Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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Without a doubt, hiking is the perfect combination of outdoor recreation, nature, and exercise. Hiking can be as social or solo as you like, you don’t need much gear to hit the trails, and many travel destinations are best observed on foot. Whether you’re new to hiking, hike all the time, just want a short day trip, or are ready for a multi-month adventure, here are some of the best scenic hikes to inspire you in the United States.
Half Dome is one of the most iconic landmarks in Yosemite National Park and an epic hike that is challenging and rewarding. This hike is 14 to 16 miles round-trip and only for experienced hikers. When you hike this route, you’ll see so many amazing sites along the way, including Vernal and Nevada Falls, and Liberty Cap. It takes most people about 10 to 12 hours to hike to the end and back, so make sure to leave by sunrise or even earlier if you want to make this a day hike. You should also be aware that the last 400 feet to the summit are accessed by cables which is a big adventure too! The cables are typically in place between Memorial Day and Columbus Day.
The Precipice Trail is a short but steep and challenging hike in beautiful Acadia National Park. It’s only about 2.5 miles long, but the elevation gain is about 1,060 feet. The hike involves climbing up metal ladders, passing along narrow ledges, and being pretty comfortable with heights as you look down from the cliffs. The best time to do this hike is in the late summer and early fall so that you don’t run into falcon nesting time or the snow and ice of winter. Most people take about two to three hours to complete this stunning hike as you go up to the summit of Champlain Mountain.
The Appalachian Trail extends from Georgia to Maine, so you can choose to hike the entire thing or just a portion of it wherever you are traveling. One particularly beautiful area to hike just a portion of this trail is in Shenandoah National Park. In total, the trail is 2,181 miles, but the Shenandoah portion is about 101 miles and goes along the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you’re only hiking this section, it is advised to hike it from mid-July through mid-May but not in June because this is when the area is most busy with through-hikers. Overall, there are over 500 miles of hiking trails, so lace up your hiking boots and get ready for lots of outdoor adventures in this national park!
Harding Icefield Trail is an 8.2-mile round trip route that leaves from the Exit Glacier Area in Kenai Fjords National Park. You can learn about past ice ages on this trail with ice and snow as far as you can see. Get ready for a strenuous trek though because you gain about a thousand feet of elevation with each mile you go. Most hikers take about six to eight hours to do this hike in full, but you can also do an abbreviated version of it and get an amazing experience too. You’ll find snow on the trail until early July each year and also run the risk of avalanches. To make a multi-day trip out of this hike, you can camp overnight at least 1/8 mile from the trail on bare rock or snow. Just be aware this is black bear country!
There are lots of scenic hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, including the Eagle Creek Trail. It was closed due to a wildfire and subsequent landslides but is generally one of the most popular hikes in the area because of its dramatic cliffs, waterfalls, and High Bridge that traverses a narrow gorge. This is a hike that’s not for the faint of heart, small children, or anyone who’s afraid of heights. Check the U.S. Forest Service website for updates about the reopening of this trail.
John Muir Trail is a 211-mile journey that runs from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney and showcases some of the most incredible mountain landscapes in the U.S. Along the trail you’ll find 14,000-foot peaks, lakes, cliffs, and generally lots of sunshine. Plan to do this hike to get to know the Sierra Nevada mountains and also check out top destinations, such as Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon. The best time of year to do this hike is usually between July and September so you miss the snowy conditions and frigid nights.
One of the top hikes in the Pacific Northwest is the Burroughs Mountain Hike, which is a 4.7-mile round-trip hike near the town of Ashford, Washington. Located in Mount Rainer National Park, it has an elevation gain of 900 feet and takes around 2.5 hours to do. You’ll love this hike because of its mountain views and discovering one of the most accessible tundra regions in the Cascades. Sunrise Camp is about a mile from the parking area and a good place to be if you just want to hike a short distance before setting up. This mountain is named after the naturalist and essayist John Burroughs.
A popular hike for travelers in Zion National Park in Utah is Angel’s Landing, which is a 5.4-mile hike that takes about four hours to complete. It is a strenuous hike with 1,488 feet in elevation and has chains and guardrails to shield you from the steep drop-offs. However, you should know that the last 0.7 miles can be less than five feet wide in places. This often-crowded hike can be done in spring, summer, and fall but should generally be avoided in the rain and snow. Get ready for a bunch of switchbacks, 21 to be precise, which are known as Walter’s Wiggles!
The Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park is about 10.3 miles, with the first couple miles following Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. You’ll get views of Grinnell Falls, Angel Wing, Mount Gould, and Grinnell Lake as you go along and follow the trail. If you want a shorter hike, you can take a boat ride across the lake and get in about seven miles instead of 10.3. The full hike will take you about five to seven hours, and is best to hike between mid-June and September when there’s no snow here.
