The COVID-19 global pandemic has officially altered travel plans and has limited adventurists worldwide. Reflecting back on my past travels gets me excited for what the future holds for life after quarantine. To those who feel the same way, I suggest adding some of my favorite hikes to your future itinerary!
Hike #1 – Monte Boglia: Ticino-Lombardy, Italy 09.12.2018 (9.2 miles, Strenuous)
Certainly one of the hardest, but probably the most rewarding hike I have ever done; Monte Boglia is like no other!
A group of my fellow classmates took a bus from Lugano to a small town in Italy called Ticino. We then walked about a mile through a residential area to get to the trailhead. If it weren’t for my professor, we probably would not have found the trail due to the poorly marked Italian signs. I personally thought we were going the wrong way, as everything was pointing towards Monte Bre instead of Boglia. We continued for a few minutes until finally reaching a sign that showed Monte Boglia’s peak was 7km away.
During the hike, we came across lumberers who were cutting down trees. The trees were falling down on the trail, almost hitting us in the process. We saw a few signs written in Italian about a warning, but none of us spoke the language. Turns out, that part of the trail was closed for maintenance. Once we got out of the “danger area”, this old dude came running over to us and started yelling in broken English. “What do you think you are doing, can’t you see the trail was closed?” He asked. Our response was “We aren’t from here, sorry!” He didn’t seem to take our apology lightly.
The rest of the hike was extremely strenuous. At one point, I found myself climbing up a man-made rock staircase, looking straight up to the sky with no end in sight. A surreal moment to say the least.
When I reached the top, I felt as if I were in the clouds. I looked around me and saw miles and miles of mountains, land, and waterways. At the peak stood a catholic cross and a small bench that my professor sat on (the picture below). All of my classmates were exhausted when we reached the top, but all agreed the view was worth the journey.
The total hiking distance was about 14.8km or 9.2 miles, and it took us most of the day. I would totally recommend this hike if you find yourself anywhere near Northern Italy/ Southern Switzerland. I have never experienced anything like it!
Hike #2 – Five Lakes Trail (5-Seenweg): Zermatt, Switzerland 10.20.2018 (5.5 miles, Moderate)
The “Five Lakes Trail” had some most spectacular views I have ever seen. The hike is located in Zermatt, Switzerland, home to the famed Matterhorn. A fact worth noting: Zermatt is is a car-free town, so you have to take a train to get there!
I completed the Five Lakes with two of my friends from my study abroad trip back in 2018. The hike itself was pretty easy, it wasn’t rigorous and the terrain was surprisingly flat. The hike was ~5.5 miles in distance, and it took us five hours to complete. We stopped a few times to take pictures, enjoy the scenery, and eat some Toblerone (which has the Matterhorn featured on its wrapper). Swiss chocolate is a must-buy when you’re in Switzerland!
One thing that was abundantly clear was how clean the air was during the hike. Even though we were almost 7,000 feet above ground, I could breathe perfectly. The water was also crystal clear. I filled up my water bottle with some running water that came straight from snow melt. It had such a pure taste.
The lakes combined with the mountainous landscape was an awesome sight. I took my favorite picture of all time sitting on top of a rock, looking down at one of the lakes. Out in the distance you can see the snow-capped mountains on each side of the Matterhorn, which stands 14,692 feet tall.
In my opinion, the lakes are really ponds, as they are decently small and shallow. We saw four out of the five lakes during our trip, the last one was a little further away. Apparently the fifth one has the best reflection of the Matterhorn, so we missed out!
If you are looking for more of an up close experience with the Matterhorn, I would recommend another trail in Zermatt. The ‘Matterhorn Glacier Trail’ is said to be another popular hike. However, I felt the Five Lakes Trail was the most scenic and provided a perfect landscape for pictures. Zermatt is a must-visit when you are in Europe, and the Five Lakes Trail is worth the addition to the itinerary when you are there!
Hike #3 – Huye Mountain Loop: Butare, Rwanda 11.25.2018 (~5.5 miles, Moderate)
In late 2018, I was helping out at a non-profit called OPDE located in Huye, Rwanda. During my last week there, my fellow classmates and translators took a drive about thirty minutes West of Huye. It was a bumpy and crowded ride as thirteen of us were squished together in the back of a tiny bus. If you ever sat in a truck bed on a rough dirt road, you can imagine the feeling.
When we got to the trailhead, I saw the mountains were terraced for producing rice. The hills looked like stairs going all the way up to the top. I was told the terraces help with irrigation; they also looked pretty cool.
Throughout the hiking loop we saw a ton of natural vegetation and blooming flowers. Wildlife was limited, but we did encounter a mass amount of bugs.
Close to the top, we made our way through these thick vines that covered the trail. The moment we took a step off of the trail, three fully armed Rwanda Defense Force soldiers with AK-47s came over to question us. Turns out, there was a heavily guarded military base on the top of Huye Mountain. The fact that we were a bunch of white Americans increased their suspicion and led to extended questioning by the soldiers. Luckily our translators talked to them and explained we were on a casual hike, looking for a good place to take a picture. They let us proceed with a smile on their faces.
