Inspirational Mountains – Exciting Summits for Ordinary Hikers

Are you in search of the next beautiful mountain but not quite ready to tackle intimidating technical ascents? Looking for something that can imitate the experience of climbing Mt. Everest, without the extreme level of risk that goes with it?

This article is for you! You might be surprised to learn that there are tons of hikes out there that allow you to scale some of the world’s highest mountains without being an expert climber.

Several of these mountains are some of the world’s Seven Summits, meaning they’re the tallest mountain on their continent.

Others have spiritual significance or spectacular views of some of the highest mountain peaks in the world. Most importantly, all of them will leave you with a huge sense of accomplishment when you reach the summit!

Mount Taranaki, New Zealand

Mt. Elbrus, Russia (5,595m/18,356ft)

Mt Elbrus a challenging non-technical climb
©Jialiang Gao

Mt. Elbrus (aka Gora Elbrus) is an extinct volcano in southwest Russia, home to 22 glaciers and an impressive snow-filled crater. With two peaks that measure 5,595m/18,356ft and 5,642m/18,510ft respectively, Mt. Elbrus is the highest peak in Europe and qualifies as one of the world’s Seven Summits.

The hike to the summit takes a little over a week, during which you’ll cross snowfields and glaciers, sometimes with the help of fixed ropes. It’s not a technical climb per se, but the unpredictable weather here takes the life of several dozen people a year who underestimate the trek.

Treks depart from the well-equipped tourist and mountaineering base and pass through several high-altitude refuges to help you acclimatize before attempting the summit. The day of the summit ascent, you’ll start hiking in the middle of the night to reach the summit before noon. From the top you’ll have incredible views of the Caucasus mountain peaks.

Foreign visitors to Mt. Elbrus will have to arrange for a Russian visa so most people choose to go with a tour group who can help with the paperwork.

Required skills: Winter hiking and knowledge of appropriate equipment e.g. crampons, ice axe, etc. Your guide can give you a crash course.

Best time to go: You can hike Mt. Elbrus from April until September; peak season is in July and August due to the weather.

Aconcagua, Argentina (6,959m/22,831ft)

Aconcagua, a tough hike to the top
©Depositphotos

Located in the Andes Mountains on the border of Argentina and Chile, Mt. Aconcagua (Spanish: Cerro Aconcagua) is generally acknowledged to be the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 6,959m/22,831ft. This also qualifies it as one of the Seven Summits – in fact, it’s the second-highest of the Seven Summits after Mt. Everest.

Climbing Mt. Aconcagua takes a couple of weeks. During the climb you’ll stop at several camps to acclimatize – including at the Plaza Francia where you’ll find yourself face-to-face with towering cliff-faces and glaciers on Aconcagua’s South Face.

Trekking Aconcagua requires getting a permit, which you must acquire in person in Mendoza city. Permits are generally available from mid-November through March, depending on the length of time you want to spend in Aconcagua National Park. Aconcagua is prone to harsh weather, and whilst it’s not a technical climb, it’s a tough mountain. It’s best if you’ve done Kilimanjaro or another trekking summit before tackling Aconcagua.

Best time to go: November to March.

Required skills: You’ll need to use crampons at higher altitudes.

Mt Taranaki, New Zealand (2,518m/8,260ft)

Mt Taranaki in New Zealand is a haven for hikers
©Clare @ TheHikingAdventure

Also known as Mt. Egmont, New Zealand’s 120,000-year-old Mt. Taranaki is a dormant volcano. There is speculation that it might erupt again within the next half-century. Almost perfectly symmetrical, with a cone reaching up to 2,518m/8,260ft, Mt. Taranaki boasts thick forests and impressive gorges carved out by streams pouring down from the snowfields.

In 2017, Mt. Taranaki became the third natural feature in New Zealand to be granted the same legal rights as a person. This acknowledges the spiritual importance of the volcano to the local Māori tribes and lays down a groundwork for conservation. If anybody hurts the mountain, they can be charged as if they had hurt the tribe.

The summit track up Mt. Taranaki is a short but challenging 6.3km trek with a 1.6km elevation gain – takes about 8-10 hours in summer. Much of the trail is steep and some parts require scrambling over rocks. The crater is always icy and the entire upper half can be blanketed in snow and ice in the winter.

