If you’re a U.S. hiker, one thing you cannot complain about is not having enough hiking trails to choose from. There are literary hundreds of thousands of hiking trails across America. Each state provides you with countless impressive tracks to discover. Narrowing the list down to 10 of the best hikes in the U.S. is a total challenge!
The USA is a dream country for avid hikers for many reasons. There is almost every kind of landscape within our country’s borders: mountains and deserts, rainforests, and thousands of miles of coastline to explore. From the lava fields of Hawaii and the Grand Canyon to the Tetons, Rockies, Smokies, and the Sierras, America has so many hiking trails to try. Millions of people from the U.S. and even around the world pick the American tracks every year—and understandably so!
It’s tricky to resume 10 hiking trails and name them as “the best.” Since we don’t want to upset anyone who wants to have categories for the best hiking trails in the U.S, now that the hiking season is upon us, we can add new destinations to your calendar this year.
- Best “Out of this world” hike- the Wave (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona)
- Best hike to “re-connect with yourself”- John Muir Trail (Sierra Nevada, California)
- Best hike to gaze at the stars- Lost Mine Trail (Big Bend National Park, Texas)
- Best hike for extreme weather- Tuckerman Ravine Trail (Mount Washington, New Hampshire)
- Best Historic Hike-The Long Trail (Vermont)
- Best Slot Canyon Hike- The Narrows (Zion National Park, Utah)
- Best Sunrise Hike- Cadillac Mountain Summit (Acadia National Park, Maine)
- Best Hike for Solitude- Mount Eielson Loop (Denali National Park, Alaska)
- Best Wildlife Hike- Highline Trail (Glacier National Park, Montana)
- Best Long-Distance Hike- Continental Divide Trail (5 States)
Best “Out of this world” hike- the Wave (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona)
You may have already seen it on Instagram, but the Wave has been popular amongst nature lovers for a long time now. The otherworldly landscape is impressive and stays with you for years. The strange, undulating sandstone formations have unique desert colors that we would only see in children’s books.
Due to its increasing popularity, the trail now has restrictions. The Bureau of Land Management has recently made restrictions so only a few dozen people can visit it every day. It’s possible to apply for a permit four months ahead or ask for a license. You can do it at the Kanab Visitor Center in Utah two days before your hike. Should you be lucky enough to get a ticket, you will enjoy one of the most unique and surreal hikes in the United States.
Best hike to “re-connect with yourself”- John Muir Trail (Sierra Nevada, California)
Most hikes will force you to slow down, get in touch with nature and spend time with yourself. Even if, in theory, all hiking trails will do that, there’s one that stands out with its potential to help you find yourself.
California’s John Muir Trail is an epic trail that combines natural beauty, spirituality, and historical value. The course runs south through the High Sierra, the Yosemite National Park, and Mount Whitney. A bit over 200 miles (210), the trail will put your backcountry skills to the test. Make sure you plan the hike to the most minute detail as the food resupplies are scarce and there’s only one hut along the way. It’s one of the most amazing high-elevation hikes globally—its elevation stays above 7,000 feet. Once you hike the John Muir Trail, it will be challenging to be just as impressed by another trail.
Best hike to gaze at the stars- Lost Mine Trail (Big Bend National Park, Texas)
The Big Bend National Park in Texas is close to the US-Mexico border. It impresses with many things and stands out with the lowest level of light pollution: in the lower 48. Aside from Alaska, there aren’t many places to find in the United States for stargazing.
The Lost Mine Trail is a five-mile round trip that offers the most spectacular views. It follows a ridgeline with juniper and towering oak overlooking Pine Canyon. It’s great to try during the day, but it’s mesmerizing to try it at night. It will be an incredible stargazing experience over Sierra del Carmen nature reserve.
Best hike for extreme weather- Tuckerman Ravine Trail (Mount Washington, New Hampshire)
Many inexperienced hikers might see the New England’s the White Mountains as large hills, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Truth be told, they look like large hills compared to the Rocky Mountains. Mount Washington is the tallest peak in the eastern United States and it’s only 6,00ft. It’s only eight miles round trip and a popular destination for hikers in the summer. At the same time, the mountain has some of the harshest weather and it’s one of the most dangerous hikes on the planet. You can have sunny and pleasant weather at the camp now and struggle with hurricane winds and cold temperatures a few hours later. Mount Washington has wind speeds of 231 miles per hour and wind chills as low as -1020F. If you want to test your hiking skills in the harsh weather, Mount Washington should be on your list.
