Bike or paddle through nature

Photo: puwanai/Shutterstock

A compilation of articles from Treehugger…

Some travelers go to great lengths to get a unique view, like trekkers who climb to the summit of a mountain in the pre-dawn hours to enjoy a sunrise panorama.

You could argue that an amazing visual experience is one of the main reasons for traveling. Sure, many people talk about travel in terms of accomplishments: they reached the top of some mountain or walked the entire length of a hiking path or set foot on some rarely visited island. But what they are really doing — at least in part — is seeking out unique views and scenery.

One way to find stunning views of the coastal variety is to trek via sea kayaks and canoes. Not only is the vantage point unique, but paddlers also enjoy the quietness and freedom that these small, motorless watercraft can provide. Want to have this kind of paddle-powered travel experience? Here’s a list of picturesque places to get your imagination started.

Na Pali Coast, Kauai

Photo: Filipe Fortes/flickr

The Na Pali Coast, which covers part of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, is often referred to as one of the most beautiful coastline landscapes in the world. This 17-mile stretch of oceanside land features towering four-thousand-foot cliffs (Na Pali actually means “The Cliffs” in Hawaiian).

Since this part of the island is inaccessible by car, boat is actually the best option for visitors (unless they want to spring for a sightseeing plane ride or a helicopter flight). Specialty tour companies offer 17-mile sea kayak tours that run between the Haena Beach Park and Polihale State Park, which sit on opposite ends of the Na Pali Coast. In addition to the astonishing cliffs, paddlers will encounter waterfalls, sea caves and secluded beaches.

Fox Island, Alaska

Photo: Alberto Loyo/Shutterstock

Fox Island sits in the Eastern Aleutians, only a short distance from the hub of Seward. Despite its proximity to civilization, the area, which sits in the Kenai Fjords National Park area, feels very remote. Yes, the pebble beaches, forests and rugged mountains are alluring sights, but the main reason to paddle through the waters around Fox Island is to have up-close encounters with marine wildlife. People who take a kayak excursion here will see whales, porpoises, sea lions, otters, and many varieties of birds, including bald eagles and falcons.

Nature resorts like the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge offer kayak tours for people of all skill levels. The Wilderness Lodge is a good choice for green-minded tourists because it derives much of its power from on-site solar panels.


Photo: Heather Cowper/flickr

Sardinia’s northern coast is a popular destination for all sorts of boaters, from sailors to stand-up-paddlers to yacht owners. Given the prevalence of $1,000-per-night hotels and the high number of vacationing celebrities in places like Costa Smeralda, this is not the most accessible destination for a nature-themed budget vacation. However, the impossibly clear blue waters, picturesque rocky coastline and historic seaside buildings make Sardinia a great place to paddle (if you can avoid the resort areas favored by the jet-set).

The blue waters and rock formations are the headlining sights of a sea kayak expedition, but the atmospheric small coastal towns, many of which have changed very little over the centuries, will prove an equally attractive highlight for many paddlers.

Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast

Photo: OPIS Zagreb/Shutterstock

Croatia is another destination that draws kayakers who want to dip their paddles in the Mediterranean. Historic cities like Dubrovnik and Split, coastal cliffs and picture-worthy pine forests sit along the mainland’s seashore.

Many kayakers, however, choose to paddle through the hundreds of islands off of the Dalmatian Coast. These islands are characterized by unique rock formations made from limestone and almost-perfect beaches that see very few visitors.

Of course, the stereotypical clear-blue waters of the Med are here as well. Tours range from day-long paddles near Dubrovnik to week-long expeditions through the Adriatic Sea, complete with beach camping and treks into the larger islands.

Chilean Patagonia

Photo: JeremyRichards/Shutterstock

Located in Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park features a number of rivers and lakes, as well as one of the world’s most unique shoreline landscapes. Coastal glaciers, mountains, ice formations, and waterfalls, as well as a feel of complete remoteness, really make this an attractive (and visually stunning) place for a paddling expedition.

The type of scenery here is just not found in many other destinations, so people seeking something utterly unique will surely enjoy a trip to this part of Patagonia. Paddlers can head along the coast or to inland waterways, with some tours hitting the most scenic freshwater and saltwater sights in under a week.

