With so many hiking trails out there (at last count, Tripleblaze lists more than 8,500–and we know there are many we don’t have yet!), it can be difficult, if not impossible, to decide where to hike. Well, the Tripleblaze Blog Team is here to help!
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best hiking destinations in the United States. All our team members had a chance to nominate the locations they thought were best, and then we fought amongst ourselves to narrow it down to just 10 (no easy task!). Then, once 10 had been selected, we all ranked the destinations that you see below, and then averaged our rankings to achieve this numbered list.
Each selection on this list features a major destination (be it a national park or a long-distance national scenic trail) along with a featured hike or partial route. Any one of these destinations could give you enough hiking to last for a long time, so if you just have a couple of days to spend, check out our recommended route!
10. Acadia National Park: Champlain Mountain, Maine
Once you cross over onto Mount Desert Island in Acadia, the air suddenly feels fresher, the water tastes sweeter, and after awhile you totally forget about that thing you were stressing over. I swear, it’s like magic, because it happens every single time I visit! From the fresh seafood down in Bar Harbor, to the quiet nights under the evergreens–every day that you spend at Acadia will make you wish that it would never end.
Acadia National Park is full of amazing trails, some more crowded than others. I’ve found that the best hikes result from connecting a few trails together to make one long, perfect trail. My pick? Champlain Mountain. There are plenty of trails that make their way up Champlain Mountain, but in order to make it a day-long hike with plenty to see, I connect a few trails. To get the real Acadia experience, start at the Gorham Mountain Trailhead and hike up to Gorham Mountain. Go ahead, take in the views, they’re awesome. Once you’re done drooling, keep hiking past The Bowl, a pond that’s nestled up on the mountain and surrounded by evergreens. From there, you start your trek up to Champlain Mountain, and that’s where the real views come in. Take in the harbor, the surrounding islands, and the famous Cadillac Mountain—it’s truly spectacular. From there you can hike down to the famous Sieur de Monts or Beaver Dam Pond. You won’t be disappointed!
9. Grand Teton National Park: Cascade Canyon, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park is most assuredly a top 10 destination because of its outstanding natural beauty mixed with ease of access. The Teton Range rises from wide, flat valleys on either side. On the eastern side, the mountains are dotted with glacial lakes. Snow capped peaks plus crystal clear glacial lakes equals mind blowing scenery. It’s as simple as that.
Our favorite hike when we visited was in Cascade Canyon, where we saw several moose, as well as other wildlife. There’s also a waterfall and a lookout spot where you can pause to gaze over the lake and valley beyond. The best part is it’s a snap to fly into Jackson, and the park is less than an hour away by car.
8. Grand Canyon National Park: Rim to Rim Hike, Arizona
Of the many natural wonders in the United States, there are few as famed as the visually-striking Grand Canyon National Park. Granted National Park status in 1919, the park has been a draw to avid hikers and wanderlust junkies for nearly a century.
There are many hiking trails within the park, but to truly immerse yourself in GCNP it is best to hike it rim to rim. The 24-mile trek takes as long as your pace allows, and while most hikers utilize the three campgrounds along the trail, it is not unheard of to have extreme runners complete the hike in a day or two. With the North Rim rising over 1000 feet higher than the South, many opt to begin the descent on the steeper side, though either are viable options. The rim to rim route passes interesting spots like Bright Angel Canyon, Cottonwood Campground, Ribbon Falls, The Box canyon, Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River, Silver Bridge, Bright Angel Trail, the Indian Garden Campground, and finally: the South Rim. Because of overwhelming summer heat, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees daily, it is recommended to make this hike in May or October. Backcountry hiking permits and advance campground reservations are required.
7. Denali National Park: Mount Eielson Loop, Alaska
Denali National Park and Preserve is a spectacular example of Alaskan wilderness. The Park sits on 6 million acres in interior Alaska and offers visitors everything from forests at low elevations to Mt. McKinley, North America’s tallest peak at 20,320ft. There is only one road in the park. The road is paved up to mile 15, and in the summer months (late May – early September) visitors are encouraged to take a shuttle, bus, bike, or hike past mile 15 to explore more of the park. When you enter the park, there is a $10 per person charge, which provides you with a 7-day pass. To explore Denali on foot, there are many options available. Many of the trails are considered easy to moderate in difficulty, and self-guided maps and audio tours can be downloaded from nps.gov to enhance your hikes.
