6 Best Hikes in the U.S.
There are close to 200,000 miles of federal land trails and an additional 42,500 of state trails with nearly 45 million Americans who hike them every year. For recreation, fitness and adventure, these hundreds of thousands of miles of trails offer a little something for everyone, whether you are a beginner hiker or a professional mountaineer. We’re extremely lucky the United States has literally every climate available—tropical beaches, rainforests, deserts, glaciers and everything in between. No matter what level of hiker you are or what type of experience you want to have, you can find a rewarding and challenging hike that fits your fitness levels as well as provides awe-inspiring scenery.
Walk over hardened lava flows? You can do that.
Explore an ice cave in an iceberg? Yep, that too!
You can even walk through some of the largest trees in the world.
Our hiking trails are home to some of the most amazing nature and wildlife you will ever see. But where you can find those trails? Avid hikers from all over the country list their can’t-miss hikes in the U.S. in the post.
Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail, Acadia National Park, Maine
From October to March, at 1,530 feet, the top of Cadillac Mountain is the first point in the United States to see the sun. It is also the highest point on the North Atlantic seacoast. A sunrise hike on the North Ridge Trail to the peak of Cadillac Mountain is a four-mile, out and back moderately-rated hike with a steady incline that is quite steep. Dogs are allowed on a leash. Along the trail, you will see wildflower fields, impressive granite covered in colored moss and small ponds. The North Ridge trailhead is located just outside Bar Harbor, Maine. It is an extremely popular tourist spot, so arrive early to get a good spot for prime sunrise watching. For a longer, prettier hike, take the South Ridge Trail.
The Narrows, Zion National Park, Glendale, Utah
The Narrows is one of the very best slot canyons in the world to hike, as well as one of the best day hikes you’ll experience in the U.S. Though rocky and slippery, The Narrows is a fairly easy hike, yet also very adventurous. The primary trail is a one-hour, one-mile hike but hikers that continue will be rewarded with the hike of a lifetime through the Virgin River, some parts so deep you might have to swim. It is highly recommended to continue to what is called “Wall Street,” where the sandstone walls are 2,000-feet tall and only 20 to 30-feet wide. The entire trail is 16 miles, but it’s at Wall Street you can turn back and say you truly hiked The Narrows. Due to the terrain, appropriate shoes and socks, a trekking pole and a dry bag are essential for a safe hike. There is always a risk of flash floods in the gorge, as well, so check the weather and with a park ranger before heading out.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Valley, California
Half Dome is an incredibly challenging hike, not for beginners and requires the proper gear as well as a permit. Yet, accomplishing the total hike is well worth it. Getting to the huge granite hunk Half Dome is a 14-mile round trip with a total elevation of 4,800 feet that includes hundreds of steps, as well as a 400-feet cable climb. Along the way, you will see Yosemite’s beautiful wilderness, the High Sierra, Liberty Cap and two waterfalls—Vernal and Nevada. Though, designed as a day hike—one of the longest and steepest in any national park—you can overnight and camp in Little Yosemite Valley with a special permit. This hike requires planning, as the cables go up in late May and come down in mid-October. It may take you up to 12 hours or longer to complete the hike, so you need to start at dawn. Strong ankle support hiking shoes with good grip are imperative, as well as gloves, plenty of water, a water filter and a headlamp with extra batteries.
The Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The 72-mile Great Smoky Mountains portion of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is where you want to explore the A.T. if you don’t want to thru-hike. What is so fantastic about this hike is you can day hike or backpack for a couple of days to a week. If you are camping, you must sleep in one of the designated campsites. There are even 12 shelters along the trail with outhouse-type bathrooms. The trailhead to this portion of the A.T. is located near Fontana Village, North Carolina. About seven miles in, you will reach Doe Knob which accesses the trail to Gregory Bald. Hiking here in mid-to-late June, you will be greeted with one of the more shocking arrays of blooming azaleas you’ll ever see. The hike to the Gregory Bald summit is not an easy hike, but like many hiking destinations, the strenuous hike is so worth the payout at the end of your journey.
Highline Trail, Glacier National Park, West Glacier, Montana
For breathtaking scenery, you can’t miss a hike through Glacier National Park in Montana. The Highline Trail, a 38-mile thru-trail has some of the most beautiful views of any trail in the United States. You will see glacier-fed blue lakes, snow-capped mountains, wildflowers and wildlife like bighorn sheep, mountain goats and grizzly bears. There are primitive campsites along the way, as well as two chalets—Sperry with a dining room and composting restrooms and a 12-room primitive hostel, the Granite Park Chalet, which has a propane kitchen and sells bottled water and food. This trail is also set up for nice day hikes as far or as short as you want to trek. The highest point on the Highline Trail is 7,280 feet.
Kenai Fjords National Park, Harding Icefield, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
This nearly 700,000-acres park is 50-percent ice and home to the largest icefield in the United States—the Harding Icefield. While there, you can’t miss Exit Glacier, one of the 40 stemming from the icefield. The hike to get up close to the glacier is short but steep. The hike to the Harding Icefield is 8.2 miles, gaining 1,000 feet in elevation every mile you hike, taking you above the tree line. It is a tough, strenuous hike, yet extremely worth the chance of a lifetime to see the icefield. Many experts snowshoe and ski across the icefield. The weather conditions are varying along the hike and can bring snow, high winds and blaring sun. Plus, bears are often spotted on the trail. Ranger-led tours are available for those less experienced. Those who work at Kenai Fjords National Park say the hike is “arguably the best day hike in the National Park Service.” Since you traveled all the way to get there, you might as well take advantage of all the area offers like whale-watching, kayaking, sport fishing and many other outdoor activities.
This list is just the tip of the mountain…so to speak. We have an abundance of beautiful, awe-inspiring trails to explore from coast to coast. America is home to some of the most unique rock formations in the world, including the largest group of hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. The parks mentioned in this article are also home to other fantastic, can’t-miss hikes. Not to mention the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon—the most photographed slot canyon in the entire world. From volcanoes to glaciers, you’ll never run out of incredible hikes in our great country.