Ready for a real New Year’s resolution? Why not commit to setting your feet on a brand-new long-distance hiking trail? Trail advocacy groups and volunteers across the globe have been busy over the past few years conceiving of and building new pathways that take hikers on a tour of their locations' deep wilds and local cultures. These new trails are visions come to life. They represent the dedication of people tied to the landscapes they traverse, of hikers who see walking through their world as the best way to preserve it. So join us for a trail of trails that will get you outside and give you new ways to look at ancient landscapes. —Doug Schnitzspahn
The Alpe Adria Trail
Photograph by Pritz/Aurora
Austria, Slovenia, Italy
Length: 162 miles (260 kilometers)
Best for: The full European sea-to-summit experience
Starting on the shores of the Adriatic and climbing to the foot of Austria’s highest mountain, the 12,460-foot Grossglockner, this trail takes in the full measure of the European continent, wandering into Carinthia, the Julian Alps, and the Natisone Valleys, where people have lived for more than 30,000 years in the shadows of these peaks. The very different three nations it crosses (Austria, Slovenia, and Italy) may have different languages and cultures, but their residents share an affinity for getting out and hiking in the countryside, and the hike is as much a social experience as it is a wilderness jaunt. There are plenty of natural wonders along the route too. In fact, Austrian’s refer to the region as "the garden of Eden,” and the trail puts hikers deep in places like the Nockberge Biosphere Reserve, a high expanse of open meadows and spruce forest where chamois graze and unique, glacially rounded peaks formed of crystalline rock and ice (called the Nocken) break the skyline. In the Julian Alps it climbs up to the summit of 5,285-foot Vršič Pass, where the face of a maiden stares out from the rock, according to local legend, and hikers can look down on the Russian Chapel, a memorial to the 380 POWs who died while building the road up Vršič Pass during World War I. But the best of the trail may be at the end, in the port town of Muggia, where hikers can wash off days of grit in the blue waters of the Mediterranean.
Logistics: The trail has been carefully designed to make it as easy as possible to complete. Its 43 stages are about 12 miles each, making them ideal day hikes or simple to connect as longer segments for more ambitious thru-hikers. Each stop offers up accommodations and resupply options.
The Bigfoot Trail
Photograph by Stephen Saks
Length: 360 miles (579 kilometers)
Best for: Tree huggers
While the purpose of so many hiking trails is to travel from point to point, the journey is meant to be the destination when it comes to California’s Bigfoot Trail. Celebrating the region’s rich biodiversity, the 360-mile path wanders from Crescent City on the Pacific Ocean through the Klamath Mountains—where there have been more than a few sightings of the eponymous creature. First imagined and hiked in 2009 by local botanist and guidebook author Michael Kaufmann, who's currently raising funds to support the project on Kickstarter, the route is certainly a world-class hike. It passes through six different wilderness areas as well as Redwood National and State Parks and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Along the way there are 32 different conifer species—including those redwoods—as well as oak groves interspersed with tropical rain forest. The region also shelters an incredible range of other plant and animal species, some refugees from ancient times when glaciers didn't cover these mountains as they did the nearby Sierra Nevada and Cascades. Even the mountains themselves are dynamic and alive due to earthquakes, mudslides, and wildfires that can change the very topography and obliterate sections of the trail.
Logistics: While it has a guidebook online and a mapped out route encompassing existing trails, the Bigfoot is not an official trail (as its creators make clear before sending any erstwhile hikers out on it) but a linkup of existing paths. That said, it’s a challenging route, though well enough mapped out that it’s easy to plan and set up resupply spots along it. Kaufmann is willing to help out those who are interested in following his route.