If you’re interested in spending more time at Mt. Taranaki, try an alternative trek such as the Pouakai crossing, a 19km hike around the top of the volcano.

Mt. Taranaki can suddenly become covered in thick clouds. If this happens, the authorities recommend turning back as the clouds will make navigation virtually impossible.

Trekkers attempting the climb should be equipped with the proper alpine equipment and mountaineering skills. Check the avalanche advisory website before you go and leave details of your trek with someone.

Required skills: Knowledge of alpine mountaineering and appropriate gear if attempting trek in winter. (Not recommended to attempt it in winter – it’s mostly a summer climb).

Best time to go: February to mid-April, to avoid the snow and do the trek without alpine equipment.

Island Peak, Nepal (6,160m/20,205ft)

Island Peak, Nepal, a thrilling climb in winter conditions
©Depositphotos

Nepal’s Island Peak, otherwise known as Imja Tse, rises to a staggering height of 6,160m/20,205ft. It’s located in the Himalayas and is sometimes combined with an Everest Base Camp trek. This is one of the more difficult treks on this list.

You can choose to tackle Island Peak from the Southeast Flank or from the North Ridge. Although the final push to the summit is quite quick, most tour operators organize treks of a couple weeks for acclimatization.

The southeast route offers the possibility of setting up a base camp and submitting in one day, but most people choose to play it safe and set up a high camp as well. Grassy slopes and rocky steps give way to an open gully that skirts around a small glacier. The final push to the summit requires scaling a steep icy ramp with dangerous crevasses.

The more difficult north ridge route leads hikers over moraines and snowy slopes to the col, from where a snowy ridge leads to the steep summit ascent. The reward at the top is a panoramic view of half a dozen mountain peaks measuring around 8,000m.

Required skills: You’ll need to master basic ice-climbing skills to complete this trek; most tour operators will give you a crash course.

Best time to go: March to early June, September to November (to avoid the monsoon).

Mera Peak, Nepal (6,654m/21,825ft)

Mera Peak, Nepal, a non-technical winter peak
©Depositphotos

Even higher than Island Peak is Nepal’s Mera Peak, which measures 6654m/21825ft at its highest point. Mera Peak is just south of Mt. Everest and like Island Peak, climbs up Mera Peak are sometimes combined with a visit to the Everest base camp.

The route starts out through remote forested valleys. Although the trek itself is not technically challenging, trekkers at Mera must contend with dangerous crevasses and heavy snowfall.

Most groups set up a base camp at 5300m, followed by a high camp at 5800m on the Mera Glacier. The high camp boasts spectacular views of the surrounding Himalayan peaks, the highest in the world.

From here, you can choose from three summits, of which the middle is the most difficult and requires some technical winter skills.

Best time to go: Late April to May, late September to October.
Required skills: Basic ice axe and crampon skills, which you can learn at the base of the glacier.

Ben Nevis, Scotland (1,345m/4,400ft)

Ben Nevis, Scotland, a peak worth bagging
©Depositphotos

Ben Nevis may seem tame in comparison to the jaw-dropping heights of the Himalayas. But Britain’s highest peak (1,345m/4,400ft) is legendary for its wonderful views of the nearby lochans and glacial valleys. Scaling Ben Nevis features prominently on the list of things to do if you’re in the neighborhood.

This massive imploded volcano draws 150,000 hikers a year. The most common way up, colloquially known as the “tourist track,” is via a 17km/11 mile rocky trail that winds its way to the top. Hikers can visit the old weather observatory which closed in 1904.

The more challenging Carn Mor Dearg Arête trail, geared towards experienced hikers, is a 10-hour trek along boulders and exposed ridges – with stunning views of the mountain’s north face.

Ben Nevis has several English translations. You can choose whether you prefer “mountain with its head in the clouds” or “venomous mountain”! Despite its relatively low altitude, Ben Nevis has alpine conditions and unpredictable weather.

Required skills: Navigational skills, or a handheld GPS, as going off the path can lead to eroded areas and dropoffs. Winter hiking skills, when path is covered in snow and there can be cornices.

Best time to go: Public transport to the mountain operates between May and September.