Best Historic Hike-The Long Trail (Vermont)
Even if many hikers see the Appalachian Trail as the most historic long-distance trail in the U.S., the Long Trail earns the title. The course starts at the Massachusetts state line and runs the whole length of Vermont to the Canadian border. It goes along the crest of the Green Mountains and hosts the state’s highest peaks. It’s a hiker-friendly trail and the huts are a day’s walk apart. If you like to travel light, you can get away with a tent and finish the thru-hike in one month.
Best Slot Canyon Hike- The Narrows (Zion National Park, Utah)
Many avid hikers recognize the Zion Nation Park as one of the most attractive destinations for hiking in the United States and the world. The Zion is very generous so naming just one trail is a challenge. The track from the bottom of the Narrows and back is well appreciated amongst hikers. You can start your hike at the Temple of Sinawava and continue as much as possible before you backtrack to your starting point. The flexibility turns the trail into one of the best day hikes in the U.S. National Park system.
We want to warn you that this is a wet trip. You will hike a lot, if not all the time, though, wading in or swimming in the river. When you hike the Narrows, you have to focus on the journey and not the destination. There will be no breathtaking views or one-of-a-kind spots to see on this one. It’s all about the hike experience, from beginning to end. Since it’s a slot canyon, you will need to plan and inform yourself about flash flooding conditions.
Best Sunrise Hike- Cadillac Mountain Summit (Acadia National Park, Maine)
If you’re looking for the most technical or challenging climb, the Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge Trail isn’t it. The total elevation gain for this one is 1,350 ft; the trail is 7.1-miles long, so you will need to put some effort into it. The significant part of the out-and-back trail is its midpoint. During fall and winter, the summit visitors will be able to admire the first rays of sunlight touching the eastern seaboard. The mesmerizing foliage and evergreens of Acadia National Park help you see the most fantastic sights—it’s genuinely one of the best day hikes in the United States. You can see the summit by car, so you’re not going to be alone for the view in the wee hours.
Best Hike for Solitude- Mount Eielson Loop (Denali National Park, Alaska)
With everything being outsized in Alaska, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the National Park is as big as Massachusetts. The Denali National Park is so vast that it has numerous unmarked trails. If it’s the first time you try it, it will be impossible to know where to start. You will find everything you want on a hiking trail in the Mount Eielson Loop. You can embark on its 14-something-mile route with streams, ridges, gullies, and unforgettable views of Mt. Mckinley (as long as the weather is nice). The National Park Service doesn’t award many passes, so brace yourself to encounter moose, bears, and even wolves. Pack a backpack, as you will spend at least two nights on this hiking trip.
Best Wildlife Hike- Highline Trail (Glacier National Park, Montana)
If you’re not only for the scenery but also for the wildlife, you should include the Highline Trail in Montana on your destination list. Montana stands out with its dense concentration of wildlife in the lower 48, and Glacier National Park has an abundance of critters. There are more the 700 miles of hiking trails in the Glacier National Park, with the Highline Trail as the most incredible to try. It’s in the park’s Logan Pass area, where many tourists come to admire the large mammals at the visitor’s center. You can avoid the crowds by getting out of your car. Stay on the Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Trail to see marmots, bighorn sheep, ptarmigan, mountain goats, and even grizzly bears. Obviously, you will need to pack bear spray. Increase your chance to spot wildlife and plan your hike early or later in the day.
Best Long-Distance Hike- Continental Divide Trail (5 States)
If you are confident in your hiking skills and don’t back down from a challenge, you should try the most demanding U.S. hiking experience, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The trail covers more than 3,000 miles and spans five states: New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. But the track doesn’t attract only by its length. It also impresses with its mesmerizing scenery.
The Continental Divide Trails isn’t for entry-level hikers. Every year, less than 30 people dare to have a thru-hike the CDT and even few complete the track. If you aim for the bigger and better, there’s nothing like the Continental Divide Trail.