22 Best Hikes in the USA for a Once-In-A-Lifetime Adventure
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated July 15, 2022
You’ve probably seen them all before: the same handful of popular, well-trodden hikes on every single “top ten” list out there. The Narrows, Havasupai, Mount Washington…these are all incredible hikes, but they’re by no means better than some of the hidden gems and lesser-known trails all around the country. After spending years hiking thousands of miles across the United States, our team compiled this guide to the best hikes in the USA to help you plan your next epic adventure on the trails.
Why choose a mixture of popular and off-the-beaten-path trails? Many trails around the USA are so highly trafficked that they’re in danger of being destroyed. While we can practice Leave No Trace Principles and conserve our local trails to the best of our abilities, it’s important to distribute this heavy foot traffic to different trails around the country to preserve these natural space. We specifically curated this list to feature trails that offer the most spectacular hiking experiences in the United States that can also handle more visitors at this time.
Best Hikes in the USA
Franconia Ridge Loop, New Hampshire
Location: White Mountain National Forest
Trail Length: 8.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,822 feet
For those who live in the Northeast, you’re probably familiar with the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. For miles, you can find some of the tallest mountains in this region of the USA, and is home to some of the best hikes in the USA. If you’re going to tackle any trail to get a feel for the essence of the White Mountains, the Franconia Ridge Loop is it.
As one of the most difficult and spectacular day hikes in New England, this trail takes you to the peaks of 3 of the state’s tallest mountains and offers arguably the best views in the entire White Mountain National Forest. This trail isn’t for the faint of heart, though – there are several areas with extremely steep grades, rocky traverses, and windy ridge lines that require ample experience and grit to push through. For those willing to take on the challenge, however, Franconia Ridge is a fantastic day-long hike you’ll certainly never forget.
One of the most famous (and most challenging) hikes in Maine is Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in the state, with an elevation of 5,269 feet. Even more (in)famous than the summit, however, is the ridgeline, which is informally known as Knife’s Edge. This stark, rocky ridge has dropoffs on both sides, making it a dangerous and thrilling hiking area that’s only suitable for experienced hikers.
While the hike is strenuous and typically takes an entire day, the views of northern Maine from the summit and surrounding ridges are out of this world, and undeniably some of the most jaw-dropping panoramas in the state. Although it’s not one of the closest hikes near Portland, it’s certainly one of the more thrilling ones in the state, and is well worth the 3.5-hour drive from the city!
The 8.1-mile hike to the summit of Mount Katahdin should only be attempted by experienced, seasoned hikers who know how to hike at high altitudes and in unfavorable (windy and potentially rainy) conditions. It also requires quite a bit of scrambling and stamina. You should only attempt this hike on clear days, as it can be extremely dangerous in bad weather.
Okay, okay, I know we said we were trying to avoid listing the most popular, hyped up trails in the USA. But Half Dome is different. Located in Yosemite National Park, this 17-mile trail offers a strenuous hike to the summit of one of the most iconic rock formations in the country. Many hikers opt to tackle this trail before dawn to catch sunrise at the top…and trust us, it’s well worth the early start.
Although it’s an extremely popular trail, we’ve included it on our list because it truly is one of the best hikes in the United States. We also feel good about recommending this trail because Yosemite has limited the number of people allowed on this trail each year through a lottery-based permit system.
Hosting hikers from late May to October, the Half Dome trail boasts a section of scaling the trail’s rock face using a cable system bolted into the side of the rock. Terrifying, right? While not for the faint of heart, Half Dome is one of the most spectacular trails in the world, and it’s well worth the adrenaline to get up to this iconic summit.
Lost Mine Trail, Texas (Big Bend National Park)
Trail Length: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,131 feet
When people think of hiking, they generally don’t think of Texas. But as one of the best hikes in the USA, the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park blows all of those false perceptions out of the water. Winding through the Chisos Basin and up to the rim of the park, you’ll find dazzling views of the canyons, basins, and cliffs surroundings this remote area on the Mexico border. While Big Bend National Park is pretty difficult to get to – over 3 hours from the nearest airport – it’s well worth the adventure to explore one of the most beautiful and underrated national parks in the United States.
Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park is like exploring the Wild West. Desert wildlife abounds as you hike above the arid landscapes and panoramas of the park. We’d recommend hiking early in the morning or about 1.5 hours before sunset to catch some of the most spectacular colors and lighting in the park.
