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The Best Hiking Trails in the United States

The Best Hiking Trails in the United States

Introduction

Best Hiking Trails in the United States: Hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise, and explore new places.

Best Hiking Trails
Best Hiking Trails

Whether you are looking for a scenic stroll, a challenging climb, or a multi-day adventure, there is a hiking trail for you in the United States.

The U.S. has a vast and diverse landscape, with mountains, deserts, forests, canyons, coastlines, and more.

You can find hiking trails in national parks, state parks, wilderness areas, and even urban settings.

But with so many options, how do you choose the best hiking trails in the U.S.? There is no definitive answer to this question, as different hikers may have different preferences, abilities, and goals. However, some factors that you may want to consider are:

  • The difficulty level of the trail
  • The length and duration of the hike
  • The elevation gain and loss of the trail
  • The scenery and views along the way
  • The wildlife and plants that you may encounter
  • The weather and season of the year
  • The accessibility and popularity of the trail
  • The safety and regulations of the area

To help you narrow down your choices, we have compiled a list of the 10 best hiking trails in the U.S. based on these factors and on the ratings and reviews of other hikers.

These trails are not ranked in any particular order, as they all offer something unique and amazing.

However, we have categorized them into three groups: easy, moderate, and hard. This way, you can find a trail that suits your skill level and experience.

Key Takeaways for Best Hiking Trails in the United States

DifficultyTrail NameLocationLengthElevation GainHighlights
EasyNugget Falls TrailTongass National Forest, Alaska0.8 miles round-trip69 feetWaterfall and glacier views
EasyAppalachian Trail (Shenandoah section)Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaVariesVariesForests, meadows, and wildlife
EasyEmerald Lake TrailRocky Mountain National Park, Colorado3.2 miles round-trip650 feetAlpine lakes and mountain views
ModerateAngels Landing TrailZion National Park, Utah4.3 miles round-trip1,500 feetSteep cliffs and panoramic views
ModerateNavajo Loop and Queens Garden TrailBryce Canyon National Park, Utah3.1 miles round-trip600 feetHoodoos and rock formations
ModerateHalema’uma’u TrailHawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii3.6 miles round-trip400 feetVolcanic crater and steam vents
HardHalf Dome TrailYosemite National Park, California14.8 miles round-trip4,800 feetGranite dome and cable ascent
HardBright Angel Trail (to Plateau Point)Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona12.2 miles round-trip3,100 feet (descent)Canyon views and Colorado River
HardKalalau Trail (to Hanakapi’ai Beach)Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii4 miles round-trip (22 miles for full trail)1,000 feet (ascent) (5,000 feet for full trail)Coastal cliffs and beach
HardWonderland Trail (partial or full)Mount Rainier National Park, WashingtonVaries (93 miles for full trail)Varies (22,000 feet for full trail)Mount Rainier and diverse ecosystems

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Part One: Easy Hiking Trails for Best Hiking Trails in the United States

Easy Hiking Trails
Easy Hiking Trails

If you are new to hiking or just want to enjoy a relaxing walk in nature, these easy hiking trails are perfect for you.

They are short, flat, or gently sloped, well-maintained, and accessible for most people.

They also offer stunning views of waterfalls, glaciers, lakes, mountains, forests, and wildlife.

Nugget Falls Trail

The Nugget Falls Trail is a scenic hike in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. It starts at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau and follows a paved path along the shore of Mendenhall Lake.

The trail leads to the base of Nugget Falls (also known as Nugget Creek Falls), a spectacular waterfall that cascades from a height of 377 feet into the lake.

Along the way, you can enjoy views of the Mendenhall Glacier, a massive ice sheet that covers 13.6 miles of land.

You may also spot bald eagles, sockeye salmon, black bears, or even icebergs floating on the lake.

The Nugget Falls Trail is an easy hike that is suitable for all ages and abilities. It is only 0.8 miles round-trip and has an elevation gain of 69 feet. The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit is from May to September, when the weather is warmer and the waterfall is more impressive.

The trail can be crowded during peak season, so plan to arrive early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. The trail is also wheelchair and stroller friendly.

Appalachian Trail (Shenandoah section)

The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a legendary long-distance hiking trail that spans 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine.

It passes through 14 states, eight national forests, six national parks, and countless scenic and historic sites.

The AT is divided into sections that vary in length, difficulty, and terrain. One of the most popular and accessible sections is the Shenandoah section in Virginia, which runs through the Shenandoah National Park.

The Shenandoah section of the AT is about 105 miles long and follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It offers hikers a variety of experiences, from peaceful forests and meadows to rocky overlooks and waterfalls. The trail also crosses the Skyline Drive, a scenic road that runs through the park, several times, making it easy to access different points of the trail. Along the way, you may encounter deer, songbirds, black bears, or even wildflowers in spring and summer.

