The remains of the decimated Mount St. Helens were enshrouded in thick fog and blowing sheets of rain, completely invisible to Christina and I as we carefully worked our way along a trail with a width of 2 feet, and a vertigo-inducing drop of 3,000 feet immediately to our right. Beginning from the trailhead at the Johnson Ridge Observatory in Mount St. Helens National Park, our destination was Harry’s Ridge, a stunning viewpoint overlooking Spirit Lake, the once idyllic recreational waters at the base of the mountain, now a wasteland of thousands of felled trees, still floating in the lake from the violent 1980 eruption. We were about halfway across a perilous section of trail known as The Devil’s Elbow, when the wind and rain hit us. Visibility fell to zero as biting rain stung at our faces and heavy wind whipped at our jackets. Pinning ourselves as close to the rock wall alongside the trail as we could, we exchanged nervous glances. It seemed that Harry’s Ridge was not in our future, as mother nature had other plans for us. We carefully made our way back off the ridge, gripping onto the rocks as we trudged onward, until we reached a safer section of the path. Though we didn’t get to visit Harry’s Ridge that day, or even see the open maw of a crater that dominates the northern flank of the mountain, the thrills that came with the hike that day were just what I needed to replenish my love of a good hike.
My love for the outdoors was born in the Columbia River Gorge that forms the border of Oregon and Washington in the perpetually damp and misty Pacific Northwest of the United States. Driving along the Columbia River Scenic Highway in our rented Subaru Outback, Christina and I stopped at each of the plethora of cascading waterfalls along the way, trudging our way up trails blanketed with intensely green canopies and carpet soft moss that seems to cover every available surface. We have found ourselves back in the Pacific Northwest every year since, always drawn back by the seemingly endless amount of hiking opportunities that run the gamut from casual forest jaunts to intense mountain treks.
Since our first trip to the Portland, Oregon area in 2012, we have taken on countless hikes around the world, always in search of some new epic view from which to reflect on our love of beautiful landscapes. Each hike we’ve embarked upon in our travels has been memorable and enjoyable in their own unique ways – from ambling our way through the detritus strewn blast zone of Mount St. Helens, to wandering high in the Swiss Alps in the shadow of the Matterhorn.
As I’m always looking for new paths through nature to take my breath away, I reached out to some of my favorite globetrotting travel bloggers and podcasters to share their best hiking experiences.
Andrea and Bryan, from Best World Yet
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
“Machu Picchu is a famous site on almost every traveler’s bucket list. It’s certainly an incredible place, but we found the journey much more rewarding than the destination itself! Take our advice and trek (rather than train) through the Andes for one of the most amazing hikes the world has to offer!
There are two main routes for trekking to Machu Picchu. The traditional Incan Trail is (by far) the most popular, consisting of rocky paths and tour groups for much of the journey. By contrast, The Salkantay Trail leads hikers into the wilderness for a journey disconnected from all things ‘tourist’. We chose the road less traveled, only coming into contact with a handful of other hikers along the way. The trail provides a truly unique opportunity to be totally immersed in Pacha Mama (what the Incans call ‘Mother Earth’).
Our hike began with the dizzying challenge of climbing to the top of Saklantay Pass, at an altitude of over 13,000 feet. As we scaled our first peak, grassy hills quickly turned into rocky cliffs covered in wet snow. As we descended, the melting snow transformed into hundreds of waterfalls rushing over mossy boulders. We experienced diverse landscapes with the varying altitudes on each day of our journey, making this hike’s varied scenery truly incredible. Every morning we set out to scale a new peak, and every evening we camped low in a valley with new flora, fauna and animal friends. Aside from the main attraction at Machu Picchu, we also came across lesser-known ruins in more remote locations, providing glimpses of Incan history along the way.
Machu Picchu definitely lives up to all of the hype; however, it was our journey to the ancient ruins in itself that played such a huge part in making the trip so remarkable. Our experience disconnecting completely, and hiking off-the-beaten-path is what made the final destination so rewarding.”
