Q:

What's the best long-distance hike in the world?

Friends of mine just walked the Lycian Trail in Turkey, and it sounds like it was incredible. I want to do a similar sort of trip, following a trail through foreign lands, unguided. Are there similar ones out there?
—Alex
Seattle WA

Jun 16, 2010
Outside
Outside Magazine
Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit with snow

Nepal’s 185-mile Annapurna Circuit

A:

It may surprise you to discover that people have been walking long distance through foreign lands without a professional guide service for thousands of years. (See: Exodus, book of). So to answer your question: yes, there are many footpaths at your disposal where adventure awaits and the locals speak American with a funny accent. These five are among the world's top grand treks, and—just as important—are doable without hiring a guide service. So grab that grubby backpack and get going.

Lycian Way, Turkey
THE DISTANCE: 310 miles
THE ROUTE: The 10-year-old Lycian Way traces the rugged Mediterranean shoreline of the Teke Peninsula in the Lycia region of southwestern Turkey. The trail climbs limestone peaks with hard-to-pronounce names reaching as high as 6,000 feet, passes through pine and cedar forests, and dips into broad pastures and relic-filled valleys that pour into the sea. Hiking end-to-end takes well more than a month.
OVERNIGHT: In tiny hotels or homes along the way. Backcountry camping is also permitted along the route, if you're willing to carry a tent.
RESOURCE: The official Lycian Way site

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
THE DISTANCE: 185 miles
THE ROUTE: An epic walk among two of the world's highest peaks in Nepal: Dhauligiri and Annapurna. But dirt roads being built along parts of the route are quickly placing the Annapurna Circuit in peril—so go while you can. Along the way, you'll hike at the foot of the world's deepest gorge and climb an oxygen-deprived 17,700-foot mountain pass as you skirt lush stepped farmlands and ancient Buddhist villages and constantly tread beneath views of the serrated Himalayan peaks that pictures can't do justice.
OVERNIGHT: No need for a tent on this trip, or even to carry much food. Annapurna is considered a "teahouse trek" because you can easily stay in (and eat well at) the teahouses in the many villages the route connects.
RESOURCE: Yeti Zone provides helpful, and extensive, information on the trek.

The Paine Circuit, Chile
THE DISTANCE: 60 miles
THE ROUTE: This rock-strewn, primitive path in Patagonia winds past ice-blue lakes, ancient glaciers, and beneath the slim fins of pink granite thrusting 6,000 feet in the air known as the Torres del Paine. The weather in this area of Chile can be harsh and unpredictable, so treks are only advisable in warmer months, and certain sections can be packed with hikers—but the deeper you go into the Torres del Paine National Park, the more isolated you get (and insignificant you feel).
OVERNIGHT: Bring lots of gear. You'll alternate between camping and staying at cabins known as refugios, where you can get a meal and a shower.
RESOURCE: The best site for information and access to refugio reservations (which are a must) is the aptly named torresdelpaine.com.

Routeburn Track, NZ
THE DISTANCE: 20 miles.
THE ROUTE: A ridge-top traverse through sprawling grasslands and beech forests straddling the border of two national parks on the mountainous southern tip of New Zealand's South Island. Given its relatively short distance (the route usually takes three days to complete), the variety of scenery in this Middle Earth landscape is surprisingly striking, as you'll skirt barren lakes and frothing streams with hidden waterfalls, pass through deep, cliff-shadowed valleys, and climb atop bald-mountain summits.
OVERNIGHT: Four overnight huts are stationed along the route, and camping is permitted.
RESOURCE: New Zealand's Department of Conservation

Tour du Mont Blanc, Switzerland/Italy/France
THE DISTANCE: 105 miles
THE ROUTE: The Tour du Mont Blanc (or TMB) in the Alps encircles Europe's tallest peak: ice-capped, 15,500-foot Mont Blanc. To complete the two-week trip, you drop into (and climb out of) seven deep valleys that surround the mountain, and pass through three countries. Picture wildflower-filled meadows, massive glaciers, open ridge tops, storybook alpine villages, and soaring mountain passes—then add to it the culinary experience of making your way through France, Italy, and Switzerland.
OVERNIGHT: Huts, campsites, and village hotels litter the route, allowing you to make this trip as low-cost or luxurious as you want.
RESOURCE: Walking the MB is a handy starting point for preparation.

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