10 of the Best Places to Hike in the United States

A good portion of the United States was battered and bruised this past winter with nasty weather and lots of snow.  We were forced to stay indoors for much of the winter months, and spring has seen lots of rain and tornadoes come through much of the country.

But now, finally, it seems the weather has turned the corner, affording all of us nature lovers the chance to get out and head to the trails.  The United States is a huge country with tons of variety, so there’s no shortage of awesome places to lace up the boots, get that blood pumping, and take in some amazing views.

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If you’ve been stuck indoors much of the winter and spring, here are ten great places around the country to get out and hike.

Zion National Park – Utah

With a wide variety of options and a multitude of landscapes, Zion National Park in Utah is a hiker’s and climber’s paradise.  The park is very well organized, there’s a shuttle system that passes many of the trailheads, and there’s plenty of backpacking options for those looking for a more serious overnight adventure.  If you really want to experience Zion, it’s important to explore both the depths of the canyon and the various cliffs that dot the park.  Be sure to do some homework and planning before coming to Zion, particularly if you’re an inexperienced hiker.

Popular hikes in Zion

There are a lot of challenging trails in Zion, and it’s imperative to be aware of weather and time of year, particularly when it comes to hiking in the canyon, as flash floods can happen at any time.  Here are some of the most popular and best hikes in the park:

  • Angels Landing -  One of the most popular hikes in the park is also one of its most challenging.  The 5 mile round trip hike isn’t the longest and doesn’t have the most elevation gain, but if heights and narrow paths aren’t your favorite, you may want to look elsewhere.
  • West Wall of Zion Canyon -  This is one of the popular areas of the park which has many different trails to check out.  The Kayenta Trail, East Rims Trail, and the Emeral Pools Trails are all in this area.
  • The Narrows -  Be prepared to get wet in the most popular hike in the park. The Virgin River at the bottom of canyon is the trail, and you can make it as short or long as you wish.  The further you get on the trail, the more serious it gets, and climbing gear is necessary for some parts.

There are literally hundreds of different intersecting trails in Zion, so be sure to check out the following links for more information about hiking in Zion:

>> Book flights to Salt Lake City or read about the best US cities for National Parks lovers.

Grand Canyon

It would be a crime to mention great hikes in the US and not mention the Grand Canyon.  The vast majority of tourists come to the Grand Canyon each year and don’t make it past the rim.  While wandering around the rim and seeing the Grand Canyon from above is certainly amazing, it’s even more spectacular to see the power of the Canyon from the bottom.  It takes a lot of advanced planning, but if you want to see the canyon from a unique perspective, consider hiking to the bottom and camping.

Popular hikes in the Grand Canyon

If you’re looking to hike to the bottom of the Canyon, you have to start planning early.  Hikers can apply for permits 6 months before the proposed hike, and if you are hiking in high season, the permits get gobbled up the first day they are available.

  • Bright Angel Trail -  This trail on the south rim is the most popular trail for those hiking into the Canyon.  It’s not nearly as steep as the South Kaibab Trail, but at 9.5 miles, it’s long, and the constant sun with no relief provides challenges, especially in summer months.
  • South Kaibab Trail -  The other option for descending into the canyon from the South Rim, this trial is a few miles shorter than the Bright Angel, which means it’s considerably steeper.  If hiking to the bottom and camping, many take the South Kaibab down and the Bright Angel back up.
  • North Rim -  The South Rim is much more popular than the less accessible north rim, so if you’re not fond of crowds and looking to see the canyon from a different perspective, check out the possibilities available on the canyon’s north rim.

If multi-day hikes and camping aren’t your thing, there are plenty of day hike possibilities that will get you off the rim and away from the massive crowds.  For more information on hiking the Grand Canyon, check out the following links:

>> Read about visiting the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas or learn more about hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Yosemite National Park  – California

This massive park really does have it all, from 200 foot waterfalls to over a hundred lakes to prehistoric looking trees to mountains to meadows and even a few beaches.  What better way to explore this unique and beautiful park than on foot?  You want options?  You have plenty with over 800 miles of trails, from easy (and crowded) paved trails for those just looking for a nice, relaxing walk to challenging, remote, unmaintained trails for the hardcore trekkers.

Popular hikes in Yosemite

Because Yosemite is so huge, it’s easier to go over the different areas that are popular for hiking instead of individual trails.  For more in depth individual trail information, check out the links provided.

  • Yosemite Valley -  You won’t be alone at most places in Yosemite Valley.  This popular area of the park has the most well-known hikes and sites, including Half Dome (which now requires permits for hiking to the top), Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls, and Mirror Lake.
  • Glacier Point Road-  The hikes in this area of the park are for those who want to see amazing views of Yosemite Valley from on high.  Popular hikes in this area are Sentinel Dome, Mono Meadow, and Glacier Point.
  • Wawona and the Mariposa Grove -  The southern area of the park is where you want to go if giant, mutant-looking trees tickle your fancy.  The oldest of the giant sequoias in this region of the park is over 2700 years old.

