14 of the Most Scenic Hiking Trails in the United States
Hiking is the most accessible kind of high adventure. It's not only a back-to-nature experience—it's also a complete workout for both mind and body. That said, you don't need to be a high-performance athlete to pull it off. From coast to coast, here are the best spots to get yourself and your family heading for the hills.
Because we enjoy nature—with its plants, rock formations, and beautiful vistas—it's only fitting that our day is best spent on a hiking trail. The history of these trails is fascinating: John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt were among the first outdoorsmen to realize the importance of protecting the extraordinary beauty of our natural landscape. Acre by acre, they acquired and donated the land that would ultimately become our national parks—preserving it for future generations who share their love of the great outdoors.
Today, with 62 national parks and more than 6,000 state parks to choose from, it's easy to get lost in the splendor of America's majestic landscapes. Try hiking in Colorado, California, Utah, Arizona, and elsewhere. What's most important is finding the right trail for your next hike that with your level of fitness and experience. Climb the stone stairs and granite-lined paths, and you can't help but remark on the incredible beauty, on the strenuous but invigorating nature of these hikes, and on the clarity of the air as well as the perfection of the landscape when you reach the summit. From alpine scrambles and beachfront strolls to mountaintops with 100-mile views, this country has a huge variety of hiking terrains. There are rugged hikes that can take you all day, and there are gentle walks that are ideal for young children.
Wake up early, don your weatherproof clothes and boots, and embark on a hike along any one of these trails that this nation is famous for.
Great Head Trail in Maine
Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island has a fine network of hiking trails that traverse the preserve. They crisscross rocky cliffs, gentle meadows, sand and rocky beaches, and dense evergreen forests. Great Head Trail, which happens to be one of Martha's favorites, is 1.3 miles long and takes about an hour and a half to complete. The trail starts at Sand Beach and then goes up a total of 324 feet for spectacular views of an estuary, the outer islands, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Billy Goat Trail in Maryland
The Billy Goat Trail is one of the most well-known hikes in the D.C. metro area. With nearly five miles of rock-hopping and spectacular views of the Potomac River along the way, this circuit is designated into three sections that range in difficulty—perfect for all skill levels.
Appalachian Trail on the East Coast
For epic hikers, the Appalachian Trail offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's a footpath that traverses the pastoral lands of the Appalachian Mountains and spans across fourteen states—to the south, Springer Mountain in Georgia; to the north, Mount Katahdin in Maine—during its 2,200 mile-long journey. There are, of course, dozens of attractions dotting the route including restaurants, inns, cultural mainstays, and spots that offer 360-degree views.
Caprock Coulee Nature Trail in North Dakota
Step back in time when bison roamed the plains and Teddy Roosevelt tried his hand at cattle ranching. The Caprock Coulee Nature Trail is a 4.4 mile loop that's located near Watford City, North Dakota, where you may experience chance encounters with bison, horses, and garter snakes along the grasslands. Two popular outlooks include Wind Canyon and Buck Hill.
Mount Ida Trail in Colorado
The Rocky Mountain National Park's 415 miles of wilderness encompasses lakes, mountains, and spectacular hiking. In fact, the park has more than 300 miles of hiking—and the Mount Ida Trail is one of the park's most popular trails. Along the nearly 10 miles, expect to see various species of birds, reptiles, and perhaps even a bear or two.
Angels Landing in Utah
Angels Landing is one of the world's most renowned hikes, and even at five miles roundtrip, is an unforgettable short adventure. The landmark itself, known previously as the Temple of Aeolus, is a 1,488-foot tall rock formation in Zion National Park. Beautiful for its sandstone cliffs and freestanding arches, it can be considered a strenuous climb with steep drop-offs and very narrow sections.
Cascade Canyon Trail in Wyoming
This is one of Grand Teton National Park's most popular hiking spots. The Cascade Canyon Trail starts with a scenic boat ride across Jenny Lake. Disembark and the trail ascends to Hidden Falls, a thundering cascade that drops 200 feet down a series of rocky ledges, and then climbs to Inspiration Point with views of the lake and the Gros Ventre Mountains to the east.
Highline Trail in Montana
Glacier National Park's Highline Trail along the continental divide is arguably one of the best day hikes in North America. If you're in search of epic views, bighorn sheep and mountain goats, wildflowers, waterfalls, glaciers, and backcountry chateaus, then make this nearly 12-mile roundtrip hike your destination.
Canyon to Rim Loop in Oregon
There are 650 acres to explore at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. On the three-mile roundtrip along the Canyon to Rim Loop, climbers can ascend the Rope-de-Dope and observe wildlife along the Crooked River—there, bald eagles are known to nest along the rim.
Hoh River Trail in Washington
Ask any West Coaster—the Hoh Rainforest is the crown jewel of Olympic National Park. The Washington state forest is famous for its evergreen vegetation and mossy trees that grow a lush landscape. And this dreamy topography reaches its peak on the Hoh River Trail, which stretches across 17 miles with views of Mount Olympus and Blue Glacier from the end of the trail.
Harding Icefield Trail in Alaska
Get up close and personal with Alaska's famous glaciers by trekking along the Harding Icefield Trail. Starting on the valley floor, this 8.2-mile roundtrip trail winds through cottonwood and alder forests, through heather-filled meadows and ultimately climbs above the treeline to an astonishing view of the Icefield. It's a window to past ice ages—a horizon of ice and snow that stretches as far as the eye can see.
South Kaibab Trail in Arizona
The Grand Canyon may be the most iconic and famous national park in the country. And while the park has a plethora of hiking options, the South Kaibab Trail is dotted with both easy vista point at the canyon's edge—such as the South Rim Trail—and expert-only hikes from rim to rim.
Half Dome Trail in California
This is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park—and the greater West—for good reason. The Dome itself is a well-known rock formation in the park, named for its distinct shape, and the 14- to 16-mile-long trail offers a nail-biting trek up a steep incline. Visitors, however, are warned that this trail is exclusively for well-prepared and experienced hikers, as the elevation gain of 4,800 feet can feel overwhelming.
Kalalau Trail in Hawaii
Jet off to paradise for a 11-mile stroll along Nā Pali Coast of the island of Kauai—you'll experience what's been named one of the beautiful (albeit, dangerous) hikes in the country. On the Kalalau Trail, you'll stroll past lush vegetation, including sweeping trees and moss-covered rocks, while taking in the ambient sounds of leaves rustling and birds chirping.