10 of the Best Places to Hike in the United States
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:
>> Read about the best US cities for National Parks lovers.
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:
>> 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:
- Official Yosemite National Park Site
- Yosemite Hikes: The best places to take your feet in Yosemite National Park
>> 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.
>> 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 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.
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:
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.
>> Read our Colorado indie 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:
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
- 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:
>> 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:
Hiking season is just around the corner in the United States (or in full swing in some areas), 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.
Planning a trip? Let BootsnAll help
- Sign up for Plan Your RTW Trip in 30 Days. This 30 email lesson plan is free and takes you through all the steps of planning a big trip. Sign up today and start receiving emails tomorrow!
- Register for Indie, BootsnAll’s multi-country flight tool, to plan, price, and book your trip with a few clicks of your mouse
- Fill out a traveler profile and connect with a community of like-minded people
- Sign up for our newsletters to get insider info and be the first to know of any new content, products, or special events we’re hosting
Ten destinations certainly can’t include every great place, so if you have some ideas for great hiking opportunities in the United States, tweet us to tell us or read more about hiking around the world:
- 10 Best Hiking Trails in the World
- Why the World is Best Explored on Foot
- 8 of the Most Unique Walking Paths in the World