For even more information on Yosemite, check out the following links:

>> Find hotels in Yosemite Village and check out the ten items you need for any camping trip

Columbia River Gorge – Washington and Oregon

The second largest river in the United States is the backdrop for this amazing area in the Pacific Northwest.  The rainy weather may not be the favorite part of visiting here, but the scenery wouldn’t be as spectacular without it.  Waterfalls abound in the Columbia River Gorge, and hiking opportunities for the outdoor lover are endless.

Popular hikes in the Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge encompasses a massive area of both Washington and Oregon, with plenty of trails available for all hiking levels along this 80 mile long canyon.  There are hundreds of trails in all areas of the gorge, so make sure you check all possibilities.

  • Angel’s Rest-  Not far from Portland, Angel’s Rest is one of more popular trails in the Columbia River Gorge.  It’s a short hike at 4.5 miles round trip, but the views are amazing, and it’s a perfect day hike if you’re in the Portland area.
  • Dog Mountain -  On the Washington side, this short (7 miles out and back) but strenuous hike has beautiful wildflower meadows and panoramic views of the gorge.
  • Mount Defiance -  This challenging hike has a 5000 foot elevation gain and takes hikers to the highest summit in the Columbia River Gorge.  It’s a 12 mile loop that can have snow on the trail as late as June so be sure to come prepared for colder weather.

For more information about hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, click here.

>> Book a flight to Portland and check out some of these lesser-known National Parks

Denali National Park – Alaska

Denali is hands down one of the most unique hiking areas in the United States.  The most appealing aspect for hikers visiting this Alaskan wonderland is that there are no marked trails once you are out of the entrance area (which does have several marked trails).  But if you really want to get into the backcountry and wilderness, go beyond the entrance for some amazing opportunities to experience nature in its most raw form.

Popular hikes in Denali

Encompassing an area about the size of the state of Vermont, Denali doesn’t really have trails beyond the entrance of the park.  It works a little differently here than in most national parks in the US, so be sure to read up on permits and preparations necessary for backcountry hiking in Denali.  If you’re looking to hike on more developed trails, then check these out, all of which are near the entrance and clearly marked.

  • Mount Healy Overlook Trail -  The beginning of the hike is through the forest before eventually making your way into the tundra.  Hikers can head to the overlook for amazing views of the valley and ridge, or you can plan an all day excursion and hike all the way to the summit of Mount Healy.
  • Savage River Loop Trail -  If you want to get into the park without going all out backcountry, this trail is your best option.  This hike is about 15 miles from the entrance area, and though it could still be crowded on the trail, the views give you the feel of the wilderness the rest of the park offers.

More information about hiking in this unique and beautiful park can be found here.

>> Search airfare to Anchorage or find an Alaska adventure tour

Glacier National Park – Montana

Located in northern Montana and bordering Alberta and British Columbia, Glacier National Park offers hikers some amazing natural settings.  Rugged mountains, a multitude of lakes, gorgeous meadows, and immaculate forests greet visitors to Glacier NP.  Planning a getaway to Glacier offers hikers the chance to get away from the crowds that gather at other more popular national parks.

Popular hikes in Glacier National Park

There are over 700 miles of hiking trails in Glacier, so plenty of options await trekkers making the long trip to northern Montana.  This is the place to really experience solitude and see the best that nature has to offer.  Choose from some of these more popular hikes or check out the links below to plan your trip.

  • Many Glacier Area -  Because of the size of Glacier, it’s smart to choose areas of the park to explore.  The Many Glacier Area has been compared to the Swiss Alps, and with good reason.  Pristine lakes, amazing mountain views, hikes to glacier viewpoints, and plenty of wildlife viewing are all available in this region.
  • Two Medicines Region -  This is a less popular area of the park, so if you’re looking for solitude, you found it.  A variety of terrains greet hikers who make their way to the Two Medicines Region, with wildflower meadows, mountain passes, and lakes galore.

Make sure to check out all regions of the park as it is massive.  There is something here for every hiker. More info can be found here:

>> Check out Montana travel deals

Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado

A separate article could easily be written about the amazing hiking opportunities throughout the state of Colorado.  Though there are probably equally spectacular places to hike, you just can’t go wrong with Rocky Mountain National Park.  With the highest peak reaching over 14,000 feet, there are plenty of amazing trails to really experience the wild of the Rocky Mountains.

Popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

No matter what your ideal vision is for exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, chances are that vision will be met.  There are leisurely hikes along lakes with minimal elevation gain, hardcore climbing adventures for some of the best athletes in the world, and everything else in between.

  • Mills Lake -  This is a great hike for virtually anyone, and it offers spectacular views both on the trail and at the destination.
  • The Loch -  A moderate trail which is about 6 miles round trip brings hikers to this beautiful subalpine lake.  If you’re up for a longer hike, you can continue to the Lake of the Glass and Sky Pond.
  • Flattop Mountain -  If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, then head to Flattop Mountain.  The summit sits at a little over 12,000 feet and offers 360 degree views of the greatest peaks in the park.

If you need more information on the hundreds of trails that dot the park, browse around the links below.

>> Book flights to Denver and read our Colorado travel guide

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Hawaii

Most travelers don’t think of the United States when they want to see volcanoes, but our fiftieth state has plenty and offers something that no other US state can.  A large percentage of visitors to Hawaii go for the amazing beaches and water activities that come with them, but Hawaii is also quite the outdoorsman’s paradise. If you want to see terrain and landscapes that you can’t see anywhere else in the country, then head to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Popular hikes in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has paved trails for wheelchairs and strollers, well maintained trails for those looking for a little more than a leisurely stroll, and wilderness hikes for those looking to really challenge themselves.

  • Puu Huluhulu -  If you’ve ever wanted to traipse over lava flow and past lava trees, then this trail is for you.  A 3 mile roundtrip hike from the trailhead climbs to the summit, and if the weather cooperates, the panoramic views are amazing.
  • Backcountry Opportunities -  If you’re really looking for a challenging experience, check out the backcountry hikes in this park.  It’s not for the faint of heart, and coming prepared is mandatory.
  • Crater Rim Trail -  This 11 mile loop trail takes hikers through an active volcano.  You’ll experience strong gases, unique flora and fauna indigenous to this area, desert terrain, and even rainforests.  Note:  Part of the trail is currently closed due to a recent volcanic eruption.

For more information on hiking in Volcanoes National Park, click on the following links:

>> Find airfare to the Big Island and learn about camping in Volcanoes National Park

Great Smoky Mountains – Tennessee and North Carolina

Because the southern location of the Smokies, hiking is possible year-round.  While it can get cold and weather is a factor in any mountain range, it’s easier to hike year-round here than in most other mountain ranges in the US.  You won’t get the ruggedness of the Rocky Mountain or Glacier National Park, but there are still amazing views to be had, pristine streams and rushing waterfalls, and plenty of forest and wildlife opportunities.  Choosing a trail may be the hardest part, as the Smokies are massive and the choices are never-ending.

Popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains

With over 800 miles of trails, hiking in the Smokies really does afford you the opportunity for a plethora of options, so make sure you do some research and find the best trail for you.

  • Mount Cammerer -  It’s hard to come to a consensus for best hike in a park so big, but the one to the summit of Mount Cammerer tops many hikers’ lists.  This 12 mile round trip hikes offers perhaps the best view in the entire park.
  • Chimney Tops -  One of the most popular trails in the park, this 4 mile roundtrip hike offers views that rival those at the top of Mount Cammerer.  Though the hike is short, expect to go up, straight up.
  • Mount Sterling (via Baxter Creek) -  Though not a terribly long trail at 12 miles round-trip, this is one of the most challenging in the park.  A 4200 foot climb has even experienced hikers huffing and puffing on their way up to the old fire tower.  The views at the end are amazing, as is the hike through old forest on the way.

The possibilities are endless for hikes in the Smokies, so be sure to research all possibilities:

>> Find a flight to Tennessee and learn about avoiding the crowds and the most popular National Parks

Appalachian Trail – East Coast

It’s impossible to mention hiking and the United States without mentioning the Appalachian Trail (AT).  A trail that stretches over 2100 miles and passes through 14 states, from Georgia to Maine, is one of the best and most varied trails in the country.  If you are a hiker, then it would be sacrilegious not to hike at least part of this epic trail.

Popular hikes on the Appalachian Trail

Because of the sheer size of the trail, everyone has their own opinions on which places are the best, where to go first, and what to put at the top of your priority list.  The truth is, though, unless you are planning to hike the entire trail (which many people do every year), it’s all subjective.  It’s best to either head to the area closest to you, or really do your research and pick out the parts of the trail that will satisfy what is that you are looking for out of a good hike.

Make sure you check out the links below for all you need to know about hiking the AT:

>> Get tips for your first time in a National Park and read about awesome treks that anyone can do

Hiking season is in full swing in the United States, and there is something for everyone, no matter which part of the country you hail from.  The beauty of living or visiting here is the options that await.  When it comes to hiking, there aren’t many countries in the world that offer more variety than the US.