Krabi, Thailand

Photo: Don Mammoser/Shutterstock

Krabi, a Thai province made up mostly of islands and archipelagos, is a popular destination for different types of tourists. Beach-lovers, scuba-divers, rock climbing enthusiasts and people who are interested in jungle treks all flock to these easily accessible islands.

Limestone cliffs, idyllic beaches and warm waters certainly make this an attractive region of Southeast Asia for kayakers as well. Mangrove forests, sea caves and hidden lagoons are best appreciated as part of a paddling excursion. Tours cover various parts of the province, though most can be booked in the main tourist center of Ao Nang.

Lake Malawi, Malawi

Photo: SAPhotog/Shutterstock

Sea kayaking doesn’t always have to take place along ocean coastlines. Some of the best freshwater “sea” kayaking can be found on Southern Africa’s Lake Malawi. Secluded beaches, deserted islands and exotic wildlife can be experienced during a paddle expedition on this freshwater lake, which is the third largest in Africa.

Much of the lake is protected as part of a national park, meaning that waters are relatively clean and the land mostly untouched. Specialty outfitters like Kayak Africa lead days-long tours around the lake, stopping at deserted islands and camping in basic safari camps or on nearly deserted beaches.

Northern Queensland, Australia

Photo: Christian Vollmert/Shutterstock

Daintree National Park, in far northern Queensland, contains some of the oldest rainforests on Earth. Seeing this tropical landscape from the water is certainly an attractive option for nature and adventure lovers. The waters off of Cape Tribulation, which sits within Daintree, are part of the Great Barrier Reef, so paddlers here actually have two world-class eco-attractions to explore.

The reef starts about 12 miles from the coastline. Paddlers who venture here can see sea turtles, dolphins, various species of schooling fish and even sting rays, sharks and whales.

Norway’s Fjords

Photo: Michal Pancir/Shutterstock

Norway has some of the most ruggedly scenic coastline in the world. It is possible to kayak is open waters between the thousands of islands and small peninsulas that characterize the western Scandinavian coastline. The real charm of Norway’s paddling scene, however, is found in its stunning fjords. The impossibly-steep cliffs are impressive, and some places are completely inaccessible, except by boat.

Waterfalls, steep riverside slopes, and completely untouched terrain really make this a dream destination for people who are in search of pure, raw nature. Some expedition-like guided kayak excursions last for more than a week. These tours travel down rivers that are inaccessible by any other means of transportation.

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Photo: Lakeview Images/Shutterstock

New Zealand, a nation that could easily be called the best destination for outdoor adventure in the world, is home to some stunning saltwater and freshwater kayak spots. One standout is Fiordland National Park, which covers more than 1 million acres. Located in the South Island, the park’s namesake fjords are made from granite.

Many of the best natural sights here are accessible only by boat or by hiking trail. The further inside this visually impressive park visitors get, the denser the jungles and the more spectacular the waterways. Kayak tours explore these scenic waters in depth, with many focusing their journey on the Milford Sound area.

9 Extremely Challenging but Worthwhile Hikes

By Josh LewUpdated May 31, 2017

Planet Earth

Outdoor adventure

Photo: Paxson Woelber [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

Few people think of hiking as an extreme sport. For most, hiking is more like a leisurely walk in a natural setting. However, there are some trails that go beyond a casual stroll. They provide the kind of challenge that turns a simple walk into an all-out adventure.

Hikers who tackle challenging trails often have to face variables like unpredictable weather, rapid elevation changes, slippery pathways, and even aggressive wildlife. But these kinds of extreme walks are more than a test of skill. Often, as the difficulty of a trek rises so do the odds of encountering stunning views, rare species of wildlife and untouched natural landscapes.

The following trails are certainly not for casual hikers, but with a high level of fitness, experienced guides, a knowledge of wilderness safety, and the right equipment adventure-seekers will certainly be able to handle the challenges on the trail. (Text: Josh Lew)

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu


Tourists arrive at this storied Peruvian attraction by train, by bus, or even by helicopter. A few intrepid visitors attempt to reach the ancient city on foot via the Inca Trail. The Inca is actually made up of three intersecting trails, with most people taking the Classic Inca Trail, which requires a four- or five-day mountain trek. The great thing about this hike is that it passes through several different Andean ecosystems, making it possible for hikers to get a true look at the unique natural beauty of this part of South America. At the same time, unpredictable alpine weather and altitudes of more than 13,000 feet make the journey a hazardous undertaking. Altitude sickness is a common problem among hikers and fatalities are not unheard of (though people who know the symptoms and look out for them are usually able to avoid disaster by getting to lower elevations quickly). Guides and tour companies provide support for hikers who want to take on the Inca Trail, and some adventurers even opt to hire porters for the trip.

Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail

Grand Canyon NPS/Flickr.

You don’t have to travel to another continent to find a challenging trek. The Bright Angel Trail is one of the few trails that visitors to Grand Canyon National Park can use to journey from the canyon rim down to the Colorado River. This trek is not for the faint of heart. The trail is 9.5 miles long and descends more than 4,500 feet (that’s just short of a mile in elevation change). Most visitors attempt a short section of the trail, turning around at one of the early “rest stations” that are placed at intervals along the path. Why go all the way? Because the views are tremendous and experience of walking down one of America’s great natural landmarks is truly unique. The steepness and altitude make this a challenging hike, but the biggest danger is the temperature. This is not a morning walk, but a daylong journey (actually the National Park Service warns against making the top-to-bottom-to-top trek in one day) in temperatures that routinely top 110 degrees. Much of the trail is completely exposed to the sun, so people who are not prepared to handle the heat will find themselves in danger rather quickly.

Caminito del Rey


This Spanish walkway (sometimes shortened to Camino del Rey – “the King’s Trail” in English) is a path that clings to the side of a gorge in the southern Spanish province of Malaga. Over the years, sections have eroded away, and sometimes hikers find themselves confronted with the choice of turning back or crossing narrow ledges or steal beams that once supported the now-completely eroded path. Guided tours are the best option for this trek because they can provide added security features — including safety lines, which are attached to the rock wall above the pathway so hikers can hook on during the journey. Even with the extra safety measures, Caminito del Rey is still an extreme hike that is truly one of the classics of Europe.

Devil’s Path


This 25-mile trek through upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains requires strong arms as well as strong legs. Sections of the trail require walkers to climb over rock ledges and scramble up rocky chutes. If you count all the ascents along the Devils’ Path, which passes over the summits of five of the Catskill’s tallest peaks, the total distance climbed is more than 9,000 feet. Why tackle the Devil’s Path? The views are stunning from lookout points near or on the summits of the peaks. The Twin Mountains, in particular, offer access to vistas that stretch out for miles over the lower Catskill peaks.

Pacaya Volcano


This very active volcano in Guatemala sits only about an hour from the city of Antigua. It is not the walk itself that makes this an extreme trek. In fact, the hike up the slope is relatively easy compared to the other journeys on this list. What makes this an unusual place for a hike are the active steam vents and rivers of lava that run near the trail. As with some of the other hikes on this list, the safest way to walk on Pacaya is with a guide. Aside from the steam and lava, the volcano also emits gases that could prove toxic, so hikers have to be aware of standing downwind of particular vents. Because of its proximity to the city, this is a popular tourist attraction, but people who choose to hire a private guide can easily avoid the crowds and get further up the mountain than casual day-trippers are allowed to go. Travel without a guide, however, is inadvisable because of the many dangers.

West Coast Trail


This trail on nature-dominated Vancouver Island has some of the most stunning scenery in the entire Pacific Northwest. Rugged coastline and lush forests surround the path, giving hikers contact with a variety of landscapes. The going is rough, with cliffs that are scaled with nothing more than wooden- ladders, rickety bridges, and steep slopes that require scrambling. And we also have to mention the high populations of bears, wolves and cougars inside the island’s Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the park inside which the entire trail is located. At 48 miles, the West Coast Trail is not a particularly long hike, but people have been known to take up to a week to make the journey because of the difficult conditions.

Kalalau Trail

Karl S Johnson/Flickr.

This beautiful trail through the tropical landscapes of the Na Pali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai is only 11 miles long. However, it has such extreme changes in altitude that most hikers require two days to complete the walk (there are camping areas half-way through the journey). The path travels along the beach and then turns inland and passes through two steep valleys, crossing several sometimes-swollen streams along the way. When traversing the walls of the valleys, trekkers will come across especially narrow spots, including one infamous area known as Crawler’s Ledge. The steep climbs and dangerous drop offs are worthwhile for people who appreciate good views. There are stunning overlook spots where hikers can view both the ocean and the tropical valleys.