But, if you want to get off the beaten path and explore Denali in more depth, the possibilities are endless. The Mount Eielson Loop is a perfect option for an overnight hike. To begin your hike, though, you will have to obtain a backcountry permit from the Backcounty Information Center. It takes about an hour to complete all the steps necessary to obtain the permit, so allow time in your schedule. It is recommended that you leave your car at the Riley Creek Campground and take the shuttle bus to Grassy Pass to begin your hike. The 14.63-mile hike encompasses Mt. Eielson and boasts incredible views and numerous opportunities for wildlife viewing. There are many campsites along the route, and the diversity of the terrain along the loop makes it a favorite among backpackers.
6. Glacier National Park: Highline Trail, Montana
Glacier National Park is one of the most rugged, most scenic mountainous areas in the United States! The park, measuring more than 1 million square acres, is home to massive mountain peaks towering to over 10,000ft, year-round glaciers, over 130 named lakes, and many types of wildlife. The park’s nickname, “The Crown of the Continent,” isn’t just hyperbole!
The Highline Trail is a fantastic 12-mile hike that roughly parallels the Going to the Sun Highway, but it traverses along the mountains thousands of feet above the highway. The views are absolutely stunning: be sure to bring your camera! Most people start the hike at the top of Logan Pass, hiking along and down the mountains, and hitchhike back to the top.
5. Olympic National Park: Hoh River Trail, Washington
If you’re looking for a rugged, inspiring coastline, moss-covered rain forests, and alpine meadows with a backdrop of glaciated peaks, look no further than Olympic National Park. Located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is easily accessible from the northwest urban centers of Seattle (3 hours) and Portland (3.5 hours). Home to four main ecosystems, Olympic National park is the perfect location for any outdoor enthusiast, no matter their skill level. The temperate rain forest on the west side of the park receives over 12 feet (not inches, feet!) of rain a year, allowing giant western hemlocks, Douglas firs, and Sitka spruce to rise up like skyscrapers. The lush ground is covered in ferns and moss, offering a great place to find a peaceful hike. The north and east sides of the park contain lowland forests, which are lush valleys covered with old-growth forest, subalpine lakes, and rivers home to Coho salmon. In the middle of the park are the rugged Olympic Mountains. The best-known and most readily-accessible area is Hurricane Ridge. offering breathtaking views of snow and ice-covered peaks. Finally, the coastline offers a dramatic clash of land and sea, with cliffs plummeting into the sea, “seatower” resisting erosion, and tidal pools filled with sea life.
A majority of Olympic National Park is accessible by day hikes from easily-accessible campgrounds and lodges. However, if you’re looking for a more wild weekend, Olympic National Park has you covered. The Hoh River Trail offers a wonderful out-and-back trek as the trail follows the Hoh River to Glacier Meadow at the base of Mt. Olympus, the peninsula’s highest point. The entire trail is 17.4 miles and changes from 600ft to 4300ft in elevation, one-way. Be sure to contact the National Park Service for permitting information. It may also be wise to pack extra garlic and be on the lookout for vampires, as the Hoh Rain Forest is located near the Town of Forks… I hear they are most active around twilight.
