1. West Highland Way
Alan Kraft / Shutterstock
Length: 96 miles
Scotland’s premier long-distance hiking trail starts in Milngavie, about 30 minutes from Glasgow Airport, and heads north through the highlands to Fort William on the shores of Loch Linnhe, one of the country’s longest sea lochs. The West Highland Way, or Slighe na Gàidhealtachd an Iar in Scottish Gaelic, follows 18th-century military roads and ancient footpaths through some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery—the pastoral Loch Lomond, the desolately beautiful swamps of Rannoch Moor, and the Devil’s Staircase through the rocky ridge known as Aonach Eagach—before ending near the base of the highest mountain in the British Isles, 4,409-foot Ben Nevis.
Insider Tip: At the end of the hike in Fort William, a historic steam train called The Jacobite—otherwise known as the Hogwarts Express Train for its role in the Harry Potterfilms—transports guests in old fashioned splendor to the ferry town of Mallaig and back, an 84-mile, startlingly scenic round trip.
2. Alta Via 1 (Dolomite High Route)
Monte Civetta by Louis Vest Attribution NonCommercial 2.0 Generic
Length: 93 miles
Weaving through the dramatic Dolomites mountain range, Alta Via 1 is like a “greatest hits” nature tour of northeastern Italy. The rugged trail guides hikers from high-altitude World War I battlefields to towering limestone cliffs, past pristine alpine lakes, vast meadows, and craggy 10,000-foot peaks. The Dolomites may not be the tallest or the most famous mountains in Western Europe, but they are widely considered the most charismatic for their unique geology and photogenic rock formations, and the entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Alta Via 1 is a backpacker’s dreams, lined withrifugios, or huts, that provide home-cooked meals and a clean bed.
Insider Tip: This hike is best done July through September, when the route is free of snow. If possible, avoid August, the Italian summer holiday month, when the path is the most crowded. Dolomite Mountains, a reputable local tour outfitter, can assist withrifugio recommendations and reservations.
3. Tour Du Mont Blanc
Huang Zheng / Shutterstock
Length: 105 miles
Mount Blanc, the highest mountain in the European Union, has long lured adventurers, not only to its summit, but also to its magnificent valleys that extend into France, Switzerland, and Italy. In that spirit, the Tour du Mont Blanc trail circumnavigates the 15,781-foot massif, crossing through all three countries en route. The trail typically begins and ends in Chamonix, France, and passes through several picturesque alpine villages including Courmayeur, Italy. No camping required—stay in accommodations ranging from high-end resorts to dormitory-style hostels along the way.
Insider Tip: The standard route has many variations, depending on your fitness level and sightseeing interests.
Jens Ottoson / Shutterstock
Length: 270 miles
Located in the extreme north of Sweden, Kungsleden (The King’s Trail) bisects one of Western Europe’s largest remaining wilderness areas. Used by hikers in the summer, and cross-country skiers in the winter, Kungsleden serves up an Arctic dreamscape of glaciers, tundra, and birch forests, as well as 6,909-foot Mount Kebnekaise—Sweden’s highest peak. The long-distance route naturally divides into four one-week segments, making it accessible for even those with limited time.
Insider Tip: Camping is permitted along the entire length of the trail. Plus, the Swedish Tourist Association constructed and maintains 21 rustic huts on the route with basic amenities for sleeping and cooking, as well as campsites. Some huts also have small general stores.
InsatiableWanderlust / Shutterstock
Length: 34 miles
The name translates as the “Hot Spring Route,” but Laugavegurinn is so much more. Expansive glaciers, active volcanoes, emerald green valleys, and technicolor mountains are also in play along Iceland’s most storied footpath. In fact, the diverse landscape seems to drastically change every few miles, part of the remote island’s fairytale appeal. Six huts en route make camping easy, and backpacking highly efficient.
Insider Tip: This trail is also referred to as Laugavegur, named after the main artery in the capital city of Reykjavik—a local joke regarding the popularity of the trail. Rest assured that the Icelandic perception of heavy traffic does not necessarily reflect reality.