Endless Wall Trail, West Virginia (New River Gorge National Park)
Trail Length: 2.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
One of the newest national parks in the United State in New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia, and it offers some of the most excellent hiking trails east of the Mississippi River. If you’re only going to do one hike in this stunning park, we’d recommend the Endless Wall Trail. Unlike many of the hikes on this list, this loop trail is suitable for hikers of all levels, including beginners! With a moderate ascent of just 300 feet through the scenic West Virginia forests, this short hike boasts views of the iconic New River Gorge Bridge and the surrounding cliffs.
Angels Landing, Utah (Zion National Park)
Trail Length: 4.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,604 feet
Angels Landing is one of the most thrilling and popular hikes in Zion National Park. Taking you from the bottom of the canyon to the peak of a towering rock formation, Angels Landing isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re willing to accept the challenges of this thrilling trail, you’ll be rewarded with fun rock scrambling and breathtaking views at the top. This trail is for experienced hikers only – the trail climbs 1,500 feet in 2.7 miles, including some tough rock scrambling, and is NOT suitable for children or beginners. It’s best to begin the hike as soon as the park’s shuttle starts running in the morning.
The hike begins at the Grotto Canyon shuttle stop (Stop #6), and climbs from the banks of the Virgin River all the way to the peak of Angels Landing. Along the way, you’ll pass through several sets of switchbacks, a cool, shady slot canyon, and finally, the infamous rock scrambles that have 1,000 foot dropoffs on either side. At the top, you’ll see epic views of both the entrance to Zion Canyon and the Watchman peak, as well as Big Bend and the Narrows.
South Kaibab Trail, Arizona (Grand Canyon National Park)
Trail Length: 3+ miles (Varies)
Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
There are few hikes in Grand Canyon National Park that aren’t worth including on this list, so it was a nearly impossible task to choose just one. However, the South Kaibab Trail really takes the cake on our list of the best USA hikes because it strikes a great balance between stunning scenery and views and accessibility to new hikers. At just 3 miles, this moderate hike is suitable for hikers with any level of experience and boasts epic panoramas of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim area. Moreover, the hike can be done in a short amount of time (or even during a day trip from Phoenix) or extended to a full-day adventure by connecting with different trails in the canyon.
Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
Trail Length: 22 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,177 feet
One of the most incredible hiking trails in Hawaii is the Kalalau Trail, which has stolen the hearts of many people who have chosen to tackle this strenuous, 22-mile traverse. The unique, otherworldly scenery of the Na Pali Coast offers stunning views of the mountains, coastline, and ocean as you burn your legs up the 6,177 feet of elevation gain on this trail. For experienced hikers, this is one of the best hikes in the United States (and even the world) if you want to get a glimpse of some of Hawaii’s most rugged landscapes.
There are two common options for completing this hike: do it all in one (long) day, or split it up into an overnight backpacking trip. If you choose to make it an overnight trek, you can opt to camp on the scenic shores of Kalalau Beach. Note that you must reserve your hike ahead of time with the Haena State Park authorities, so you’ll want to plan well in advance if the Kalalau Trail is on your bucket list.
The Enchantments, Washington
Trail Length: Varies
Elevation Gain: Varies (Strenuous)
There’s a reason why the Enchantments of Washington got their name: this region of gorgeous mountain peaks and alpine lakes offers an absolutely magical hiking experience for anyone willing to work for it. Spanning the Cascades Mountain Range, the Enchantments offer a popular hiking area near Seattle for day trippers and intrepid backpackers alike. Because the trail system here is so vast and many of the different routes can be interconnected, we couldn’t choose just one hike in the Enchantments to top our list. The area is home to several of the best hiking trails in the United States, and if you enjoy backpacking, you could spend days or even weeks exploring the area’s various landscapes by foot.
Sawtooth Lake & Stanley Lake, Idaho
Trail Length: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,873 feet
While its neighboring states get most of the glory for epic hiking trails and dazzling landscapes, Idaho has its own spectacular trails that generally fly under the radar. One of the most beautiful regions of Idaho to go hiking is in the Sawtooth Wilderness, which is filled with pine forests, sparkling blue lakes, and dramatic rocky peaks. While we could write a whole guide just on Sawtooth Wilderness hikes, one of our absolute favorites is Sawtooth Lake & Stanley Lake. This 10-mile trail takes you through the best of the Sawtooth Mountains – shady emerald forests, two sparkling lakes, and prime vistas for days.