The Shenandoah section of the AT is an easy-to-moderate hike that can be done in segments or as a whole. The elevation gain and loss vary depending on the segment, but generally range from 200 to 1,000 feet per mile.

The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit is from April to October, when the weather is mild and the views are clear.

The trail can be busy during weekends and holidays, so plan to hike on weekdays or early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

The trail is also dog friendly, but make sure to keep your dog on a leash and follow the park regulations.

Emerald Lake Trail

The Emerald Lake Trail is a beautiful hike in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

It starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead and follows a well-marked path through pine forests, past pristine alpine lakes, and up to a stunning mountain backdrop.

The trail passes by four lakes: Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Haiyaha Lake.

Each lake has its own charm and color, from green to blue to turquoise.

The trail also offers views of several peaks, such as Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and Otis Peak.

The Emerald Lake Trail is a moderate hike that is suitable for most hikers with some experience and fitness.

It is 3.2 miles round-trip and has an elevation gain of 650 feet. The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit is from June to September, when the snow has melted and the lakes are not frozen.

The trail can be very crowded during peak season, so plan to arrive early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.

The trail is also dog friendly, but make sure to keep your dog on a leash and follow the park regulations.

Part Two: Moderate Hiking Trails for Best Hiking Trails in the United States

Photo by Pixabay

If you are looking for a more challenging hike that will test your stamina and skills, these moderate hiking trails are ideal for you.

They are longer, steeper, or more rugged than easy trails and may require some scrambling or exposure to heights.

They also reward you with breathtaking views of cliffs, canyons, volcanoes, hoodoos, and rock formations.

Angels Landing Trail

The Angels Landing Trail is an exhilarating hike in Zion National Park in Utah. It starts at the Grotto Trailhead and follows a paved path along the Virgin River into Zion Canyon.

The trail then ascends steeply up a series of switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles, named after Walter Ruesch, the first superintendent of Zion National Park, who constructed them in 1926.

The trail then reaches Scout Lookout, where you can enjoy views of the canyon and decide whether to continue or turn back.

The final section of the trail involves climbing along a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on both sides and holding onto chains for support.

This section is not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights. However, if you make it to the top of Angels Landing (also known as the Temple of Aeolus), you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Zion Canyon that are simply stunning.

The Angels Landing Trail is a hard hike that is suitable for experienced and adventurous hikers only.

It is 4.3 miles round-trip and has an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit

is from March to November, when the weather is dry and the temperatures are moderate.

The trail can be extremely crowded during peak season, especially on the final section, so plan to hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.

The trail is not dog-friendly, and children under 12 are not recommended to attempt it.

Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail

The Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail is a spectacular hike in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

It starts at Sunset Point and descends into the Bryce Amphitheater, a natural amphitheater filled with thousands of hoodoos, which are spire-shaped rock formations that have been eroded by wind and water over millions of years.

The trail passes by some of the most famous hoodoos in the park, such as Thor’s Hammer, The Three Wisemen, and Wall Street.

The trail then connects with the Queens Garden Trail, which leads to a cluster of hoodoos that resemble Queen Victoria and her court.

The trail then ascends back to Sunrise Point, where you can enjoy views of the entire amphitheater.

The Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail is a moderate hike that is suitable for most hikers with some experience and fitness.

It is 3.1 miles round-trip and has an elevation gain of 600 feet. The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit is from April to October, when the weather is mild and the hoodoos are not covered by snow.

The trail can be busy during peak season, so plan to hike early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.

The trail is not dog-friendly, but you can bring your dog on a leash on some other trails in the park.

Halema’uma’u Trail

The Halema’uma’u Trail is a unique hike in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. It starts at the Volcano House Hotel and follows a dirt road into the Kīlauea Caldera, a large volcanic crater that contains the active Halema’uma’u Crater.

The trail then descends into the caldera floor, where you can see steam vents, lava rocks, and native plants.

The trail also passes by the Kīlauea Iki Crater Overlook, where you can view another smaller crater that was formed by a massive eruption in 1959. The trail then ends at the Halema’uma’u Crater Rim, where you can witness the power and beauty of an active volcano.

You can see the glowing lava lake inside the crater, which changes in size and shape depending on the volcanic activity.

The Halema’uma’u Trail is a moderate hike that is suitable for most hikers with some experience and fitness. It is 3.6 miles round-trip and has an elevation gain of 400 feet.

The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit is from May to October, when the weather is dry and clear.

The trail can be hot and dusty during the day, so plan to hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat.

The trail is not dog-friendly, and pets are not allowed in the park.

ALSO READ : Unusual hiking trails in the United States

Part Three: Hard Hiking Trails for Best Hiking Trails in the United States

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova

If you are looking for a more demanding hike that will push your limits and challenge your endurance, these hard hiking trails are perfect for you.

They are very long, very steep, or very rugged, and may require some technical skills or equipment.

They also reward you with amazing views of domes, rivers, cliffs, and coastlines.