There wasn’t an amazing view at the top, but there was a nice open grass field where my group took a photo together. Even though the overlook wasn’t spectacular at the top due to tree coverings, the landscape on the way down was unbeatable. We took some awesome photos at an overlook we encountered about a half mile down from the peak. Looking over the rolling green hills of Rwanda is such a unique sight.
When we reached the bottom, we had to wait several minutes for the bus driver to pick us up. We were in a small rural village at the time and a few kids were kicking around a soccer ball. A few of us decided it would be cool to join in while we waited. Even though I am awful at soccer, and the kids in Rwanda are so good, it was an enjoyable time. We played for ~30 minutes until our transportation arrived to take us back to our hotel.
This hike was mainly for the experience. I would not urge you to go pack up your things and go hike up Mount Huye. From what I have heard, there are some better hikes in the Nyungwe National Forest, Rwanda. However, if you do find yourself in Huye for an extended period of time, it is worth the visit!
Hike #4 – Monte San Salvatore: Lugano, Switzerland 09.02.2018 (3.9 miles, Moderate)
According to my professor, this hike is both a “walk” and a “stroll”. At least that is what he told me and 60 of my fellow classmates when we landed in Switzerland. Turns out, it was a full-on hike. A pretty hard one too.
We began our journey at the Montarina Hostel, which is where we stayed. We walked through the town of Lugano for about a mile to the trailhead. The first two miles of the hike were decently hard, with lots of switchbacks in between. Along the way, you could look down through the breakage in the trees to see how high off the ground you were. Monte San Salvatore is surrounded by waterways, mainly Lake Lugano. It was a consistent upward climb to the peak.
One thing I love about Monte San Salvatore is that you can access a cable car to reach the top. For those who don’t feel like hiking two hours to get to the peak, this is a good option for you! If I were only in Lugano for a day, I would’ve taken the cable car, since it saves a ton of time while also providing you with some of the best views of the city.
At the top stands a tower that you can climb up on to get a slightly better look. It really is a full panoramic view of Southern Switzerland and Northern Italy; simply amazing. There also is a restaurant where you can get yourself some food or a drink. I personally did not get anything, I had a hunch that it was going to be expensive.
My group stayed at the top for a few minutes, took a picture together, and went back down. The hike in total took about two and a half hours; the journey itself was over five hours. After the hike we walked through a small town to get to a gelato place in Italy. Gelato and/or Ice Cream is honestly the most refreshing thing to eat after a long day like this.
Would I recommend Monte San Salvatore? 100% yes! Lugano is an amazing town located right outside Lake Como. The hike is easily accessible and not too strenuous.
Hike #5 – White Oak Canyon: Stanley, Virginia 07.24.2016 (9.5 miles, Moderate)
The natural waterslide of White Oak Canyon makes it a must visit! I hiked part of White Oak Canyon with a friend back in 2016. The hardest part of this journey was the actual drive to White Oak Canyon, as the roads were poorly paved. At one point, I thought I was driving on a one-lane road when all of a sudden, a car appeared driving towards me. Two cars couldn’t fit on the road at the same time, so I had to veer off to the side for a second. I guess that’s country roads for you!
Anyways, the full loop is nearly 8 miles, and provides an overlook of the canyon. My friend and I personally just went for the waterslide, which we found roughly 2 miles into the hike.
To get up to the top of the waterslide, you have to climb up a few rocks. The rocks are slippery, which makes it a lot of fun to go down. Not so much going up though, so watch your step. It only took 5-10 seconds to complete the whole slide, as you fly down it. At the bottom is a pool of water which the waterslide dumps you into. A pretty refreshing feeling once you hit the cool water on a hot summer day. If you like Slip n Slides, you’re in for a real treat. This waterslide is like a Slip n Slide on steroids!
It’s been awhile since I have been to White Oak Canyon, but I have been wanting to go back to finish the whole hike. I have heard it is considered a “hidden gem” of Virginia hikes. It was not super crowded when I went, and I still never hear people talking about it. Check it out if you get the chance.
Pro tip: If you’re looking to get some GoPro footage, White Oak Canyon is a great place to do so! There are places you can cliff jump, while also filming yourself going down the waterslide makes a great video.
Hike #6 – Maryland Heights Trail: Knoxville, Maryland 05.29.2017 (3 miles, Easy-Moderate)
This hike gives you a spectacular view of Harpers Ferry, Maryland. Harpers Ferry has a ton of history as it is famous for John Brown’s raid against the South in 1858.
I climbed the Maryland Heights Overlook Trail in 2017 with one of my friends. At the time, I had just gotten a new camera and wanted to test it out. My friend and I decided Harpers Ferry was a cool place to check out, since neither of us had ever been. The drive was super nice, with many hidden picture spots along the way. When we got to the parking lot, I remember we had a little bit of trouble finding the entrance to the trail. We eventually found it after walking around for a few minutes alongside the Potomac river.
