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Hikes on Mont Seura above the Val Gardena.


What’s the best mountain hiking destination for me?
All Mountain Hiking Holidays trips allow you to choose your hike each day—you can select a less difficult or a more difficult option depending on your hiking abilities and preferences. However, remember that the quality and extent of trail networks and hiking infrastructure can vary from one mountain region to the next. Consequently, the nature of the hiking experience varies from destination to destination. 

Each mountain region has its own character and offers its own brand of trail experience. We present the following information to help you compare the features of each mountain range and the hiking opportunities it offers. (Consult our Trail Samplers for specific examples of the hiking options available on Mountain Hiking Holidays trips.)


Since returning from our adventures… we’ve had numerous opportunities to share with friends and family what a super time we had—and how much we appreciated our tour directors who are a fine combination of geographer/historian/art critic/raconteur/mountain goat/beer and wine connoisseur/translator/mountain rescue team/mother superior…and the list goes on. 

--DOUG AND DENISE WHITE


Europe
 Hiking across the Gschnagenhardt Alm, one of the many lovely meadowlands in the Dolomites.

A section of ladder on a via ferrata in the Cadini Range, Dolomites.

Italian Dolomites. The graceful yet imposing spires and pinnacles of the Italian Dolomites rise above verdant meadows, deep forests, and valleys filled with alpine villages creating one of the most beautiful and intimate mountain landscapes on the planet. There is nothing anywhere that quite compares to the elegant forms of the peaks of the Dolomites! At first glance, the jagged silhouettes of these mountains might suggest that they are more the realm of mountaineers than of hikers. But amidst the jaw-dropping splendor of peaks winds a network of trails that caters to the full range of hiking abilities. Stroll across the Alpe di Siusi, one of Europe’s most extensive alpine meadowlands, or amble along paths that traverse ridgetops high above tree-line where 360-degree panoramas of a sea of peaks await. If you’re sure of foot and have a head for heights, you can attempt the Dolomites’ distinctive and challenging vie ferrate ("iron ways") where cables and ladders bolted into the mountainside assist your passage.
The Rifugio Fonda Savio beneath th spires of the Cadini Range. There are plenty of cable cars and chairlifts to give you a boost, and along the trail mountain huts (rifugi) await with cappuccino, minestrone, and apple strudel! Distinctive accommodations and warm hospitality are provided by innkeepers who speak Ladin—a language formed from the melding of Latin with the ancient languages of the mountain people. The Ladin language and culture are grace notes in the glorious symphony of landscape and people that is the Dolomites. Situated on the "sunny side of the Alps," the Dolomites are a perfect choice for a first encounter with Europe’s mountains! See the Dolomites trips: Best Hikes in the Dolomites and Hiking the Dolomites: The Val Gardena.

Ascending a ladder in the Sucha Bela Gorge, Slovensky Raj National Park, Slovakia.

A typical stone-paved trail in the Slovak High Tatras.

Descending the trail from the summit of Rysy, Poland's highest peak.

The trail ambles across the meadows of Zadne Medodoly on the south to north Tatra traverse.

 

