At Nat Hab, it’s safe to say we’re enamored with mountains, which is why we’re thrilled to celebrate International Mountain Day each December! Mountains host about half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and 30% of all Key Biodiversity Areas. Of the 20 plant species that supply 80% of the world’s food, six originated and have been diversified in mountains: maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, tomatoes and apples. On top of that, more than half of the human population relies on mountain freshwater, making mountain conservation a top priority.
Here are nine epic mountain destinations that we think deserve a visit:
1. Denali: Alaska
We couldn’t leave this one off the list, since Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. Denali means “The Great One” in the Athabascan language, and our air tours (part of our Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Safari) give us a unique vantage of the grandeur of the 6-million-acre Denali National Park. One of the planet’s great wilderness preserves, its alpine tundra and taiga provide a healthy habitat for wolves, grizzlies, moose, caribou and Dall sheep.
Disembark a flightseeing plane directly onto a glacier on the slopes of Denali, float slowly among icebergs on the lagoon in front of Spencer Glacier and raft the languid Placer River beneath the frosty Chugach Range.
Check out this webinar from Alaska resident and Expedition Leader Annie Van Dinther sharing her love of all that majestic Alaska has to offer the avid nature traveler.
2. Himalayas: Nepal & Bhutan
In tiny Bhutan, quality of life is measured in terms of Gross National Happiness—and they have a lot to be happy about! Bhutan is a global conservation leader, not only carbon-neutral, but also carbon-negative. The “Land of the Thunder Dragon” is a great example of dedication to preserving its Himalayan peaks and glacial rivers. Here, peaceful villages live in connection and harmony with the surrounding mountainside.
A highlight of our Wild & Ancient Himalaya: Nepal & Bhutan trip is a visit to Taktsang Monastery, more commonly known as the “Tiger’s Nest.” It’s a complex of 17th-century temples that seemingly defy gravity as they cling to the side of a cliff nearly 3,000 feet above the valley floor. Legend tells of Guru Rinpoche, a tantric mystic who brought Buddhism from India to Bhutan in the 8th century. Landing here on the back of a flying tigress, he stayed to meditate in a cave for three months.
Your trip with us to the world’s highest mountain range may not involve meditating for three months, but we bet you’ll come out of the region a little more enlightened as to the importance of mountain conservation for the cultures that rely so much on it.
3. Kilimanjaro: Tanzania
Yes, we know that Kilimanjaro is technically a volcano, but it’s also the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain above sea level in the world. Most linguists and etymologists agree that “Kilimanjaro” means “Mountain of Whiteness” or “Shining Mountain,” although a fun alternative that is representative of its towering heights is “That which is impossible for the bird.”
On our Great Migration trip, we arrive at Kilimanjaro Airport and drink sundowners while gazing at this majestic mountain on our very first night in Tanzania. From there, we head to the Ngorongoro Highlands, descending into a volcanic crater twelve miles across and 2,000 feet deep that is home to more than 30,000 animals, including elephant, buffalo, hippo, zebra, blue wildebeest, eland, gazelle, waterbuck and sometimes even the rare black rhino. Lion and hyena are abundant predators that keep everything in check in this place that’s been named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.
4. Alps: Switzerland
Our friends at Duvine take adventurers through the picture-postcard Swiss Alps by bike, allowing guests to bask in every moment of the magical scenery. Routes snake along rivers (and the relaxed itinerary leaves room for refreshing dips), by the iconic mountain peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, and even to gorgeous Trümmelbach Falls, which moves more than 5,200 gallons of water per second.
While this is a fairly physically active trip, worry not: There’s lots of fueling up with long picnic lunches, evenings spent at the hotel spa and, of course, winding down after a long day on the road with a glass of wine and the decadent fondues that the Swiss Alps are known for.
5. Dolomites: Italy
The Dolomites are Italy’s answer to the Swiss Alps, and this Italian adventure with Off the Beaten Path is all about hiking them. The Dolomites are known for their towering pinnacles, gentle foothills and lush valleys sprinkled with picturesque villages. If you’ve never hiked in Europe, well, let’s just say that this is luxury hiking. Cable cars and chair lifts do most of the hard work to get you to trailheads at elevation, meaning you’ll have more energy and time to take in the views. Mountain inns (rifugios) are nestled along the trails to offer hikers a nice lunch or a glass of wine.
