By Matt Long
At home I fall into a set routine and honestly don’t deviate from it that much. That routine almost never includes hikes and walks; I use my car as often as I can. When I travel though, something changes. A part of my personality reemerges from its hibernation, an active part, a part of me that loves to get out and not just see the world, but to be a part of it. So that’s probably why I find myself on so very many hikes and walks whenever I travel, from light city escapades to more daunting, day-long efforts. I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite hiking and walking experiences because I know many of you agree with me when I say there is no better way to enjoy the beauty of a new place than to get out and to use all of your senses to capture it forever.
1. Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan
Dana Biosphere is the largest nature reserve in Jordan. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
The largest nature reserve in Jordan, Dana is a common stop for tourists to Jordan, either for the beautiful views of the mountains and valleys below or for a stay at the world-famous Feynan Ecolodge. Less common are those who, like me, tackled the daunting 16-kilometer trek through the valleys, starting at the visitor’s center and ending at the Ecolodge. I enjoy hiking, but due to some physical limitations I have to be careful about what I do and don’t attempt. Had I understood all that was involved with the rigorous hike, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it but, like all of these experiences, at the end I was thankful for having done it. An all-day trek, the trail takes intrepid hikers through valleys, up ridges and provides access to some of the most remote but beautiful areas of Jordan. You start to appreciate the beauty of the desert terrain and by the end of the hike, you feel like the night’s stay at Feynan is the best reward for all of that physical activity. This hike isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy premium outdoors experiences, there are few better in the world.
2. Alta, Norway
Don’t let the winter scare you away; Alta is at its best during the snowy season. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
Traveling to Northern Norway in winter may not be everyone’s idea of a vacation, but I loved every second of it. There’s a lot to be said for visiting places when they’re at their best and for Alta, that’s definitely the winter. I enjoyed many active experiences up there, but a favorite was something that frankly surprised me, snowshoeing. I’d never tried it before and the modern snowshoe is a far cry from the tennis-racket devices I had envisioned. There are a lot of reasons to visit Alta, but for me it was being out in the virgin forests, not a person around for miles that meant the most and snowshoeing is the best way to experience that. Traipsing over knee-deep snow, the shoes did their job and while walking in them was a little awkward at first, they worked and trekking along the trails couldn’t have been easier.
3. Lanai, Hawaii
Lanai is small, but its terrain is diverse. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
Located on the Hawaiian island of Lanai, the Koloiki Ridge Trail is a five-mile hike along the island’s beautiful highlands area. Although it’s small, the terrain on Lanai is remarkably diverse, from those sandy beaches we all dream about to mountainous ridges, complete with beautiful pine trees. It was the latter that I found myself in as I hiked the Koloiki, trudging through primordial forests and along the spines of the lush mountains themselves. The star of the attraction and the main reason for taking the hike though was the view of the Naio and Maunalei Gulches as you approach the ocean. I love Lanai for a lot of reasons, but principally because it is such a quiet place. Looking out across the gulches there was nothing but beautiful nature for as far as the eye could see, like giant green dragons sleeping next to the sea. It’s not the only reason why you should visit this amazing island, but it is a highlight of any trip.
4. Alberta, Canada
Hike through ancient history at Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
One of the best destinations in the world for outdoors experiences, my favorite place (so far) in Alberta is without a doubt Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located about 48 kilometers from the nearest town, Brooks (population 13,000), and close to a number of small villages, Dinosaur Provincial Park is not a place one chances upon. Located in the Canadian Badlands, it includes nearly 20,000 acres of stunning terrain and—hiding just beneath the soil—those oh so famous dinosaur fossils. The park does a great job offering visitors a variety of experiences, including the three-kilometer Centrosaurus Quarry Hike, led by a knowledgeable ranger. As you trek through the scrub, visitors learn more about the process that led to the huge number of fossils now found in the area, as well as some recent discoveries that have helped the world better understand dinosaurs and the era in which they lived. More than anything, I was surprised by the barren beauty of the park itself. The Badlands are called that for a reason and while they may be inhospitable, they have a certain desert charm and appeal. I loved them and personally, that was as much fun as was seeing fossils stuck in the dirt.
5. Stellenbosch, South Africa
Come to Stellenbosch for the wine, stay for the hiking. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
South Africa’s Jonkershoek Nature Reserve isn’t well known, but you need to add it to your outdoor exploration list, along with a visit to beautiful Stellenbosch. More known for its wines and creative food scene, the Stellenbosch region has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts including many amazing hikes and walks. Part of the UNESCO-recognized Cape Floral Region Protected Area, Jonkershoek is incomprehensibly ancient and features mountains with green, velvety folds that line the reserve.
Before traveling to Antarctica, I had no idea that it’s a big hiking destination. Some aren’t much more than nice walks, but a few are full-on, sweaty hikes including one that took me up a mountain in search of penguins and jaw-dropping views. Orne Island is one of a thousand small enclaves along the Antarctic Peninsula, not immediately more recognizable than any of the others. But it was in the island’s harbor where our ship dropped anchor one morning, and it was this island’s peak that promised a wonderful trek. Traversing a steep, switchback path up through snow and ice, the hike was no easy feat, especially under a few layers of clothes. I slipped, I fell, but I always got back up with my eye on the prize above. Once there, the effort was worth it, as it always is. The scale was enormous, people looked like mere specks amongst the canvas of white. We weren’t alone though—penguins were also resting on the mountaintop, thousands of them. This colony called Orne Island home, trekking to and from the waters below to get food for their hatchlings. Sitting there on a rock, drinking some water and watching as a penguin walked a foot away, was a special moment—one I know I’ll always remember and proof that the hike was worth every grunt, groan and drop of sweat.