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6 iconic walking trails – ancient & modern

Published June 29, 2016 by Nick Dall

Friedrich Nietzsche said that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking,” and who are we to disagree? This month we look at 6 of the world's best long walks...
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Qhapaq Ñan, South America
At its peak the Qhapaq Ñan (Great Incan Road) stretched from Argentina to Colombia and incorporated a staggering 25,000 miles of roads and trails. The network fed into two main arteries, one following a coastal route; the other traversing the mighty Andes. Without the Qhapaq Ñan and its incredible rope bridges, the Inca empire would never have reached the heights it did. While some sections like the Inca trail are huge tourist attractions, other parts of the network are virtually unheard of.

Bruce Dall
Photo credit: Bruce Dall


Pacific Crest Trail, USA
The PCT will need little introduction to North American readers, so I will be brief. The trail spans 2,659mi from the Canadian border in the North to the Mexican border in the South, and follows the spines of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. Conceived in 1932 by Clinton Churchill Clarke, it is one of the younger trails on this list, but it has rapidly established a name for itself as one of the world’s greatest hikes. It has a special significance to all at SA Expeditions, and our founders have spent many a weekend taking in its majestic beauty.

PCT Carissa Rogers
Photo credit: Carissa Rogers


Camino de Santiago, France & Spain
Arguably the most famous walk in the world, this pilgrimage to St James’ tomb in the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela dates back to the year 814 AD. Since then pilgrims from throughout Europe (and, nowadays, from all over the globe) have searched for inner peace along a network of routes which join together like a river system and culminate in the Camino Frances – the most commonly walked section of the pilgrimage which starts near Biarritz in France, about 500 miles from Santiago de Compostela. To get a feel for the walk, watch and enjoy the trailer of the 2012 film The Way:

Shikoku Pilgrimage, Japan
This 750-mile pilgrimage across Japan incorporates visits to 88 sacred temples and dates back to the 9th century AD. Large numbers of henro (pilgrims) still complete the journey, although many use modern means of transport instead of walking. Pilgrims wear white clothing and sedge hats and carry walking sticks. Interestingly there is no requirement to complete the pilgrimage in order; and doing it in reverse order is considered especially lucky!

Shikoku Pilgrimage Simon Desmerais
Photo credit: Simon Desmerais


Great Wall of China, China
The Great Wall of China is the collective name for the more than 13,000 miles of ramifications which run in an East-West direction along the northern border of China. The first sections were built as early as the 7th century BC (!) but very little remains of these extremely old constructions. The Great Wall as we know it dates back to the Ming dynasty and measures about 4000 miles. Hiking on the wall itself can be an extremely rewarding experience, especially in the more remote sections.

Great Wall of China Jonathan Corbet
Photo credit: Jonathan Corbet


Via Alpina, Europe
Formally established in the year 2000, the Via Alpina incorporates historic Alpine trails in eight different European countries. Comprising 342 stages, with a total length of 3100 miles and an altitude range of 0 – 10,000 feet, the Via Alpina is an unparalleled way to experience Europe’s wilder side. But it also offers fascinating insights in the cultural heritage of some of the world’s oldest civilizations.

Via Alpina Ingo Ronner
Photo credit: Ingo Ronner

But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. John Muir

Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. Henry David Thoreau

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time. Steven Wright

PCT Frank Douwes
Photo credit: Frank Douwes


Credit to A Herrero for the cover photo of this post which was taken on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.