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One of my favorite things about living in the U.S. is the large number of National Parks, hiking trails and availability of outdoors activities right at my doorstep. The vastly different landscapes in the U.S., ranging from snow-topped peaks in the Rocky Mountains to stunning canyons and desert scenery in the Southwest, offer completely different hiking experiences depending on where you are. You can hike through tropical rain forests in Hawaii, or through untouched tundra wilderness in Alaska. You can wander through lush forests in the Great Smokey Mountains or through the barren desert in Nevada and parts of California. If I could, I would try a new hike every weekend! My bucket list for hikes in the USA is seemingly endless – I don’t think I will manage to do all the great hikes this country has to offer in my lifetime.
There are hundreds of thousands of miles of hiking trails in the USA, but where are the very best ones? In this article, I want to share the five absolute best hiking holiday destination in the U.S. – destinations think everyone who loves hiking should add to their hiking bucket lists. These are places that offer more than just one hike, making it worthwhile to visit them for a whole week or at least for a long weekend.
The Five Best Hiking Destinations in the USA
1 Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is the National Park in the USA with some of the most spectacular hikes in the entire country. There are dozens of waterfalls, breathtaking views from mountain tops, wildflower meadows and majestic peaks, glacier lakes, stunning rock formations and imposing cliffs. The dramatic landscapes of Yosemite are unrivaled.
There are over 800 miles (nearly 1,300km) of trails – and enough trails to get away from the crowds. The challenging 12-hour Half Dome Trail (14.2 miles / 23km round-trip) is a MUST – the vistas from the top are worth the 400 feet long steep climb at the end, which is almost vertical. Note that this trail is only for experienced hikers, and a permit is necessary to hike the Half Dome Trail. You will have to apply for a permit as soon as you book your trip, or you may not be able to secure a permit and thus miss out on this hike.
The Mist Trail to Vernal Falls (3 miles/ 5km round-trip) and Nevada Falls (7 miles / 11km round-trip) is the most popular hike in Yosemite for a reason – don’t miss the fantastic views of these two waterfalls.
If you are looking to get away from the crowds, add the Swinging Bridge Trail (1.2 miles / 2km) the Panorama Trail (17 miles / 27km out-and-back) and the Four Mile Trail to your list.
2 Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is the most iconic natural monument in the USA, and a natural wonder that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. If you’re pressed for time, you could even see the Grand Canyon in a day trip from Las Vegas, but I recommend spending at least two full days at the Grand Canyon, and if you’re planning to do one of the longer hikes there, you’ll want to spend three days there. This is one of the best hiking holiday destinations in the USA after all.
What’s even better than just marveling at the vast canyon from the rim (which is what most day tourists do) is to hike down to the bottom of the Canyon. This 2-day trek will make you appreciate the magnitude of this one mile (1.6km) deep canyon even more – and it is one of the best hikes in the U.S.. There are two trails that lead you down into the canyon, the South Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail. Both of these trails are strenuous and only recommended for experienced hikers. You can combine both hikes into one “loop hike” by taking the South Kaibab Trail into the canyon (6.8 miles / 11km to Bright Angel Campground) and hiking back up on the Bright Angel Trail. The walk back up takes 7 to 8 hours, so don’t attempt to do this hike in one day.
If the thought of hiking 9.3 miles (15 km) uphill sounds too hard for you, don’t worry: there are a multitude of trails along the rim, ranging from short half hour hikes (the Grandview Trail offers hikes to Coconino Saddle, which is a 2.2 miles / 3.5km round trip) to several hours of walking (the Rim Trail is a 13-mile / 21km out-and-back paved trail) while enjoying the unforgettable panoramic canyon views.
If you are looking to avoid large crowds, head to the lesser visited North Rim and if you are looking for a real challenge, hike the 2-day North Kaibab Trail (9.4 miles / 15 km round-trip) to the bottom of the canyon.
3 Zion National Park
Zion National Park is known for its beautiful sandstone cliffs in a range of different red tones, but there is more to the National Park than just Zion Canyon: it also comprises of the Zion Wilderness and the Kolob Canyons.
