Where to walk? Walking tour operator and author Maggie Spilner counts down her favorite destinations.
Wengen, Switzerland. This car-free hiking and skiing resort in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland is the best! You can access lifts and trains to the most spectacular hiking in the Bernese Oberland and to the Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe with its ice palace and glacier trekking. Or spend the day walking in the city of Interlaken, just a 30-minute train ride away. In the Lauterbrunnen Valley below, there are miles of level trails that take you past 72 waterfalls! You can also take spectacular walks and hikes right from your hotel room. A walker’s and hiker’s paradise!
Vancouver, British Columbia. This international city has an awesome combination of culture and nature. Within minutes of downtown restaurants and shops is the spectacular Stanley Park, which includes miles of lush, woodsy trails, a world-class aquarium, a romantic sea wall path and the challenging Grouse mountain climb. (Walkers can take a gondola up to the top for more hikes and views.) Islands near by offer amazing ridge hikes where you can actually look down on eagles flying by.
New York City. The Big Apple has never looked so good to walkers. Clean, walking-friendly sidewalks and attractions are the rule. Central Park, once dark and dangerous, has become stunningly beautiful under the care of the Central Park Conservancy. Be sure to take a guided walk or three with their volunteer guides. Stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge for a bird’s eye view of the Statue of Liberty and have take-out pizza from Grimaldi’s while you watch the sunset over the Manhattan skyline. Don’t miss the High Line, a one-mile aerial rail park that has transformed the once-blighted Chelsea neighborhood into an upscale, in-demand community. There are many local, themed, guided walking tours that offer fascinating perspectives on this one-of-a-kind city.
Zell am Ziller, Austria. This alpine destination is a well-kept secret. Lying along a rushing, aquamarine Ziller River, this village makes a great base for alpine hiking. Go in late June for the wildflower displays. Hike to an alpine “gasthaus” and relax with a beer and a hunk of the local cheese and bread. Ride a bike along the river to the village of Mayrhofen and take the gondola up to Penken’s peak for lunch without having to climb there. Tired? Put your bike on the train and ride back to your hotel. Zell am Ziller is about an hour’s train ride to the city of Salzburg, where you can see Mozart’s home and climb to Hohensalzburg Castle, one of the oldest medieval castles in Europe, overlooking the city. You could find no better place to stay than the Sporthotel Theresa, which includes a wonderful spa, delicious food and family-owned hospitality.
The Oregon Coast. Begin with Crater Lake National Park, a 90-minute drive from Medford airport, and hike one of the many awesome trails within the park system. Especially worth the walk is the 1.7-mile Annie Creek Loop Trail, where the crystal clear springs attract plenty of wildlife. Have at least one meal at Crater Lake Lodge and gasp at the lake at sunrise or sunset. Then head to the Oregon Caves National Park and the 3.3-mile Big Tree Trail, a spectacular trek through some of the tallest trees—and most stunning views—you’ll ever see. Walk on the beaches that sport magnificent rocky outcroppings and gigantic orange and purple starfish–but beware of the blinding fog that can roll in suddenly!
New Paltz, New York. New Paltz is home to Mohonk Mountain House, a one-of-a-kind destination about 90 minutes north of New York City. Featured in America’s Castles, the hotel sits on a glacial lake in the Shawangunk mountain range. It’s historic, romantic and pricey but you can get on property with a hiking pass from the gatehouse. Take a walk around the lake and climb up to the historic Skytop lookout where you can see for miles. Numerous trails surround the property, with wooden gazebos perched at lookouts for resting and taking in the views. A 13-mile walk through the woods takes you to Lake Minnewaska, where a sister hotel once stood. Be sure to pack your lunch for a rocky ledge picnic. Then head into the woods to explore the streams, waterfalls and pristine forest trails. Maps are available for other longer, well blazed trails
Jim Thorpe, Penn. Dubbed “little Switzerland,” this sweet Victorian town features shops and restaurants, art galleries, an opera house, historic house tours and a steam train ride over its gorge. Don’t miss the historic jail where the infamous Molly Maguires were hung. Walkers and bikers enjoy the scenic 26-mile trail along the Lehigh River Gorge. Outfitters abound to assist you. The trail to waterfalls at Glen Onoko offers a day’s worth of hiking or you can hike up one of the 9-mile switchback railroad trails that once sent cheering tourists on 50-mile-an-hour “gravity” rides down the mountain, rumored to be the precursor of the modern roller coaster.
Mackinac Island, Michigan. Site of an important early British outpost and fur trading center in the 17th century and two battles during the Revolutionary War, Mackinac Island is well-known as a car-free zone, allowing only bicycles, foot power and horse-drawn carriages for transportation. The world-renowned Grand Hotel looking out over the strait has a long front porch that was strolled by U.S. presidents and celebrities. Venture away from the Main Street crowds to the wonderful outlying walking and hiking trails that are virtually ignored by most visitors. Fly into Pellston airport, take a van to the ferry and stay for several days to immerse yourself in the area’s history and the local trail system, which takes you to some remarkable stone formations, like the iconic Sugar Loaf, a 75-foot landlocked stone tower.
The English Cotswolds, Great Britain. Walking inn to inn along the 102-mile Cotswold Way from Chipping Camden to the world heritage city of Bath along the Cotswold escarpment, you’ll pass through many picturesque villages and historic sites, including a Neolithic burial mound at Belas Knap, Sudely Castle near Winchcombe, Broadway Tower and the ruins of Hailes Abbey. You can walk through fields of flowers, farmland, forests, and gently rolling hills and valleys, stopping to admire thatched roof homes and enchanting English gardens and taking rest and a pint at some ancient pub.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This historic city boasts tremendous architectural variety. Between the leafy streets of charming Society Hill to the mansions of Fairmount Park, there are endless venues to explore on foot as well as by bus, train and subway. A walk along the waterfront takes you by tall ships and you can ferry over to the famous Camden aquarium. Have dinner at the colonial City Tavern with 17th century-garbed waiters, or walk to the Japanese House in Fairmount Park. Take the Food Tour at Reading Terminal Market or the Chocolate Walking Tour that will lead you from one artisan chocolatier to the next. Fast becoming the number-one city of murals, Philadelphia boasts artistic delights around almost every corner. And don’t miss the mirrored mosaics of Isaiah Zagar that grace many alleyways near South Street.