This trip includes getting to know the Ladin valleys, Mount de Bulacia and the Filln Kreuz (Fillner cross), with stunning valley views. You will also have the chance to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Puez-Odle Nature Park. To reward yourself after a week of trekking, the trip ends at the “Strada del Prosecco”—the Prosecco wine route, which consists of a small community in the foothills of the Treviagian Alps that was developed in the 12th century by Cistercian monks.
6. Mount Fuji: Japan
If you prefer to slower travel on foot, consider taking in the serene sights of Japan on an expertly guided Classic Journeys Japan Cultural Walking Adventure. After arriving in modern Tokyo, head to the nature haven that is Hakone and begin to deeply unwind. This respite offers tranquil forest in the shadow of Mount Fuji (considered one of Japan’s three sacred mountains and the highest in the country at 12,389 feet).
The region is also host to both hot springs and a hidden shrine. You’ll have the chance to ride a ropeway tram, which offers easy access to some stunning high mountain views. The trip culminates in historic Kyoto with a visit to the iconic Arashiyama bamboo forest and a walk through a traditional tea farm.
7. Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mountains: Canada
In a place where massive mountains are everywhere you look, it’s hard to tell when you have technically left the Rockies to enter the Columbia Mountains, which are in turn divided into various sub-ranges like the Bugaboos. On our Canadian Rockies trip, we see them all. Sharper and more imposing than their American counterparts, the Canadian Rockies are the result of an ancient inland sea bed that was uplifted millions of years ago by intense geological forces and then sculpted by glaciers that carved deep valleys during successive ice ages.
In a place where grizzlies outnumber people, this trip is full of quiet introspection in some of the most isolated mountain destinations that we go to with our Nat Hab guests. We start out in Banff with a sunrise overlooking Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Later, we ride the Lake Louise Summer Gondola for stupendous views of the turquoise Lake Louise and the animals that call the area home, including grizzly bears, black bears, lynx, moose, mountain goats, elk and deer.
The icing on the cake is heli-hiking the lesser-known Bugaboo Provincial Park, where a helicopter provides memorable transfers to remote valleys and high alpine meadows, home to marmot, ground squirrels, pika, mountain goats, golden eagles, moose and grizzly bears.
8. Rwenzori Mountain Range: Uganda
The Rwenzori mountain range, also called the “Mountains of the Moon,” often surprises visitors with its snow-capped heights that tower above 16,000 feet—not the typical image that most people have of an African safari.
On our Uganda Gorilla Safari, you’ll hike through a misty, verdant jungle that early explorers called the “Impenetrable Forest.” Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse primeval rain forest (which dates back more than 25,000 years) can be challenging, slick and steep, but the rewards come with the chance of encountering some of the estimated 400 mountain gorillas—roughly half the world’s population.
But mountain gorillas, while the stars of the show here in Uganda, are accompanied by plenty of other interesting wildlife. There are more than 600 bird species in the area and even some rare tree-climbing lions in the vicinity (one of just two populations of lions that climb trees as part of their regular behavior—the other is found in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania).
9. Andes: Patagonia
Don’t think we were going to make a list of our favorite mountain adventures and not include the millions-of-years-old sheer granite heights of Torres del Paine National Park. Straight out of a fairy tale, the southernmost Andes rise upward as glaciers flow down in frozen rivers, ending dramatically in surreally turquoise lakes with floating blue icebergs, surrounded by lenga, ñire and coihue trees. Patagonia certainly knows how to do “dramatic”!
Exploring this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on our Patagonia adventure, keep an eye out for puma, guanaco, fox, huemul (South Andean deer) and armadillo, as well as eagles, hawks, rheas, buzzards and the South American condors that take advantage of the wind currents here. Wind down in the evening at EcoCamp Patagonia, where you will sleep under clear skies in cozy domed suites that are modeled on traditional Kawesqar huts.
Ready to explore? Let us help plan your next epic mountain adventure!