Mt Whitney, US (4,418m/14,494)

Mt Whitney in Sierra Nevadas - hike this if you dare!
©Depositphotos

At 4,418m/14,494ft above sea level, Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the contiguous US states and forms part of California’s Sierra Nevada range.

The Mt. Whitney Trail takes hikers through the Inyo National Forest through the Sequoia National Park and up to the summit. You won’t find glaciers on Mt. Whitney, although the top is stunning with its avalanche chutes, huge granite blocks, and views of the Kern River canyon.

The Mt. Whitney Trail features more than 6,200ft of elevation gain over 35km/22 miles, round trip. It takes about 12-14 hours to complete, so be prepared to hike in the dark if you plan on doing it in one day.

If you’d rather do a multi-day hike, there are several options for camping along the way. There are also several routes up Mt. Whitney that you might consider if you want fewer crowds.

Regardless of your route, look into booking a permit before you go – this is done by lottery at the beginning of every year.

Mt. Whitney is bear country so always carry bear spray, be responsible about your garbage (keep it in a bear canister) and know what to do if you see a bear.

Best time to go: The trail is open from May 1 until November 1, but the optimal time to visit is July through September when the trail is less likely to be snowed in. That being said, beware of thunderstorms during these months.

Required skills: Winter hiking equipment (e.g. ice axe, crampons) and knowledge of how to use it, if hiking when there is snow or ice. Bear awareness and hiking safety skills.

Machu Picchu, Peru (2,430m/7,972ft)

Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate - a great hike
©Depositphotos

OK, it’s not exactly a “summit” but I’ve included Machu Picchu because it’s an epic trail and a fitting follow-up to Kilimanjaro if you don’t fancy a challenging summit!

The long-lost city of the Incas is one of the most popular bucket-list items in the world. But it’s not just about the destination here – the many trails that lead to Machu Picchu offer the chance to explore some of Peru’s finest Inca ruins and mountain scenery. The bonus is that this area is super-accessible to novice trekkers.

The three main routes people take to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco are the Salkantay trek, the Lares trek and, of course, the Inca Trail. While Machu Picchu itself is not an intimidating mountain peak, the treks to get there usually take 4-5 days and reach altitudes in the mid-4000m’s.

If you’re looking for the most off-the-beaten-path option, I would definitely recommend the Lares trek. I did it in April a few years ago and only saw two other groups of trekkers the entire time. The highlights here are the rugged mountains and the chance to see local Quechua people instead of other tourists.

However, the classic Inca trail remains a must-do if you’re interested in Inca culture. Ruins such as the ones at Runkuraqay, Sayakmarqa, and Wiñay Wayna offer an unbeatable chance to delve into the lives of this fascinating civilization.

The classic Inca Trail is also the only trail to deliver hikers straight to Machu Picchu via the Inti Punku (“Sun Gate”), without requiring an overnight stop in the town of Aguas Calientes. Because of its popularity, the Inca Trail runs on a strict permit system. You must do it with a tour company, and you should book it months in advance.

The Salkantay Trek is a little longer and is generally considered the most challenging of these three treks. Trekkers hike the Salkantay Pass at 4600m/15,092ft and earn views of Mt. Salkantay, the highest mountain in the region.

It’s possible to combine the Salkantay trek with the classic Inca trail if you want the best of both worlds. But another attractive option is just to do the Salkantay trek by itself, as it doesn’t require a permit.

At Machu Picchu, there is an optional peak called Huayna Picchu (2,693m/8,835ft) that will give you a nice view of the ruins below. While the full Huayna Picchu trail takes about 3 hours, people commonly opt for the 40-minute dash to the summit. This trail is steep and features some sketchy parts, such as a very dark tunnel and a set of rickety stone steps known as the “Inca stairs.” Tickets for Huayna Picchu must be booked in advance.

Required skills: These treks are suitable for most people in good physical condition who don’t suffer too much from altitude sickness. You should take a few days in Cusco to acclimatize.

Best time to go: It’s possible to do these treks all year round but you’ll want to avoid the rainy season, which runs approximately from November to March. June to August are peak season and the Inca Trail especially will be very busy, so the shoulder months of April, May, September, and October are probably your best bet.