Andrea and Bryan took their passion for travel to the next level, as they set off to wander the globe continually since 2015. They were recently named by Huffington Post as one of the “Top Traveling Couples You Should be Following on Instagram”.
Isabel, from The Sunny Side of This
Logarska Dolina, Slovenia
“One of my favorite places to hike in Slovenia is in Logarska Dolina, a natural park. I hiked it back in August with the whole family, and it has become one of my favorite places on Earth. This park is located in the Central Northern part of Slovenia. It extends into the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, almost bordering Austria. It is part of the Municipality of Solčava.
You can do a lot of activities in this park besides hiking like cycling, horseback riding, photo hunting, paragliding, and free climbing during the summer. And during the winter you can go skiing, sledding, ice climbing, and alpinism. There are lots of beautiful natural landmarks like the Rinka waterfall, Palenk Waterfall, Logar Valley and Linden, Brložnica Waterfall, Brložnica Cave, Črna River spring, The Okrešelj basin (this is the picture of the white mountains), Rastovški Skok Falls, and Plesnik’s Elm.
This place is truly a gem and of the most underrated natural parks in Europe. I am definetly looking forward to exploring more of it!” To read more about Logarska Dolina, you can find two excellent posts by Isabel here and here.
Isabel was born and raised in Mexico, but now lives the good life in Slovenia. On her blog, she writes about what makes Mexico and Slovenia so great. She is the self-proclaimed and unofficial Mexican-Slovenian Ambassador.
Alice, from Teacake Travels
Mount Huashan, China
China was never really on my radar. I decided to go and teach there in Shanghai: the smoky, stuffy, money-hyped modernistic city which slowly started to suck my soul with its lack of greenery and clean air. This drove me out into the mountains at the weekends and that’s when I really started a magical love affair with this ancient culture. Hiking has always been in my blood. My Dad used to bump me up and down on his back as he took excitable steps across the mighty Peak District in the UK. I thought I’d seen the best of the best…but China whipped out it’s secret scenery and blew all my previous hikes out of the water. The one place that my heart really fell for is Huashan near Xian. It’s listed as one of the most dangerous trails in the world but for all the right reasons. As you put one foot in front of the other along a thin wooden plank whilst hanging off the side of a mountain, for all you thrill seekers like me out there, you’re going to be content! The views are worth every bead of sweat and pang of anxiety.
Teacake is Alice Nettleingham. A 31 year old British chick travelling around the world for as long as she can get away with it. Willingly throwing herself into anything outside of her comfort zone, she’s rocking girl solo travel one stride at a time!
Jessica, from Boarding Pass
The Grouse Grind, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
With more than 230 parks throughout Vancouver, there is no shortage of outdoor recreation in the city. After spending several days exploring Stanley Park, one of the most popular spots in Vancouver, we were looking for an extra challenge and headed north to Grouse Mountain to hike the Grouse Grind. Often called “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”, this trail is under 2 miles long but is a straight shot up the mountain with an elevation gain of 2,800 feet (and just as many stairs). Although short, the Grouse Grind definitely ranks up among my favorite hikes thanks to its amazing setting.
The Grouse Grind is easy to reach from Downtown Vancouver by a combination of ferry and bus, which drops you off at the base of the mountain. Shortly into the trail, the “stairs” changed from wood to stone and sometimes even tree roots and became increasingly steeper.
As we climbed higher, I was amazing by how beautiful and dense the forest was, with light disappearing and the air becoming more damp and foggy. It was like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie, which made us forget about being out of breath because our surroundings were literally that breathtaking.
We reached the top in just over an hour, dripping, not from sweat but rather the cool moisture that had accumulated on our skin. Unfortunately the Grouse Grind is deemed too steep to hike down. So after recharging inside the little chalet we bought tickets for the aerial tram, which took us to the bottom of the mountain in a mere 8 minutes, breezing over the lush, green canopy of trees we had just hiked through below.
Jessica is an avid traveler who enjoys the planning process almost as much as the trip itself. Her excellent blog focuses on the destinations she visits and include tips, photographs, and recommendations from many different locations.