North Drakensberg Traverse


This challenging trek takes walkers through two countries, South Africa and Lesotho. The landscapes here are truly epic, with high plateaus, steep mountain slopes, rocky cliffs, towering waterfalls and panoramas of grass-covered hills that reach up to the clouds. There is no true trail that covers the length of this route, but ropes and ladders are fixed in especially steep places to aid hikers. A guide is necessary for people who don’t have backcountry skill and who aren’t familiar with the hazards of hiking in this high-altitude portion of Africa. There are also some cultural attractions along the route, with caves that contain paintings made by early inhabitants of the region.

South Coast Track


Tasmania has some great long distance hiking trails. One of the most challenging, the South Coast Track, is also the most beautiful. Hikers on this track between the town of Melaleuca and Cockle Creek, a settlement near Hobart, the territorial capitol, get to see isolated beaches, towering mountain ranges, lush forest and scenic rivers. This is a wet place, so hikers have to contend with mud at many times of year. Swollen rivers and streams, which become rushing rapids after the frequent rainfall, must be crossed regularly, making this a very challenging journey (and one that all but requires a guide). The hike is only 52 miles, but the conditions are so variable that making 10 miles per day might be ambitious and hikers may find themselves traveling no distance at all if rivers are flooded or if they are unable to time their hike right to avoid high-tide in the seaside areas of the trail.

The Most Beautiful Bike Trails in the U.S.

By Josh LewUpdated May 14, 2019


Scenic cycling

Photo: Jason Pratt/Flickr

Some of America’s most scenic bicycle trails are best suited for skilled mountain bikers, but other attractive bike paths are accessible to anyone with a basic level of fitness and the ability to keep their two-wheeler upright for a few miles on well-maintained asphalt.

Cycling allows you to experience the outdoors, whether urban or rural, in a way that is not possible with a car or other motorized vehicle. For many cycling enthusiasts, it is as much about connecting with their surroundings as it is about exercise or cheap, green transportation.

These 10 paths are among the best in the U.S. for enjoying scenery and nature while pedaling.

Banks Vernonia Trail, Oregon

Photo: Tomas Quinones/Flickr

The Banks Vernonia Trail stretches for 21 miles through rural Oregon. It was built on an old rail line. The trail’s creators made use of a dozen train bridges and level grading to create a continuous and easy-to-navigate bike thoroughfare. The Banks Vernonia has six different access points, including its two namesake trailheads.

This is the kind of path that casual riders will enjoy. They can pedal through scenic stretches of Oregon forest and past meadows and streams. The trail runs through L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, which has campgrounds for those who would like to spend more than an afternoon exploring the trail and its surroundings.

Flume Trail, Nevada

Photo: Jeff Moser/Flickr

The Flume Trail is as scenic as the Banks Vernonia, but it is quite a bit more challenging. Attractive to avid and experienced mountain bikers, this dirt pathway rises above Lake Tahoe. Riders who tackle this trail are greeted with a 1,000 foot rise in elevation over the first few miles of the 14-mile, one-way trip.

The Flume is tough to pedal but easy to reach. Shuttle buses connect the trailheads with Tahoe’s population centers and resorts. The real reason to take this trip, which is also part of the longer (40-mile) Tahoe Rim Trail, is the view. There are no barriers between riders and one of the most scenic mountain lakes in the world. For those with a reasonable level of fitness and no fear of heights, the Flume Trail can be one of the most rewarding bike journeys in the West.

American River Bike Trail, California

Photo: torbakhopper/Flickr

Running between Sacramento’s Discovery Park and the town of Folsom, the American River Bike Trail, also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, is a popular pedaling path for local cyclists. However, this trip is often overlooked by tourists who favor the Central Coast, urban Bay Area routes or expeditions to the nearby wine country.

That said, the American River Trail certainly deserves mention. Sections of the flat, 32-mile car-free path are lined with trees, while other parts pass wildflower fields and cross scenic bridges along the river. One such span is a Golden Gate replica called the Guy West Bridge.

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Photo: Katie/Flickr

The Cape Cod Rail Trail in Massachusetts is 22 miles long, running between the towns of South Dennis and Wellfleet. Though it does not pass directly along the coast, the water is always nearby, as is the protected Cape Cod National Seashore. Coast Guard Beach and its dunes are a popular stopping-off point for riders pedaling the entire length of this trail.

This is one of the more accessible trails on our list. Not only is the route paved and relatively flat, but bicycles are for rent from various vendors along the way. Part of the experience for many cyclists includes stopping in the towns beside the trail to rest at bike-friendly businesses or picnic spots.

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Photo: David B. Gleason/Flickr

Most of the trails on this list are defined by nature, but this one runs right through one of America’s biggest cities. The Chicago Lakefront Trail does have nature on one side in the form of Lake Michigan. On the other side, however, the views are decidedly more urban, but arguably still very beautiful.

The path runs along the lakeshore for 18 miles from the north side of the city to the south side. In addition to the skyline, riders will pass beaches, marinas and famous sites like Soldier Field and the Museum of Science and Industry. Though the Lakefront Trail is open to all forms of non-motorized traffic, there is a dedicated bike lane.

Maah Daah Hey Trail, North Dakota

Photo: Roderick Eime/Flickr

If urban riding is not for you, the Maah Daah Hey Trail could be the perfect destination. This 97-mile path cuts through the Little Missouri National Grassland in rural North Dakota. It is joined with other trails to create a system that stretches for well over 100 miles.

The Maah Daah Hey is defined by grasslands and meadows, but some sections also include badlands-style buttes, jagged terrain, hills, riverbeds and wooded areas. These diverse landscapes make a journey along larger sections of this trail worthwhile. Overnight camping is available along the trail for those who really want to soak in the landscape.

If you’re curious where the trail gets its name, Maah Daah Hey means grandfather in the Mandan Indian language, and the trail symbol of a turtle comes from the Lakota Indian’s symbolic meaning of long life and patience, according to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department.

San Juan Islands

Photo: Josh Townsley/Flickr

The San Juan Islands in Washington state — San Juan Island, Lopez Island and Orcas Island — are great places for a bike adventure. Despite the general consensus that this is one of the better destinations in the Pacific Northwest for a two-wheel trip, there are no dedicated bike trails on the islands. Vehicle traffic is minimal however, and bike culture rules the tourism scene.

Lopez Island has gentle elevation changes and great views, making it ideal for casual cyclists. The steep winding roads of Orcas Island are challenging even for experienced pedalers, and San Juan Island brings a mix of terrain and some of the best scenery in the area.

Captain Ahab Trail, Utah

Photo: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

Captain Ahab is a very short mountain bike trail (a little over 4 miles) in Moab, Utah. What it lacks in length it makes up for with unusual scenery and challenging terrain. Ahab is connected with other area trails, so it is possible to link a longer ride together. The unique red rock formations that are only found in this part of Utah are the biggest highlight. Ahab is an example of a trail that offers great scenery but requires a certain level of experience.

Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath

Photo: Trains & Trails/Flickr

The Great Allegheny Passage starts in Pittsburgh. The trail, much of which is made from old railway beds, stretches for 150 miles to Cumberland, Maryland. There, it connects with another rideable pathway, the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath. This trail runs alongside its namesake canal from Cumberland all the way to Washington, D.C. (That’s an additional 184 miles for those keeping track.)

So bikers can travel more than 300 miles on car-free trails from Pittsburgh to the nation’s capital. Some cyclists stop at inns along the way so they don’t need to camp. At a leisurely pace, it can take five or six days to complete this beautiful journey.

Big Sur, California

Photo: Michael/Flickr

Big Sur features some of America’s most dramatic coastline. The Central Coast of California has high cliffs, secluded beaches and crashing ocean waves. The scenery makes up for the fact that riders must sometimes pedal on Highway 1 instead of on bike-specific trails.

Some trails are cut into the coastal slopes, and a decent level of fitness is required. The trip, which can last for a few miles or a hundred miles, can be made as part of a private or public tour. Attractions like the Hearst Castle can be a part of this trip, as can stops at local vineyards or the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.