Half Dome Trail

The Half Dome Trail is an epic hike in Yosemite National Park in California. It starts at the Happy Isles Trailhead and follows the Mist Trail along the Merced River.

The trail passes by two spectacular waterfalls, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, where you can feel the spray of the water and see rainbows in the mist.

The trail then continues through Little Yosemite Valley and up to the base of Half Dome, a granite dome that rises 4,800 feet above the valley floor.

The final section of the trail involves climbing up the steep and exposed face of Half Dome using metal cables and wooden planks for support.

This section is not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights. However, if you make it to the top of Half Dome, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the surrounding peaks that are simply awe-inspiring.

The Half Dome Trail is a very hard hike that is suitable for experienced and fit hikers only. It is 14.8 miles round-trip and has an elevation gain of 4,800 feet.

The trail is open from late May to mid-October, depending on the weather and the availability of permits. You need a permit to hike the Half Dome Trail, which can be obtained through a lottery system or on a first-come, first-served basis.

The trail can be very crowded during peak season, especially on the cable section, so plan to hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.

The trail is not dog-friendly, and children under 12 are not recommended to attempt it.

Bright Angel Trail (to Plateau Point)

Photo by Andrew Neel

The Bright Angel Trail is a classic hike in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

It starts at the South Rim near Grand Canyon Village and descends into the depths of the canyon. The trail passes by several historic sites, such as Indian Garden, a former Native American settlement and farming area, and Phantom Ranch, a rustic lodge at the bottom of the canyon.

The trail also offers stunning views of the canyon walls, rock layers, and geologic formations. The trail ends at Plateau Point, a flat area that overlooks the Colorado River, which carved the canyon over millions of years.

The Bright Angel Trail is a hard hike that is suitable for experienced and fit hikers only. It is 12.2 miles round-trip and has an elevation loss of 3,100 feet (and gain on the way back).

The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit is from March to May or from September to November, when the weather is cooler and less extreme.

The trail can be hot and dry during the day, so plan to hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat.

You also need to carry plenty of water and snacks, as there are limited sources of water along the trail. The trail is not dog-friendly, but you can bring your dog on a leash on some other trails in the park.

Kalalau Trail (to Hanakapi’ai Beach)

The Kalalau Trail is a stunning hike in Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park in Hawaii. It starts at Ke’e Beach and follows a rugged path along the north shore of Kauai.

The trail traverses lush valleys, steep cliffs, tropical forests, and sandy beaches. The trail offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the Nā Pali Coast, which means “the cliffs” in Hawaiian.

The trail ends at Kalalau Beach, a secluded beach that can only be reached by hiking or by boat. However, most hikers only go as far as Hanakapi’ai Beach, which is four miles from the trailhead.

Hanakapi’ai Beach is a beautiful beach with golden sand and turquoise water. However, it is also dangerous due to strong currents and waves, so swimming is not advised.

The Kalalau Trail is a very hard hike that is suitable for experienced and fit hikers only. It is 22 miles round-trip for the full trail, but only 4 miles round-trip to Hanakapi’ai Beach.

The elevation gain and loss vary depending on the segment, but generally range from 500 to 1,000 feet per mile.

The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit is from May to September, when the weather is dry and the trail is less muddy.

The trail can be slippery, narrow, and exposed in some sections, so plan to hike carefully and slowly.

You also need a permit to hike the Kalalau Trail, which can be obtained online or by phone. The trail is not dog-friendly, and pets are not allowed in the park.

Wonderland Trail (partial or full)

The Wonderland Trail is a magnificent hike in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. It circles around Mount Rainier, the highest peak in the state and an active volcano.

The trail passes through diverse ecosystems, such as glaciers, meadows, forests, rivers, and lakes.

The trail offers incredible views of Mount Rainier and its surroundings, as well as a chance to see wildlife such as deer, elk, marmots, and bears.

The trail also crosses several passes, bridges, and streams, adding to the variety and challenge of the hike.

The Wonderland Trail is a very hard hike that is suitable for experienced and fit hikers only. It is 93 miles long and has an elevation gain of 22,000 feet.

The trail can be done in segments or as a whole, depending on your preference and ability. The trail is open from July to September, depending on the snow conditions and the availability of permits.

You need a permit to hike the Wonderland Trail, which can be obtained through a lottery system or on a first-come, first-served basis.

The trail can be crowded during peak season, especially at the campsites along the way, so plan to hike early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. The trail is not dog-friendly, and pets are not allowed in the park.

Conclusion for Best Hiking Trails in the United States

These are just some of the best hiking trails in the U.S., but there are many more to explore and enjoy.

Hiking is a wonderful way to connect with nature, challenge yourself, and have fun.

Whether you are looking for an easy stroll or a hard adventure, there is a hiking trail for you in the U.S. So grab your backpack, lace up your boots, and hit the trail!


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