The Menalon Trail
Photograph by Nikos Pavlakis/Alamy
Length: 46.6 miles (75 kilometers)
Best for: Finding the dales of Arcady
Europe’s newest long-distance trail opened last summer and is the first in Greece to be certified by the European Ramblers Association. Built by volunteers from local communities and the Arcadian Mountaineers and Ecologists Club, the trail takes you on a tour of some of the most pleasant villages in the interior of the little-visited Peloponnisos and offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in Greece’s inland flora and fauna. This isn't the stereotypical Greece of ruined columns and beaches: The path tromps into mountains covered with fir trees, drops into deep river gorges, and passes by quiet monasteries. It also gets to the heart of Greek culture in rugged villages such as Stemnitsa, once at the center of the fight for Greek independence in the 19th century, or Dimitsana, where freedom fighters used library books to make gunpowder in that same struggle. But the highlight may be a dip in the waters of the Lousios River, where the fabled nymphs bathed the infant Zeus while hiding him from his father, Kronos.
Logistics: The hike takes casual walkers about five days if they want to do it in true Greek style, taking the time to stop in local villages to eat, drink, and argue about politics. The trail association offers an official map, as well as an app for hikers.
John Muir Way
Photograph by Keith Fergus/Alamy
Length: 134 miles (215 kilometers)
Best for: Getting back to the Old World
John Muir may reign as the grandfather of the American conservation movement, but the founder of the Sierra Club was born far from the soaring granite of the Yosemite Valley—in Dunbar, Scotland. The trail named after him, which opened in 2014 to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of Muir’s death, begins in Helensburgh, where he set off for America at the age of 11, and cuts across the country to his birthplace on the edge of the North Sea. The path connects to Muir’s Old World heritage, stopping at his home in Dunbar (now a museum) and rambling along the outskirts of Edinburgh. It also delves into the green expanses of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Scotland’s first national park, where you can spot otters, ospreys, and red deer. Along the path, which varies from the tarmac of country roads to the dirt of quiet trails, hikers can find a slow way to soak in the big, open Scottish landscape. From the windswept top of Gouk Hill overlooking the blue of Loch Lomond, thoughtful hikers can contemplate the words of Muir himself: “No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening—still all is Beauty!”
Logistics: Broken down into ten sections, the entire route takes most hikers just over a week, though many choose to do just some sections. Since it’s so close to urban areas and towns, hikers can sleep in a warm bed each night and, unlike on many long-distance trails, bikes are allowed on the whole route.
The Great Eastern Trail
Photograph by Carol Barrington/Aurora
Alabama to New York
Length: 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers)
Best for: An alternative to the Appalachian Trail
That great patriarch, the Appalachian Trail (AT), will continue to get more crowded in the coming years, putting a greater burden on its infrastructure and making it more of a human highway than a wilderness path. But just to the west, the 1,600-mile Great Eastern Trail (GET) winds its way up along the rugged backbone of Appalachia, from Flagg Mountain in Alabama to New York’s Finger Lakes, in relative obscurity—for now. Originally envisioned by Earl Shaffer, the first person to thru-hike the AT, the trail began to take shape in 2007 and attempts to re-create what the Appalachian Trail itself once was: a quiet ramble in what’s left of America’s eastern wilds. It officially opened in 2013, when the first hikers followed the entire path, though it’s still being officially pieced together via a network of existing trails and the work of volunteers. Its combination of new and existing trails makes it a fine blend of two experiences: being in the wilderness (untamed stream closing, waterfalls, quiet stands of eastern timber) and making social connections, though in a very different way than on the AT. Hike here and you’ll talk to more locals who are out enjoying their home footpaths than to business execs looking to find themselves while they live off their severance packages.
Logistics: The trail doesn't yet have the infrastructure and culture of the Appalachian Trail, but it does have the support of the Great Eastern Trail Association and the American Hiking Society, so you can easily find detailed information on how to follow the route and where to stop to sleep and resupply. It’s also not as lengthy as the AT, stopping short of New England, where unstable weather late in the year can often shut thru-hikers down. There are plenty of services along the way, but the GET is still a rugged experience: The first thru-hikers to link up the route, Joanna Swanson and Bart Houck (also known by their trail names, Someday and Hillbilly Bart) took six months to pull it off. Since it connects many existing trails, the GET can also be hiked in sections, including on new paths such as the eight-mile Bluestone Turnpike Trail, which follows the rocky country along West Virginia’s Bluestone River.
