Highlander Adventure treks: 15 unique trails to explore

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The collection of Highlander Adventure treks has been expanded for 2021. We take a look at the exciting new trails on offer

In 2020, I joined my first Highlander Adventure trek in Croatia and was thoroughly won over by the semi-solo style of trekking. This year, I was pleased to see the collection expand from five treks to 15 and am planning (hoping?) to join two more – in Spain and North Macedonia.

Below, I take a look at every trek on this year’s calendar, from the original Highlander Velebit in Croatia to the new trails currently being mapped in the Middle East and North Africa.

What is the Highlander Adventure?

The Highlander Adventure is a collection of organised five-day treks through some of Europe’s premier hiking regions, home to magnificent expanses of wilderness.

Initially, the routes explored some of Europe’s less-visited but no-less captivating areas of natural beauty. However, the programme has now been expanded to include treks in Egypt, Morocco and the UAE among others.

The logistics are largely taken care of with internal travel to and from trailheads, route, food, maps, checkpoints and campsites all pre-arranged. Hikers only have to coordinate their arrival in the destination and organise their personal gear including a tent or shelter.

There are daily checkpoints to pass through where hikers collect their dehydrated meals for the day. Designated camping areas are located en route where hikers stop for the night and swap stories of the trail.

Trekkers are only responsible for getting themselves to the start point (and walking the trail of course). The treks are non-competitive, but there are daily checkpoints to pass through to gain a certificate and medal upon completion.

The 15 Highlander Adventure treks of 2021

Highlander Adventure treks Calendar 2021
Highlander Adventure The Highlander Adventure Calendar 2021

The Highlander Adventure treks are a fantastic introduction to multi-day trekking as they’re a subtle blend of guided trek and self-sufficient expedition.

Several of the treks are available in reduced 55km three-day versions, known as the Highlander55s, as well as 25k two-day versions known as HighlanderExperiences.

Stara Planina, Serbia

When: 12-16th Jun 2021
Distance: 101km
Ascent/descent: 4,068m/5,239m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

The Stara Planina Nature Park, which translates as ‘Old Mountain’, stretches along Serbia’s border with Bulgaria. The pristine corner of Serbia is home to its highest peak, Midžor (2169m), as well as countless waterfalls tumbling down verdant mountain slopes. 

Babin Zub in Stara Planina
dravko Ciric/Shutterstock The distinctive peak of Babin Zub

The trek sets off near the distinctive peak of Babin Zub and follows a broad and raggedy loop around the 17km-long tranquil Lake Zavoj, ideal for wild swimming and cooling tired feet at the end of a long day on the trail.

The Highlander Stara Planina is available as a Highlander55, a reduced 55km three-day weekend trek.

Durmitor, Montenegro

When: 30th Jun – 4th Jul 2021
Distance: 87km
Ascent/descent: 8,146m/8,224m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

A vast landscape of jagged pine-mossed mountains and pastureland, the UNESCO-listed Durmitor National Park is a stunning limestone massif and the best place to go hiking in Montenegro.

Durmitor National Park is one of the Highlander Adventure treks
Zebra-Studio/Shutterstock Durmitor National Park

A new addition to the Highlander collection, the circular trek traces its way among the park’s 50 limestone peaks over 2,000m, 18 glacier lakes and no fewer than five canyons. The most striking of which is the spectacular Tara Canyon, a 1,000m-deep cut in the landscape and Europe’s deepest gorge.

Julian Alps, Slovenia

When: 10-14th Jul 2021
Distance: 101km
Ascent/descent: 5,905m/6,202m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

This new Highlander Adventure trek starts at the delightful medieval village of Ribčev Laz on Lake Bohinj. It is arguably Slovenia’s most beautiful lake with a picturesque church and bell tower and spectacular setting in the Bohinj Valley of the Julian Alps.

The village of Ribčev Laz on Lake Bohinj
iPics/Shutterstock The village of Ribčev Laz on Lake Bohinj

The trail makes its way through the Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park and home to the towering peak of Mount Triglav, which at 2,864m is Slovenia’s highest mountain. Prepare to be dazzled by soaring peaks, postcard-perfect lakes and idyllic rivers throughout.

Blidinje, Bosnia & Herzegovina

When: 24-28th Jul 2021
Distance: 96km
Ascent/descent: 5,472m/5,615m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

Just a couple of hours from the Adriatic Sea and easily reached from both Mostar and Sarajevo, Blidinje Nature Park is Bosnia & Herzegovina’s adventure playground.

