20 Best Hikes Across America—and the Best Times to Go
From national parks to secret local trails, here are the best hikes across the U.S.
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Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. Best season: July to October
The tallest peak in the Northeast is no joke, but there are a variety of ways up Mt. Washington for hikers of all abilities—and even a road and cog railway for those who wish to ride up or down. At 6,288 feet, the summit’s Mt. Washington Observatory holds the world record for highest wind speed ever recorded in non-tropical cyclone conditions at 231 mph. The 7.1 loop trail to the summit, via Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail starting at the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s center on the east side of the mountain, is steep, but hard work pays off in sweeping views of the entire Presidential mountain range. Alternatively, take the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail from the west side of the mountain—it’s a little longer in mileage but more gentle on the incline. The hike is doable in a single day, with a stop at the peak for lunch at the cafe. Make it a two-day hike by staying in the Appalachian Mountain Club hut on the side of the peak, Lakes of the Clouds. Hut reservations, especially in the summer, are necessary.
Walls of Jericho Trail, Alabama. Best season: March to October
This 6-mile out and back trail located near Hytop, Alabama, features a waterfall, and many footbridges and caves. The start of the hike descends 1,000 feet to the canyon floor, where rocks form a natural amphitheater around a pool fed by numerous streams and waterfalls. During the wet season, the trails can be treacherous so best to avoid the trail if there has been a recent rainstorm. Just upstream from the amphitheater is a camping area for those who wish to extend their Walls of Jericho experience.
Whiteface Mountain, New York. Best season: May-October to November
The site of alpine skiing of the 1980 winter Olympics, 4,865-foot Whiteface Mountain has three routes of varying lengths to its summit: 3.9-miles, 5.7-miles, or and 6-miles from varying trailheads around the base of the mountain. The summit of the mountain boasts 360-degree views of surrounding New York and Vermont countryside, making this an excellent location for those wishing to see fall colors on the trees. On clear days, hikers can even see the distant skyscrapers of Montreal, Canada. You’ll also want to check out the best road trips to see stunning fall foliage.
Clifty Falls State Park Loop Trail, Indiana. Best season: May to October
Three hundred years ago, Clifty Creek carved out a spectacular canyon through the land near the Indiana-Kentucky border, the area around which is now Clifty Falls State Park. The 5.7-mile loop follows the gorge, past waterfalls of varying sizes, ledges, and rock walls. In the spring, the falls are at their strongest as snow melt increases the volume of water. From May to October, hikers can walk, with a flashlight, through a 600-ft long railroad tunnel—the rest of the year, the tunnel is closed to protect hibernating bats.
Grinnell Glacier Trail, Montana. Best season: June to September
This 11-mile round trip hike passes three of Glacier National Park’s most iconic glacial forms: the Grinnell, Salamander and Gem Glaciers. This gorgeous trail climbs a total of 1,600 feet, providing a stunning view of the aquamarine Grinnell Lake and Mount Gould towering behind it. Hikers report spotting bears along the trails, so it’s important to walk with a bell or sing, talk or otherwise make noise to avoid surprising one. While the hike can be strenuous for those not used to the altitude, hikers can reduce their overall walking distance taking a shuttle boat across Swiftcurrent Lake from the nearby Many Glacier Hotel.
South Rim Trail, Texas. Best season: September to May
“No other route has the grandeur and scope of this trek up the southern edge of the Chisos Mountains, and no other trail rewards you with such a mind-blowing view,” says Texas Monthly Magazine of this 12-mile loop (with optional spurs to add distance). While there are campsites available along the trail, hikers wishing to tackle it in one day should get as early a start as possible. The South Rim trail passes through the lush Chisos Mountain wilderness which is quite rugged, so carry plenty of water. Here are 7 more of America’s most stunning hiking trails.
Chapel Trail Mosquito Falls Loop, Michigan. Best season: March to November
This 9.7-mile loop on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula passes a number of beautiful landmarks including 60-foot-tall Chapel Falls, Chapel Beach and Chapel Rock—a standalone rock arch with a sprawling tree growing on top of it. Watch your step—parts of the trail along of Lake Superior, high above the water along limestone cliffs, where hikers are close to the edge.
The Narrows Trail, Utah. Best season: April to July
If you don’t mind getting a little wet, this famous Zion National Park trail is for you. The first mile of the trail is a paved riverside walk from the Temple of Sinawava. From there, the rest of the hike is in ankle-deep to mid-thigh deep water in the Virgin River. The canyon varies in width as hikers move up stream for up to 16 total miles, though the hiking is up and back so the distance is up to each individual hiker. For a trail highlight, hike an additional 1.5 miles from the end of the riverside walk to reach “Wall Street, ” where the 2,000-foot vertical walls are a mere 20-30 feet apart.
Misery Ridge, Oregon. Best season: September to June
This 5.8-mile loop in Smith Rock State Park provides a tour of one of Oregon’s most iconic natural areas. The hike winds up and down the canyon and sides of the ridge, which is very popular with rock climbers. From the summit of Misery Ridge, hikers look down on Monkey Face, a huge, self-standing pillar of stone that resembles the primate. There are also sweeping views of other iconic summits, including Mount Hood, Broken Top, and Mount Bachelor. During the summer, there is no shade on the trail and temperatures can rise quickly, so it’s better to hike the trail in the cooler months or avoid peak sun hours.
