Iconic vs. Off the Beaten Path Trips

As one of the owners of The Wildland Trekking Company, I have hiked all over the United States and the world. Essentially, what I’ve observed about trekking options is that you can divide the world’s treks into two main categories: a) iconic, famous hikes that have caught fire with travelers from around the world; and b) ones that are little known or only known locally. So which are better: follow the masses and do the trip that everyone is talking about or go with a more obscure route and gamble that it will be as good? I’m going to give you my thoughts on this, knowing that ultimately there is no “right” or “best” answer.

Iconic Routes

What’s so great about famous, iconic routes? Well, to put it simply, they became famous for a reason. Take Machu Picchu in Peru, Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal, Laugavegur in Iceland, Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon, or Half Dome in Yosemite. What do all of these have in common? They are absolutely stunning, they combine multiple dramatic features into one hike (i.e. volcanoes, waterfalls, geysers, views, wildlife, climbs, towering mountains…etc.), and the local communities and governments have made these hikes very accessible for travelers due to the demand and tourism dollars they bring in. Bottom line is you know you can’t go wrong with picking an iconic route – you know what to expect, you know it’s going to be amazing, and when you get back home people will know that you’re talking about when you describe your trip.

Off the Beaten Path Hikes

So why would someone choose an off the beaten path hike if a famous one is guaranteed to be amazing? The price you pay for a guaranteed hike is you will be surrounded by other people most of the time during your trip, and you may possibly be passing up a grander adventure with different or even better scenery/features and much more solitude. But it’s a gamble. So, a good question to ask yourself is “how much does solitude matter to me?” If solitude is high on your list of priorities, then doing a more obscure hike is a great choice. If solitude doesn’t matter much to you, and you like the idea of less overall risk, then doing an iconic trek is probably the way to go.

Why Not Both?

So, here’s a novel idea – do both! Most of these hikes we’re discussing are somewhere between 3 and 6 days. Why not extend your trip a bit longer, or come back later, and do both? Tick off the iconic hike in the area you’re visiting, and then plan a more obscure one as well with different scenery, features and level of adventure. This philosophy in essence is what our company is all about – we have very deliberately chosen to offer guided trips on the iconic routes as well as lesser-known but equally or more stunning itineraries in each of our destinations. The reason we chose this approach is because amazing trekking experiences can come in many different forms, and both the famous and obscure are worth it if they’re well-chosen routes.

So our recommendation: check them all out and do the ones that sound great to you. It’s difficult to go wrong!

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