The Best Hikes in the U.S. From Maine to California

From coast to coast, these are the best places to hike for exploring the great outdoors in the U.S.'s national and state parks.

Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
Photo: thinair28/Getty Images

Famed writer Wallace Stegner once described America's national parks as "the best idea we ever had.” All the proof you need is the majestic beauty found within, from the meadows of Mount Rainier National Park to volcanic activity in Hawai’i. Sometimes the best way to appreciate these sights is on your own two feet.  

Luckily, there’s no shortage of hiking trails snaking through the most beautiful natural landscapes in the United States. We’ve rounded up some of the very best ones, from the East Coast to the West.

These trails range from easy to moderate. They also represent a diversity of landscapes, from alpine to volcanic, from the Appalachian Trail to Carmel-by-the-Sea. As you choose which one is right for you, remember it’s always a good rule of thumb to check the official site of the park operating your trail of choice for information on current conditions, permits, and closures.

Explore canyons, waterfalls, and breathtaking views on the best 18 hiking trails in the U.S.

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Nugget Falls Trail, Tongass National Forest, Alaska

The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, Juneau, Alaska
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Visitors to the Tongass National Forest can choose to hike through dense forests and meadows, explore caves, or even venture on a wooden "boardwalk" trail through swampy bogs, called muskegs. With more than 700 miles of trails cutting through the property, hikers need never see the same sights twice. Many of the most accessible trails, though, start at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau. The area is a nature-lover's paradise with visitors often spotting bald eagles, sockeye salmon, and black bear cubs. The Nugget Falls Trail provides particularly great views of the waterfall and the glacier, and it's a relatively easy, 0.8-mile hike.

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Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
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Shenandoah National Park, 75 miles from Washington, D.C., is the perfect for seeing the great outdoors in Virginia. The park consists of 200,000 acres of protected lands that are home to deer, songbirds, and a clear, star-speckled night sky. The park also has more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 100+ miles of the Appalachian Trail, which you can hike a small section of for a day hike. Each trail offers something new, including waterfalls, viewpoints, and deep forests.

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Burroughs Mountain Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
thinair28/Getty Images

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state is home to one of the most iconic mountains in the world. Mount Rainier rises 14,410 feet above sea level straight into the clouds. But the summit of the mountain isn't the only hiking opportunity in the park. The park has more than 260 miles of maintained trails that lead visitors through peaceful old-growth forest, river valleys, and subalpine meadows. Check out the Burroughs Mountain Trail for stunning views of Mount Rainier and the alpine landscape.

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Halema'uma'u Trail, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
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Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park provides visitors with the once-in-a-lifetime experience of getting up close and personal with the extreme heat of a volcano. The park has several trails available to visitors, including the Halema'uma'u Trail, a 0.8-mile hike descending 425 feet at the southern edge of Kīlauea Caldera that takes visitors through a rain forest.

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Charlies Bunion Hike, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina is world-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life and sprawling mountains to hike and explore. The park even has a "Hike the Smokies" challenge, which rewards hikers who have explored over 100 miles of the park with exclusive mileage pins. The park has miles of official and backcountry trails with views of waterfalls and old-growth forests. Take the hike to Charlies Bunion via the Appalachian Trail for beautiful views of the mountains and forest.

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Billy Goat Trail, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Maryland

Billy Goat Trail, Great Falls, Potomac, Maryland
Rob Crandall/Alamy

Billy Goat Trail is a moderate 4.75-mile hike located in Maryland, just minutes from Washington, D.C. Here, hikers can experience the raging Potomac River and the rocky crags of Great Falls. The hike is incredibly popular, so visit early to beat the crowds. Be sure to check for closures ahead of time, as Section A is sometimes closed due to flooding, and Section B may be unavailable due to trail damage and erosion.

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Kalalau Trail, Ha'ena State Park, Hawaii

Kalalau Trail, Hanalei, Hawaii
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Kalalau Trail in Ha'ena State Park on the island of Kauai runs just about 11 miles along the island's north shore from Keʻe Beach to the Kalalau Valley. Visitors be warned: The trail is very difficult and dangerous. The trek takes experienced hikers through streams and hills, and provides stunning views of the crystal blue oceans surrounding the island.

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Chautauqua Trail, Chautauqua Park, Colorado

Chautauqua Park, Boulder, Colorado
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Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado has been around since 1898. The 80-acre park has miles of hiking, much of which is uphill. (Those strong enough to conquer those options are rewarded with stunning views of Boulder from above.) But there are less strenuous hikes, too. You can start with the Chautauqua Trail, which offers views of the Flatiron mountains and Boulder, before moving onto more challenging trails.

