Off the beaten trail: 10 unknown treks for your bucket list

I spent eight years living in London, riding the crowded tube to work, fighting for space with those around me and standing in queues at bus stops, supermarkets, anywhere really – I am British after all. Naturally, this inspired daydreams of escaping it all and running off to the wilderness with only my backpack, tent, camping stove and a handful of freeze-dried meals.

About twice a year I managed to briefly abscond the confines of London, usually fleeing to the mountains of Norway, Austria or Scotland. In the last year, I’ve discovered plenty of unknown treks in the South Pacific but I still while away hours daydreaming of getting even further off the grid.

If you’re like me and yearn for true wilderness, nature and seclusion, these unknown treks will be right up your trail. Some can be done alone while others are better done with company. In either case, I’ve suggested operators that can coordinate the logistics of accessing these remote locations, leaving you to enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

1. Upper Mustang Trek, Nepal

Distance: 185km (115 miles)
Duration: 12-14 days

unknown treks for your bucket list nepal

Mention trekking in Nepal and the Himalayas and many immediately think of Everest basecamp and the Annapurna basin. However, for a traditional and authentic taste of Nepalese and Tibetan culture consider the ‘Forbidden’ Kingdom of Mustang. Closed to foreigners until 1992, Mustang is only now beginning to open up to trekkers and western tourism. The trail essentially follows an ancient salt trading route between Tibet and India, exploiting the lowest pass through the Himalayas, west of Sikkim in India. Along the trail there are opportunities to visit some of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Nepal as well as the mysterious Kali Gandaki caves.

For more information visit
activeadventures.com

2. Lut Desert Trek, Iran

Distance: 200km (125 miles)
Duration: 10 days

unknown treks for your bucket list iran

(Image: Hadi Karimi, Creative Commons)

Follow in the footsteps of Thesiger and Marco Polo and cross one of the hottest places on Earth. According to NASA, a ground temperature of 70.7 °C (159°F) was recorded in the lowest part of the Lut Desert in 2005. So, not for the fainthearted by any means. The route passes through lunar-esque landscapes, symmetrical star dune formations, and a cornucopia of geological phenomena including salt plains, meteorite fields and enormous natural sand castles called kaluts. A bucket list trek if ever there was one.

For more information visit secretcompass.com

3. Lake Baikal Trek, Russia

Distance: 50km (31 miles)
Duration: 3 days

unknown-treks-lake-baikal

(Image: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov, Creative Commons)

With more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined, Baikal is the the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume. Follow this classic trail through the western shore of the lake for unparalleled views of approximately 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water. At times the trail is just inches from the waterline; at others it climbs 767m (2,500ft) above the lake to the summit of Mount Listvyanka. The sheer remoteness of southern Siberia makes this area one of the least trekked on the planet. This is for real explorers.

For more information visit baikal-adventure.com

4. Angelus Circuit, New Zealand

Distance: 39km (24 miles)
Duration: 2-3 days

unknown treks for your bucket list new zealand

New Zealand’s remote and rugged South Island has long been on my trekking bucket list. Despite being the larger of New Zealand’s main islands, it only accounts for a quarter of the country’s population which makes for a remote and unspoilt destination. The Angelus Circuit starts at a village called Saint Arnaud on the edge of Lake Rotoiti, working its way through a wilderness of beech forests, grand lakes and jagged alpine ridges. Despite the dramatic terrain, the trail itself is relatively gentle and has mountain huts available along the way, as well as camping options.

For more information visit activeadventures.com

5. Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Distance: 160km (99 miles)
Duration: 9-11 days

unknown-treks-greenland

(Image: Visit Greenland, Limited Commercial License)

Greenland is the world’s largest non-continental island yet only has a population of around 56,000, making it the least densely-populated territory on Earth. The Arctic Circle Trail follows a course through an area known as the “land of one hundred lakes”. The trail is one of the most remote hiking trails in the world with most reports suggesting that you’ll unlikely see more than four or five other hikers during the whole route. There are just eight sleeping huts along the trail that typically sleep only 4-6 people. This gives you an idea of just how few make the pilgrimage.

