International Inspiration: 5 Thru-Hikes on the Global Bucket List
Boarding a plane with only a thru-hiking pack gives “backpacking through Europe” a wildly exciting twist. Though the US has a massive amount of public land and trails, there are also endless opportunities to combine thru-hiking and international travel. Most of these trails don’t require sacrificing half a year to hike, while still providing a chance to step outside our own thru-hiking world. International trails give US hikers the chance to experience diverse cultures and landscapes through a different lens. I know that I’m not alone in having enough bucket list hikes to last a lifetime.
Camino De Santiago
The Camino Frances, the most well-traveled and undoubtedly iconic route, is about 500 miles. There are a few different routes to choose from, based on what you’re seeking in the way of elevation gain and which historical pilgrimage is most intriguing to follow.
The Camino Frances starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, which can be accessed via bus from a major airport. The two major airports nearby are Pamplona in northern Spain and Biarritz on the coast of France. Depending on the route you choose, the starting point will vary, but all are accessible via public transit and don’t require any hiker-trash hitchhiking.
Why Hike the Camino
The Camino de Santiago stretches from France to the West Coast of Spain, passing through 15 different Spanish provinces. This holy pilgrimage dates back over 1,000 years, drawing international attention and visitors. This thru-hike is in part so appealing because it doesn’t require hikers to carry everything they need for survival on their back. The Camino is littered with pueblos (little towns), where thru-hikers can sleep and eat for a moderately low cost. As a thru-hiker from the relatively young United States, my curiosity is consistently sparked by the antiquity of European nations.
Slovenia Mountain Trail
This 382-mile hike takes about one month to complete. Along the trail there are 80 official checkpoints, including 55 huts. Camping is forbidden along the entire trail, prompting hikers to plan their itinerary around the hut locations. Although I enjoy being able to find my own campsites, I will never gripe about being “forced” to leave a shelter out of my pack.
After flying into Ljubljana, the start of the trail at Maribor is cheaply accessible via bus, train, or shuttle. From the end of the trail at Debeli Rtič there is also accessible public transit back to the airport in Ljubljana. From major cities in the US, flights to Ljubljana range from $600-$1,100 round trip, depending on the time of year.
Why Hike the Slovenia Mountain Trail
There is no shortage of thru-hiking exploration to be found in Europe. From the Tour du Mont Blanc to Cinque Terre, there are options to walk along paths that are the inspiration for artists and photographers everywhere. The Slovenia Mountain Trail dwells in a less popular region of the continent, calling hikers who are looking for a more secluded and unique adventure. Rumor has it the majority of hikers are from the Alps region, offering the wanderlust hiker-trash a truly immersive experience. Officially established in 1953, the Slovenian Mountain Trail is the first European transversal trail. Hikers walk through plains, Slovenian Alps, and plateaus until reaching the Slovenian Coast.
Refugios in El Bolsón, Argentina
A network of trails connect the Refugios in Argentina, each one at least four hours from the nearest road. There is no official path stop through them all, but with cash, proper gear, and decent Spanish, hikers can spend as long as they want traipsing through the secluded Andean backcountry via the network of Refugios.
The town of El Bolsón launches hikers into the system of Refugios. El Bolsón is accessible by bus from Buenos Aires via Bariloche through various routes. Once in the town, all of the Refugios are accessible via trails, and with a good map and enough cash it’s possible to escape into the backcountry for weeks.
Why Hike Here
Much of the available trekking in South and Central America requires a guiding service. This makes thru-hiking south of Mexico not only more expensive, but less appealing to those seeking an unparalleled adventure. The network of Refugios is an absolute hidden gem, in the midst of the incredibly popular Patagonia region of Argentina. Although flights to Buenos Aires are consistently out of many hikers’ budget range, the cost to stay in the Refugios, price of food, and bus travel are comparatively cheap. The opportunity to explore Patagonia off the beaten trail is motivating me to brush up on my Spanish skills.
Rim of Africa
The Rim of Africa traces the Cape Fold Mountain Range for 403 miles as the longest trail in South Africa. The official Rim of Africa guiding service splits the trail into nine sections, with the opportunity to link it all together. Each different “stage” is between six to eight days. This trail is not open to the public, with proceeds from tours circulating to extend the experience to individuals with varying economic backgrounds.
The trek begins in Cederberg, a remote wilderness region of South Africa. Cederberg is not accessible via public transportation, therefore the trekking guides arrange a ride from the Cape Town airport. From many major airports, flights to Cape Town can range from $850 to $1,300 round trip.
Why Hike the Rim of Africa
Though this trip would require no scarcity of savings, keeping this trail closed to the general public has its benefits. Doing a thru-hike with a guiding service also minimizes risk and allows travelers to partake in an extraordinary adventure without worrying themselves about navigation, route-finding, or water sources. As much as thru-hikers claim to accept Giardia as a necessary evil, it would be nice to not be sidelined with diarrhea.
A network of five different trails, the Via Alpina stretches 3,100 miles from Monaco to Slovenia. Over many months, thru-hikers pass through the Alpine regions of Monaco, France, Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia via a network of huts. The official website has this nifty tool to help travelers plan their hike.
Many hikers complete the trip in sections due to a limited weather window. All of the European towns launching hikers into the Alps are accessible via bus and train. The official start on the coast of Monaco is at Avenue Saint-Martin, reachable from Nice via train or bus. The cost of flights will vary depending on where you choose to start, but I’ve found flights to Paris for under $400 round trip. Need I say more?
Why Hike the Via Alpina
This is the pinnacle of all European thru-hikes. For a hiker looking to combine the length of a trail like the PCT, AT, or CDT with an intentional adventure, Via Alpina is the answer. In one trek, it’s possible to walk through eight European nations. Though the Triple Crown trails offer a wide diversity of ecosystems, Via Alpina provides an unmatchable cultural experience. I simply cannot imagine a more epic way to travel across the Atlantic Ocean.
In the process of writing this article, I set my Google alerts to track about seven different flight prices. Ever since I first traveled abroad, unique international destinations and foreign mountain ranges seem to dance through my head daily. Combining that sense of wanderlust with my desire to live with my life on my back is the ultimate dream.
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