It is a misconception that deserts are ill-suited for hiking. Deserts are picturesque, unique, and are perfect for those on the lookout for adventure.
Desert hiking may not be everybody’s ‘thing’, so to say. But I’d like to blame this partly on the image that the word ‘desert’ conjures, and the rest on Hollywood.
Think ‘desert’ and what comes to mind is the endless expanse of arid sand. This is usually followed by abundant instances of movie scenes where people are left to die in, yes of course, the desert. How else do you think Death Valley got its name?
In reality though, you’d be surprised to find that deserts are beautiful, mystical, and sublimely spiritual. Check out these hot destinations, if you don’t believe me.
10 Amazing Destinations for Desert Hiking
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Deserts aren’t always full of sand, with Antarctica being a notable example. The Salar de Uyuni is another instance where the desert is made up entirely of salt. It is, in fact, the largest salt flat in the world, thanks to which it is almost devoid of vegetation and wildlife. A flat, salty expanse below your feet, and the deep blue sky overhead make for quite a memorable hike indeed.
As the world’s biggest salt plain, the Salar de Uyuni traverses Bolivia’s vast Altiplano, the remote and high desert of the Andean Plateau in southwest Bolivia. From here, it stretches toward a bizarre landscape comprising mineral pools, llamas, and all things actively volcanic, from geysers to boiling mud pools. Keep in mind that the temperatures here can be insanely bizzare―being in the range of 70 during the day, and dipping to a low of -4 at night.
Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
As a part of what is considered to be the world’s oldest desert, the Namib-Naukluft National Park definitely deserves a visit. Besides that interesting tidbit, this desert also holds the distinction of being home to the tallest sand dunes in the world.
The Olive trail, considered to be apt for beginners, measures about 10 km, and starts from the car park close to the Naukluft Campsite with a steep climb to the top of a plateau, giving great views of the main Naukluft Gorge. Experienced trekkers coming here may want to try the more rigorous 120-km eight-day Naukluft Hiking Trail.
Atacama Desert, Chile
Following the oldest and the saltiest, it’s now time to visit the world’s driest desert, the Atacama in Chile. What draws people here, besides the obvious hiking-related activities, is its reputation of a stellar stargazing venue, with unmatched views of the Milky Way.
Besides, there are other attractions in the region, waiting to be explored. These include the Puritama Hot Springs, Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons, and some Pre-Columbian Ruins and Geoglyphs. Plus, you will also get the opportunity to visit Local Indigenous Villages and the Atacama Salt Flat as well.
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
If you think we’ve put up the wrong picture for a desert, you couldn’t be more wrong. A hike in the desert of the Los Cabos area will lead you to the beach, which is a novel sight for any desert hiker. Enjoy the rock formations, wildlife, and the vegetation as you trail along the Pacific coastline. The stark contrast in the views can awe every avid desert hiker.
The weather here is perfect all year round, so anytime is a good time to be here in Cabo San Lucas. The hike to Mt. Solmar is an easy trek, and can be accomplished by amateurs as well. The view from the top is awe-inspiring, and provides a panorama of the blue Pacific.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
The star attraction which brings hikers here is the excitement of rock climbing. There’s also a rock climbing school here for beginners. Watch out for the park’s unique landscape, dotted with blunt boulders, which make quite a stunning sight, especially during twilight hours.
The park has several day hikes, which can be enjoyed by those with each level of expertise. The Lost Palms Oasis round trip is around 7 miles, and is meant for everyone. Expert hikers may want to try the Mastodon Peak (3,371 feet) or the Ryan Mountain (5,461 feet), which offer more challenges.
Sedona isn’t just for the mystics and the new age healers. Whether you may or may not believe in its energy vortexes, do come here to hike along some fabulous trails that snake along the red rock hills.
You may want to experience the thrill of hiking up the Devil’s Bridge, which is a short but steep hike, and promises amazing views of the entire region. Another moderate level trail is the Cathedral Rock Trail―a 2.9 mile loop trail located near Sedona. The West Fork Oak Creek Trail is a 6 mile trail, suitable for all levels, and is open all year round.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park includes a section each of the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau. Now, with such an awesome confluence, would there ever be a dearth of places for hiking enthusiasts?
There are a number of great hikes in Zion; each being very unique. You can take an arduous trail up the side of the canyon to Angels Landing (not meant for the acrophobic), or you can hike to a number of waterfalls. In the hot summer months, you are recommended to hike along the Narrows, which will lead you directly through a river as far as you like to go upstream. The West Rim Trail has some of the most spectacular views that anyone could hope to see―you’ll find beautiful canyons, springs, seeps, trees, and flowers.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon consistently ranks among the must-see places in the world. This natural wonder has the most gorgeous views, as you trek along its treacherous trails.
Considering the topography of the Grand Canyon, it is safe to assume that these trails are not meant for amateurs. Even then, if you are looking for something basic, choose the The Rim Trail. which extends from the village area to Hermits Rest. Begin from any viewpoint in the Village or along Hermit Road. The Rim Trail offers excellent walking for quiet views of the inner canyon and is considered to be an easy hike.
Arches National Park, Utah
Located just outside Moab, the Arches National Park is breathtakingly beautiful. These salmon-colored sandstone arches are a sight to behold. Climbing these arches is banned; however, hiking along the permissible areas makes for a memorable experience.
Though you are not permitted to climb the arches, you can enjoy some easy hiking trails throughout the park, including the Balanced Rock trail, Broken Arch, Double Arch, and Landscape Arch. Experienced hikers who are seeking challenges can head to the Fiery Furnace, an area of the park that has no established hiking trails, signs, or maps. Exploring this area requires careful navigation, tremendous physical agility, and a formal hiking permit.
Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada
You might find the desert landscape fascinating, but keep in mind that a hike in Death Valley is not meant for the weak at heart. It is searing hot here, with trails that are deceptive, as well as undeveloped. Do tons of research before you get here.
There are hardly any developed hiking trails in this park, nevertheless, you may want to the Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail, or the Natural Bridge Canyon, both of which are simple hikes. Those looking to put in some hard work may head to the Death Valley Buttes or the Little Bridge Canyon.
As gorgeous as they are, you should never take desert hiking lightly, as the weather here has a reputation of being deceptively harsh. Ensure that you follow all measures of safety, and respect the sanctity of your surroundings.
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