For an awesome day hike on your Hawaiian vacation, check out the Halema’uma’u Trail that’s moderately difficult and starts by descending through a rain forest. Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you’ll go 0.8 miles from the Crater Rim trail to the Kilauea caldera floor. Alternatively, it’s 1.3 miles from the Crater Rim Trail to the top of Byron Ledge. Start your adventure behind the Volcano House by the Crater Rim Trail and plan to be out for about 1.5 hours round-trip.
Another unforgettable place to hike in Oregon is Smith Rock State Park. The Canyon to Rim Loop here is about 3.4 miles round-trip from the welcome center. You’ll see rock climbers here, as well as wildlife, impressive canyon views, and maybe even some bald eagles. Other top hikes at this scenic state park are the Reverse Misery Ridge Loop at 3.7 miles, Summit Loop at 7.3 miles, and the Homestead to North Point Loop at 1.8 miles long.
The Smoky Mountains are a hiker’s paradise, but this is always one of our favorite hikes in the national park. Charlies Bunion is a scenic stone cropping, and the route travels along the Appalachian Trail. The trail extends four miles one way to Charlies Bunion and has an elevation change of 1,600 feet. The trail is firm-packed with dirt and traverses along exposed cliffs. Pets are not allowed on this National Park Service trail.
Another epic long-distance hiking trail if you’re looking a real challenge is the Continental Divide Trail that runs through five states in the Mountain West region of the U.S. You’ll witness so many diverse landscapes along this route, including forests, deserts, mountains, and geothermal pools. The trail goes about 3,100 miles long between Mexico and Canada and is one of the 11 National Scenic Trails in the area. The trail passes through BLM managed lands and is a very challenging trail that goes along the backbone of the North American continent.
It doesn’t get much more otherworldly and fascinating than the red stone arches of Utah! There are over 2,000 stone arches in Arches National Park near Moab, but the most famous one is Delicate Arch. The opening beneath this arch is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide. The hike to see it takes about two to three hours and is about three miles round trip. It’s not an overly difficult hike, but be mindful of the hot summer days and icy winter days here before you set out because there’s no shade and a steep slick rock slope involved. There are Ute petroglyphs to see along the trail to get here and plenty of photo ops once you arrive.
The 2.7-mile loop of Pyramid Point Trail is a lovely hike to take for views of Lake Michigan. This is a hilly hike that has a lookout point about 0.6 miles from the trailhead. Along the way, you’ll see high bluffs, meadows, and forest. You’ll end this scenic hike at the top of Pyramid Point, but stay on the trail to prevent erosion and for your safety.
Start at the Bear Lake Trailhead to hike to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoy these stunning views. There’s a free park shuttle you can use during peak tourist season to avoid parking hassles. The route is about 3.6 miles round trip and is an easy-to-moderate hike. It should take you about two to three hours round-trip with lots to see along the way in an accessible way. It’s also perfect for snowshoeing in the winter.
Thousands of years ago, glaciers flattened much of the Midwestern U.S. and sculpted a landscape with unique features in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a footpath that extends over a thousand miles and is great for hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, and some sections for cross-country skiing too. There are actually sections of trail that aren’t yet complete, but in total, it extends about 1,200 miles long. This trail has largely been maintained by volunteers and is a lovely place to unwind and rejuvenate yourself physically and mentally.
You can start your hike to Cascade Canyon from the Jenny Lake Trailhead and enjoy a 10-mile trek with about 1,110 feet of elevation gain. This is a strenuous hike in the Grand Tetons that you can also cut short by taking a boat ride across the lake and shaving off about 2.4 miles. This is a popular hiking spot that includes views of the 200-foot Hidden Falls. For more of a challenge, you can link this trail with the Teton Crest Trail and make it an overnight trip.
Hikes in the Sedona area are absolutely inspiring pretty much anywhere you go. Yet a favorite route is the Devil’s Bridge Trail that leads to the largest natural sandstone arch in the area. This hike is a 1.8-mile trek that’s moderately difficult. Both serious adventurers and casual hikers enjoy this hike, which is pretty easy with just a short section of steps or rock scrambling if you’re up for it.
However, no list of scenic trails would be complete without mentioning the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This is one of the most memorable trails on the planet and spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada while passing through California, Oregon, and Washington. This long-distance hiking trail has so much scenic beauty that it’s almost impossible to describe until you hike it. If you’re not up for this big of a commitment, it’s still totally awesome to hike smaller sections of the PCT and experience little bits of it at a time.