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The Samaria Gorge in Crete is a 10-mile, one-way downhill adventure.
The Samaria Gorge in Crete is a 10-mile, one-way downhill adventure. (iStock)

With the sun glaring down on exposed rock surfaces, a summertime hike to a mountain top can easily turn into a brutally hot proposition. Keeping one’s cool is much easier when selecting a trail running through a canyon or gorge. Throw in a waterfall or two, and the pause will really refresh! Here are some beautiful hikes through terrain that should help beat the heat.

Crete: The Samaria Gorge, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the southwest corner of the Greek island’s White Mountains, is wildly popular with hikers, who highly rate this 10-mile, one-way hike for its ever-changing terrain, colorful wildflowers, chances to swim and availability of drinking water. They’re also impressed with the final destination: a coastal village that can’t be reached by any road. Upon completion of the overwhelmingly downhill hike, walkers can enjoy time on the beach before boarding a ferry. As taking public transportation to the starting point near the village of Omalos is a complicated proposition, many elect to experience the hike as part of a guided tour. The hike can be completed from May to October. Entry to the gorge costs 5 euros. Online: tinyurl.com/wmmadxc

France: The Verdon Gorge in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of southeastern France has a unique defining feature: waters in a stunning shade of green, thanks to mineral-rich glacial waters. The 15-mile canyon between the towns of Castellane and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie features limestone walls rising some 2,300 feet above the riverbed. Most hikers elect to pass along the Blanc-Martel trail, accessible from the village of Rougon. Hiking season runs from April to mid-November. Rock climbing and kayaking are alternative ways in which to absorb the area’s stunning surroundings. Online: tinyurl.com/nm4bhx4v

Germany: The Breitachklamm in Oberstdorf counts among one of the most popular attractions in southern Germany’s Allgäu region. The deepest rock canyon in Central Europe beguiles visitors with its rumbling waters and interplay of dark and light, warm and cool. Easily accessible, secured paths make the experience suitable for almost all ability levels. Visits to the gorge are also possible during the winter months, when massive icicles and frozen waterfalls create a fairy-tale ambiance. The walk is generally accessible from either of its ends, which are in Tiefenbach and Kleinwalsertal, but in keeping with present Coronavirus control measures, the walk must be started in Tiefenbach, and online ticket booking in advance is essential. Adult tickets go for 6.50 euros. Online: breitachklamm.com

The Partnachklamm in Garmisch-Partenkirchen offers sensory overload in the form of sheer rock faces, dark tunnels and the sound of water rushing by at a furious pace. A safe and easy trail makes this walk a hit with all ages and fitness levels, although this has changed in the time of COVID-19. The trail is presently walkable only in once direction, and upon approaching its southern exit, one must hike back by way of the Vordergraseck, a fairly challenging climb that passes by the Partnachalm. During the winter months, guided tours by torchlight are offered. The gorge’s entrance can also be reached by means of a horse-drawn wagon. Adult entry costs 6 euros. Online: tinyurl.com/rpsfr7av

The Wutachschlucht is a shady 20-mile stretch of narrow valley cutting through the Black Forest. A narrow, muddy and fairly challenging trail zigzags alongside steep cliffs as it mirrors the route of the Wutach River. Three gorges, each with their own unique geographical features, are found along the route. Walkers here are well catered to, with a convenient “Wanderbus” running on weekends from April through October. The shuttle bus service links up the western trail entrance at Schattenmühle near Löffingen with the easterly trailhead by the Wutachmühle near Döggingen. Online: wutachschlucht.de

Spain: The famous El Caminito del Rey footpath is only some 15 miles north of Malaga city, but another world entirely. This cliffside path running high above the waters of the Guadalhorce River is not recommended for those who suffer from vertigo. The original path built in 1905 had fallen into such disrepair it was closed to the public in the 1980s, but as of 2015, walkers can enjoy this scary but safe trail through the El Chorro Gorge. The mandatory ticket, purchasable online in advance at a cost of 10 euros, helps authorities to control walker numbers. Online: tinyurl.com/2fvvjrnj

Switzerland: The Aareschlucht is found in the Berner Oberland, roughly in the middle of the country, between the towns of Meiringen and Innertkirchen. The country’s most visited gorge is some 600 feet deep and 40 inches wide at its narrowest point. An easy, mile-long trail runs alongside the opaque waters of the Aare River. The attraction is open from April through October, and costs 10 Swiss Francs to enter. On Friday and Saturday evenings in July and August, visitors can experience mystical illuminations, an Alpine buffet and folk music in the Aareschlucht restaurant. Online: aareschlucht.ch/en

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