By LISA KLEIN
Vacations are often focused on relaxing, being pampered and sometimes barely lifting so much as a finger.
While trips of the chill variety are much needed, the opposite – such as multi-day hikes that test one’s endurance and connect with truly wild nature – can bring peace of mind of a different kind.
These five long-distance hikes found around the world are the perfect place to start planning an unforgettable journey.
Appalachian Trail – United States
Traversing the entire Appalachian Trail (pictured above), which runs along the mountain range of the same name in the eastern U.S., is the undertaking of a lifetime.
At over 2,190 miles, hiking the full trail usually takes between five and seven months and only one in three who attempt the feat make it. Luckily, there are numerous entrances to the trail in the 14 states it passes through and most choose to tackle only segments of it.
From the southernmost point of Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin Mountain in Maine to the north, the trail winds through dense forest, up and down mountains and past moose, black bears and deer.
Its highest elevation, 6,643 feet, is Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Kumano Kodo – Japan
The Kumano Kodo, on the Kii Peninsula in southeast Japan, is actually a series of trails that cover an ancient network of pilgrimage routes connecting important Buddhist shrines.
Walked by emperors, aristocrats and, later, the masses for over 1,000 years, these paths all wander through the sacred mountains past waterfalls and towering cedar and cypress trees.
A Kumano Kodo pilgrimage usually ends at one of the three main shrines on the peninsula – Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha – after stopping at the smaller Oji shrines along the way.
Most routes on the UNESCO World Heritage Site take three to six days, with accommodations at local guest houses and soaks in onsen (hot springs) along each one.
Rim of Africa – South Africa
The Rim of Africa is a backcountry hike that spans over 400 miles of the Cape Fold mountain range in southwest South Africa.
The difficult terrain with a lack of actual trails also crosses through some privately held lands, making a mountain guide a requirement, and it can only be done in the spring (September to November) thanks to harsh weather conditions.
Each of the nine traverses between Cederberg and the Outeniqua Mountains takes seven to 10 days to complete, or one can opt to take on the whole thing.
The payoff is a private peek at the rocky South African wilderness: wildflowers, the shrubby fynbos plant, protea, rain frogs, antelope, baboons and a multitude of birds.
Tour du Mont Blanc – France, Italy and Switzerland
The Tour du Mont Blanc circumvents its namesake, famed mountain in the European Alps, passing through three countries along its 105 miles.
The entire trail takes about 11 days to finish and is divided into 11 stages that hikers usually complete in a day each. The peaks are high, too – the total height gain along the entire route is 35,000 feet.
The hike can only be made in summer (June to September) due to weather and snow, which is a wonderful time to be in the mountains as bright green grass and trees contrast against the craggy grey peaks and turquoise alpine lakes.
There are dormitory-style refuges along the way offering camaraderie and hot meals.
W Trek – Chile
In the far southern reaches of South America, the W Trek is a journey through the valleys of Chilean Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park.
The 47-mile hike can take between three and seven days, with campsites and refuges to rest after each day.
The relatively low-altitude trails (the highest point is 2,788 feet) run through three valleys, including the French Valley, forming a “W” shape.
Stunning sights along the way include pristine lakes, glaciers, dense forest, Patagonian steppe and guanacos, foxes and condors. The pinnacle is reaching the base of the park’s famous three granite towers.