Header image courtesy of @dchiking_ (via Instagram)
Goodness knows we love a hike here at Localiiz. There’s no better reminder of Hong Kong’s breath-taking beauty than summiting Sunset Peak right before the sun dips below the horizon, or reaching the white sand beaches of Sai Kung after hours of sweating. But if you’ve already checked all the major hikes off your list (and explored some more under-the-radar choices to boot), it might be time to push yourself further by trying thru-hiking in Hong Kong.
Thru-hiking, or through-hiking, is when you hike an established long-distance trail in one go over multiple days, instead of tackling individual sections (a.k.a. section hiking). Those looking to explore thru-hiking in Hong Kong have four major long-distance options to pick from: the MacLehose, Hong Kong, Lantau, and Wilson trails.
Many of Hong Kong’s most popular hikes—Dragon’s Back, Lantau Peak, Violet Hill, and Twin Peaks, to name a few—are actually part of these longer trails, so you’ll probably be familiar with parts of them already. Ranging from 50 to 100 kilometres, these hikes are no joke—the longest one can even take up to seven days to complete for some people.
They are, however, incredibly rewarding—and if you find yourself itching for a challenge and a change of scenery, thru-hiking might just be the trick. To help you figure out which trail is best for you, we’ve gathered some information and helpful tips on the four big thru-hikes of Hong Kong.
Length: 100 kilometres
Elevation gain: 7,000 metres
Time: Five to seven days
The longest and most famous hike on the list is the rugged MacLehose Trail, which spans 100 kilometres from Sai Kung to Tuen Mun. Named after Hong Kong’s longest-serving governor and avid hiker Murray MacLehose (who famously established Hong Kong’s country parks) this trail was named one of 20 “dream hikes” by National Geographic.
Years before it was officially opened to the public, Gurkhas—elite Nepalese soldiers who served in the colonial army—would walk the trail in 24 hours as part of their training regimen; the exercise would later inspire the Oxfam Trailwalker event. Thankfully, the MacLehose Trail is a little easier to handle nowadays with stone steps and distance markers every 500 metres to help you along.
The trail has 10 sections of varying length and difficulty, with Sections 3 and 4 (Pak Tam Au to Kei Ling Au and Kei Ling Au to Tai Lo Shan) being the hardest. One of the MacLehose Trail’s defining features is its diversity—from start to finish, you’ll see everything from lush green mountains to pristine beaches, volcanic rock formations, and urban sprawls.
There are snack kiosks and vending machines available in Sections 1, 2, 5, 6, and 8, but you should still ensure you bring enough food and water for the rest of the trip, as the MacLehose Trail can take up to a week to complete (depending on your pace and fitness level). Click here for our full guide on hiking Section 1 (Pak Tam Chung to Long Ke Wan).
Length: 50 kilometres
Elevation gain: 3,200 metres
Duration: One to two days
Clocking in at 50 kilometres, this is the shortest trail on this list. Beginning at the Peak and concluding with the famous Dragon’s Back hike on the southside of the island, this hike was named the tenth best city hiking trail in the world by Lonely Planet.
Of all the hikes on this list, Hong Kong Trail is the most “one and done” option; you get the famous city views of Victoria Peak, bubbling falls at Tai Tam, and mountain ridges of the Dragon’s Back in one (relatively) compact hike. It’s also the least difficult trail on the list (though it has its moments, especially towards the end).
There aren’t any official campsites along the Hong Kong Trail, and the entire hike can technically be done by experienced hikers in one day, but we recommend only taking that on if you are confident in your endurance. You can fill up your water bottles at the beginning of the hike, but make sure you have enough as you won’t be able to get filtered or treated water again until you reach Big Wave Bay.
Length: 70 kilometres
Elevation gain: 3,500 metres
Total time: Four days or more
The only loop trail on the list, the Lantau Trail is a 70-kilometre-long circle around Hong Kong’s biggest island. Beginning and ending in (the very accessible) town of Mui Wo, the Lantau Trail starts strong by taking you along Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak—Hong Kong’s second- and third-highest mountains, respectively. You’ll continue along mountain ridges, pass through Man Cheung Po (the famous “natural infinity pool” of Tai O), rice paddies, and fishing villages before ending back up at Mui Wo.
While it definitely poses its own challenges, Lantau Trail is probably the hike you’ll have to prepare the least for, as you’ll have ample opportunities to replenish your supplies when you’re passing through Tai O and Ngong Ping. It’s also got the most (official) campsites along its route. Click here for our full guide to hiking on Lantau Island.
Length: 78 kilometres
Elevation gain: 1,000-plus kilometres
Time: Four days or more
The second-longest and most technically challenging trail on this list, the Wilson Trail from Stanley to Nam Chung is one for the (extremely) experienced hiker, with what feels like endless uphill climbs and very little shade. There are multiple peaks along this trail, including the famously steep Twin Peaks (also known as the toughest hikes on Hong Kong Island).
The Twins might be punishing, but they are—without a doubt—worth the trouble. After traversing the steep, seemingly endless stairs, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views of Hong Kong’s southside. The scenery on this trail is a mix of urban and rural, with the summit of the Twins, paperbark trees at Shing Mun Reservoir, and the mountains overlooking Shenzhen being standouts. There are quite a few places to stop for food along the Wilson Trail, as it passes through Ma Wan and other inhabited areas.
Oddly, this is a cross-harbour trail, meaning that you’ll have to catch a ferry at some point. There aren’t many designated campsites throughout this trail, so you’ll have to do some strategic planning—but it can definitely be hiked through in one go. Remember to bring plenty of food and water to be safe, but make sure to keep it well-secured—Sections 6 to 8 are known for their abundant (and bold) population of wild monkeys.
Given that these are overnight and multi-day hikes, you’ll need to bring some kind of camping equipment, whether that’s a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, hammock, or bivvy bag. Of course, you’ll need water—and realistically, you won’t be able to bring enough drinking water for multiple days. Your options here are to either use a hydration bladder (like a Camelback or Platypus) for the shorter hikes or bring a portable water filter (like a LifeStraw or SteriPen).
When it comes to food, a lot of experienced thru-hikers recommend dehydrating home-cooked meals in order to eat nutritiously while also keeping your pack as light as possible. If you don’t fancy parting with the dosh and counter space needed for a dehydrator, Muji carries a range of dehydrated instant meals, including soups, risottos, stews, and congee.
If you naturally produce a lot of sweat—or choose to go hiking when the weather is still hot and muggy—hydration tablets are a great, lightweight solution for keeping your electrolytes up. You can also find electrolyte powder at specialist sports stores, while most large supermarkets also stock Pocari Sweat powder.