Best Hiking Trails In The U.S.
Some just take a spare hour. For others, you leave out extra food for the pets. And for a select few, you quit your job, put the SUV in storage, and sublet the apartment. Long, short, or in-between, no two hikes – or hikers – are the same. But somewhere on this list is the perfect trek for you.
the Amenities Key
Elevations Above 7,000 Feet
Wildlife Encounters Possible
Photography buffs have already seen highlights of this route in the black-and-white work of Ansel Adams. But as spectacular as they are, those photos simply scratch the surface of this stunning 211-mile trek. The route passes through three national parks (Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon), so there’s ample opportunity for day hiking. Just remember: you’ll rarely venture below 8,000 feet, so the elevation may slow your pace.
California to Washington
If you read Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s account of her impulsive solo PCT hike – or saw the Reese Witherspoon movie of the same name – you have at least some sense of the beauty awaiting you on this 2,654-mile odyssey. But both works, while inspirational, are also cautionary tales. Most hikers spend at least 6-8 months preparing for this rigorous, five-month journey. Do the same and you might find yourself crossing, at trail’s end, the appropriately named Bridge of the Gods.
Just 30 miles from Portland in the Mt. Hood/Columbia Gorge region, Multnomah is low-risk, high-reward hiking at its best. After an easy 10-minute walk, you’ll arrive at Benson Bridge. From that vantage point, you can look up at the mouth of the falls 500 feet above, and down at the second tier below. The bridge can get crowded, so early weekday arrivals offer the quietest viewing.
Introducing a generation of sedentary children to hiking can be challenging. But Bryce Canyon has an innovative solution. Their Hike the Hoodoos! program is part trek, part scavenger hunt, and all built around the park’s odd and amazing columns, known as hoodoos. On a simple three-mile hike, kids are encouraged to take photos of or make rubbings from a series of dedicated hoodoo trail markers. When they show proof of completion to the visitor center ranger, they receive a reward. And, hopefully, start asking Mom and Dad when they can come back.
Georgia to Maine
Many people use nature to escape the everyday intrusions of technology. But let’s be realistic. If a mobile app gave you encyclopedic details of a hike, including shelters, water sources, and your exact location on a topographic map, that might be helpful, right? Well, download away, because the AT is one of four epic treks supported by Guthook’s well-reviewed line of trail apps. As for the AT itself, it’s the most user-friendly of the mega trails, mostly because it’s close to plenty of towns and trailheads on its lower sections.
Typically, backcountry hikers can only dream of warm meals and comfy beds. But Superior’s lodge-to-lodge program offers rustic days and pampered nights. The logistics are simple. Each day, you enjoy breakfast at your lodge, pick up your trail lunch, drive to your next lodge, shuttle back to your trailhead start, and begin your hike (usually a half-day’s walk). At night, you’re on your own for dinner, then it all starts again the next morning. The trail hugs the northwest shore of Lake Superior, providing truly phenomenal views. But book early. Lodges fill quickly.
Arizona to Utah
With apologies to Fight Club, the first rule of Hayduke is you probably shouldn’t attempt Hayduke. Very few have completed a thru-hike, and with good reason. Known as possibly the country’s driest long-distance trail, this 800-mile monster wanders through six national parks and isn’t really a marked trail. Rather, anyone attempting it must research the suggested routes and consult the logs of Hayduke veterans. The best idea? Chop it into bite-size, day-hike pieces.
In small doses, the Long Trail accommodates novices. But with its rugged, muddy, and mountainous patches, America’s oldest hiking trail is more appropriate for veteran thru-hikers. Running the length of Vermont from the Massachusetts state line all the way north to the Canadian border, the 272-mile path follows the ridge of the Green Mountains, passes plenty of lakes and ponds, and offers over 70 shelters and campgrounds.
Be aware: this trail is frequently wet because, well, it’s mostly a river. Though you may stay dry in early sections, this popular and awe-inspiring journey between the 1,000-foot-high walls of Zion Canyon follows the Virgin River upstream. Depending on the time of year and recent climate, water depths range from ankle-deep to chest-high. The route is closed if the water is any higher or if threatening weather is in the forecast. Visitors suggest renting a walking stick to avoid sudden plunges into deeper water.
Delaware to California
Here’s the basic idea: Someone took all the paths, routes, and ways, threw them in a U.S.-sized pot, simmered, stirred, and called it the American Discovery Trail. It starts in Delaware, ends in California, and passes through up to 15 states, 14 national parks, and 16 national forests. At the conclusion, you should – in your best Forrest Gump voice – declare, “I’m pretty tired. Think I’ll go home now.”
Sorry, purists, but hikes can’t all be rivers and redwoods. And, believe it or not, there’s actually some relatively unexplored land in Central Park. The four-acre Hallett Nature Sanctuary, closed to the public since 1934, was renovated and reopened in 2016. Half-hour guided tours are offered, but it’s also available for self-directed forays. Originally designed as a bird sanctuary, Hallett is located in the southeast corner of the park. Which means it’s a short walk to The Plaza Hotel for afternoon tea and tarts if all that nature has left you famished.
New Mexico to Montana
If you’ve never used bear spray, don’t know what bear spray is, and aren’t even sure whether you spray the bear or the bear sprays you, the CDT may not be ideal. But the bravest of souls are in for some majestic mountain views as the trail, which spans from Mexico to Canada, frequently follows the crest of the Rockies. The Wyoming/Idaho/Montana sections are where you might encounter a furry friend. And, by the way, you spray the bear.
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