Four of Hong Kong’s Most Dazzling Thru-Hikes
Hong Kong is a metropolis overflowing with great food, breathtaking vistas, and incredibly rich and diverse hiking. While Hong Kong doesn’t technically have any “thru-hikes,” there are four notable “long” hikes that would fill any thru-hiker’s heart with wanderlust. Also, no matter if you’re a local or only in town for a short stint, there is a hike for you. One of the best things about hiking in Hong Kong is that you can really “choose your own adventure.” Nearly every section of these hikes is accessible by bus, MTR (the metro system in HK) or ferry, and very few people do every section in one fell swoop. Therefore, you can pick and choose which ones you’d like to do and get hiking!
The Best of Hong Kong’s Thru-Hikes
1. Hong Kong Trail
Distance: 31 miles, 50 km
Trail type: Out and back
Number of sections: Eight
This trail spans the entirety of Hong Kong Island and is very accessible by public transit. It is divided into eight sections, each ranging in difficulty with a good mixture of trail and road walking. Technically, the trail starts on Lugard Street atop Victoria Peak, but if you decide to hike up versus taking the tram or bus, you’ll already be well on your way to getting your trail legs because it is up-Up-UP! Once you get to the terminus, the trail is easy enough to follow. There are markers about every 500 meters or so indicating that you’re on the right path. Sections one to three give you some great views of the southern half of Hong Kong, with scenic vistas of Llama Island and Aberdeen. Section five is also beautiful as you link up the Wilson Trail (more on that in a moment) to cross Jardine’s Lookout, leaving you with some gorgeous views of Kowloon on one side and the Tai Tam Reservoir on the other. But the crown jewel of the Hong Kong Trail, perhaps, is Section eight, more famously known as Dragon’s Back.
Hikers come from all over the world to hike this trail and for good reason: it is simply stunning. For a good majority of the hike, you bob up and down these lush, green mountains that give way to some spectacular views of the ocean on either side of you. And the best part? The hike ends at Big Wave Bay where you can celebrate with some ice cream, a lie on the beach, and maybe a bit of surfing if you’re up for it.
My recommendations: Sections 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8
2. Lantau Trail
Distance: 43.5 miles, 70 km
Trail type: Loop
Number of sections: 12
My friends and I always say that while tourists hike Dragon’s Back, locals prefer Lantau. Lantau Island has some of Hong Kong’s most challenging climbs and remarkable views. Since Lantau is an island, it takes a little more effort to get there, but not much. There are several ferries that take you directly to the trail’s terminus (in Mui Wu) where the trail begins and ends. Although you could technically start there, Section one is not the most glamorous hike. It includes about a mile or two of road walking that could just as easily be skipped by taking a bus to the trailhead of Section two—and that’s really where you really want to be. Sections two and three include Lantau’s two premier hikes: Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak. If you’re really looking for a challenge, you should try summiting them both in one day. All I’ll say is I hope you’ve been training on the Stairmaster because Hong Kong does not believe in switchbacks. Section four swings around Ngong Ping (home of the Big Buddha), where you’ll be overwhelmed by all the restaurants and stores. Although it’s kind of surreal, this is actually one of my favorite things about hiking on Lantau. There’s something nice about being able to tackle a huge mountain and then having the opportunity to generously reward yourself almost immediately upon its completion. Another great thing about the Lantau Trail is the presence of designated campsites. Although I’ve never gone camping in Hong Kong (because, seriously, it’s just so easy to go back home at night), I’ve always thought it would be fun to camp and try to do this trail as a “real” thru-hike. Although Sections two and three are definitely Lantau’s most famous hikes, the latter half of the trail is also peppered with some great views, historical nuggets, and adorable fishing villages.
My recommendations: Sections 2, 3 and 4 (grab some food in Ngong Ping and maybe see the Big Buddha), 7, 8, and 12.
3. Wilson Trail
Distance: 48.5 miles, 78 km
Trail type: Out and back
Number of sections: Ten
Wilson Trail is a trail that you really want to take and make your own. It’s a bit funky. For one, it begins on Hong Kong Island but then randomly skips over the harbor and begins again in Kowloon (how did it do that?). Since it doesn’t seem to care about tradition, I’ve never cared to hike it traditionally. For starters, I almost always hike Section one backward. This section includes two of Hong Kong’s most infamous peaks, The Twins, and boy are they an ugly set of twins. Remember what I said about Hong Kong not believing in switchbacks? Well, these two climbs are proof of that. Hiking the Twins is a rite of passage for many hikers in Hong Kong simply because it basically entails climbing up two seemingly endless sets of stairs; fortunately, the rewarding views at the top make it well worth the effort. Plus, if you choose to hike it backward, you’ll get the longest set out of the way first and then finish just outside Stanley where you can amply reward yourself with a relaxing drink on the beach.
After Section one, the Wilson Trail continues, cutting perpendicularly across Hong Kong Trail’s Section five, and then hops over the harbor where Section three begins. This is probably one of my favorite hikes in Hong Kong. Although it’s not technically included in the Wilson Trail, Section three has you walk right past Devil’s Peak where you can get one of the most incredible views of Hong Kong Island and Junk Bay (it is not to be missed). Sections four, five, and six swing around Kowloon, crisscrossing with the MacLehose Trail and then eventually duck behind Lion Rock Park, where the trail begins to head north and becomes much more rural. These sections give you some impressive views of the lush green mountains but also include a lot of road walking, so I’m not the biggest fan. The trail finishes strong, though, with Sections eight to ten as you take on the challenge of climbing up Cloudy Hill on your way to Tai Po. These final sections are more rural and can take a bit of effort to get to, but they are a definite “must” for any hiking enthusiast.
My recommendations: Sections 1 (but do it backward, towards Stanley), 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10
4. MacLehose Trail
Distance: 62 miles, 100 km
Trail type: Out and back
Number of sections: Ten
Last but certainly not least is Hong Kong’s MacLehose Trail. I could write an entire post dedicated to this trail alone. For one, it is the longest of the four trails, the most rural, and probably the most famous due to its level of difficulty and unrivaled diversity in terms of natural beauty. It crosses most of the New Territories, starting along Hong Kong’s eastern beaches and then climbs upward into the green, lush mountains, giving you some great views of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island in the distance. Of all ten sections, Section two is probably my favorite. It’s quite remote, and you’ll probably need to take a taxi to get to the trailhead, but once you’re there you’ll be rewarded with a great mix of challenging climbs combined with some of the most beautiful ocean views you can find in Hong Kong. Furthermore, this section ends at Ham Tim Wan, one of Hong Kong’s most pristine beaches, where you can buy a snack from the local store, set up camp, and enjoy the beach.
Sections 3-5 take you across the New Territories just behind Kowloon and Lion Rock Park. Although it’s not technically included in the trail, Section five passes a side trail to Lion Rock Peak, where you can get an unparalleled view of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Sections seven and eight are also very well known for their lush scenery and epic climbs. In fact, Section eight boasts Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, whose peak gives way to some stunning 360 degree views of the rolling hills all around. Most people take about five to six days to complete the entire trail, but if you’re looking for a real challenge, you can try to complete it in one by signing you and your three best buddies up for the Oxfam Trailwalker in November.
My recommendations: Sections 2, 5, 8 and 9
There’s Something for Every Hiker
Hong Kong has something for every hiker. If you’re interested in learning more about these hikes, you should head on over to the government website (link below) which provides detailed maps, tips on getting to/from the trailheads, and each section’s level of difficulty. Also, since we are talking about a tropical climate here, don’t forget to be mindful of the season; Hong Kong is known for its typhoons, suffocating humidity, and extreme heat. The best months to hike are usually November-March, but you’ll want to be sure to bring lots of water regardless of the season.
More information can be found here
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I never realised there were so many trails in HK. Maybe next time on on my way to/from Aus/UK I will stop there for a week and go walking!