How to Hike the Most Beautiful Coastal Trails in the World

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Kalalau Trail, The Nā Pali Coast of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

Why: With sharp volcanic rock jutting from the sea and just a thin strip of dirt standing between you and the Pacific, the Kalalau Trail is one of the most beautiful, and dangerous, hikes in the world. The two-day scramble takes you along Kauai’s rugged Nā Pali Coast, past waterfalls and then down switchbacks before emerging in the breathtaking Kalalau Valley.

When: May-October are the driest months, though rainfall can make the trail nearly impassable at any time of year, so take caution when looking at the forecast.

How: Experienced hikers can complete the entire 22-mile trek in one day, but we recommend camping at Kalalau Beach for the night before turning back to retrace your steps in the morning. Permits must be obtained for both hiking and camping and cost $20 per day. Book in advance, especially during during peak season.

Causeway Coastal Way, Country Antrim, Northern Ireland

Why: Fans of Game of Thrones will recognize this Irish trail—with its vertiginous rope bridges, ruinous castles, and emerald isles— as the setting for many of the show’s major scenes. And while it inspires plenty of TV-tourism, our favorite part of this trek is that Ireland’s oldest Bushmills distillery is just off the walking path.

When: April-July

How: The Causeway Coastal Way connects the towns of Ballycastle and Portstewart and is about 31 miles in all. Cozy Irish B&Bs dot the route and don’t generally need to be booked in advance.

Cinque Terre High Trail, Liguria, Italy

Why: While most people choose to visit the pastel painted villages of Cinque Terre via the lower, “Blue Path”, there is something to be said for the quieter (and sparsely populated) higher trail. Although it’s much longer and more difficult than its more popular counterpart, the High Path offers superlative ocean views and charming cafes along the way—so you can easily refuel with an afternoon cappuccino.

When: May-September.

How: The 12-mile trail begins in Portovenere and finishes in Levanto. A round trip can easily be completed in two days, though rationing out the walk into three or even four days will allow more time to explore the villages, shops, and restaurants along the way. We suggest getting an AirBnB in Levanto for a night, and then turn back around in the morning. Don’t forget to buy a park pass from a train station or information center, which costs about $16 for two days.

Lycian Way, Between Ölüdeniz and Geyikbayırı on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast

Why: 2000 years ago, when the ancient Romans conquered Lycia on the southern coast of Turkey, they built a series of roads that would one day form this celebrated trail. Today, hikers can still walk upon those ancient footpaths, admiring the same sparkling Mediterranean seascape that has enchanted pilgrims for millennia.

When: Feb-May, September-November

How: The Lycian Way covers 335 miles and takes nearly a month to complete. The starting point is in the town of Oludeniz, two hours from the Dalaman airport. Guest houses and small hotels line the trail, so most sections can be completed without booking in advance or camping supplies. That said, if you do decide to hike the entire trail there are a few places, like the road from Myra to Finike, where you made need to pitch a tent.

Great Ocean Walk, Southeast Australia

Why: Situated in the shadow of the world’s most iconic coastline, The Great Ocean Walk snakes past ancient shipwrecks and beneath rainforest canopies. The only soundtrack? The thunderous roar of the Southern Ocean.

When: March/April or October/November.

How: The trek begins at the Apollo Bay Visitor Center, about three hours west of Melbourne, and traverses some 65 miles, taking nearly eight days to complete. Hiking from east to west, there are seven campsites reserved for hikers, though these must be booked at least two weeks in advance. The route can only be trekked one way, so if you park at Apollo Bay you will need to find a way back to your car once you’ve finished. If you have a hiking partner (always recommended) a good option is to use two cars and park one at the start and the other at the finish, otherwise shuttle services are available for a fee.

Rota Vicentina, Alentejo Coast, Portugal

Why: This secluded spot set along the sweeping Alentejo Coast, a protected region containing nearly a third of Portugal’s landmass but only a fraction of its population. With its gentle sea breezes and wildflower speckled dunes, this trail is ideal for those seeking solitude.

When: September-November, March-May

How: The Rota Vicentina is actually a network of trails, which together comprise some 280 miles. The hike takes between 1 to 2 weeks to complete, and where you start will depend on which parts of the trail appeal to you. We suggest the towns of Cercal Alentejo and Santiago Do Cacem. Camping is not permitted anywhere on the trail, but hotels and guest houses are readily available.

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