The ring-shaped rock formation of Hajdučka Vrata (Outlaw’s Gate) on Čvrsnica
Mirnes Ibrahimagic/Shutterstock Hajdučka Vrata (Outlaw’s Gate) on Čvrsnica

The figure-of-eight Highlander Adventure trek zigs and zags its way through Blidinje’s deep valleys taking in its striking rock formations en route, the most fantastic of which is the ring-shaped Hajdučka Vrata (Outlaw’s Gate) on Čvrsnica.

Murau, Austria

When: 4-8th Aug 2021
Distance: 104km
Ascent/descent: 5,125m/5,803m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

The picturesque Styrian town of Murau makes for the ideal starting point to explore the forested hills and alpine meadows of Austria’s Seetal Alps.

The mountain hut at Zirbitzkogel, one of the Highlander Adventure treks
Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock A mountain hut below the summit of Zirbitzkogel

The trail takes in the peak of Zirbitzkogel, the highest point in the Seetal Alps at 2,396m, with its distinctive summit cross and striking panoramic views. The route then heads northwest to complete a challenging circular tour of the Lachtal mountains near Oberwölz.

Elbrus, Russia

When: Aug 2021
Distance: TBA
Ascent/descent: TBA
More info: highlanderadventure.com

Mount Elbrus in Russia, at 5,642m (18,510ft), is Europe’s highest mountain and one of the seven summits, coveted by mountaineers (and me!) who want to reach the highest point on every continent.

Mt Elbrus in Russia
Atlas & Boots Elbrus is Europe’s highest peak

I climbed Elbrus in 2017, but the Highlander route is likely to be a circular tour around the mountain’s twin peaks. The trek is scheduled for August – the best time for hiking in the Elbrus region.

Melgaço, Portugal

When: 31st Aug – 4th Sep 2021
Distance: 122km
Ascent/descent: 5,031m/5,031m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

Another trek debuting this year is the Highlander Melgaço which explores the Peneda-Gerês National Park in Portugal, the country’s first and only national park.

Peneda-Gerês National Park
LuisCostinhaa/Shutterstock Peneda-Gerês National Park

Established in 1971, the park is spread across the astonishing granite massifs along Portugal’s northernmost border. The grand montane landscape is home to a unique terrain of boulder-strewn slopes, deep valleys and lush oak and pine forests.

Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia

When: 8-12th Sep 2021
Distance: 99km
Ascent/descent: 3,917m/3,830m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

Another new addition to the Highlander collection is the Lake Ohrid trek in North Macedonia. The trek begins at the village of Lukovo before winding its way southwards to the shores of the magnificent mountain-fringed Lake Ohrid straddling the Albanian border.

Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia
skapuka/Shutterstock Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia

At 34km long, 300m deep and three million years old, the UNESCO-listed lake is among Europe’s deepest and oldest bodies of freshwater. The trail ends at the town of Struga, renowned as the birthplace of the 19th-century poets Konstantin and Dimitar Miladinov.

The Highlander Lake Ohrid is also available as a Highlander55 and HighlanderExperience, a 25km two-day version.

Toubkal, Morocco

When: 17-19th Sep 2021
Distance: 55km
Ascent/descent: 4,799m/4,804m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

Just a short distance from the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh is Toubkal National Park and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The range is North Africa’s premier trekking destination and home to the region’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal at 4,167m.

Sunrise over the Atlas Mountains of Morocco
Jan Hrib/Shutterstock Sunrise over the Atlas Mountains of Morocco

The circular Highlander Toubkal trail begins at the end-of-the-road village of Imlil located at the snout of the Mizane Valley. En route, the trail summits Toubkal along with a number of other worthy crests. The trek is currently only available in the 55km three-day Highlander55 format.

Velebit, Croatia

When: 25-30th Sep 2021
Distance: 104km
Ascent/descent: 4,186m/5,702m
More info: highlanderadventure.com and atlasandboots.com

I joined the Highlander Velebit in 2020, a thrilling journey across the Northern Velebit and Paklenica national parks. The route travels southeastwards through the Velebit Range, which divides continental Croatia from the Adriatic coast and is the country’s largest mountain range.

From thick pine forest, steep rocky ravines, expansive grasslands and exposed ridges with sweeping Adriatic vistas, the trail effortlessly slips from one landscape to another.