Stratton Mountain, Vermont. Best season: May to October
Stratton is a popular northeast ski resort, but when the snow melts the mountain turns into a hiker’s paradise. The 3,900-foot peak is crossed by two famous hiking trails—the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail. At the peak, hikers can scale even higher up into a fire tower that provides 360-degree views of the region.
Lost Valley Trail, Arkansas. Best season: March to October
Winding past multiple swimming holes and a scenic waterfall, the Lost Valley Trail is a short but gorgeous hike into Buffalo National River park. This hike is great for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages, as the climbs are gentle and there’s much to see. Bring a flashlight along to explore Cobb Cave near the end of the trail.
Eaton Canyon Falls Trail, California. Best season: Year-round
This local favorite hike is a 3.6-mile moderate hike in the lower San Gabriel Mountains to a scenic 40-foot waterfall. The trail is well maintained and wide, doable for novice hikers and it is even stroller-friendly. Dogs are allowed on-leash, and in the springtime, wildflowers bloom along the lower portions of the canyon floor. Hikers must navigate several stream crossing, so waterproof shoes or hiking sandals are a must.
Wekiwa Springs Loop Trail, Florida. Best season: September to July
Its proximity to Walt Disney World makes the Wekiwa Springs Loop Trail a popular destination for hikers and families in the Orlando area for vacation. The 10.2-mile loop alternates between sandhills, swamp and hardwood pine forest. About 3.5 miles into the hike, the trail passes a massive sinkhole that opened up in 2000, though trees have since grown in and stabilized the surrounding ground. More than a million people live within twenty miles of the park, so the trails can be pretty crowded on the weekends. Don’t miss these 15 amazing American campsites that should be on your bucket list.
Leonard E. Foote Hike Inn Trail, Georgia. Best season: September to June
The 729-foot Amicalola Falls is the largest in the southeast, so it’s no wonder that this trail is one of the most popular in the region as well. Halfway along the 9.7-mile loop, above the falls, hikers will find the Leonard E. Foote Hike Inn, a rustic lodge that offers lunch or an overnight stay depending on preference. It’s not far from the lodge to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Mount Katahdin, Maine. Best season: June to September
Katahdin is a well-known hiking destination due to its identity as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. At 5,267 feet, it’s the tallest point in Maine. Daring hikers can take the knife-edge trail to the summit, a stomach-dropping ridge traverse from Baxter Peak to Pamola Peak that narrows to only a few feet wide in certain parts. For those who wish to keep both feet firmly on the trail, or in high-wind days when the Knife Edge is closed, there are other trails up Mount Katahdin that are a bit less harrowing. Check out these top summer vacation destinations in America.
Half Dome, California. Best season: April to October
This 14-16 mile round trip hike takes you to the top of Yosemite’s famous granite dome. Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, hikers are rewarded with stunning views of Vernal and Nevada Falls and the Yosemite Valley. The most famous part of the Half Dome hike is the final 400 feet, on which hikers must climb up the steep final ascent using cables anchored into the rock face.
Billy Goat Trail, Maryland. Best season: March to November
Because it’s only 30 minutes north of Washington, DC, this trail offers unrivaled views of Potomac River and Mather Gorge. The trails are rocky and can require some scrambling, and is broken up into three separate sections so that hikers can choose how much —or little—they wish to tackle. The entire loop is 7.3 miles. In the spring, when the Potomac River is at its peak flow, daring whitewater kayakers flock to the river below the trail for some daring stunts. Check out these practically secret national parks you’ll definitely want to visit.
Pu’u Huluhulu Trail, Hawaii. Best season: April to October
This 2.5-mile trail is a tour of the 1969-1974 Mauna Ulu lava flow, offering stunning views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa from the Pu’u Huluhulu cone. The trail is dotted with lava trees, left behind when lava surrounded living trees and burned away the wood, cooling to form vertical columns. Hikers that tackle the trail after dark are treated to views of lava erupting from the nearby Pu’u O’o vent.
Hoh River Trail, Washington. Best season: March to September
This trail in Olympic National Park is covered in dense, mossy forest. The whole trail is 30 miles long but can be reduced to a 10.6-mile out-and-back hike by turning around at Five Mile Island. The trail runs through the United States’ only temperate rain forest, which gets up to 14 feet of rain a year, according to the National Park Service. Check out these 13 rare trees that are American national treasures.
Calico Tanks Trail, Nevada. Best season: September to May
This Red Rock Canyon Trail runs 2.2 miles up a canyon and past a depression, or “tank.” On the way up, hikers use both hands and feet to scramble up parts of the trail to a peak on the Calico Hills ridge. The trail ends at Calico Tank, which in the winter can be full of ice or in the rainier seasons, water. From the end of the trail, hikers can see Las Vegas not far in the distance. For more outdoor adventures, check out the best hidden gems in every state.