Hiking USA is a paradise for travellers, with incredible diversity in landscapes and hiking trails across the 50 states. From the soaring peaks of the Rockies to the lush forests of the Appalachians, and the deserts of the Southwest to the glaciers of Alaska, there are endless opportunities for hiking adventures. With so many options, it can be overwhelming to decide where to go. This guide will highlight the 11 best places for hiking in the USA and showcase the top trails and destinations to add to your bucket list. Get ready for jaw-dropping vistas, abundant wildlife, fascinating geology, and the thrill of conquering new heights as you explore the wonder of America’s great outdoors.
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The 11 Best Places for Hiking USA
1. Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is one of the country’s most iconic national parks. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, it is renowned for its sheer granite cliffs, gushing waterfalls and Giant Sequoia trees. Hiking highlights include:
- The Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls – Follow the Merced River up to two massive waterfalls.
- Half Dome – Tackle the park’s most famous hike up the steep rock slab of Half Dome. Permits required.
- Yosemite Falls Trail – Trek to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall at 2,425 feet.
2. Zion National Park, Utah
With towering sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons, Zion offers hikes through truly unique landscapes. Don’t miss these trails:
- The Narrows – Wade through the Virgin River between steep canyon walls. Permits required.
- Angels Landing – Scale dizzying drop-offs along chains on this iconic 5.4-mile trek.
- Observation Point – Get breathtaking views after a challenging 8-mile hike with 2,148 feet of elevation gain.
3. Glacier National Park, Montana
Known as the “Crown of the Continent,” Glacier National Park is home to rugged peaks, pristine lakes and abundant wildlife. Top hiking trails include:
- Highline Trail – Traverse a scenic route along the Garden Wall with incredible views. Shuttle required.
- Grinnell Glacier Trail – Hike through alpine meadows to one of the park’s stunning glaciers.
- Avalanche Lake via Trail of the Cedars – Hike through ancient cedars to a gorgeous alpine lake.
4. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
This natural wonder of the world has endless hiking possibilities along its vast cliffs and down to the Colorado River below. Notable hikes are:
- Bright Angel Trail – Descend to the canyon bottom over 9.6 miles. Permit required for overnight use.
- South Kaibab to Cedar Ridge – Take in huge panoramas on this 3-mile out-and-back.
- Hermit’s Rest to Dripping Springs – Follow an ancient native route 7.5 miles round trip. Shuttle required.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
With 72 mountain peaks over 12,000 feet, Rocky Mountain National Park offers high-altitude hikes with amazing vistas. Top hikes include:
- Sky Pond – Scramble past waterfalls and lakes to an alpine pool with Glacier Gorge views.
- Bear Lake to Emerald Lake – A scenic, not-too-strenuous hike around beautiful subalpine lakes. Shuttle available.
- Mills Lake – Ramble through aspen groves and meadows to this lovely lake below Longs Peak.
6. Olympic National Park, Washington
Encompassing glacier-capped mountains, old-growth rainforests and wild Pacific coast, the diversity of Olympic is unmatched. Must do hikes:
- Hurricane Ridge – Take in mountains, meadows and views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on this 5.2-mile loop.
- Hoh River Trail – Trek through mossy maples and giant Sitka spruces on this iconic rainforest trail.
- Shi Shi Beach – backpack 2.5 miles along the wilderness coastline to a secluded oceanfront campsite. Permit required.
7. Acadia National Park, Maine
On the rocky Atlantic coast, Acadia offers granite peaks and breathtaking shorelines. Top hikes include:
- The Beehive Loop – Climb iron rung ladders on this short but challenging seaside hike with amazing views.
- Jordan Pond Shore Trail – Stroll around a beautiful mountain lake popular with artists and photographers.
- Cadillac Mountain South Ridge – Hike 3.5 miles to the highest point on the eastern seaboard.
8. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton’s jagged, glacier-carved peaks soar above sagebrush flats and alpine lakes. Notable hikes:
- Jenny Lake Loop – Take in Inspiration Point, Hidden Falls and other highlights on this scenic 7.1-mile loop.
- Cascade Canyon – Trek to views of the Teton range and Jenny, Leigh and String Lakes.
- Taggart Lake – A fairly easy 4-mile loop to a forest-rimmed glacial lake.
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Stretching along the southern Appalachians, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 800 miles of trails. Top hikes:
- Alum Cave Trail – Hike 4.9 miles past overlooks to the huge Alum Cave Bluffs.
- Chimney Tops – Scramble to this iconic pointed summit with 360° views. Shuttle required.
- Andrews Bald – Climb through spruce-fir forest to grassy meadows and great views, 5.5 miles roundtrip.
10. Denali National Park, Alaska
Home to 20,310-foot Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), Denali offers great hiking amidst Alaska’s dramatic landscapes. Notable trails:
- Savage River Loop – Enjoy river views on this easy 2-mile valley hike with chances of seeing wildlife. Shuttle available.
- Kesugi Ridge – Backpack across high alpine ridges and tundra over 3-4 days. Permit required.
- Mount Healy Overlook – Climb 1,700 feet through taiga forest to panoramic views from Healy Ridge.
11. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Covering nearly 800,000 acres in New Hampshire, the White Mountain National Forest has over 1,200 miles of hiking trails. Top hikes:
- Franconia Ridge Loop – A challenging 8.9-mile ridge trek across Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Lincoln and Little Haystack.
- Arethusa Falls – A scenic and popular hike to the tallest waterfall in New Hampshire.
- Mt. Willard – Tackle this relatively short but steep hike to spectacular mountain views.
The Best Hiking Trails in America by Region
Beyond the national parks, there are countless incredible hiking trails spanning America’s diverse landscapes. Here are some of the best hikes in each region of the country:
- The Knife Edge, Mount Katahdin, Maine – Walk a narrow granite ridge with sheer drops on either side.
- Breakneck Ridge, Hudson Highlands State Park, New York – Scramble up an iconic Hudson River mountain with steep pitches and great views.
- Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Climb rock scrambles and traverse exposed ridges on this challenging 9-mile loop.
- Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte, Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina/Tennessee – Ascend through forests and along clifftops to the 3rd highest peak in the park.
- Raven Cliff Falls, Georgia – Hike through rhododendron groves to a scenic waterfall in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
- Blackwater Falls, West Virginia – Enjoy views of a powerful waterfall plunging over sandstone cliffs.
- Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest, Illinois – Hike among unique sandstone rock formations and cliffs.
- Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains, Michigan – Trek through forests to a gorgeous vista overlooking a pristine lake.
- Eagle Mountain, Minnesota – Summit the highest point in Minnesota at 2,301 feet. Spectacular views of surrounding lakes and forests.
- The Wave, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona – See wildly eroded sandstone formations on this permit-only hike.
- Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas – Take in panoramic views of the Chisos Mountains and steep Casa Grande canyon.
- Crater Lake, Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico – Admire the brilliant blue waters of this stunning alpine lake circled by mountains.
- Enchantment Lakes, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington – Access breathtaking alpine lakes and granite basins on this challenging 18-mile trek. Permit required.
- Eagle Creek Trail, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon – Wander along towering waterfalls, pools and cliffs carved by the Columbia River.
- Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm, North Cascades National Park, Washington – Take in views of surrounding peaks and valleys on this popular 7.4-mile hike.
- Mt. Whitney Trail, Sequoia National Park – Summit the tallest peak in the lower 48 states after 10.7 tough miles and 6,100 feet elevation gain. Permit required.
- Lost Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree National Park – See fan palms and a natural desert spring on this moderately difficult 7.2-mile hike.
- Mt. Tallac Trail, Desolation Wilderness – Climb 3,100 feet over 6 miles to stunning lake views from a granite summit.
Planning Your Hiking Adventure
Now that you’ve got a taste of some of America’s most spectacular hiking trails, it’s time to start planning your adventure! Here are some key tips:
- Check regulations – Many popular trails require permits or reservations due to limits on daily hikers. Apply well in advance.
- Know your limits – Pick trails that match your fitness level and experience. Build up to longer hikes.
- Pack properly – Bring layers, plenty of water, map/compass, first aid kit, headlamp and other essentials.
- Check the weather forecast – Know potential hazards like lightning, flash flooding or high winds. Avoid risks.
- Tell someone your plans – Leave your itinerary in case of emergency. Consider hiking with a companion.
- Start early – Hit the trail at dawn to take advantage of cooler temperatures and more daylight.
- Be bear aware – Follow proper precautions in bear country, including using bear canisters and making noise.
America’s wealth of hiking trails offers limitless possibilities for adventure, exercise and appreciation of natural beauty. Whether it’s your first day hike or an epic thru-hike, a short stroll or long-distance trek, the country’s national parks, forests and wilderness areas provide endless inspiration. As John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” From the towering forests of Olympic to the vast cliffs of Yosemite to the highest peaks in the Rockies and beyond, answer the call of the trail to explore America’s hiking treasures for yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are some good beginner hikes in the US?
Some great beginner hikes include Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO; Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills State Park, OH; Lower Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park, CA; and Acadia Mountain in Acadia National Park, ME. Start with something relatively short (3-5 miles) and with little elevation gain.
2. When is the best time of year to go hiking USA?
The best times are usually spring (April-May) and fall (September-October), when the weather is milder and there are fewer crowds than summer. But every season offers different scenery and advantages. Research specific trails during your target season.
3. What should I pack for a day hike?
Bring proper footwear like hiking boots or trail shoes, layers, water/snacks, a map, compass/GPS device, sun protection, first aid kit, knife, flashlight, fire starter, whistle, extra clothing and a rain jacket. And don’t forget permits/passes if required.
4. How can I stay safe while hiking alone?
To hike solo safely, choose popular trails, let someone know your plans/return time, stay on trail and turn back before dark. Bring adequate gear/supplies, watch your footing and turn around if conditions deteriorate. Being self-sufficient is key.
5. What are some good multi-day backpacking trips in the US?
Some top backpacking trips include the John Muir Trail in California, Enchantments in Washington, Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in Arizona, Tour du Mont Blanc in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas.