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Best Pilgrimages to Hike Around the World

Mar 31, 2024 | Travel Tips

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Embarking on a pilgrimage is a transformative experience that combines spiritual enrichment with physical challenge. While pilgrimages have been undertaken for centuries, the allure of traversing ancient paths amidst breathtaking natural landscapes continues to draw modern-day seekers. For those who relish the idea of embarking on a pilgrimage that involves hiking, the world offers a plethora of options. Here are six of the best pilgrimages to hike around the globe:

Camino de Santiago (Spain)

The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, is perhaps the most renowned pilgrimage route in the world. Stretching across northern Spain, it offers a variety of trails, with the Camino Francés being the most popular. This journey starts at the France/Spain border in the Pyrenees and culminates at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where the remains of St. James are said to rest. Hikers are treated to stunning vistas, quaint villages, and a profound sense of camaraderie along the way. The Camino Francés is almost 800 km long and there are plenty of resources available for trip planning. You can consult the official website: Camino de Santiago and the book: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: Camino Frances – St. Jean Pied de Port  – Santiago de Compostela, by John Brierley, 2023, Camino Guides – https://amzn.to/3PJjpVP. The best months to hike this are between spring and fall. 

 

france pyrenees
spain compostela

Kumano Kodo (Japan)

Nestled in the verdant forests of the Kii Peninsula of Japan, the Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage trails that have been traversed for over a millennium. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers routes of varying difficulty, each leading to sacred Shinto and Buddhist sites, including the grand Kumano Sanzan shrines. Hikers can immerse themselves in Japan’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage while traversing moss-covered stone paths and tranquil cedar forests. The best months to hike this are April to May and October to November. 

An excellent guide to this pilgrimage is Japan’s Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage: The UNESCO World Heritage Trek, Cicerone Guide, by Kat Davis, 2019, Cicerone Press – https://amzn.to/49mbVz2

Via Francigena 

The Via Francigena is an ancient pilgrimage route stretching over 1,200 miles from Canterbury in England to Rome, Italy. Dating back to the Middle Ages, it was one of the major routes followed by pilgrims traveling to visit the tomb of St. Peter. Today, the Via Francigena continues to attract modern-day pilgrims and hikers seeking a journey rich in history, culture, and spiritual significance. Along the way, travelers encounter picturesque landscapes, charming villages, and historic landmarks through Italy, Switzerland, France and England, making it a unique and unforgettable experience for those who embark on its path. Spring through to fall are the best seasons to do this pilgrimage. For more information and guidance, these are good guidebooks to use:

  • Walking the Via Francigena Pilgrim Route, Part 1: Canterbur to Lausanne, by the Reverend Sandy Brown, 2023, Cicerone Press – https://amzn.to/3VDt3gc
  • Walking the Via Francigena Pilgrim Route, Part 2: Lausanne and the Great St. Bernard Pass to Lucca, by The Reverend Sandy Brown, 2021, Cicerone Press – https://amzn.to/3VEdWDa
  • Walking the Via Francigena Pilgrim Route, Part 3: Lucca to Rome, by The Reverend Sandy Brown, 2021, Cicerone Press – https://amzn.to/3VF7bRH
mountain path
canterbury cathedral

Shikoku Pilgrimage (Japan)

Revered by Buddhists as the birthplace of Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Shikoku Island is home to the Shikoku Pilgrimage, a 1,200-kilometer circuit of 88 temples. This spiritual journey takes hikers through rural Japan, past bucolic landscapes, traditional villages, and sacred sites associated with Kukai’s life and teachings. Each temple offers a chance for reflection and devotion, making it a deeply introspective experience. April to June and September to November are the best months to embark on this pilgrimage. A great guide to consult is: The 88 Temples of Shikoku: A Guide for the Walking Pilgrim, by Oliver Dunskus, 2021, Books on Demand – https://amzn.to/3TYu5SM

japan shikoku
japan shikoku

Mount Kailash

The Mount Kailash pilgrimage is one of the most sacred journeys in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Bon religions. Situated in the remote Himalayas of Tibet, Mount Kailash is believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva, the center of the universe, and a place of immense spiritual power. Every year, thousands of pilgrims from around the world undertake the challenging trek around its base, known as the Kora, as an act of devotion and purification. This ancient pilgrimage is not merely a physical journey but a profound spiritual quest, offering participants an opportunity for introspection, self-discovery, and connection with the divine in one of the most awe-inspiring natural settings on Earth. The best months to do this pilgrimage are in April – May and September – October.

A popular guide/personal account is Walking in Clouds: A Journey to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, by Kavitha Yaga Buggana, 2019, HarperCollins India – https://amzn.to/3TGwSyv

tibet mount kailash
tibet mountain lake

St. Olav’s Way (Norway) 

St. Olav’s Way, or St. Olavspaden, follows in the footsteps of Norway’s patron saint, King Olav II, who played a pivotal role in bringing Christianity to the country. The pilgrimage begins in Oslo and winds its way through picturesque countryside, past shimmering lakes, rugged mountains and historic landmarks, before culminating at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, where Olav II is buried. Hikers can experience the serene beauty of Norway’s landscapes while connecting with its Christian heritage. There are nine different routes, with the most popular being the 643-kilometre Gudbrandsdalsleden route. St. Olav’s Way is best hiked in the summer months. You can find more information here: Visit Norway – St Olav’s Way.

norway mountain valley
norway cathedral

Caminho da Fé (Brazil)

Translating to “Path of Faith,” the Caminho da Fé is a Catholic pilgrimage route in Brazil that spans over 600 kilometers from the city of Águas da Prata to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. Following in the footsteps of the early settlers, hikers traverse rolling hills, dense forests, and quaint rural communities, finding solace and spiritual renewal along the way. For more information, check out the official website: Caminho da Fe.  The best months to hike this route are April to October. 

christ statue on a hill

Embarking on a pilgrimage hike is not merely a physical endeavor but a profound journey of the soul. Whether trekking across ancient trails in Spain, Japan, Norway, Tibet, Italy, England or Brazil, each step taken brings pilgrims closer to the divine and deeper into the heart of humanity. So lace up your boots, heed the call of the trail, and embark on a pilgrimage that will nourish your body, mind, and spirit. Find out more at Where to Hike When.

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