Without wanting to sound like a pretentious twit – there’s a Norwegian proverb which says ‘Only one who wanders, finds a new path’. To date, I’ve only hiked in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales) and while there are plenty of places left to explore I’d like my next adventure to be slightly further afield.
My experience of Hiking is on British terrain which all in all, is pretty soft stuff – beautiful but easy nonetheless. Over the next couple of years, I’d like to branch out and leave the home terrain to explore some longer slightly more challenging 3-5 day hikes.
Due to proximity, Europe is going to be my first port-of-call and there are so many fantastic looking trails it’s actually quite overwhelming. I’ve been reading about the hikes that appealed to me and have made a list of the top 5 i’m going to prioritise. I better get cracking then …
Laugavegurinn, Iceland – 34 Miles
Having never been to Iceland before, I’m itching to go – especially after reading so many positive things about the incredibly varied multi-terrain hikes. The Laugavegurinn trek is highly rated by hikers and looks like it shows off some of the best of Icelandic landscapes.
This 34 mile trail passes through volcanic terrain, snowfield and takes you past freezing rivers (some of which stay frozen in summer). According to a selection of sources it takes around 4-5 days to complete, depending on pace, which is an ideal length of time to book off of work.
Despite the trail passing through some of the most isolated and remote parts of Iceland, it’s still accessible and fairly easy for hikers to get to (in comparison to others I was looking at). The trail-head is approximately 100 miles from Reykjavik and during peak season there is a bus route directly between the two.
The trail is allows wild camping which is great if you’re really pushing your pace. If you prefer more shelter, there are also huts with dormitory beds staggered out every 10 miles of the trail. According to people who’ve hiked this trail they tend to book up quite quickly so you’ll have to reserve them beforehand. Failing that there are normal camp sites close to huts with running water and other well reviewed facilities.
The trail isn’t open all year due to the freezing weather conditions but you can hike it anytime between late June and early September. The highest altitude reaches 3,600 feet so don’t be mislead by hot weather forecasts at sea level – it’ll still be chilly so make sure you take multi-seasonal gear in case of rapid change in weather.
Tour Du Mont Blanc, The Alps (Italy, Switzerland & France) – 110 Miles
Similar to the USA’s Appalachian Trail, the Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB) can be tackled in sections if you don’t have time to do the full 110 miles. This renowned trail crosses three countries and circles the Mont Blanc massif – hence the name. It reaches teetering heights of 6.5 miles above sea level and passes through Switzerland, Italy and France.
TMB has an excellent reputation from all types of mountaineers – hikers and climbers alike. Completing the trail anti-clockwise will take you approximately 11 days, depending on pace. However don’t be surprised if you’re passed by runners on the trail, it’s also a grueling Ultramarathon route. The quickest runner has a winning time of just 20 hours!
There are five potential starting points; Les Houches and Les Contaminesin in France, Courmayeur in Italy and either Champex or Martigny in Switzerland. The highest parts of the trail are the Col des Fours in France and Fenetre d’Arpette in Switzerland which both reach altitudes of around 2,665 meters. While this won’t cause altitude sickness for the majority of hikers there will still be a noticeable lack of oxygen in the air.
Before attempting this it’s important to gain experience hiking in similar conditions and getting used to rising and falling altitudes where the weather can drastically change in minutes. As always with these types of terrain, it’s crucial to have good gear that can be used in multiple types of weather.
It goes without saying that anyone thinking about doing the TMB needs to be or be with a good navigator armed with a compass and map. Despite good signage there will still be turnings where the route isn’t marked!
Knivskjellodden, Norway – 11.5 Miles
This is one of the shortest European hikes on the list but favourably passes through some of the most secluded terrain. The Norwegian trail traces the most northern point of mainland Europe so you can expect cold temperatures even throughout summer months. Knivskjelloden (try saying that after a hot toddy) can be accessed via a 5.6 mile hike from a parking spot along the E69 highway – situated 4 miles south of the North Cape.
Due to its remote location, there isn’t a great deal of information surrounding the actually trail. This suggests that perhaps it’s not as trodden as some of the other routes – which could be seen in both a positive or negative light. One thing is for sure though, without any research-based preconceptions you can genuinely enjoy every twist and turn the trail has to offer you.
The trail is deemed unhikeable until summer months – unless to looking to ski or snowboard. In winter the grassy terrain transforms into an Arctic landscape, completely covered in snow.
Hardangervidda Transverse, Norway – Miles vary on routes
Hardangervidda, easier to say than you’d think, is a national park situated on Norwegian highland plateau which spans approximately 8500km – roughly 20% of the size of the Netherlands just to put it into perspective. The park itself covers 3,422km so you can enjoy seclusion on the trail as well as more populated areas. There are a handful of routes you can choose from, varying from 2-12 days in completion.
Like most of rural Norway, the landscape become uninhabitable during winter but through summer you’ll be made to feel much more welcome. This terrain and tepid temperature is perfect for walking and with the stunning network of rivers and lakes you’ll even have the chance to catch your own dinner – if the fish are biting. It goes without saying that multi-seasonal gear is a must in Norway, even during summer months.
From what I’ve read, the highest rated trail is Kinsarvik Stavali which takes approximately 2-3 days to complete. The hike up from the Sorfjord is steep but provides the best introduction to the plateau with easy access from Highway 13. There’s also an alternative route back to the trail head in Lofthus (an idyllic town south of the trail) and if you have enough time you can continue on the plateau east from Stavali, Toreytten or Vivelid – the choice is yours.
Now just because it’s secluded, that doesn’t mean you’ll be hiking alone. The Hardangervidda plateau happens to be home to one of the largest populations of wild reindeer in Europe and if you’re one of the lucky few you’ll get to see them in action.
Karhunkierros, Finland – 50 Miles
Karhunkierros, also known as the ‘Bears Round’, is a hiking trail stretching from Salla to Kuusamo in northeastern Finland. The route is one of the most popular trails in Finland, attracting around 15,000 hikers every year (mainly during summer – you can imagine why by looking at the above photo). The best time to hike it is from mid July to late September but if you’re willing to brave the snow and freezing cold you can tackle the trail any time throughout the year.
The trail is around 50 miles long and runs within Oulanka National Park for the majority of its distance. There are two main routes, each clearly marked with orange paint on trees and rocks – although it’s always a good idea to still bring a compass and map just in case.
Throughout the trail there are eight wilderness huts which are open and free to use for any and every hiker, meaning you might be sharing. There are also several campfire sites and lean-to shelters such as the Finnish Laavu (a traditional small building intended for temporary residence during hiking or fishing trips in the wilderness) and a more fully equipped camping ground. They do state that camping outside the designated areas isn’t permitted along the trail but if you find somewhere secluded, don’t have a fire and make sure you leave no trace of yourself behind you should be absolutely fine.
The trail passes through diverse Finnish landscapes and according to most hikers it can be completed in 4-5 days – long enough for a solo hike if you want to reconnect with nature again. The weather in Finland can quickly turn cold so be sure you carry some light weight thermals and waterproofs – even if you’re going in summer!
*The images used in this blog post were taken by other photographers – all details are noted below each image