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Your ultimate guide to thru-hiking in Hong Kong

By Annette Chan 26 September 2020 | Last Updated 1 April 2021

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.

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What is thru-hiking?

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 traditional long-distance options to pick from: the MacLehose, Hong Kong, Lantau, and Wilson trails. A modern addition to this list of thru-hikes is the Hong Kong Island Coastal Trail, developed by local hiking enthusiasts.

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.

Photo credit: @chingleung (via Wikimedia Commons)
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MacLehose Trail

Difficulty: Hard

Length: 100 kilometres

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).

Photo credit: @exploreunbound (via Instagram)
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Hong Kong Trail

Difficulty: Intermediate

Length: 50 kilometres

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.

How to get there:
  1. Get to Victoria Peak by taxi, bus 15, minibus 1, or the Peak Tram.
  2. Look for the Lugard Road sign by the right of the Peak Tower—there should be a trail marker underneath it.
  3. Follow the paved trail until you get to the park at marker H005 and continue along to Pok Fu Lam Reservoir.
Photo credit: @billy.ng (via Instagram)
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Lantau Trail

Difficulty: Intermediate

Length: 70 kilometres

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.

How to get there from Central:
  1. From Central Ferry Pier 6, catch the ferry to Mui Wo. Check the ferry schedule here.
  2. Alight at Mui Wo Ferry Pier.
  3. Follow the trail markers South Lantau Road until you find the wooden gate marking Section 1.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the guide 👇

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Wilson Trail

Difficulty: Hard

Length: 78 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.

How to get there from Central:
  1. From Exchange Square, take bus 6 towards Stanley.
  2. Alight at Wilson Trail, Stanley Gap Road and follow the trail markers.
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Hong Kong Island Coastal Trail

Difficulty: Intermediate to hard

Length: 65 kilometres

Time: 22.5 hours or more

Although not officially one of Hong Kong’s major thru-hikes, the Hong Kong Island Coastal Trail is nevertheless worth mentioning. A non-profit, community-driven project supported by organisations like The Dutch Chamber of Commerce and Hong Kong hiking app TrailWatch, it outlines an uninterrupted coastal route around Hong Kong Island through existing seaside promenades and hiking paths. Split into eight sections—much like other thru-hikes—it meanders through urban and natural areas, some parts no more challenging than a leisurely stroll along waterfronts and others that will take you up some of Hong Kong Island’s highest peaks.

All along the trail, you will come across almost 80 points of interests, helpfully marked by volunteers, highlighting everything from beaches and parks to food markets and temples. Starting from the Central & Western District, the Hong Kong Island Coastal Trail will take you along the Western Harbour, through to Mount Davis and the Instagram-famous Sai Wan Swimming Shed, and down to Cyberport, with plenty of places to stop for refuelling.

After that, the trail then curves around Aberdeen, swooping down to Repulse Bay and Stanley and hugging the coastline near the Tai Tam Country Park, before sweeping hikers up to Dragon’s Back. It all comes into a final stretch at the Eastern Harbour, taking travellers through all the way from Chai Wan to Wan Chai.

What to bring

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.

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Annette Chan

Senior editor

Annette is an editor and copywriter with a lifetime of experience in hunting out the most interesting, odd, and delightful things about her beloved home city. Having written extensively about everything from food and culture to fashion, music, and hospitality, she considers her speciality to be Hong Kong itself. In her free time, you can find Annette trying out new dumpling recipes or playing Big Two at her favourite local bars with a cocktail in hand.

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