The route finishes right on the beach at the resort town of Starigrad-Paklenica, where hikers dive into the cool water for a refreshing dip before making a beeline for the bars that line the beach.

The Highlander Velebit is also available as a Highlander55.

Mt. Olympus, Greece

When: 6-10th Oct 2021
Distance: 102km
Ascent/descent: 6,338m/6,337m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

Mount Olympus is the highest and most storied of all the Greek mountains and home to a network of footpaths crisscrossing the ridgelines of the legendary “throne of the gods”.

Mount Olympus seen from the trail,  one of the Highlander Adventure treks
Panos Karas/Shutterstock Olympus is Greece’s highest mountain

The circular Highlander Mt. Olympus trail takes walkers on an enthralling journey through a national park that’s rich in history, culture and ecological diversity. A short diversion from the trail takes trekkers to the 2,918m peak of Mytikas, the summit of Mt. Olympus and the highest point in Greece.

Duero-Douro, Spain

When: 8-12th Oct 2021
Distance: 102km
Ascent/descent: 3,016m/3,570m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

Spain is famous for its superb network of hiking trails spread across the country’s myriad upland landscapes. It is usually the Pyrenees in the north and the Sierra Nevada in Andalucia that steal the show.

Natural Park of Arribes del Duero is Spain will feature in one of the new Highlander Adventure treks
Chemari/Shutterstock The Arribes del Duero Natural Park in Spain

But tucked away in western Spain on the Portuguese border is the Arribes del Duero, an enormous 100km-long canyon created by the River Duero and protected by the Arribes del Duero Natural Park.

The trail loosely follows the river in a southwesterly direction, making use of the GR 14 long-distance footpath and occasionally dipping into the canyon before finishing at Vega Terrón on the river.

The Highlander Duero-Douro is a new addition to the Highlander collection and is also available as a HighlanderExperience.

Qusoor Al Arab, Egypt

When: 28-30 Oct 2021
Distance: 55km
Ascent/descent: TBA
More info: highlanderadventure.com

The 2021 Highlander calendar was launched at the site of the iconic Giza Pyramid Complex in Egypt, a country with a rich history of nomadic culture among its Bedouin population.

The launch of the new Highlander events in front of Egypt's pyramids
Highlander Adventure The launch of the new Highlander events in Egypt

As such, it’s only fitting that a Highlander trek will also be launched soon in this ancient land. The route is still being finalised, but we do know it will take hikers on a journey through the spectacular UNESCO-listed Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley), in Egypt’s Western Desert.

Following the success of Egypt’s award-winning Sinai Trail that opened in 2015 and the Red Sea Mountain Trail unveiled in 2019, we can expect another dramatic addition to the Highlander collection.

Al-Hajar Mountains, UAE

When: 18-20 Nov 2021
Distance: 51km
Ascent/descent: 3,672m/3,786m
More info: highlanderadventure.com

One doesn’t usually associate the Emirates with hiking, but beyond the overt glitz of its high-rise cities are the Al-Hajar Mountains, a dramatic range stretching 700km across northern UAE and into Oman.

The Al-Hajar Mountains of UAE will feature in one of the new Highlander Adventure treks
SeraphP/Shutterstock The Al-Hajar Mountains

We’ve seen the range from Oman and if that’s anything to go by, then expect wild rockscapes, eroded cliffs, plunging ravines and remote mountain villages connected by stony trails along warped escarpments.

TBA, Saudi Arabia

When: Dec 2021
Distance: TBA
Ascent/descent: TBA
More info: highlanderadventure.com

Still in the early stages of planning, not much is known about the Saudi Arabia Highlander Adventure yet. One thing is certain: any visit to the Saudi Kingdom is bound to be unique.

The 'Edge of the World' cliffs near Riyadh
AFZAL KHAN MAHEEN/Shutterstock The ‘Edge of the World’ cliffs near Riyadh

How to register

Take a look at the calendar of Highlander Adventure treks which includes links to registration forms.

Depending on the trek, early bird entries begin at €149 ($180) per person. If joining in a group there are four-for-three offers available on most treks.

Highlander55s and HighlanderExperiences begin from €60 ($75) and €45 ($55) respectively, depending on the destination.

The website includes more information on checkpoints, equipment lists and some basic guidelines for hiking in the region. More information including joining instructions is made available upon registration.

Do let me know if you register for the Highlander Adventure treks in either Spain or North Macedonia. I hope to see you out there!

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Lead image: Mirnes Ibrahimagic/Shutterstock

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