The Cohos Trail
Photograph by Danita Delimont/Alamy
Length: 162 miles (260 kilometers)
Best for: Those who want to live free or die
In 1978, Kim Nilsen, who was working as a newspaper reporter in Coos County, New Hampshire, came up with a visionary idea: a trail that would delve into the rugged mountains, where he could explore the secrets of the Granite State, pushing from Crawford Notch up to the Canadian border. In 2011, Nilsen’s dream became a reality when he and a team of volunteers opened up the 162-mile Cohos Trail after almost giving up on the project a few years earlier. It’s still more of a track than a perfect trail, following local paths at points and pushing into wilds that few New Hampshire residents ever see. Chances are that hikers will encounter more moose than people as they clamber into the Connecticut Lakes region, where Cohos Trail volunteers were finally able to dig a path into Quebec and continue to improve the trail. In the end it’s more of an easy place to explore what remains of true wilderness in New England: sweeping vistas, wind-scoured granite overlooks, and hidden lakes and ponds.
Logistics: While the trail is quite rugged, it's not particularly long, and thru-hikers who want a taste of the New England portion of the Appalachian Trail without the crowds can pull it off in anywhere from a week to a month and still feel as if they've completed something significant. Nilsen’s guidebook provides plenty of information for thru- and day hikers who want to get out on his route (they may even run into him performing a bit of trail maintenance or enjoying his upcoming retirement), but the trail is still changing, and the best source of information is the Cohos Trail Association, which gives updates on trail conditions. The Cohos Trail doesn't exactly stop at the border, either: Hikers can choose to continue 70 miles farther into Quebec on the province’s Frontier Trail. It’s also possible to tick off many sections of the trail as day hikes, including the climb from Dixville Notch to the top of the sheer, 500-foot cliff of Table Rock.
Photograph by Nejdetduzen/Getty Images
Length: 510 miles (820 kilometers)
Best for: Beach lovers and ancient historians
Ambling over the Turkish countryside from the Mediterranean to the Aegean, the Carian Trail takes in some of the best beaches on the planet: sun-kissed cliffs of white rock towering over endless blue, warm sands, and isolated spots to swim—a far cry from the holiday-making of the country’s popular resort towns. But the trail also takes in mountains, punching through the country's rugged interior, where the ancient Carian civilization once flourished in this crossroads of ancient history. The trail was the brainchild of a group of Turks who wanted to show off an authentic side of this nation of contrasts, caught between Europe and Asia, beachside tourist squalor and the intensifying crisis in the Middle East. In the deep hills, things don’t move very fast. Hikers wander through olive groves and blooming oleander on a path that follows the course of ancient history. It's a land that's been crossed by Neolithic cave artists, Hittite charioteers, and Alexander the Great. But the beaches are still the postcard attraction here, and the Carian Trail is bookended by them, with the steep cliffs of the Bozburun Peninsula on one end and, on the other, the Dalyan Delta, where turtles come to lay eggs and the rock-cut tombs of Caunus stare out at the waves.
Logistics: Though hiking the entire trail is a big endeavor, it requires little logistical support since it stops in numerous villages, towns, and even upscale resorts. It’s also easy to simply choose parts of the trail depending on what you most want to see—beaches, ruins, inland villages—since it’s broken up into six sections. The trail founders published an extensive guidebook, and local guides also run operations on the trail.