The overlook trail is 3 miles long, and is categorized as moderate. There is another trail that leads to the overlook called the Stone Fort trail. This trail is 6 miles long and is categorized as strenuous. My friend and I were not really prepared for a whole day of hiking, so we decided the overlook trail was a better option for us. If you’re looking for a harder hike, I would recommend Stone Fort. If not, stick with the Overlook trail. Both of the trails bring you to same destination.
The overlook trail was well marked as we found our way up to the top pretty easily. We encountered a decent amount of people along the way, so if you’re trying to keep your distance, this may not be the best hike for the time being.
Once we got to the top, I was shocked at how amazing the view was. There was a large observation area that you could sit on and enjoy the scenery. It is a really good place for a picnic with family, or a significant other.
I suggest this hike solely based on the view. You get to see a little bit of everything – old town buildings, mountains, rivers, and bridges. Come here with a good camera and you will walk away with some awesome pictures worth posting on your Instagram or Facebook page.
Tip: DO NOT forget bug spray! I got some of the worst bug bites of my life from this hike because I forgot to spray myself beforehand. Bug spray is almost as essential as a facemask for those who get bit a lot.
Hike #7 – Ile Sainte Marguerite: Cannes, France 09.22.18 (1 mile, Easy)
Not really a hike, but a walking trail to say the least. Ile Sainte Marguerite is located in Cannes, France, which is the home of the international music festival. For all of those who have seen Mr. Bean’s Holiday Vacation, this is where the final scene takes place. I traveled to Cannes from Lugano with three friends, it was one of my first weekend trips during study abroad.
Ile Sainte Marguerite is about a half mile off of mainland Cannes. The island is only accessible by boat so you have to pay for a ticket (~$20), unless of course you have your own boat. Once we docked, we walked about a mile through the island to get to a bathing spot. The walking path was well marked and pointed to different locations that you could put down your belongings.
We encountered a small antiquated castle, colorful vegetation, and many different animals (mainly birds) during the walk. One thing that surprised me was the mountainous atmosphere of the island. I categorize Ile Sainte Marguerite as a hike since we were surrounded by the Mountains of the French Riviera.
The beaches of Ile Sainte Marguerite have little sand and are mainly comprised of rock. Not the most comfortable thing to sit on, but we made it work. We had a ton of fun swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, even though the water was pretty in mid-September. There are places you can jump off of rocks, and many fishing spots on the coast.
One thing we saw a lot of on Ile Sainte Marguerite were boats. Vacationers and locals dock their boats right off of the island, as we encountered probably 50 of them surrounding us. Most of the people on the boats were either having their own mini-parties or sunbathing.
The city of Cannes is worth a visit itself, but Ile Sainte Marguerite adds to the experience. You are basically surrounded by mountains while swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, what’s better than that?
Hike #8 – Dragon’s Tooth: Catawba, Virginia *Multiple dates (4.6 miles, Moderate- Strenuous)
Over my four years at Virginia Tech, I have hiked Dragon’s Tooth three times. Being only a 40 minute drive from Blacksburg, Dragon’s Tooth is super easy to get to. I did the hike once by myself, once with my girlfriend, and once with my roommate from college. I have never gotten tired of it!
Dragon’s Tooth hike is roughly 4.6 miles and is considered Strenuous by many. It is located on the Appalachian Trail, and is part of the “Triple Crown”- which also includes Tinker Cliffs and Mcafee’s knob. Generally, it takes an hour and a half to get up, and an hour to get back down. The hike has a steady incline all the way up until the last half mile. It is the last 0.5 that you find your legs cramping, and thinking to yourself if you took a wrong turn. To say the least, you are climbing over rocks and walking on the side of ledges. Not the safest hike if you have poor sneakers, so keep that in mind.
Personally, I love Dragon’s Tooth because of the rock that stands at the peak called the “tooth”. The tooth is a sharp rock that you can climb up on to get a better view of the valley. The rock is about 25 feet off of the ground and takes a bit of effort to get up on. If you are scared of heights, do not climb on top of it; unless you’re trying to break away from your fear. The tooth is narrow and there is almost always someone sitting in the middle of it. Even though the top of the tooth provides an epic view, be cautious of others and watch your footing when you climb up. You do not want to fall off of that thing!
For all Virginia Tech students and faculty, this is a must-do during your time in Blacksburg. For those who do not go to Tech, I would still very much recommend visiting it. Dragon’s Tooth is a great place to spend part of the day with a group of friends, family, or simply by yourself. As mentioned before, I have done this hike three times and loved it every time!
Those are my favorite 8 hikes around the world. I would love to hear about your favorite hike. Comment below and maybe I will make that my next stop!
Some others I would recommend:
Mcafee’s knob: Catawba, Virginia (8.1 miles, Moderate- Strenuous)
Seneca Rocks: Monongahela National Park, West Virginia (3.2 miles, Moderate)
Bald knob: Giles County, Virginia (0.8 miles, Easy)
Cascade Falls: Giles County, Virginia (3.8 miles, Easy)