4. Appalachian Trail: Clingman’s Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee
The Appalachian Trail is a diverse trail spanning 2,185.3 miles. The trail runs through 14 states, beginning at Springer Mountain in North Georgia and ending at Mt. Katadhin in Maine. Every year, thousands of hikers converge on Springer Mountain in late winter and early spring for the hopes of being part of the 25% of thru hikers who complete the trail in one attempt. All hikers have to summit Mt. Katadhin before the state park is closed in the middle of October. Those who complete the trail from beginning to end in one year are known as thru hikers. However, those who cannot commit 4-6 months to hike the entire AT in one session can complete it in sections; these folks are known as section hikers. As a section hiker, I have come to appreciate the hiking community that surrounds the AT. Shuttle business are abundant to help section hikers complete their next section. Many services will help arrange a place for you to leave your car and shuttle you to the trailhead where you would like to start.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park section begins at mile 167 for north bounders on the AT, and hikers cross the Tennessee state line while in the park. The AT actually runs along the state line, bringing the hikers back and forth from NC to TN. The GSMNP is also home to the highest point on the AT, Clingman’s Dome, at 6,643ft. Clingman’s Dome can be accessed by car and a short hike to the top, but to sample a bit more of the AT, a great out-and-back hike would be from Newfound Gap to Clingman’s Dome. Starting at the parking lot at Newfound Gap on US 441, cross the highway and descend down the stairs. The white blazes, which mark the AT, are clearly visible and continue 7.7 miles to Clingman’s Dome. The hike is not very strenuous, and the variety of wildlife and landscape are breathtaking for such a short hike. There is a path which indicates the turn off of the AT to Clingman’s Dome. The Clingman’s Dome observation tower is also a must on your hike. It is the highest point in TN and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. On a clear day, you can enjoy the spectacular 360-degree views of the park, which makes this one of my favorite locations on the Appalachian Trail.
3. Continental Divide Trail: Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado
The Continental Divide trail spans 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada. It runs through 5 states and provides thru-hikers with a diversity of environments and views. From the deserts of New Mexico to the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, hikers will find spectacular scenery and solitude on the CDT.
In Colorado, the almost 70 miles of the CDT that pass through the Weminuche Wilderness rarely drop below 11,000ft. The 360-degree views from portions of the trail near Squaw Pass will make you feel as though you’ve reached the top of the world. While some trails in the Weminuche are heavily traveled, large portions of the CDT here are vast and empty. For a quick weekend trip to one of the most popular sites in the area, start at the Weminuche Creek/Pine River trailhead at Thirty Mile Campground near Creede, CO on Friday. After about four miles you’ll reach Weminuche Pass and the Rincon La Vaca (curve of the cow) section of the CDT. From here you can see your destination, The Window, high above. Camp here in the valley. On Saturday, hike up to the Window and Rio Grande Pyramid on the CDT. Enjoy the views, take lots of photos, and then make your way back to camp. Hike out early on Sunday for the drive back home.
2. Yosemite National Park: Half Dome, California
Yosemite is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, and the park’s waterfalls, giant Sequoias, and incredible vistas have been drawing outdoor photographers like John Muir for more than 100 years. While that popularity can mean crowded campgrounds and choked roadways within the park during summer months, hike in just a couple miles and you’ll find yourself surrounded by gorgeous wilderness.
If you’re looking for a good day hike in Yosemite, start at the Glacier Point trailhead where you’ll enjoy incredible views from your perch more than 2,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. As you descend to Little Yosemite Valley on the Panorama Trail you’ll pass Illilouette Fall and Nevada Fall on your way up to the top of 8,836-foot Half Dome via the John Muir and Half Dome Trails. If you’re looking for a multi-day hike, the John Muir Trail delivers with more than 200 miles of trail leading to Mount Whitney.
A trip to Yosemite isn’t complete without standing next to a giant Sequoia tree, but skip the Mariposa grove to avoid the crowds. Head to the Merced grove off Big Oak Flat Road instead, where a 2-mile hike leads you down to a small cluster of these amazing giants.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2,663.5 miles from the Mexican border to British Columbia, Canada. Of the three Triple Crown National Scenic Trails, almost everyone agrees that the Pacific Crest Trail is the most scenic. Unlike the CDT, it features singletrack for essentially its entire length, and unlike the AT, much of this trail is located in high-alpine environments that offer stunning views of jagged peaks and wilderness areas, instead of just a “green tunnel.”
Section G of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon runs 51.7 miles from Highway 35 near Barlow Pass to Interstate 84 at Bridge of the Gods, which is the Oregon/Washington Border. Along the way, this segment of trail offers views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Ranier, and Mt. Adams. This section passes the majestically-beautiful Mt. Hood, and later on there is an opportunity to take the beautiful Eagle Creek Trail as an alternate route.
Your Turn: What is your favorite hiking trail of all time? Share it with us in the comments section below!