The Abraham Path
Photograph by Dan Porges
Turkey to Israel
Opened: Not yet completed
Length: Currently 1,247 miles (2,000 kilometers) mapped, 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) proposed
Best for: World peace
Can a hike change the world? That's the hope for the Abraham Trail, which currently covers 1,247 miles, with a planned span of over 3,000 miles stretching across ten countries. The latter portion may be on hold indefinitely, however, since the planned route goes through Syria and other unstable regions in the area. But that hasn't deterred the founders' vision of having a simple way to unite this place—by foot. They want to see all the varied, warring ethnic and religious groups here—Muslims, Jews, Kurds, Christians, Alevi, Bedouin, Fellahin, Samaritans—come together to walk through each other's backyards in peace. Or to at least bring hikers from around the world who will visit each of these groups and promote a culture of understanding through hiking. The route follows the path of Abraham, the historical ancestor of many of the varied people of this land, in an attempt to promote and develop sustainable tourism and peace between people in the region. Along the way it passes through wild desert landscapes and cities and settlements. Open sections include hikes through Turkey’s Urfa region, where history has unfolded since the first humans began to settle and grow crops, as well as treks near the Euphrates River and Mount Nemrut. Will the trail remain only a dream? Or will a time come when hikers can trek the full 3,000 miles in peace?
Logistics: Despite the very real dangers in this part of the world, parts of the trail are safe to hike. In fact, it’s important that hikers do come here to promote the trail’s message of peace in the face of adversity. It’s also important to check in with the trail’s organizers on the safety of each region. It’s a good idea to hire local guides as well.
Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker Historical Trail
Photograph by Michael Runkel
South Sudan and Uganda
Opened: Planned for 2016
Length: 500 miles (805 kilometers)
Best for: Exploration
In the coming year, present-day explorer and anthropologist Julian Monroe Fisher hopes to complete a dream, opening a trail in South Sudan and Uganda that follows in the footsteps of Victorian explorers Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker into the depths of the African bush to the shores of Lake Albert, which they named after Queen Victoria’s consort. The Bakers made their trip in protest against the slave trade—they claimed that “exploration abolishes slavery”—and in an effort to understand a region under the control of colonial powers while still largely unexplored by its overlords. Fisher hopes the establishment of the trail will resonate in the face of the ongoing current global slave trade and continuing war in the region. The path begins in Gondokoro on the Nile, in the new, troubled nation of South Sudan, and heads south, ending on the shores where the Bakers became the first Europeans to behold Lake Albert in 1864. Fisher hopes to complete the path in 2016, with the long-term goal of having the route become the Appalachian Trail of a continent known more for unrest and poverty than for outdoor recreation.
Logistics: Fisher has been marking the route, and most of it traverses the relatively safe country of Uganda, but the sections in South Sudan can be dangerous (Sir Samuel Baker himself was even kidnapped while on expedition here). Fisher will provide logistical information on the trail, and it's in the spirit of supporting the region to hire local guides.
Photograph by Oyvind Martinsen/Alamy
Length: 700 miles (1,127 kilometers)
Best for: Tropical adventure
It's no easy task to forge a trail through an ever changing rain forest, and a walk down the 700-mile TransPanama Trail doesn't come with a guarantee that the path itself won’t change as the surrounding jungle grows. In fact, it will most likely include some canoeing as well as walking. After all, this is one of the few spots on the globe that humanity hasn't yet been able to tame. Not far from here, the continent-spanning Pan-American Highway disappears into the tropical havoc of the untamed Darien Gap. But don’t be discouraged. The trail leads to paradise: tropical wildflowers and waterfalls and clear streams in the heart of the jungle alongside the screams of howler monkeys and a chorus of birdsong. It also steps into history at points, following the old cobbles of the road Spanish conquistadors built to ferry their gold between oceans. For years the TransPanama Trail (sometimes simply referred to as the TransPanama hike since its route can be intermittent) was more idea than reality until Rick Morales became the first person to complete it in 2011, setting the precedent for an established trail from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Logistics: Morales and other local trail builders will guide the route and provide information to those who want to link the two oceans. For now, the trail is still in the process of being established, but the more people who hike it, the better the infrastructure will become.