For more information visit greenland.com

6. Sarek National Park, Sweden

Distance: 100km (63 miles)
Duration: 10 days

unknown treks for your bucket list sweden

Sarek in Sweden’s Lapland is a survivalist’s dream. You need to be the adventurous type just to make it out here as there are no marked trails, cabins or amenities that you may find elsewhere. The possibilities are endless but a good suggestion is to trek from Sitoalvsbron to Kvikkjokk via the wide Rapadalen Valley taking in glaciers, alpine peaks, the wild Rapaatno River and endless Arctic wildlife along the way. This is Europe’s last great wilderness so the going is slow and often arduous. Just mind the bears.

For more information visit naturetravels.co.uk

7. Tigray Region, Ethiopia

Distance: 15km (9 miles)
Duration: 2 days

unknown treks for your bucket list ethiopia

(Image: Jialiang Gao, Creative Commons)

Tigray is located in the northern part of Ethiopia, a region with over 120 rock-hewn churches. To access these churches one must ascend the red sandstone ridges of the somewhat labyrinthine mountain system of Tigray. The challenge of this trek is not necessarily the distances covered, but the near-vertical scrambles to gain access to the remote cliff-side churches. The only way to access this area is by community trekking programs that provide local guides and priests to lead the way.

For more information visit tesfatours.com

8. Mount Cameroon, Cameroon

Distance: 38km (24 miles)
Duration: 3 days

unknown-treks-cameroon

(Image: Initsogan, Creative Commons)

Too often overlooked for the iconic and freestanding Mount Kilimanjaro to the east, West Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Cameroon, has plenty to offer. In one direction are uninterrupted views across the Atlantic Ocean and in the other, the plains of central Africa. It’s a shorter and less strenuous trek than the higher mountains of East Africa and has the added benefit of finishing at the charming seaside town of Limbe. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous then every February there’s the Mount Cameroon Race of Hope footrace, where participants complete the return trip in just 4.5 hours!

For more information visit mountcameroontour.org

9. Song Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan

Distance: 36km (27 miles)
Duration: 3-4 days

unknown treks for your bucket list

(Image: Peretz Partensky, Creative Commons)

Kyrgyzstan’s neglected landscapes are a dream for DIY adventurers and those looking for solitude and escape. Dominated by an alpine lake sitting at 3,016 meters (9,895ft), the lake’s water can change colour in an instant as the sun peaks high above and sinks low behind the craggy peaks and wide-open landscapes. Despite the area’s inaccessibility, there are plenty of options for trekkers with yurtstays and multi-day hikes combined with horse treks available. Crystal-clear but deeply cold nights provide excellent stargazing opportunities.

For more information visit silkroadexplore.com

10. Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru

Distance: 33km (21 miles)
Duration: 3 days

unknown treks for your bucket list

Avoid the hundreds of other trekkers that can be found on the more popular routes to Machu Picchu on this trek to the magical Incan ruins. The challenging Lares Trek is the least trodden of the alternative trails to the Inca Trail, offering opportunities for a real insight into rural Andean life. The trail passes through remote mountain communities where children herding llamas and alpacas can still be seen set against a sensational backdrop of terraced mountain slopes and cloud forest.

For more information visit activeadventures.com

(Additional photography: Dreamstime)

Recommended reading:

Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills covers everything from the basics of equipment, knots, rappelling techniques, and leave-no-trace principles to the more advanced skills of setting up complex anchors, evaluating avalanche terrain, and developing your leadership skills.

In Girl on the Rocks: A Woman’s Guide To Climbing With Strength, Grace, And Courage author Katie Brown presents her interviews with numerous female climbers – from a young girl to a sixty-something professional climber – to learn what the sport has done for them.

Vertical Mind: Psychological Approaches for Optimal Rock Climbing teaches rock climbers how to improve their mental game so they can climb better and have more fun. The latest research in brain science and psychology can help you retrain your mind and body for higher levels of rock climbing performance.

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