Our favorite trail mix: 10 best U.S. hiking routes

December 10, 2015                 5m read time
Barbie Carpenter


Tiptoe along narrow sandstone ridges in Utah, explore glaciers in Montana, or take in the brilliant foliage in the mid-Atlantic. We’ve found a trail for every type of hiker—from the rough and rugged to those looking for a Sunday afternoon stroll. Read on and get hiking!

1. Explore Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Hikers walking by huge trees in Redwoods State Park in northern California Miguel Vieira

Hikers walking by huge trees in Redwoods State Park in northern California

Miguel Vieira

 

A 13-mile, day-long hike through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, located 50 miles south of the California-Oregon border, is an adventure in landscapes. Miniaturize yourself by hiking under 300-foot redwood trees that overtake the landscape at the start of your hike at the visitors’ center. With those towering redwoods at your back, you’ll venture into a coastal canyon along Gold Bluffs Beach, where you’ll spot roaming Roosevelt elk, a not-so-typical beach creature. In Fern Canyon, an area marked by vertical canyon walls lined with ferns, you might get a little wet. While the seasonal footbridges can keep your feet out of the stream during the summer, expect to wade through about 6 inches of water in the winter.

2. Stay Cool on the Mist Trail

Vernal Fall and mist over a rainbow in Yosemite National Park in California daveynin

Vernal Fall and mist over a rainbow in Yosemite National Park in California

daveynin

 

Strap on the rain gear and hike through Yosemite National Park, located in northeastern California, to see two cascading waterfalls. Gain 1,000 feet in elevation along the 3-mile Mist Trail to reach Vernal Fall, a 317-foot waterfall. Look for a rainbow in the spray of the fall, a common sight for lucky hikers. Slippery footing and a challenging climb up 600 granite stairs means you need some traction on those toes. Continue another 900 feet in elevation and about 1 ½ miles along a strenuous path to reach Nevada Falls, a thundering 594-foot waterfall. Plan your visit for spring when falls are at their fullest.

3. Take a Risk at Angel’s Landing

Angel's Landing in Southern Utah in Zion National Park Lorcel

Angel's Landing in Southern Utah in Zion National Park

Lorcel

 

Thrill seekers trek to Southern Utah’s Angel’s Landing, located in Zion National Park, for a 5-mile, 5-hour hike on one of the most famous trails in the National Park System. Leave the kids and acrophobes (those folks who are afraid of heights) at home because the last half-mile of the hike features narrow sandstone ridges where your only support is some anchored chains along the sheer fin. You’ll be rewarded at the end of this challenging hike, where you gain 1,500 feet in elevation, with a 360-degree view of the Zion Canyon. Look closely in the hardy trees, and you’ll spot chipmunks hiding in the branches—and perhaps planning a theft of your post-hike snack.

4. Skirt Along the Na Pali Coast

The Wimea Canyons on the Na Pali coastline in Kauai in Hawaii Christian Arballo

The Wimea Canyons on the Na Pali coastline in Kauai in Hawaii

Christian Arballo

 

Say “Aloha” to the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Hawaii, an 11-mile trail that weaves through five valleys along the Na Pali Coast. Despite its notoriety as a dangerous trail with dropoffs and a narrow and crumbly trailbed, hikers flock to this trail to traverse through stunning scenery and lush valleys. You’ll explore narrow and steep pali (that’s Hawaiian for cliffs), see native coffee plants nestled into valleys, and say “baa!” when a wild goat crosses your path. When you reach Kalalau Beach at the trail’s end, take a dirt path leading inland from the beach, where you can help yourself to guava, mango, and java plums growing on an old agricultural terrace. Snack time!

5. Touch a Glacier Before It’s Gone

Glacier in northern Montana's Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail Jeff Krause

Glacier in northern Montana's Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail

Jeff Krause

 

The 7.6-mile roundtrip hike at northern Montana’s Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail leads you through landscapes of glaciers, waterfalls, and meadows. You’ll share the trail with mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and if you camp at the park, you’ll stargaze in Bryce Canyon at more than 7,500 stars, Venus, and Jupiter on clear nights. Now’s the right time to check out Grinnell Glacier because it might not be around for long -- it has shrunk from 710 acres in 1885 to just 200 acres in 2005. If you’re looking for a shorter excursion, hop aboard two shuttleboats to sail across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, which are both on the route.

