Water or land? It can be a difficult choice to make, so why not venture where these two different worlds collide, where land falls prey to the untamed sea? Water splashing into the rugged coast, waves echoing in the background, paths passing through ancient forests, pristine wilderness and epic waterfront landscapes. These are the world’s most dramatic coastal hiking trails, odysseys you should consider adding to your bucket list.
Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, Wales
Dubbed the “Land of Mystery and Enchantment,” this epic 186-mile (300 km) coastal trail in southwest Wales ranked second seaside destination in the world in a list put together by National Geographic in 2012. The varied maritime landscape and wildlife put on quite a show for visitors, while its sandy coves, volcanic cliffs, estuaries, 58 beaches and 14 harbors, as well as its numerous historical forts and castles will undoubtedly put a spell on you.
Don’t get discouraged by the distance, although it can be a bit overwhelming. You should know there are plenty of shorter walks to choose from, each mesmerizing in its own way and a great chance to spot seals, dolphins and cheeky bird life. And if you’re up to the challenge, the long-distance walk features 35,000 feet of ascents and descents (10,500 meters), said to be the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.
Kalalau Trail, Kauai Island, Hawaii
Rising up to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) above the blue Pacific, Kauai Island’s Na Pali Coast’s centerpiece is a hidden gem only few will reach, and when they do, they’ll wish they’d been stranded there – Kalalau Beach, a secluded one mile stretch of white sands washed by the crystal-blue ocean.
To get here, you must hike the Kalalau Trail, a narrow and treacherous 11-mile (18 km) path that offers some of the island’s most spectacular views. Perched hundreds of feet above the ocean, crossing five major valleys, passing by waterfalls and tropical forests, you can rest assured you’ll have front row seats to the incredible performance humpback whales, dolphins and sea turtles put on.
The strenuous walk takes one day for experienced hikers. Don’t worry if you are not in tiptop shape. You can camp in the designated area halfway through the route.
West Coast Trail, British Columbia, Canada
One of the best ways to experience Canadian wilderness is by hiking British Columbia’s rugged coastline, dominated by mountain peaks and rain forests. A labyrinthine 48-mile (77 km) trail, with numerous obstacles like wet, damp and mossy creeks and canyons, fallen trees, steep slopes, wooden ladders and narrow footbridges, no wonder it earned itself a reputation as the most exhausting hike in North America, both physically and mentally. And the bears, wolves and cougars along the way add to the thrill, making it one of the scariest hikes in the world too.
The route takes about a week to complete, passing by dramatic cliffs and shipwrecks, a wildly beautiful scenery. You might also catch a glimpse of whales and sea lions along the way.
Wild Coast Hiking Trail, South Africa
It takes roughly 25 days to complete this stunning 174-mile (280 km) trail in South Africa, divided into five three to six days sections, passing by bizarre rock formations, sandy beaches, high dunes, plentiful bird life, lagoons, coves, swamps, dramatic coastline and shipwrecks.
Permits are required for the route, and booking is sometimes made 11 months in advance. Completing the Wild Coast Trail is quite a challenge, even for the fittest hikers, but it can easily be split up into smaller sections, spending the night in tents, huts, log cabins and lodges, taking time to experience the Xhosa culture by hanging out with locals in the remote villages along the trail.
Abel Tasman Coast Track, New Zealand
White-sand beaches, dark-green forests, crystal-clear bays and pristine wildlife extend for 32 miles (51 km) along the coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It might take three to five days to complete the coastal track, but it is certainly worth it. You can also choose to hike shorter sections of the trail, as there are plenty of campsites along the way.
Abe Tasman Coast Track’s pièce de résistance is a 154-foot suspension bridge ( 47 meters) over the Falls River. From the trail’s many lookout points travelers can spot fur seals, little blue penguins and dolphins hanging out in the azure waters of the Tasman Bay.
Hana-Waianapanapa Coastal Trail, Hawaii
Think black lava cliffs swallowed by the blue ocean! It may be a relatively short hike, only 4.5 miles (7 km) along the rugged Hawaiian coastline, but it definitely has a lot to brag about, and is accessible for all levels of physical training. The windswept coast conceals underground tunnels, caves, tidepools, blowholes, sea arches, ancient temples and of course black sand beaches.
Waianapanapa means “glistening water.” On a sunny day, it’s easy to see where it got its name from. The crystal-clear waters, in contrast with the black basaltic cliffs and dark-green forests do indeed put on a game of lights and shadows much to our delight. Hana-Waianapanapa Coastal Trail’s highlight is a portion of the King’s Highway – a trade route built in the mid-1500s that once circumnavigated the whole island of Maui, most of it now lost.
Azure Trail, Cinque Terre, Italy
Sentiero Azzuro, or simply the Azure Trail, is a 7.5-mile (12 km) long hiking route connecting the five traditional fishing villages perched on the Liguarian coast known as Cinque Terre. Built over the centuries to ensure transportation between the settlements, all the way from from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, the trail follows paths, mule tracks and even narrow cobbled streets. The most famous section is Via dell’Amore, the Love Walk, named so after its romantic beaches and love padlocks.
Passing by olive and lemon groves, grapevines, climbing steep cliffs, some 600 feet (180 m) above the sea, a thrilling view to say the least, the Azure Trail is an exceptional way to get close and personal with the culture of these lively villages and their authentic Italian charm.
Lycian Way, Turkey
How to describe a 316-mile (508 km) coastal trail of pure Mediterranean and Turkish landscape in just a few words? Perhaps off-the-beaten-path routes, deserted beaches, rugged coastline, pine forests, a dramatic scenery enclosed by steep mountains, caves and coves might give you an idea. And let’s not forget that the Lycian Way is a history lesson in itself, with Greek temples, Roman ruins and Byzantine monasteries, summing up a total of 25 historical sites.
It takes around a month to complete the trail along Turkey’s southern coast. Those who are up to the challenge will have to face quite a few obstacles, as the many ascents and descents along the rugged terrain will put their physical endurance to the test. Running from Fethye to Antalya, the ancient Roman roads, mule trails and footpaths of the Lycian Way take adventurers far away from Turkey’s crowded tourist destinations, passing by traditional villages where you can stay at local inns and mingle with the locals.