5 Breathtaking Coastal Hiking Trails that Will Blow Your Mind
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Our world has never been as accessible as it is today – we can spin the globe, pick a spot and jump on an airplane to any distant destination. Faraway lands that decades ago were reserved for pioneers are now within our reach. That does not mean we cannot find places where we can still feel like explorers.
When we think about hiking, we tend to picture mountain ridges, forests and lakes. But have you ever considered taking your hiking to the coast? Dramatic shorelines, suspended footbridges, boardwalks, streams and waterfalls, jungles and pristine beaches with awesome surfing… you can have all that and more when embarking on the world’s most spectacular coastal hiking trails!
1. Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, Wales, UK
Photo by Cycling Man
Distance: 186 miles (299 km)
Duration: 10 to 15 days
- Whitesands Bay and its water sports;
- Barafundle Bay Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world;
- Freshwater West hosts frequent Welsh surfing contests and is the top surf break in South Pembrokeshire;
- Green Bridge of Wales rock formation;
- The towns of Tenby, Solva, St Davis and Newport.
Best time: June to August
Green Bridge of Wales – Photo by David Evans
Rated one of the top three long-distance walking routes on the planet, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in southwest Wales connects St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south through a walking route along Britain’s most spectacular coastline. With 58 beaches and 14 harbors, numerous estuaries, coves and intricate rock formations, historical castles and forts, it’s no wonder that Pembrokeshire was referred to as a ‘Land of Mystery and Enchantment’ in folk tales some 1,000 years ago.
Summing up 35,000 ft (10,668 m) of ascents and descents, walking the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Are you up for the challenge? If it seems too much, don’t worry – you can easily break it down into smaller sections. And if it seems like an easy task, then you’ll be glad to find that, in 2012, the hike has been included in the Wales Coastal Path, the world’s first uninterrupted route along a nation’s coastline, covering 870 miles (1,400 km)!
Stackpole Head – Photo by Andrew
The trail is the best way to experience the sheer beauty of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Great Britain’s only coastal national park and the second best coastal destination in the world according to National Geographic. Furthermore, the coast’s wildly beautiful beaches provide the perfect setting for trying surfing for the first time or having a shot at some powerful, hollow and uncrowded waves.
Surfing in Pembrokeshire
Surfing at Whitesands Bay – Photo by Felix Cohen
Notable surfing spots in Pembrokeshire include:
- Poppit Sands Beach – a beach break with rivermouth peaks;
- Whitesands Bay – a reliable year-round destination for all levels of surfers;
- Freshwater West – known as the most consistent surfing spot in Wales, the fast and powerful waves here are for experienced surfers only; Freshwater West is also one of the top surfing spots in the UK;
- Newgale – great for beginner surfers;
- Manorbier Beach – for intermediate to advanced surfers;
- Tenby South Beach – due to the treacherous shallow reef, this one’s for advanced surfers only.
2. GR 34, France
Distance: 1,056 miles (1,700 km)
Duration: 85 days (can be broken down into smaller sections)
- Côte de Granit Rose (‘Pink Granite Coast’) boasts fascinating rock formations, including Les Sept-Iles archipelago (the Seven Islands) and Port of Ploumanac’h, with its stunning natural granite labyrinth.
- The fjords at l’Aber-Wrac’h and l’Aber-Benoît.
- Surfing on Brittany’s coast.
- Golfe du Morbihan on the Quiberon Peninsula, with its islands and colonies of seabirds.
Best time: May to September
Pink Granite Coast, Brittany
Also known as the Breton Coastal Footpath, GR 34 is a legendary backpacking trail along Brittany’s coast. It is an easy walk, but bear in mind that the trail covers the entire length of Brittany’s coast, which means 1,056 miles (1,700 km) of footpaths.
Photo by Mathieu Brient
GR stands for Grande Randonnée, which are long-distance hiking footpaths in France and other European countries. GR 34 starts in Vitré in Ille-et-Vilaine and ends in Tour-du-Parc in Morbihan. It passes by marshes, pine forests, gorges, sand dunes, curious rock formations, pristine beaches, wildlife and some of the best surfing spots in France. It goes through the Finistère department, home to Brittany’s best surf breaks, and Côtes-d’Armor, with its Coast of Pink Granite and many sandy beaches.
Mont Saint Michel, Brittany
GR 34 has quite the history behind it – created in the late 18th century by the customs service during the French Revolution, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the path was brought to light by hikers. The coastal trail is easy to follow, and you can spend the night in a hotel or guesthouse along the way, or you can set up camp. While here, don’t forget to take a detour through Mont Saint Michel!