Carpathian Mountains. The Carpathians are Europe's second great mountain range. Though longer in geographic extent than the Alps, the nine hundred mile long Carpathians are often overshadowed by their better-known neighbor, and their landscapes have remained largely unknown to most North Americans seeking to hike in Europe's mountains. Our Carpathian mountain trip takes you northward from Budapest to Krakow traversing a diversity of central European mountain landscapes in Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. This trip offers you a comprehensive view of the Carpathian Mountains taking you across the entire breadth of the range from the vast plains of the Carpathian Basin at their southern foot to the Vistula River valley at the base of their northern slopes. Just north of Budapest, the bucolic, gently rolling hills of northern Hungary mark the modest beginnings of the Carpathians as they begin their rise. In Hungary, the best mountain hiking is in the Bükk National Park which protects a small densely forested range of karst (limestone) mountains punctuated by grassy, open meadows. In Slovakia, the terrain rears up in a jumble of forested ridges increasing in height as you proceed northward. Large travertine ridges in Slovakia’s Spis region make for glorious walking in a landscape accented by ruined castles, onion-domed churches, and walled towns. Up to this point, forest and rural landscapes predominate, and Baroque towns and mountain villages provide inviting opportunities to discover the cultural riches of the Carpathians. The Carpathian uplift culminates on the Slovak-Polish border in the dark, rocky, and majestic peaks of the Tatra Mountains, the highest and only truly alpine portion of the entire Carpathian mountain range. Here, glacier-carved crags soar above surrounding forests of beech, fir and spruce. This compact cluster of peaks is protected in national parks on both sides of the border and has been designated an international Biosphere Reserve. Many endemic, rare and protected species including the chamois, marmot, brown bear, falcon and golden eagle take refuge in the Tatras. Laboriously-built stone paths and stairways snake up into the mountains and comprise a significant portion of the Tatra Mountain trail network. Hiking routes are well established, signed and blazed. Mountain chalets (schronisko in Polish; chata in Slovak) are regularly encountered and offer meals and beverages to hikers. Noteworthy hiking experiences available on Mountain Hiking Holidays's trip across the Carpathians include an ascent (aided by boardwalks and ladders) up one of the narrow stream gorges of Slovakia’s Slovensky Raj ("Slovak’s Paradise") National Park, a hike to the summit of Poland’s highest peak (Rysy), and a day-long traverse of the Tatra Range from south to north. See the itinerary for Across the Carpathians: Budapest to Krakow for more information.

A view from the summit of Musala! There is a trail all the way to the top!

Hikers cross a lush meadow in the Bunderitsa Valley en route across the Pirin Range.

 

Bulgaria. In Bulgaria the great uplift of the Rhodope Mountains is broken into several ranges. The most magnificent of these are the Rila and Pirin Mountains both protected in national parks and containing some of the wildest high mountain landscapes remaining in Europe. These mountains offer the finest mountain hiking in Bulgaria with deeply wooded foothills and a glorious lake-filled high country that rivals similar areas in the Alps and Pyrenees. A third range which the Bulgarians call the Rodopi Mountains are lower, drier and less rugged. Nevertheless, they are attractive in their own right offering pine-scented mountain walks through well-preserved traditional mountain villages. Bulgarian mountain trails are well-signed (if you can read the Cyrillic alphabet) and generally well-defined though often narrow and rocky. The rugged terrain is relieved here and there by lush streamside meadowlands where the walking is easier. You’ll encounter mountain huts (called hizha in Bulgarian) many of which were built in the last forty years when hiking was promoted as a patriotic endeavor! However, the standard of service and accommodation in the huts is not up to that of Alpine counterparts. Notable Bulgarian hikes include a trail crossing of the Pirin range as well as hikes to the summits of Musala and Vichren—the former the highest European mountain between the Alps and the Caucasus and the latter the highest summit in the Pirin range and second highest in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian dancers kick up their heels in Sofia. As one of the least densely populated countries in Europe (only Scandinavia, Ireland and the Baltic countries have lower densities), Bulgaria’s landscape is full of open space and broad vistas, and the country offers a particularly warm welcome to visitors! Mountain Hiking Holidays was one of the first American companies to offer scheduled hiking trips in Bulgaria, and our Bulgarian guides are skilled at the art of opening doors to rich experiences with Bulgarian food, music, and culture in the mountain villages and resorts. A two-night stay in one of the finest mountain inns in Europe and encounters with two of Bulgaria’s most stunning orthodox monasteries round out an experience with this exotic destination! See the Mountains of Bulgaria trip itinerary.

