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The best hiking trails in America

Hit one of these epic hiking trails to experience some of America’s most iconic and dramatic landscapes at ground level

Sure, we love road trips, but there are some places only your feet can take you: tropical Pacific coves, remote mountaintops or the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Whether tackled as day tripsweekend getaways or longer odysseys, these incredibly scenic hiking trails will make you appreciate America’s varied, awe-inspiring terrain. Invest in some blister-defying boots, hoist up your backpack and hit the trail to commune with nature and earn serious bragging rights.

1
Observation Point, Utah
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Observation Point, Utah

The most dramatic hike in Zion National Park is an eight-mile round trip that climbs 2,000 feet from the canyon floor to an overlook on the rim. Carved into the sandstone wall, the trail switchbacks steeply along smooth rock, visits the narrow Echo Canyon and skirts the precipitous White Cliffs. At 6,508 feet, Observation Point rewards the effort with a sweeping view of the canyon, including Red Arch Mountain, the Great White Throne and Angels Landing.

Time: One day
Level: Moderate

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John Muir Trail, California
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John Muir Trail, California

Traversing the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, this 211-mile trek is legendary for good reason. Thrilling views come with every step: steep passes, alpine meadows, lakes and sequoias. It starts with iconic sights like Half Dome and Vernal Falls, crosses the Ansel Adams Wilderness, then builds to the highest peak in the continental United States. It’s the most beautiful section of the Pacific Crest Trail and is blessed with a relatively mild and sunny climate. To avoid the snow, most hikers go between July and October, traveling north to south to acclimatize to higher elevations—and get fit before climbing the 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney.

Time: Two to four weeks
Level: Hard

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Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
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Kalalau Trail, Hawaii

This breathtaking path provides the only land access to Kauai’s Nā Pali Coast, where fluted cliffs crash into the turquoise Pacific. As seen in Jurassic Park, it’s an otherworldly landscape of tropical valleys, waterfalls and mango trees. The 11-mile trail aims for Kalalau Beach, secluded between two lush volcanic ridges, where campers often linger for the full five nights allowed on the permit. It’s a seriously challenging hike, though, especially after it rains—which it does a lot. Day hikers stick with the first two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach, which is plenty spectacular in its own right.

Time: Three to four days
Level: Hard

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Nankoweap Trail, Arizona
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Nankoweap Trail, Arizona

Considered one of the most challenging hikes in the Grand Canyon, this route offers jaw-dropping rewards. Originally constructed by geologist J.W. Powell in the 1880s, it follows an old Native American path, plunging 6,000 feet in 14 miles from the north rim to the Colorado River. It’s not for the faint of heart: You’ll switchback through sandstone cliffs, steep redwall limestone and sloping yellow shale down to Nankoweap Creek and the river. The solitary campsite here is one hell of a destination, with the canyon unfurling before you and echoing with the roar of rapids. Alas, you then have to turn around and climb those 14 miles.

Time: Three to four days
Level: Hard

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West Maroon Creek Trail, Colorado
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West Maroon Creek Trail, Colorado

Connecting Aspen and Crested Butte, this rewarding trek is best in July, when wildflowers are at their peak. Abundant larkspurs, violets, blue columbines and white thimbleberries spray color along the 10-mile route, which also has some of the most dramatic views in the Rockies. It starts with a bang at the trailhead: Maroon Lake reflecting the twin peaks of the Maroon Bells, one of the state’s most photographed sites. From there the trail winds through a glacial valley and aspen groves in the White River National Forest, then climbs 3,000 feet over Maroon Pass before making an equally stunning descent. If a daylong hike feels too ambitious, there are several shorter variations in the area.

Time: One day
Level: Easy to Moderate

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Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota
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Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota

The Midwest’s most epic hike hugs the ridgeline of Lake Superior for 296 miles, from Duluth to the Canadian border. It climbs up bluffs 1,000 feet above the lake and down into forested river valleys, with the chance of moose, bear and beaver sightings en route. Maples blaze in the fall and wild berries abound in the summer. Though you can backpack the whole length, trailheads every five to 10 miles also make it doable as a day or weekend excursion. The 18-mile stretch from Silver Bay to County Route 6 is a great sampler, passing several small lakes, birch groves and cliffs with panoramic Superior views.

Time: One day to several weeks
Level: Easy to Moderate

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Tillamook Head Trail, Oregon
Photograph: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/M.O. Stevens
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Tillamook Head Trail, Oregon

Having just traversed the continent, William Clark climbed Tillamook Head in 1806 and “beheld the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed.” See what so impressed him as you follow Lewis and Clark’s tracks from the town of Seaside to Ecola State Park. The 6.3-mile trail climbs over 1,000 feet through old-growth forest, with dramatic views of mountain ridges jutting into the Pacific. Keep an eye out for elk and eagles, plus migrating gray whales in winter and spring. As the trail descends toward Indian Beach, you’ll face Cannon Beach and its famous sea stacks (basalt rock formations), misted in fog.

Time: Half day
Level: Moderate

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Mount Rogers, Virginia
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Mount Rogers, Virginia

Virginia’s highest peak rises 5,728 feet in the southwestern Blue Ridge Mountains, near the North Carolina border. Starting at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park, it’s a 4.5-mile hike to the top, partly following the Appalachian Trail. Most of it winds through rugged pastures, so you get wide-open views all the way—except at the summit, which is covered in dense spruce-fir forest. The best part: Wild ponies graze on mountaintop meadows throughout the route.

Time: One day
Level: Moderate

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Penobscot and Sargent Mountains, Maine
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Penobscot and Sargent Mountains, Maine

Two summits, rocky scrambles and crystal-clear ponds make this the most rewarding hike in Acadia National Park. The 5.4-mile loop starts and ends at Jordan Pond House, a civilized eatery that beckons with post-hike popovers, but is otherwise rugged. You’ll squeeze between boulders to scale Penobscot, dip down to Sargent Pond, then climb past the tree line to the 1,373-foot top of Sargent Mountain. With water on three sides, the panoramic view encompasses practically the entire Down East Coast.

Time: One day
Level: Easy to Moderate

10
Tongue Mountain Loop, New York
Photograph: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Geotek
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Tongue Mountain Loop, New York

The Tongue peninsula sticks out ruggedly into Lake George, its five peaks in peaceful contrast to the area’s busy resort towns. Though the peninsula is crisscrossed with trails, hikers concentrate on a 13-mile loop around the lower half, which offers peerless views of the lake and its many islands. Walking north to south, you’ll get a workout scrambling up and down three 1,500-foot summits, but also a chance to cool off in the water at sunny Montcalm Point, the Tongue’s tip.

Time: One day
Level: Moderate

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