3. Lycian Way, Turkey
Photo by juergen_skaa
Distance: 315 miles (509 km)
Duration: around 25 days
- Kayakoy ghost town;
- Kekova-Simena sunken cities – ancient fishing town and necropolis submerged under the emerald Mediterranean; the best way to explore these ruins is by snorkeling or kayaking.
- Rock-cut tombs in Myra, Amasya, Tlos;
- Cape Gelidonya with its lighthouse and graveyard of sunken ships;
- Olympos ancient city and beach;
- Eternal flames of Chimera near Çıralı Beach;
- Phaselis ancient city.
Best time: February – May, and September – November
Kekova-Simena – Photo by Kris Fricke
In southern Turkey, old Ottoman caravan routes, mule trails, ancient footpaths and Roman roads take hikers along the country’s Mediterranean coast, from Fethiye to Antalya. Mountains rising straight out of the sea, wilderness, delicious Turkish cuisine, Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins, tombs and sarcophagi scattered all around are only some of the highlights.
Photo by Veyis Polat
Start in Fethiye, a popular kitesurfing and windsurfing destination, and walk the 2,000-year old roads dating from the time when the Romans conquered Lycia. The world’s first long distance waymarked trail, the Lycian Way avoids crowded tourist hotspots and is a history lesson in itself – you will retrace the steps of Alexander the Great and marching armies.
Rock-cut tombs of Myra – Photo by Tom Kelly
Graded medium to hard, its numerous ascents and descents and its overwhelming length are a challenge, to say the least. You can spend the night in the quaint fishing villages along the way or camp under a canopy of stars.
4. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii, USA
Photo by Matt Kemp
Distance: 22 miles round-trip (35 km)
Duration: 2-4 days
- Hanakapi’ai Beach
- Kalalau Beach
Best time: between May and September; April and October are less crowded.
Photo by Jeff P
On the picturesque Nā Pali Coast on the Kauai Island in the Hawaiian archipelago, the Kalalau Trail is often regarded as the best coastal hiking trail in the world. In fact, Kauai is nicknamed the ‘Garden Isle’, and its northwestern coast is home to some of the island’s most spectacular scenery.
Photo by Heath Cajandig
Start at Ke’e Beach, a gentle lagoon protected from waves that provides excellent snorkeling and diving conditions. The Kalalau Trail passes five major valleys, all boasting waterfalls and creeks. The narrow, steep trails and exposed muddy slopes make the path quite strenuous and treacherous, and hikers will go as high as 4,000ft (1,200 m) above sea level. In some sections, the only thing standing in between you and the shimmering Pacific is a strip of dirt.
Kalalau Beach – Photo by patrickmoos
You will enter the Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park and cross the lush jungles of the Kalalau Valley before reaching your destination – Kalalau Beach. This spectacular mile-long beach is the highlight of the trip and definitely worth spending a night or two – you can set up camp on the beach and get the chance to spot humpback whales, dolphins and sea turtles. Please take note that permits are required for both hiking and camping.
5. West Coast Trail, British Columbia, Canada
Photo by Kai Laborenz
Distance: 46 miles (75 km)
Duration: about a week
- Spot orcas and gray whales
- Logan Creek suspension bridge
- Tsusiat Waterfall
- Hole-in-the-Wall rock formation
Best time: the West Coast Trail is open for hikers between May and September
Photo by Chris Breikss
There’s no better way to experience Canadian wilderness than by hiking British Columbia’s rugged, damp and foggy coastline. Creeks, canyons, wooden ladders, muddy slopes and narrow footbridges make for exciting obstacles; while the bears, wolves and cougars that call these land their home make for one of the scariest hikes in the world. In fact, the West Coast Trail has earned itself a reputation as the most exhausting hike in North America.
Photo credit: cheeseweb.eu
On the southern edge of Vancouver Island, not too far from Canada’s surfing capital of Tofino, the West Coast Trail (WCT) is a part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Wild, remote and physically challenging, only hikers with proper training, stamina and expertise in backcountry camping should undertake the entire route.
Photo by Chris Breikss
Originally a lifesaving trail created at the beginning of the 20th century to rescue survivors of shipwrecks, the 46-mile (75 km) route starts at Pacheena Bay in the north and ends in Trailhead at the mouth of the Gordon River in the south. You will encounter ladders, boardwalks, mud sections and long beach walks, which can be difficult during high tides, so plan accordingly. Please note that a hiking permit is required for all persons attempting the trail.
Are you craving the adventure of a lifetime? Take you hiking to the coast and surf some awesome uncrowded waves while you’re at it!