  The Bucegi Mountains from the east

  Ancient mugo pines, Bucegi plateau
Romania. Romania's "showcase" mountains are the storied Transylvanian Alps, a 225 mile-long range running west to east across the country. The Transylvanian Alps (known as the Carpaţii Meridionali in Romanian) comprise the southernmost extent of the great Carpathian Mountains. The Transylvanian Alps are composed of several mountain groups, or massifs, each offering distinctive landscapes and hiking opportunities. The eastern end of the Transylvanian Alps is anchored by the Bucegi Mountains known for their extensive, flower-spangled highland meadows and dramatic glacially-carved cirques. Nearby, the craggy, limestone "dragon-back" of the Piatra Craiului Mountains rise in counterpoint to the more massive silhouette of the Bucegi. Spruce forests and picturesque rural farmlands dominate the foothills of the Piatra Craiului.

  Hiker on the Făgăraş main ridge

  Lac Podu Giurgiului in the Făgăraş
The central portion of the Transylvanian Alps is punctuated by the Făgăraş Mountains, perhaps the most distinctive (and quintessentially Romanian) portion of the range. Much of the high country of these mountains has been grazed for centuries and this is partly responsible for giving the mountains their scenic character. The open, grass-cloaked ridges and basins of the Făgăraş main ridge provide hikers with never-to-be-forgotten high country trail experiences! At the western end of the Transylvanian Alps rise the Retezat Mountains, perhaps Romania's wildest and best-protected mountain massif. The area lies within a national park and has also been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Rugged and glacially-carved, the Retezat contains the greatest number of alpine lakes in the southeastern Carpathians.

  Pietrele Valley, Retezat Mountains

  A Retezat "rock glacier"
Romanian mountain trails are typically rugged but should pose no difficulties for those used to hiking in the mountains. The easiest high elevation hikes are probably on the Bucegi plateau whose extensive meadows can be accessed by a cable car. The Făgăraş Mountains offer spectacular ridge walks and perhaps the most rewarding mountain hiking in Romania. The Făgăraş high country can most easily be accessed via the Trans-Făgăraşan highway; other access routes involve fairly substantial elevation gains (and losses). The remote Retezat Mountains offer a diversity of mountain landscapes; some of the high country routes are rocky and require some care since they traverse the area's distinctive "rock glaciers." Transylvanian Alps: Hut to Hut on the Fagaras Traverse.

An historic mail route in the Naeroyfjord.

A "boot-beaten" path descends into Rimstigbotn.

Hiking in the expanse of the high "vidda," the highlands between the fjords.

 

Fjord Norway. Western Norway’s mountains rise sharply and directly from the ocean. These fjord-laced, "sea-level mountains" were carved by glaciers that left an imposing near vertical topography in their wake. The rugged nature of western Norway’s fjord country dictates the rugged nature of its mountain trails, and predictably "up" is a common direction for trails in Fjord Norway! Some of the most spectacular trail adventures in Fjord Norway are along the old, almost forgotten walking routes that once linked neighboring fjord valleys with one another. These more difficult hiking routes are often nothing more than "boot-beaten" paths delineated only by rock cairns or blazes, and a distinct trail tread is frequently absent. Vertical elevation gain can easily attain 3,000 vertical feet or more, but some of the wildest and most awe-inspiring mountain vantage points in Europe are the reward for such an effort. For wilderness-type solitude in Europe’s mountains, Fjord Norway may be the hiker’s best bet. It is not uncommon to hike for an entire day on some mountain routes and never meet another soul. If you’re seeking less difficult walks amidst the impressive physical geography of the fjords, a number of historic roads and pathways (now completely closed to vehicular traffic) provide less physically demanding (and sometimes nearly level) hiking options. On many of these routes (reminiscent of Irish bohereens), grass has grown over the old roadbeds making for pleasurable hiking. A highlight of a Mountain Hiking Holidays visit to Fjord Norway is the hike to a cliff-top farm where a local farmer will welcome you and introduce you to the joys and struggles of making a living on a small shelf of land 1,000 feet above the waters of the fjords. Hiking Fjord Norway.

The view from the trail on the floor of the Lutour Valley, French Pyrenees.

