These Are the Best Hikes in the U.S., From Maine to California
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
As famed writer Wallace Stegner once said, America's national parks are "the best idea we ever had." And with warmer weather approaching, now's the time to start planning a hike around the national or state park nearest you. Pull on your hiking boots, grab a water bottle, and visit one of the best hiking trails in the U.S. for your next active adventure.
Explore canyons, visit waterfalls, and take in breathtaking landscapes on these 18 best hikes in the U.S.
Related: More adventure travel
Nugget Falls Trail, Tongass National Forest
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau, Alaska is an epicenter of hiking around the Mendenhall Glacier and the Tongass National Forest. The area is a nature-lover's paradise with visitors often spotting bald eagles, sockeye salmon, and black bear cubs. Visitors 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, hikers need never see the same sights twice. The Nugget Falls trail provides incredible views of the waterfall and the glacier, and it's a relatively easy, 2-mile hike.
Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is located just 75 miles from the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. 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 101 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.
Burroughs Mountain Hike, Mount Rainier National Park
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 hike for stunning views of Mount Rainer and the alpine landscape.
Halema'uma'u Trail, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
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 Earthquake Trail and Waldron Ledge, which is an easy 1-mile hike that allows visitors to take in the beautiful ocean views, and the Halema'uma'u Trail, a 1-mile hike descending 425 feet at the southern edge of Kīlauea Caldera that takes visitors through a rain forest.
Charlies Bunion Hike, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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 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.
Billy Goat Trail, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Kalalau Trail, Ha'ena State Park
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 hikers through streams and hills and provides stunning views of the crystal blue oceans surrounding the island.
Chautauqua Trail, Chautauqua Park
Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado has been around since 1898, when Boulder citizens approved a bond issue to purchase 80 acres of land. The park has miles of hiking, and those strong enough to make it to the top are rewarded with stunning views of Boulder from above. You can start with the Chautauqua Trail, which offers views of the Flat Irons and Boulder, before moving onto more challenging trails.
Canyon to Rim Loop, Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock State Park in Oregon has hikes ranging from 2 to 7 miles and easy to moderately difficult terrain. 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. If you look closely, you may even spot a cougar or two.
Petroglyph Wall Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada offers shorter distance hikes, with the longest trail measuring in at 6 miles, but don't let the short distance fool you. Many of the hikes at Red Rock Canyon are labeled as difficult, and it can take upward of 4 to 5 hours to complete just a 5-mile hike. Along the different routes, hikers and visitors can try and spot the desert wildlife, including lizards, toads, and hawks soaring above. Even though it's short, the Petroglyph Wall Trail is a must-do to see the 800-year old historical rock art.
South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona may just be the most iconic and famous national park in the country. The park has a plethora of hiking options, including easy vista point hikes at the canyon's edge (like the South Rim Trail) and expert-only hikes from rim to rim. 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.
Cadillac North Ridge Trail, Acadia National Park
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 summit views. The park remains open year-round, but it does experience limited closures in the harsh winter months. Check for hours of operation here.
Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park
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 Many Glacier, like the Grinnell Glacier Trail. The park is home to 71 species of mammals, from the tiny pygmy shrew to the majestic elk, and a variety of birds and reptiles for visitors to spot along the way.
Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park
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. 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.
Upper Emerald Pool Trail, Zion National Park
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 Pool Trail for an easy hike leading to sparkling waterfalls.
Mount Ida Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park
The Rocky Mountain National Park's 415 miles of Colorado wilderness encompasses lakes, mountains, and spectacular hiking. In fact, the park has more than 300 miles of hiking, filled with wildflowers, wildlife, and wide open views; the Mount Ida Trail is one of the park's most popular trails. Along the way, expect to see various species of birds, reptiles, and perhaps even a bear or two.
Point Lobos Loop Trail, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
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.
Half Dome Day Hike, Yosemite National Park
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.