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Nankoweap Trail
Photograph: ShutterstockNankoweap Trail

The best places to hike in the US

Check out the best places to hike in the US – from mountainous treks to chill oceanside walks.

Written by
Tim Lowery
&
Rebecca Dalzell
Contributor
Scott Snowden
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Is there anything more appealing than taking a decent amount of time off work, upgrading all your exploring kit, maybe justifiably splashing out on a new tent... and then driving to any one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, being surrounded by stunning natural beauty and with nothing but the sound of nature to accompany you, embarking on a personal journey of discovery. No..? Thought not.

Well, you're in the right place. We’ve got you covered with our roundup of the very best places to hike in the US, which include bucket-list canyon descents, breathtaking oceanside walks, treks packed with color-popping leaves and much more. Plus, we’ve also ranked the level of difficulties for each of these essential hikes, as well as how long each takes (they range from an afternoon to several weeks). Looking for more American inspiration? Be sure to check out our lists of the best places to visit, top road trips and the best beaches in the country.


RECOMMENDED: Best national parks in the US

Best places to hike in the US

West Maroon Creek Trail, CO
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. West Maroon Creek Trail, CO

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 3,000ft over Maroon Pass before making an equally stunning descent. 

Time: One day
Level: Easy to Moderate

Penobscot & Sargent Mountains, ME
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Penobscot & Sargent Mountains, ME

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-feet-high 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

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Tillamook Head Trail | OR
Photograph: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/M.O. Stevens

3. Tillamook Head Trail | OR

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 1,000ft 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 basalt rock formations misted in fog.

Time: Half day
Level: Moderate

Superior Hiking Trail | MN
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Superior Hiking Trail | MN

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 1,000ft 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. 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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Nankoweap Trail | AZ
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Nankoweap Trail | AZ

NOTE: Masks may be required on park shuttle buses. Check for more information here before you visit.

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 6,000ft 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

Mount Rogers | VA
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Mount Rogers | VA

Virginia’s highest peak rises 5,728ft in the southwestern Blue Ridge Mountains, near the North Carolina border. Starting at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park, it’s a 4½-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 is that wild ponies graze on mountaintop meadows throughout the route.

Time: One day
Level: Moderate

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Observation Point | UT
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Observation Point | UT

NOTE: Weeping Rock and the lower East Rim Trail and Observation Point Trail are currently closed due to a landslide.

The most dramatic hike in Zion National Park is an eight-mile round trip that climbs 2,000ft 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 6,508ft, 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

Tongue Mountain Loop | NY
Photograph: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Geotek

8. Tongue Mountain Loop | NY

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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John Muir Trail | CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. John Muir Trail | CA

NOTE: Reservations are required to drive into Yosemite during peak hours. Some services and facilities are limited. Find more information here.   

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 14,495ft Mt. Whitney.

Time: Two to four weeks
Level: Hard

Kalalau Trail | HI
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Kalalau Trail | HI

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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