 

Pyrenees. The Pyrenees easily rival the splendor of the Alps. They are wilder in character with a landscape less fragmented by villages and settlements than is the case in many parts of the Alps. About four thousand Pyrenean chamois, marmots, a dozen Pyrenean brown bears and the secretive desman (an aquatic mammal) are some of the wildlife species that call the Pyrenees home. The highest and most dramatic peaks of the Pyrenees are found in the central portion of the range. Here, vast tracts of Pyrenean mountain splendor are protected in France’s Pyrenees National Park and Spain’s Ordesa Monte Perdido National Park. Within the parks, the influence of human activity on the landscape has been minimized. There is consequently a general lack of "mountain transport infrastructure" (i.e. cable cars, chairlifts, etc.) in the prime hiking areas. Mountain huts are present in fair number, but they tend to be rustic with minimal food service so it pays to pack your own lunch! Large peripheral zones surround the national parks and are managed to maintain the pastoral economy and the life of the old mountain villages. Listen and you may sense the rich linguistic heritage of these mountains in the languages known as Euskara (Basque), Catalan, Occitan, Aranés, and Aragonés.

For North Americans used to hiking in national parks and wilderness areas, the Pyrenees are a great mountain hiking destination offering a good variety of trails and hiking choices. Pyrenean stream valleys are characterized by expansive streamside meadows and forest clearings so even lower elevation walks are full of enchanting mountain vistas. Never-to-be-forgotten trail journeys in the Pyrenees include the ascent to the fabulous Brèche de Roland, a large notch in the glacial arrête above France’s stupendous Cirque de Gavarnie, and hikes along the spectacular trails set in the natural fajas ("ledges") that traverse the north and south walls of Spain’s Ordesa Canyon. Hiking the Pyrenees.


Some of the ridge walks in the Urkiola Natural Park are reminiscent of an Irish "horseshoe walk."

The lovely town of Llanes seen from the start of the hike to Celorio along the shores of the Cantabrian Sea.

The Naranjo de Bulnes, signature peak of the Picos de Europa, from the trail ascending from Collada de Pandébano.

The well-built trail in the Cares Gorge, Picos de Europa.

 

Picos de Europa and the Cantabrian Mountains. The Cantabrian Mountains rise like ramparts along Spain’s northern coast, their feet washed by the surprisingly turquoise-colored waters of the Cantabrian Sea. The northern slopes of the mountains enjoy a maritime climate which has created a well-watered landscape often promoted as "Green Spain." South of the Basque city of Bilbao at the eastern end of the Cantabrian Range, the mountain massifs of the Spanish province of Vizcaya rise like rocky islands above a multi-hued, patchworked sea of field and forest. Lesser-known hiking routes ranging from old tracks to rocky way trails ascend to the mountain heights from the villages below. In the rocky Urkiola massif rises the mystical peak of Anboto, home of a legendary Basque goddess. Some of the ridgetop hiking in this mountain group is reminiscent of an Irish "horseshoe walk." Further to the south, traverse the unfrequented grassy highlands atop the bulky sandstone summit of the Gorbeia Mountain at the southern edge of the Basque Cantabrians. The crown of the Cantabrian Range is the small cluster of peaks known as the Picos de Europa ("Peaks of Europe") allegedly named by mariners who sighted them before other landforms as they approached the European mainland by sea. The Picos de Europa are comprised of three limestone massifs separated by deep, narrow gorges. Both the highlands and the canyons offer great hiking opportunities. The northern slope of the Picos is exposed to maritime influences and is consequently wetter than other portions of the range. Here, the generally rocky character of the Picos is tempered by the green high country meadows called vegas. Two lovely alpine lakes, a rarity in the Picos landscape, are also found in this area. Somewhat reminiscent of the Dolomites, the towering summits of the central Picos preside over trails that wind through a rocky, austere high country. Picos de Europa trails, like those of the Pyrenees, are generally well defined offering a good variety of hiking experiences. Mountain refuges are occasionally encountered but as in the Pyrenees, they provide minimal food service. A classic Picos de Europa hike is the vigorous trail ascent to the base of the Naranjo de Bulnes, an imposing, orange-streaked, limestone monolith. Equally enthralling is the hike through the Cares Gorge where a superbly maintained trail is etched into vertical canyon walls; it’s one of the finest canyon walks in Europe! Hiking the Picos de Europa.