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Ten destinations certainly can’t include every great place, so if you have some ideas for great hiking opportunities in the United States, comment below to tell us or read more about hiking around the world:

Photos by: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 67, 8, 9, 10, 11, 1213, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

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Leave a Comment

  • Jeremy Bertsche said at 2013-12-01T19:49:58+0000: I cant believe they didn't mention the Adirondack Park. I mean the Adirondack Park spans 6.1 million acres and is larger than the state of Massachusetts. In fact, several National Parks could fit inside the Blue Line (the line on a map that designates the outline of the park), including Glacier, Yosemite, the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. COME HIKE THE ADK's
  • Penelope McQuarrie said at 2014-01-20T12:03:45+0000: To my amazement I have hiked six of the 10
  • Vicki Tannos said at 2014-01-05T15:45:42+0000: Big Bend National Park was not mentioned. Many amazing hikes in the park.
  • Active Travel Boutique said at 2013-07-31T20:48:17+0000: Loved walking in Canyonlands, Bryce and Arches National Parks too - spoiled for choice in the USA.
  • Andrea Yemaya Tethra said at 2013-07-03T23:38:38+0000: ld so love to hike these places no doub!
  • Dirk Weirauch said at 2013-05-29T03:47:50+0000: Nice list of hikes; Katrina Weirauch-Engle, you just did 2 of 10!
  • Ice Cream and Permafrost said at 2013-07-06T16:45:03+0000: For Denali, if you're not an expert or don't have the equipment for backcountry hiking, a great option is the ranger-led all day Discovery Hikes. They're not really advertised outside the park because you can only sign up for them in the Visitor's center one or two days ahead of time, but there's usually two a day so you can chose what location and difficulty level you want. It's a great way to get off the paths with a small group and see some amazing views.
  • Stephanie Gifford said at 2013-06-20T20:09:47+0000: Its a crime to mention the great hiking of this country without mentioning the Adirondack National Park in Northern New York with its 47 peaks and breathtaking views.
  • Marci McCaulley Claude said at 2013-04-07T03:56:11+0000: Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains can be the journey of a lifetime! I've hiked all the trails you mentioned! There are waterfalls, high places, balds and many more, many more. Come for a visit and stay a while!
  • Listya Angelia said at 2013-04-28T15:54:07+0000: Awesome pictures & details on each hiking site make me want to hike & camp again.
  • Angela Young said at 2013-04-22T01:18:20+0000: Missing King's Canyon in the Sierra's, though........California.
  • Angela Young said at 2013-04-22T01:17:06+0000: Definitely going into my bucket list!
  • Srikanth Reddy said at 2013-04-22T20:57:15+0000: 9 more to go.
  • Nancy Hultman said at 2012-12-29T01:09:31+0000: Makes me want to hike all of these places, only Mineral, County, CO would be a good addition.
  • Cory McCammon said at 2013-01-27T04:28:11+0000: Paria canyon, loved it!
  • Penny Denny-Triezenberg said at 2012-11-30T20:17:04+0000: Oh my so many great places to hike, but have to say loved, loved the Narrows at Zion. But maybe it is also the great memory of being with our kids!
  • Ayla Triplett said at 2012-12-01T07:34:35+0000: Where the heck is Grand Teton National Park, HELLO? haha
  • Brittney Ann Floyd said at 2012-11-14T21:10:37+0000: I have been through the great smokies the AT and the grand caynon favoirte was the Grand C it was so beautiful and the memories I stole from there are awesome and will always stay with me :D
  • Pam Barnett said at 2012-10-06T23:30:23+0000: I am awesome.
  • Richard Maxx said at 2012-05-28T07:28:54+0000: All ten places are perfect spot for hiking but River Gorge is one of the best among of them.
  • Luis Morales said at 2011-07-06T23:15:59+0000: New Mexico! so many great places, I cant believe its not on here....
  • Touristlink said at 2011-12-25T09:15:48+0000: Nice photos - wish they had some captions.
  • Will Seese said at 2011-07-01T04:08:48+0000: Just an FYI, the second picture for Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park is actually looking down the Incline near Colorado Springs, about 150 miles away from RMNP.
  • Linda Lindholm said at 2011-07-04T16:19:59+0000: Inspiring! I am off to hike and photograph Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley and Sedona red rocks. Sure wish the USA had a pilgrimage route like the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
  • Travel Guides said at 2011-10-07T22:13:44+0000: Angels Landing in Zion is one of my favorite hiking destinations, as are the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. For the Pacific Northwest, I'd also suggest the Olympic Peninsula and Mt Rainier. Rainier is a particular favorite: http://www.destination360.com/north-america/us/washington/mt-rainier/virtual-tour as we climbed it this summer, and the setting is simply stunning.