a caldera at the top of the glacier.
The payoff: The summit gives you an epic view over the whole of Snæfellsnes Peninsula that is considered one of the most scenic places in Europe.
How to explore: Windstar’s fleet of small luxury sailing ships and all-suite power yachts with 148 to 310 guests bring you closer to smaller ports and exclusive local experiences around the world. Visit windstarcruises.com or call 888-460-5098 for more information.
5. Diamond Head Trail, Oahu, Hawaii
As iconic as its glittering namesake, Oahu’s Diamond Head Trail offers a steep but thrilling 0.8-mile climb to the 760-foot summit of the island’s volcanic landmark. Just be prepared to share the popular path with scores of other visitors. The walk up the broad, saucer-shaped crater, which gains 560 feet from the crater floor, takes about 30-40 minutes one way and offers a glimpse into the geological and military history of the Diamond Head volcano. The trail was built in 1908 as part of Oahu’s coastal defense system. A dirt switchback path takes you quickly to the first lookout offering sublime ocean views. From there you ascend the first set of 74 stairs up to a dimly lit 225-foot-long tunnel and the bigger challenge of 99 steps. At the summit you’ll arrive at bunkers and yet more stairs leading to the breathtaking — literally and figuratively — viewing platform, where a huge 1917 lighthouse reminds you of the navigational importance of this spot.
The payoff: Get your camera ready for show-stopping 360-degree views from the top: sprawling Honolulu, the lush Koolau Moutains, the Koko Head Crater, and the Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon, which may even include passing humpback whales in winter.
How to explore: Holiday Vacations, one of America’s most reputable tour companies, with more than 45 years of experience, offers two Hawaii itineraries that include a free day in Oahu for climbing Diamond Head. As a nationwide provider of air, rail, motorcoach, and cruise guided vacations to more than 65 destinations worldwide, their packages are inclusive of all airfare, fine hotels, meals and must-see attractions. Visit HolidayVacations.com for more information.
6. Bunsen Peak Trail, Yellowstone
In a park packed with great trails, this one allows you to see some of the best sights in Yellowstone. The four-mile round-trip hike is short, but requires some exertion near the summit to climb a series of steep switchbacks. A great early morning or late afternoon hike when the light is best, it doesn’t take long but delivers a stunning panorama from the top. Unlike other trails, this one boasts outstanding views from most points along the way as you ascend a total of 1,278 feet. On the lower slopes, you’ll be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of Golden Gate/Glen Creek Canyon with the Hoodoos and Mount Everts visible in the distance. You’ll pass a stand of dead trees with an otherworldly feel before you reach a large rock formation known as Cathedral Rock at about 1.4 miles. Be sure to snap an Insta-shot of Mammoth Hot Springs and Mount Everts. Then come those challenging switchbacks covered with loose scree, until you reach the backside of Bunsen and the weather station at the summit.
The payoff: Views of Swan Lake Flat and the vast open plain of Gardner’s Hole stretch out below, Mammoth Hot Springs is visible to the north, and Electric Peak, the tallest mountain in the Gallatin Range, stands by itself to the west. Your camera is sure to get a workout.
How to explore: Stay in one of the nine unique lodging options, including the renowned historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, managed by Yellowstone National Park Lodges. They also offer tours and activities that help create memorable and engaging experiences. Visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311 for more information.
For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from the Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.