John and Amy have to be the ultimate! One or both were always a step ahead, planning the next event. And everyone (the non-hikers, the photographers, and the serious hikers) received consideration. The trip exceeded our expectations.

--RUSS AND ROSALIE WEBER



Stone path (kalderimi) to Vradheto.

Plane tree, village square, Vitsa.
Pindhos Mountains, Greece. Our northern Greece hiking trip features the Pindhos Mountains, Meteora and Mount Olympus. The Zagori region (called Zagorochoria in Greek) lies in the Pindhos Mountains to the northeast of the city of Ioannina, principal city of the Epirus region in northwestern Greece. Zagori (from the Slavic for "behind the mountains") is known for its beautiful stone villages linked by old cobbled paths (called kalderimi in Greek) and picturesque humpbacked bridges. This network of paths provides nearly endless opportunities for hikers! Most villages are no more than a half day's hike apart, so you can break your journey and enjoy refreshments (like an icy frappé) in the shade of a plane tree on a village square. More challenging hikes in the area include a rugged, day-long traverse along the floor of the spectacular Vikos Gorge or an ascent into the alpine country of the Timfi massif where the alpine tarn of Dhrakolimni ("Dragon's Lake") glimmers like a mountain jewel.

Sandstone monoliths, Meteora.
At Meteora, old cobbled paths still thread their way among the area's sandstone monoliths. These paths once provided the only means of accessing the perched monasteries that crown some of the pinnacles. Though this function has been largely replaced by roads today, the old paths provide the adventurous with a sense of what it was like to travel through this distinctive landscape centuries ago.

Mount Olympus ascent trail.
An ascent of Mount Olympus takes a minimum of two days (preferably three) with an overnight spent in a comfortable mountain refuge. A well-built trail ascends three thousand feet to the refuge situated just below the timberline. The following day, hikers continue along the trail that climbs the upper slopes of the mountain, sometimes steeply, to reach the top of Skala, one of several summits on Olympus. See the Hiking Northern Greece itinerary.

Ascending Olympus.

A volcanic cone rises above the Azorean cloud forest on Pico island. Madeira and the Azores. Madeira and the Azores are both volcanic archipelagos rising out of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Europe and Africa. Both island groupings are part of Portugal and along with the Canary and Cabo Verde Islands comprise the island region known as Macaronesia ("blessed islands"). Madeira and the Azores both enjoy a sub-tropical climate and bear some physical resemblance to the islands of Hawaii. The verdant, sculpted cliffs of Madeira's north slope are reminiscent of western Kauai while the lush highlands and volcanic cones of the Azores recall the landscapes of upcountry Maui or the Big Island.

The Madeiran archipelago, which lies about 350 miles west of Morocco and 600 miles southwest of mainland Portugal, is made up of one principal island (Madeira), the smaller inhabited island of Porto Santo, and the uninhabited Ilhas Desertas. The levadas— narrow irrigation channels that were built as early as the 1500s to carry water from the highlands to drier parts of the island—are the defining feature of Madeiran hiking. (The word levada derives from the Portuguese word for "carry.") Roughly 1600 miles of levadas  traverse the island's windswept moorlands and steep slopes.

« PHOTO: The walking path along the Levada do Norte near the mountain pass of Boca da Encumeada. Agapanthus and heather trees (Erica) line the levada.

Crossing a cliff face: The path along the Levada da Serra in the Fajã do Nogueira valley.