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Canyon to Rim Loop, Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Hikes at Smith Rock State Park vary in length and difficulty, but they all offer beautiful views of the Central Oregon landscape. The park suggests visitors arrive early in the morning for sightings of geese and ducks on the banks of the river, and later in the afternoon to catch a glimpse of a beautiful blue heron perched on a rock in the river. Take the gentle Canyon Trail past the Rope-de-Dope climbing area and on up to the rim for spectacular canyon views. If you look closely, you may even spot a bald eagle's nest.

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Petroglyph Wall Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
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Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada offers mainly short-distance hikes (many clock in at less than five miles), but don't let the length fool you. Many of the hikes at Red Rock Canyon are labeled as difficult, and it can take upward of four to five hours to complete just a five-mile hike. Along the different routes, hikers and visitors can try and spot the desert wildlife, including lizards, toads, and hawks. One of the park's most beginner-friendly must-do hikes is the 0.20-mile Petroglyph Wall Trail, on which hikers can view 800-year old historical rock art.

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South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

South Kaibab trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
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Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona may just be the most iconic and famous national park in the country. The canyon provides stunning views for miles above the rim and sights that must be seen at the base, where the Colorado River rages through — and expert hikers can attempt to see them all by hiking the canyon from rim to rim. But the park also has a plethora of easier hiking options, including the South Rim Trail. This mostly flat and paved trail offers access to canyon's-edge views for hikers and for visitors using the South Rim's hop-on, hop-off shuttle.

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Cadillac North Ridge Trail, Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine
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Acadia National Park is dubbed the first eastern U.S. national park. Acadia has hikes from easy to strenuous, each offering different views of the bays and tiny islands off the coast of Maine. The Cadillac North Ridge Trail is a great choice for incredible views of Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and the Schoodic Peninsula, and is 4.4 miles roundtrip. The park remains open year-round, but it does experience limited closures in the harsh winter months. Check for hours of operation here.

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Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana
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Glacier National Park in Montana is the headwaters for streams that flow to the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Hudson Bay. The park has several hikes, including more than a dozen options ranging from easy to difficult around the Many Glacier area, like the 11.2-mile out-and-back Grinnell Glacier Trail. The park is over a million acres and home to 71 species of mammals, from the tiny pygmy shrew to one of the largest remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48, and a variety of birds and reptiles for visitors to spot along the way.

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Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Navajo Trail Loop, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
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Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah may offer one of the most unique sights of any hiking adventure. The park is home to hoodoos, which are odd-shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion. In fact, Bryce Canyon has the largest collection of hoodoos in the world, and you can see them from the Rim Trail. Once you reach the end of the 5.5 mile trail, you'll be treated to views of the Main Amphitheater. Bryce Canyon offers hikes for all levels, including backcountry options for those looking for a little added adventure and moonlight tours for the night-owl hikers.

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Upper Emerald Pools Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah
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Zion National Park, Utah's first national park, is famous for its massive cream, pink, and red sandstone cliffs, free-standing arches, and hiking trails suitable for all experience levels. Hikers should attempt to visit for sunrise and sunset to snap breathtaking photos of sunlight splashing off the cliffs and into the rivers below. Try the Upper Emerald Pools Trail for an easy hike leading to sparkling waterfalls. Head there in spring to beat the summer crowds and see the most waterfalls.

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Mount Ida Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Keyhole on Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
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The Rocky Mountain National Park's 415 square miles of Colorado wilderness encompasses lakes, mountains, and spectacular hiking. In fact, the park has more than 350 miles of hiking, filled with wildflowers, wildlife, and wide open views; the Mount Ida Trail is one of the park's most popular. Along the way, expect to see various species of birds, reptiles, and perhaps even a bear or two.

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Point Lobos Loop Trail, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Caramel, California
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The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in California's picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea has more than a dozen trails for visitors to explore. On the Point Lobos Loop Trail, hikers can experience views of the reserve and stunning ocean vistas. As a reserve dedicated to preserving the wild, visitors and hikers can expect pristine and untouched nature around every corner.

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Half Dome Day Hike, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park

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The Half Dome day hike in Yosemite National Park in California offers visitors a true adventure into the wilderness along the 14- to 16-mile round-trip trail. Visitors, however, are warned on the national park's site that this trail is exclusively for well-prepared and experienced hikers, as the elevation gain of 4,800 feet can feel overwhelming. In total, the hike usually takes between 10 and 12 hours to complete.

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