6. Challenge Yourself in the Mid-Atlantic

Hiker on a rock in northern Virginia's Old Rag Mountain Loop near the Blue Ridge Parkway Karen Blaha

Hiker on a rock in northern Virginia's Old Rag Mountain Loop near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Karen Blaha

 

Northern Virginia’s Old Rag Mountain Loop is one of the mid-Atlantic’s most popular hikes, thanks to stunning views of the 200,000 acres of Shenandoah National Park. This isn’t your average trail, either. You’ll encounter rock scrambles and caves, and you might even have to get down and dirty to crawl through cracks in giant boulders. It’s the most natural obstacle course you’ve ever tackled! Lift some weights before you go because this 9-mile hike requires some serious upper body strength and takes 7 to 8 hours to complete. For the best views, plan your hike for the fall, when rich red and orange leaves dominate the ever-changing landscape.

7. See Pines, Waterfalls, and Bears—Oh My!

The Cascade Canyon Trail in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park south of Yellowstone Sathish J

The Cascade Canyon Trail in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park south of Yellowstone

Sathish J

 

Get up close and personal with wildlife as you hike the Cascade Canyon Trail in western Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone. Moose, pikas, and marmots live along this 7-mile trail, which is also known locally as bear country. So, read up on bear safety before you hit the trail just in case you encounter Smokey and his pals. During your hike, take in views of the Teton Mountains and Jenny Lake. You’ll start off in a conifer forest before visiting Hidden Falls, a 200-foot waterfall that cascades down the mountainside in a series of rocky steps.

8. Reflect on Oregon’s Crater Lake

Views of Crater Lake from garfield Peak Trail in Oregon  NPS CulturalLandscapes

Views of Crater Lake from garfield Peak Trail in Oregon 

NPS CulturalLandscapes

 

Schedule your visit to Garfield Peak Trail in Oregon during the summer months to avoid a snow-covered trail. Part of the Pacific Crest Trail, this 4-mile hike promises panoramic views of Crater Lake and the Kilmath Basin to the south. Watch as the landscape changes from Hemlock and Shasta fir trees at the bottom of the trail to Whitebark pines and subalpine firs at the top. Make a pit stop at Rim Village, where you can park, dine, or get your shopping fix at the gift shop. For a weekend away, book a room at Crater Lake Lodge, a 1920s-style rustic lodge featuring a dining room with lake views and northwest regional cuisine, such as Oregon mussels meuniere and elk chops topped with blackberry walnut glaze. Get exotic!

9. Walk the Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge and Red River Gorge in Kentucky Chris

Natural Bridge and Red River Gorge in Kentucky

Chris

 

Southern Kentucky’s Red River Gorge sits in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and is known for the 100 natural arches dotted through the area. Featuring several short (1 mile or less) trails of varying levels of difficulty, this hike can be a half-day excursion or a longer adventure if you hop from one trail to the next. No matter the trail you choose, make sure you visit the Natural Bridge, a 65-foot-high and 78-foot-long sandstone rock bridge that takes you over a forest of hemlock, tulip trees, white pines, and rhododendron. Visit in the fall for brilliant foliage or the spring for blooming wildflowers.

10. Swim and Hike at Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls in Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona near the Grand Canyon Francesco R. Iacomino

Havasu Falls in Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona near the Grand Canyon

Francesco R. Iacomino

 

In the southwest corner of the Grand Canyon is Arizona’s Havasupai Indian Reservation, which offers days of hiking, camping, and exploring waterfalls. To reach Havasupai, take Indian Route 18 to Hualapai Hilltop, where the trailhead into the red sandstone Havasu Canyon begins. From there, it’s an 8-mile (and worth it!) hike to Supai Village. You'll have easy access to Havasu Creek’s blue-green water that transforms into five cascades, including the 100-foot-wide and 30-foot-high Rock Falls, which crashes into a refreshing swimming hole. The most spectacular of the misty, turquoise cascades is Havasu Falls, a 100-foot-high waterfall surrounded by asandy beach and shady cottonwood trees.

Barbie Carpenter

Barbie Carpenter is a freelance writer and editor and self-proclaimed grammar enthusiast based in Lexington, Kentucky. When she’s not polishing prose, she’s spending time with her husband and two young children, exploring the Bluegrass region, and planning her next trip to the beach.

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