In some places, levadas have been "etched" across nearly vertical cliff faces. This engineering feat provides hikers with access to stunning mountain landscapes, some of which would be impossible to experience were it not for the levadas. Because the levadas are irrigation canals designed to move water horizontally over long distances, walking along a levada generally involves little in the way of "ups and downs." On a levada hike, notable vertical elevation gains or losses usually comes only when accessing a levada (from below or above) or when ascending or descending from one levada to another. 

« PHOTO: Crossing a cliff face: The path along the Levada da Serra in the Fajã do Nogueira valley. Note the wire fence to right of path.

Another perspective of the trail shown in the photo above. Arrow shows location of trail along the Levada da Serra. Note tunnel to left of arrow.

Sharp drop-offs (sometimes fenced) can be expected where the levadas have been dug into cliff faces. Many levadas, and the paths alongside them, traverse tunnels, adding an exciting dimension to a levada hike. Many tunnels are short, and a few are lengthy. (The longer tunnels can take up to forty-five minutes to traverse!) In many instances, a flashlight (preferably a headlamp) is essential for successful levada hiking and a lightweight hardhat or climbing helmet (to protect against the occasional low ceiling) is also useful.

« PHOTO: Another perspective of the trail shown in the photo above. Arrow shows location of trail along the Levada da Serra. Note tunnel to left of arrow.

 

The Azores (Açores, in Portuguese), an archipelago of nine principal islands, lies about 900 miles due west of Lisbon. The islands were formed of volcanic activity associated with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the world's longest (though mostly submarine) mountain range. Lush, green, and largely un-touristed, the Azores present a variety of hiking experiences. Walk along the rim of vast volcanic calderas filled with crater lakes; ramble across extensive high country pasturelands crisscrossed by hydrangea hedgerows; descend spectacular trails into steep-walled, emerald green valleys laced with waterfalls; follow old cobbled paths between isolated coastal hamlets; and ascend to Portugal's highest point (the summit of the volcano, Pico).

The Azorean trail system is not as well-known, as well-developed or as well-marked as that on Madeira, and the Azores are still a virtually unknown destination for hikers. Happily, this situation often results in more enriching trail experiences and a greater degree of solitude for those who do strike out to discover the Azorean "backcountry." Hiking Madeira and the Azores.

Asia

Watchtower, Jinshanling.

A moment of solitude on the wall.
The Yan Mountains & the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of China provides a superb way for hikers to enjoy the scenery of the Yan Mountains in north China. Hiking along the wall is a varied experience and by no means a monotonous exercise! In some places you'll walk on beautifully restored sections of wall built during the Ming Dynasty. In other places, like Dongjiakou, the wall is "wilder" and vegetation softens its contours. In some areas the wall is simply a trace of stones winding through the woods largely reclaimed by time and nature. Sometimes you'll walk atop the wall itself, and at other times you'll walk alongside it on a hiking trail. In certain areas you can leave the wall entirely to pursue a alternative route through remote valleys and villages before rejoining the wall at a later point. As you hike along the wall, you'll encounter stairways, ramps, watchtowers, and occasional short ladders. In some places cable cars can be used to access trailheads atop the wall. We avoid the sections of wall that attract the crowds so you can enjoy blissful moments of near-solitude on the Great Wall! Throughout your journey you'll enjoy the landscapes of China that unfold around you from small villages where oxen are still used to plow the fields to remote mountain ridges where the views extend for miles! See the Hiking the Great Wall of China itinerary.


Hikers atop the Dongjiakou Great Wall.


Hiking trail alongside the wall.



Boardwalk trail, Shinsen-numa.

