Part of the Gleninchaquin hike, in Kerry, Ireland.
Story and photos by Bronwen Gregory
There are such epic hiking adventures to be had in a single day, all around the world. I love the ritual of that early morning, a stuffed daypack and the reality that you have a huge, beautiful day ahead on foot. Not to mention those end-of-day, exhausted celebrations where you relive your favorite stretches. From the canyons of Utah, to the mountains of the French Alps, to the famous tramps (hikes) in New Zealand, here are seven of my favorites.
You’ll have never seen a place more green. Hundreds of shades of it, with waterfalls and babbling brooks. Gleninchaquin is something out of a dream—yet it’s beautiful reality in Southwest Ireland. This family-owned park, overseen by Donal and Peggy Corkery, is a long, narrow coombe valley on the northwest side of the Beara Peninsula, just outside of Kenmare.
I encourage you to spend a full day out at the park, tackling the trail called “The Boundaries Hike.” It’s a six- to seven-hour round-trip hike and is for experienced hikers (since there’s scrambling involved and not many trail markers). The route will follow the boundaries of Gleninchaquin Park, which are defined by the high ridges of the Caher Mountain Range.
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A waterfall in Yosemite National Park.
The Upper Falls Trail hike is a great day trip in Yosemite during the quieter months of spring, fall, and early or really late winter (when the heat, crowds, and mosquitoes are gone).
The distance is 7.6 miles round trip from the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead, or 9.4 miles if you include Yosemite Point. Your elevation gain will be 2,600 feet to the top of Yosemite Falls and 2,969 feet to Yosemite Point. The trip can take six to eight hours.
It’s a significant workout and you’ll need to have plenty of water and snacks to fuel you on the panoramic hike. This photo (above) was taken in February and the ice and snow at the base of the falls was a special treat.
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Hout Bat, near Cape Town, South Africa.
Cape Town, South Africa
When you’re staying in Cape Town, be sure to get out to Hout Bay on the Cape Peninsula to witness a sunset that I’m convinced is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
I love the Chapman’s Peak Hotel in Hout Bay. Even if you’re staying in Cape Town, it can be a great place to drive to—park your rental car and take off on a hike or bike ride up the gloriously winding Chapman’s Peak Drive. Bring those headlamps or bike lights since you’re sticking around for sunset! Then on your return back to Hout Bay, have dinner and some local South African Pinotage on the deck of the hotel’s restaurant.
Chapman’s Peak is the name of a mountain on the western side of the peninsula, about 15 kilometers south of Cape Town. Chapman’s Peak Drive hugs the near-vertical face of the mountain from Hout Bay to Noordhoek and will leave you amazed.
Tongariro Crossing, in New Zealand.
This huge single-day hike is in the running for best day hike in the world. If you’re spending time in Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand and you love a challenging hike with unbelievable topography, be sure to give yourself a few days (in hopes of catching a full day of good weather) to tackle the crossing.
It’s a Middle Earth–esque lunar landscape. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world. This hike is a beautiful day in the pristine playground known as New Zealand.
The Narrows, in Utah’s Zion National Park.
This hike is also one of my top contenders for best day hike. Zion, tucked in Springdale, Utah, is already such a profoundly striking national park, and the chance to tackle the famed Narrows hike on the Virgin River completes an epic visit.
I’d encourage you to make reservations for shoe and trekking pole rentals with the Zion Adventure Company. Once you’re in their office you’re greeted warmly with information, maps, instructional videos, and everything else you need to know before heading in.
You’ll be hiking on the Colorado Plateau and almost entirely in the river. The walls are vertical and sheer, and different shades of red and orange. Water levels change from season to season but be aware that you’re always at least wading in knee- to waist-high water (if not swimming small sections).
For the single-day hike experience in the Narrows, you’ll be tackling the up-and-back route from the Temple of Sinawava.
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Aiguille du Midi, in Chamonix, France
Here’s my favorite half-day hike from Chamonix, commonly known as the “Traverse Plan de l’Aiguille - Montenvers Train Mer de Glace.”
Be sure to get up early so the line isn’t too long at the cable car to reach the Aiguille du Midi. Double-check to make sure the ticket you’re purchasing not only gets you up to the Aiguille du Midi point, but also then lets you hop on the next cable car to head toward Helbronner (the incredible viewing spot that hovers over the border of France and Italy). Once you step out, you’ll see hundreds of teams tackling the more technical descents on the snow and ice.
You’ll then descend by cable car back to the mid-station at the Plan d’Aiguille (that you saw on the way up). From there, you’ll walk the steep, zigzag, wooded track back down to Chamonix (three to four hours) or cross over from the Plan d’Aiguille to the Montenvers train/Mer de Glace station (three hours) to take the tourist train back down to Chamonix. Either way, you’re guaranteed inspiring views.
By your return to town you’ll have worked up an appetite worthy of the delicious MBC, Chamonix’s first microbrewery. Walk along the river to head toward the pub and enjoy the food, beverages, and cozy atmosphere. Toast to taking advantage of all that this rugged setting has to offer, and honor its past, too—it was home of the first Winter Olympics, in 1924.
Flatbreen Hike, in Fjærland, Norway.
On this summer hike you’ll gain 3,100 feet on the way up these stunning, glaciated valleys and mountain passes.
Depending on your pace and the weather, you’re looking at a five- to six-hour experience, round trip. This is no walk in the park—it is truly an all-day challenge that leaves you breathless (and inspired). You can see in the photograph that even in July you could run into long stretches of snow, meaning sturdy, waterproof footwear and extra layers are always a good idea.
A great place to start the day is in the small dairy farming community at the foot of Jostedalsbreen Glacier (the largest glacier on the European mainland). Here, you have the chance to hit the Norwegian Glacier Museum for a fascinating, hands-on look at glaciology and its impact on the topography of Norway. You can also warm up with some hot chocolate or soup in the museum cafe.
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