Getting there can be half the fun — as long as you’re not too worn out to enjoy the rest of your trip. The miles can really pile up during your visits to some of the great landmarks of the world, leaving you with sore tootsies by the end of a day of sightseeing.
But several iconic sites feature lower-impact options. Whether you’ve found the idea of traversing the Great Wall of China too daunting or just wouldn’t know where to start when exploring Utah’s Bryce Canyon, these nine easy day hikes can help you check off some key items on your bucket list and still get you back in time to refuel on some local cuisine.
So get out and stretch your legs on these trails — where only the scenery will leave you breathless. Each hike should take three hours or less (depending on how quickly you move and, of course, how long you stop to stare slack-jawed at the scenery).
1. Say Hello to a Hoodoo
Those tall, skinny spires standing watch over an arid plateau region? Those are called hoodoos. Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park has given birth to a large population of these rock formations, some of which match your height and others that climb as high as a 10-story building. Winds and rains in the region continuously carve the canyon rock. The same process also destroys them. But don’t worry, you have plenty of time to get there; the rate of erosion is estimated at two to four feet every 100 years.
Head down to the canyon floor on the 2.9-mile Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail for an up-close view of the hoodoos. The path includes about 600 feet of descending and a similar return ascent.
2. Become a Cape Crusader
With the waters of the shimmering False Bay lapping the shores of Fish Hoek Beach below, you’ll almost feel guilty about how quickly you are rewarded for your efforts on this swift trip to the top. Elsie’s Peak in Cape Town, South Africa, offers a gentle rise to just 300 feet above sea level, but you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. The 360-degree views also include distant mountains and the Glencairn Valley. The well-worn dirt route takes you up and down the mountain in about two hours and features multiple scenic-viewing stops.
You might even spot a whale or two — the southern right whale comes up from Antarctica and hangs out in the bay from June until November.
3. Ramble Amid Ruins in Ireland
In Ireland, they call their hikes hill walks or rambles. You’ll have your pick of paths at Wicklow Mountains National Park in the valley of Glendalough near Dublin. Nine routes vary from a 30-minute stroll to a four-hour hill walk. The peaceful park offers views of stunning lakes and valleys carved by glaciers. The lands also are home to centuries-old monastic ruins — six churches that were founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.
We recommend the Miners’ Road Walk, or purple route, for your stroll. Hikers regularly see feral goats and soaring peregrine falcons on the three-mile route, which brings you past St. Kevin’s Bed, a small cave where the monk is said to have slept.
4. Find the Fort in Puerto Rico
Sure, rain forests are exotic. But visit a dry forest and you can leave the umbrella behind. Puerto Rico‘s Guanica State Forest and Biosphere Reserve is classified as a subtropical dry forest. This bird watcher’s haven, located in the southwestern portion of the island, features a wide range of plants and wildlife despite receiving scant rainfall (about 30 inches annually). The area is home to about half of the island’s bird species and more than 700 types of plants.
Hike the Fuerte Trail from the main parking area to Fort Capron. The six-mile roundtrip hike follows a wide, well-maintained, packed-dirt path with some hilly portions. These are desert-like conditions with little shade, so wear a hat and bring water and sunblock.
5. Poke Around at the Pillars
Want a hike that will leave you with the feeling that you just had a really g’day? Check out the Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia’s Nambung National Park, where thousands of limestone formations climb from the yellow desert floor, the tallest reaching up to 16 feet high. Stroll amid the bizarre landscapes on a soft walking loop that is less than one mile long. The pinnacles were formed approximately 25,000 years ago when the sea receded and left behind seashell deposits. Though time and winds have swept away the surrounding sands, the pillars remain.
The best time to visit is from August to October, when the desert wildflowers are in bloom. Extend your stay at the park with some time at the nearby white-sand beaches and coastal dunes, which show off a stunning array of vegetation.
6. Take in a Slice of Old Sicily
Prepare to catch a glimpse of early civilization, dating from the 13th century to the 7th century B.C. The Pantalica Gorge is home to one of the oldest archaeological sites in Sicily, featuring about 5,000 rock-carved Neolithic tombs nestled in the canyon walls. On a plateau between the southeastern towns of Ferla and Sortino, the “Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica” is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll see an area that served as a home to settlers who fled the coasts for the protection of the hills. Burial chambers and cave dwellings dot the canyon, which overlooks a limestone ravine carved by the Anapo and Calcinara Rivers and a striking valley. You might see rabbits, porcupines, foxes, lizards, falcons or butterflies amid lush vegetation that includes fennel, wild sage and oak trees.
Enter from Ferla to find a well-worn, gradual trail; the out-and-back hike takes about three hours. Get a map to plot your route at the entrance booth.
7. Hit the Great Wall
The legendary Great Wall of China stretches an epic 5,500 miles and took about 2,000 years to construct. You, however, can knock out the Lakeside Great Wall Hike in Huanghuacheng, located about 40 miles from Beijing, in a morning.
This 3.5-mile hiking route offers a gentle countryside trail along the Huanghuacheng Great Wall section, which during the summer becomes festooned, along with the rest of the village, in a blanket of blooming yellow wildflowers. Hikers can look out upon the nearby mountains and the waters of Jintang Lake and the Huanghuacheng Reservoir.
8. Monkey Around on a Costa Rican Beach
It’s not often that you’ll wear your bathing suit on your hike and plan to jump into the Caribbean waters after — or during — your route. So when you find the chance, take the plunge.
Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park features a 4.4-mile coastal walking trail from which you’re likely to see white-faced and howler monkeys, along with colorful land crabs, sloths, lizards and iguanas. The trails are flat and well maintained, curling through a lowland forest. Much of the trail is within 100 yards of the beach, so you can duck off the trail for a quick dip as the urge strikes.
9. Get Bogged Down in Pennsylvania
Fresh juicy blueberries right off the bushes. We thought that might get your attention.
Bear Meadows Natural Area in Centre County, Pennsylvania, sits in Rothrock State Forest in the Appalachian Mountains and features one of the largest freshwater bogs in the East. A journey along the 3.5-mile loop trail will bring you into the habitat for nearly 90 bird species and an impressive range of vegetation, including hemlock trees up to 1,000 years old. Yes, there’s an abundance of black bears in the region (I bet the name of the area tipped you off), so stay alert and don’t stray far from the footpath.
The big payoff is the chance to pluck tasty high-bush blueberries as you make your way around the loop.
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–written by John Roberts