Daisetsuzan Traverse.
Hokkaido, Japan. You can expect a variety of trail conditions in the mountains of Hokkaido. Well-marked and well-constructed paths are typical in the most popular areas such as Shinsen-numa in the Niseko Highlands (where boardwalks lead you through lovely wetlands) and at the Sugatami Ponds in the Daisetsuzan National Park. Trail conditions typically become more challenging as you proceed into more remote areas. Fast-growing dwarf bamboo, Japanese stone pine (Pinus pumila) and mountain birch sometimes crowd less frequently traveled mountain trails but these do not present obstacles for careful and attentive hikers. There are well-developed trails to the summits of several volcanoes on Hokkaido; some of these paths are steep, but others such as the trail to the top of active Tarumae-san volcano are well within the grasp of beginning mountain hikers. The thrill of standing atop an rumbling, steaming active volcano is not soon forgotten! Chairlifts and cable cars (called "ropeways" in Japan) provide access to high mountain trailheads in Daisetsuzan National Park and in a few locations in the Niseko area. Hikes with large elevation gains can be expected in much of the wild Shiretoko National Park where lifts and ropeways are notably absent.
South America
Patagonia. Our Patagonia trip visits two distinct regions: the Lake District of Argentina centered around the Nahuel Huapi National Park and the southern Patagonian Andes of Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina) and the Torres del Paine National Park (Chile).

Nahuel Huapi shore, Bariloche.
A convenient base for hikers in Nahuel Huapi National Park is the town of San Carlos de Bariloche sitting at an elevation of about 2,500 feet on the shores of immense, fjord-like, mountain-ringed Nahuel Huapi Lake. The mountains of this area are reminiscent of those of the Pacific Northwest with steep-walled forested valleys, open ridges, and high country lake basins dotted with alpine tarns. General elevations are not high when compared against, for example, the Peruvian Andes. Ridges in the Nahuel Huapi area top out at an average of 6,500 feet (roughly the elevation of Timberline Lodge on Oregon's Mount Hood) with high country lake basins nestling in at the 5,500 foot level.

Volcan Tronador from Cerro Lopez.

Refugio Lopez.
Reaching the area's high country lake basins on foot often involves somewhat long approaches up southern beech forested valleys like the Arroyo Van Titter and Arroyo Goye, but the high country splendors that await are reward enough for the effort! Trails (sometimes challenging) provide access to the Lake District's ridge-top vantage points which offer hikers unforgettable views east to the Argentine pampas and west toward the snow and ice-clad volcanoes of Chile. Chairlifts and a gondola lift are sometimes available to transport summer visitors from the ski resort of Villa Catedral to the ridge-top Refugio Lynch for wonderful views over a sea of peaks. Elsewhere, a few mountain refuges, notably the Refugio Lopez and Refugio Frey, provide hikers with shelter from the vagaries of Patagonia's unpredictable weather.


Hikers in southern Patagonia's Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina.

Fitrzroy's summit rises 7,500 vertical feet above Laguna Capri.
Monte Fitzroy above Laguna Capri.

Hiking in the Patagonian Andes.
Paine Grande, Chile. From where this photo was taken, the summit is six miles away and 10,000 feet higher!
Paine Grande, Chile.
The skyscraping peaks of Monte Fitzroy and the Torres del Paine have come to symbolize southern Patagonia. These rocky towers rise in spectacular topographic abruptness from their bases. Monte Fitzroy, for example, rises almost 10,000 vertical feet from the valley floor of the Rio de las Vueltas which lies only seven and a half miles from its summit. And the peak of Paine Grande in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park rises 10,000 vertical feet from Lago Nordenskjold which lies only four miles from its summit. At first glance, these soaring pinnacles suggest a land of rugged hiking suitable only for experienced mountain hikers. However, the reality is that many trails traverse the rolling terrain at the base of these peaks, so the hiking is not, in general, as difficult as the rugged forms of the peaks might tend to suggest. Well-built trails wind their way through a landscape of southern beech woodlands, broad river valleys and the grassy wetlands known as in Patagonia as mallín. This topographically accessible landscape nevertheless provides stunning, close-up views of the granite spires of the Patagonian Andes. In the Fitzroy area most of the hikes takes place at elevations between 1,300 and 2,500 feet. Optional ascents to viewpoints at Pliegue Tumbado and Laguna de los Tres require additional elevation gain. In Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, most of the principal day-hikes start at very low elevations—between 200 and 400 feet above sea level.


Hikers at Laguna Hija, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina.

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