Yala Peak, Nepal (5,500m/18,045ft)

Yala peak, Nepal - not technical, but tough
©Depositphotos

On the border with Tibet, Yala Peak (5,500m/18,045ft) is considered a “trekking peak” and is one the easiest treks in the Himalayas. The trek usually takes about two weeks and requires no technical expertise, just general fitness, and some hiking experience.

The trek up to Yala Peak passes through the Langtang National Park, which is home to snow leopards, red pandas and beautiful mountain flowers. You’ll stop to acclimatize at Kyanjin Gompa (3900m/12,795ft), where there are several hotels and, bizarrely, an old cheese factory. Then you’ll camp again at Yala Kharka (4600m/15,092ft), and from there it’s just a short trip to the summit.

It’s not necessary to purchase a trekking permit but you will need to pay a nominal national park entrance fee. Do keep in mind that Yala Peak is often climbed along with Naya Kanga, and the latter does require a permit.

Best time to go: September to November, March to May.

Required skills: Yala Peak can get snowy so although no technical skills are required, you should be comfortable with winter conditions and ready to use appropriate equipment if needed.

Cotopaxi, Ecuador (5,911m/19,393ft)

Cotopaxi, a challenging non-technical peak
©Depositphotos

The violent Cotopaxi volcano (5,911m/19,393ft) in Ecuador’s Cordillera Central of the Andes is one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and the second-highest peak in Ecuador.

Scaling Cotopaxi is made easier thanks to the comfortable lodges and mountain huts. From the Jose Rivas refuge at 4,800m/15,744ft, it takes about 6 hours to reach the summit.

Trekkers will usually start the summit ascent around 2 am to avoid the soft snow in the early afternoon. Most of the route goes along the glacier – don’t forget to bring a light so you can avoid the crevasses! The ascent takes around 6 hours and the descent takes around 3 hours.

The enormous crater at the summit is permanently covered in snow. The view is all the more impressive thanks to the volcano’s steam vents, which mix together steam and ice.

Some visitors drive to a parking lot just below the refuge and stay only one night on the mountain. It’s no wonder they complain about altitude sickness. There is also the option of combining this summit ascent with other treks in the area to build up to Cotopaxi.

Required skills: Some experience with ice axes and crampons.

Best time to visit: Cotopaxi can be hiked year-round but the best times to go are in June/July and December to February.

Mt Kenya, Kenya (5,199m/17,057ft)

Mt Kenya - two technical peaks, one trekking peak
©Clare @The Hiking Adventure

At 5,199m/17,057ft, Mt. Kenya is the second-highest mountain in Africa, after Mt. Kilimanjaro. This World Heritage Site is home to elephants, antelopes and all manner of exotic animals. The scenery ranges from lakes and forests to mineral springs, mountain peaks and a dozen glaciers.

Check out our full write-up about climbing Mt. Kenya.

While Mt. Kenya’s Batian peak reaches 5,199m, most hikers will go up to Point Lenana (4,985m/16355ft), which is a more accessible non-technical peak. There are several routes from the mountain huts to the summit of Point Lenana, each of which is a couple dozen kilometers long.

There is a fee to enter the national park and most trekkers choose to book their trip with a tour operator.

Best time to visit: You can visit all year round, although the best times are June to September and January-February, outside of the rainy season.

Required skills: Any fit hiker should be able to complete the trek up Mt. Kenya; the most difficult part is a scramble over some scree before reaching the summit.

Would you climb any of these?

All of these mountains, with the exception of Ben Nevis and Mt. Taranaki, require climbing to altitude where the oxygen levels are around half of what they would be at sea level.

You should always leave yourself a couple of days to acclimatize and take appropriate steps to minimize altitude sickness while on your trek.

You’ll probably need to be comfortable hauling yourself up by a rope, and for many of the treks, you’ll also need to organize winter hiking gear such as an ice axe, crampons and avalanche safety equipment.

In some cases, this may be provided by your tour operator but in others, you’ll need to bring your own. Where necessary, you should be familiar with how to use an avalanche transceiver and probe.

These treks are totally doable but they shouldn’t be underestimated. Don’t forget to read our article on how to prepare for uphill hiking before you go, and consider checking out our Mt. Kilimanjaro trip account for inspiration!

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