Ryan and Amanda from The World Wanderers
Schynige Platte, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland
While backpacking for 3 months in Europe, we traveled through nearly all of the western countries. We saw a lot of great cities, beautiful landscapes, and iconic attractions. We met a lot of cool people, and ate a ton of mouthwatering food (perhaps too much, if that’s a thing!). When we returned from our epic adventure, people continually asked us what our favorite country was. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s nearly impossible to choose one single favorite country.
One country that continuously stands out in our minds though is Switzerland. Icy blue lakes, majestic mountains, beautiful cities, and chocolate. Oh, the chocolate. Switzerland would be worth a visit just for the chocolate!
While in Switzerland, we visited the beautiful little town of Bern before making our way into the heart of the Swiss Alps to Interlaken, known as the adventure capital of Europe (no joke – we can’t make this stuff up!). Interlaken is located between two lakes, and surrounded by the snow covered peaks of the towering Swiss Alps.
As we stepped out of the train station in Interlaken, our jaws dropped from the spectacular scenery that surrounded us. We hadn’t expected to be quite so “wow-ed” by the Swiss Alps, but there’s something truly special and breathtaking about this mountain range that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
Many tourists who visit the Interlaken area spend hundreds of dollars to get to the top of Jungfrau, the highest mountain in Switzerland. However, we opted to save our money and do something different.
We rose bright and early and hopped on a train from Interlaken to Schynige Platte. We stepped off the train to find that we were high above the clouds at the top of a series of rolling mountains, surrounded by views of picturesque mountain peaks and lakes. We began our hike, making our way through cow fields, where only the sounds of cow bells and the occasional “moo” could be heard, taking in the clear blue sky and surrounding scenery. We took in the view of Interlaken, sandwiched between aquamarine lakes, before we headed up hill. We were breathing heavy from the altitude, and as we made it to the top of another peak, we were greeted by more beautiful mountains, including Jungfrau. The mountains are endless in the Swiss Alps, and each time we stopped to rest or eat, we would also take a moment to snap photos and bask in the beauty that was all around us.
We arrived back in Interlaken exhausted and sore from the hike, but all smiles. This was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing travel experiences we have ever had and one of the most beautiful and infrastructurally impressive hikes we have ever done.
Ryan and Amanda are both 20-somethings with a passion for travel, living life to the fullest, and finding happiness in all corners of the world. Through their podcast, they share their amazing experiences with other travel enthusiasts, discuss how travel has changed and impacted them in a positive way, how travel has shaped their view of the world, and what it means to be truly happy.
Kirk, from The World is Not That Big
Shimenggu (Stone Dream Valley), Taiwan
Shimenggu (Stone Dream Valley) is located in one of the most remote parts of Chaiyi County in Taiwan. Shimenggu itself is a series of strange pools but the hiking trail is absolutely amazing with several different amazing sights. At the beginning of the trail there is a suspension bridge that links to an alternate entrance to Shuiyang Lake and some stands of enormous bamboo while walking up a valley of 500+ meter walls. After a hard ascent (300 meters in 1+km) you reach the perfect mountain garden. This garden used to be the home to a nice elderly couple that we met in 2013 and they operated a part time B&B. Since then they have moved away but their garden is still perfect.
Near the end of the trail is a loop that we hiked the loop clockwise. The waterfall was much larger than expected and is one of my favorites in Taiwan. Just above the waterfall are some great pools for summer swimming. The hike becomes very steep after this going past a grove of ancient trees that remind me of Jianxibao. Sadly most of the trees have been illegally logged. Immediately afterward it changes to a damp forest with green moss hanging from the trees like it was part of the Lord of the Ring set. Finally we arrived at Shimenggu. Shimenggu is a series of bizarre pools in a stream that runs down a large piece of rock. The hike is difficult but not impossible and it will take most of the day.
Read more about this hike at Kirk’s website, here.
Kirk works part time teaching English in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and spends most of his weekends traveling within the country. He explores the countless waterfalls found in Taiwan and has an online guide about them.by