The Narrows is the hike you can’t miss in Zion. This is not only the most popular hike in Zion Canyon, but considered one of the best slot canyon hikes in the entire world. You walk in between two massive rock walls for several hours, a stunning sight. The hike is long (16 miles / 26 km) and strenuous, since you are walking in the Virgin River – there is no real trail. Be prepared to get your feet wet, and depending on the time of year water can even reach all the way up to your hips. The most popular way to do this hike is starting at the Temple of Sinawava and then walk upstream to Big Springs and then turn around (about ten miles / 16km round-trip). If you do the Narrows as a day hike, it’ll be a long day – expect the hike to last around 12 hours.
You can also hike downstream over two days, starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch and finishing at the Temple of Sinawava, but if you are planning to do it this way, note that a permit is required, and that you’ll have to arrange transportation to the starting point.
Another hike that experienced hikers have to check out in Zion is Angel’s Landing – a rather short trail (2.5 miles / 4km), but because of a 1,500 feet steep elevation, it takes between 3 and 6 hours round-trip to finish. This hike is often dubbed the “scariest hike in the U.S.” and is definitely not for the faint of heart: there are thousand-foot drops on either side of you! The summit will reward with a jaw-dropping view, however, and is without a doubt one of the best hiking destinations in the US.
4 Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park has parts in three states: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The park offers around 1,000 miles of hiking trails, and you can easily spend a whole week here and still only see a tiny part of Yellowstone, which spreads out over more than 2.2 million acres. The most famous places to visit in Yellowstone are its geysers: Old Faithful (erupts every 44 minutes to two hours) and Lone Star (erupts every about three hours), Mammoth Hot Springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Apart from amazing scenery, Yellowstone is also known for its frequent wildlife encounters, which include moose, grizzly bears and even wolves.
Some of the best hikes in Yellowstone National Park include:
- Fairy Falls Trail (5.4-6.7 miles / 8.7-11km; approx. 3-5 hours)
- Lone Star Geyser Trail (4.8 miles / 7.8km; approx. 2-3 hours)
- Avalanche Peak (4.2 miles / 6.8km; approx. 3-4 hours)
5 Glacier National Park
Montana’s Glacier National Park offers some of the most striking scenery in the entire country and has more than 700 miles of hiking paths, which is what makes the park one of the best hiking destinations in the US. The towering mountains, large glacial lakes, alpine tundra and cedar forests make for a magnificent view around every corner.
The best hike in Glacier National Park is the Highline Trail, which follows the Continental Divide. The vistas on this popular trail are incredible, as you are walking along the west side of the Garden Wall, a steep alpine area. The trail is over 30 miles long and eventually ends up in Canada.
A shorter version of this hike is the Highline Loop (11.9 miles / 19km), which begins at Logan Pass and ends at “The Loop” which is a bend in the road – so while it sounds like this is a loop trail, it is in fact a one-way hike, part of the longer Highline Trail. This trail takes you down to the Sun Road once you’ve visited the Granite Park Chalet. Be aware that the trail drops about 2,800 vertical feet in elevation.
While you’re there, make sure to drive the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road – while not a hike, this scenic 50 mile road spans the width of the National Park and is one of the most picturesque drives in the U.S.
Other trails that are worth hiking in Glacier National Park are:
- Grinnell Glacier Trail (7.6 miles / 12.2)
- Iceberg Lake Trail (9.7 miles / 16km)
- Pitamakan/Dawson Trail (around 16 miles / 26km)
- Siyeh Pass Trail (10.5 miles / 17km)
- Cracker Lake Trail (around 13 miles / 21km)
- Avalanche Lake Trail (around 6 miles / 10km)
Photo Credit: All photos used via Flickr’s creative commons licensing. Yosemite Valley by Christopher Chan; Zion National Park by John Fowler; Yellowstone Caldera by Maarten Otto; Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park by Cody Wellons