Old Rag Mountain, Virginia
Trail Length: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,683 feet
One of the most popular (and challenging) hikes in Shenandoah National Park, Old Rag can get fairly crowded during the summer months because it is one of the best hiking trails in the USA. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, this is one of the most well-known hikes on the East Coast and is easily accessible from Washington, DC.
Old Rag about 10 miles from start to finish, largely uphill with some scrambling, so be sure you’re well-stocked with water and snacks before you begin. Also, it’s important to note that you might think you’ve reached the summit a dozen times before you actually do. Old Rag likes to play tricks on hikers with several false summits. The real summit comes after several scramble areas and has a sign designating it as Old Rag Mountain. You can breathe a sigh of relief once you finally see it.
John Muir Trail, California
Trail Length: 211 miles
Elevation Gain: N/A
There are lots of multi-day thru hikes in the United States: the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail are just a few. And while these iconic country-wide trails all deserve their own recognition, the John Muir Trail is an especially wonderful one that we’ve decided to include on our list of the best hikes in the USA. Why? Because, unlike some of the longer trails which can take months to complete, the John Muir Trail can be done in less than a month. As far as thru-hikes go, this is a lot more attainable for normal folks who have day jobs and lives outside of hiking.
But don’t be fooled: just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s any less fantastic. The John Muir Trail is 211 miles of spectacular scenery in California’s Eastern Sierras. In the 21+ ays of the hike, you’ll pass through evergreen forests, snowcapped mountains, arid scenes, and giant boulder fields. You’ll even get to summit Mount Whitney, which is the tallest peak in the continental USA. If you’ve been wanting to try a long backpacking trip through some of the most spectacular parts of California, look no further than the John Muir Trail.
Red River Gorge Loop, Kentucky
Trail Length: Up to 12.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,611 feet
Kentucky is home to some of the most underrated hiking in the United States, and if you’re lucky enough to live in this state, you’ve probably heard of Red River Gorge. This expansive nature area is full of trails for hikers wanting to get out and move. One of the hidden gems in the area is the scenic Red River Gorge Loop, which is a 12.2-mile loop connecting various different trails within the park. Don’t be fooled – the elevation gain of this hike is over 2,500 feet and is definitely not for beginner hikers or young kids.
Cascade Canyon to Lake Solitude, Wyoming
Trail Length: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,637 feet
Lake Solitude is one of the most stunning hikes in Grand Teton National Park, and its natural beauty landed it on our list of the best hiking trails in the USA. On this scenic trail, you’ll pass through Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, and Cascade Canyon, ending at Lake Solitude…combining 4 different Grand Teton day hikes into one.
Hikers rave that the Lake Solitude trail is perhaps the most beautiful and scenic hike in all of Grand Teton…but you’ll have to do the hike to decide for yourself. At 16 miles of trail (out and back), this is not a hike for beginners or those looking for a short adventure. Most people clock in between 7.5 and 9 hours from beginning to end for Lake Solitude, so you’ll need a full day to complete the hike. However, if you’re willing to put in the work and exercise, the views are some of the most picturesque and outstanding in the entire park. How to get there: Begin at Jenny Lake South, where you can take the boat shuttle to the trail head. Alternatively, you can park at Jenny Lake North/String Lake and walk to the trail head via the Jenny Lake trail.
For experienced hikers, the Grays and Torreys Trail is a Colorado favorite for a challenging but attainable double summit hike. On this trail, you’ll traverse two peaks: Grays Mountain and Torreys Mountain. Many people choose to tackle this trail as their first “fourteener,” and for good reason – it definitely requires experience, but isn’t quite as technical as some of the others. Plus, the views from the top are jaw-dropping, with spectacular, sweeping panoramas of the mountains for miles and miles.
A southern Illinois gem, the Little Grand Canyon trail attracts hikers from all over the Midwest. And with a name like “Little Grand Canyon,” it sets a pretty high bar in terms of expectations. However, this trail definitely lives up to its name, with 3 miles of rocky, rugged terrain that take hikers through a beautiful and unexpected canyon in the Shawnee National Forest. You’ll need to cross a few streams to get to the waterfall, so we’d recommend wearing a sturdy pair of waterproof boots and preparing to get wet!
Pictured Rocks Lakeshore Trail, Michigan
Trail Length: 40 miles total
Elevation Gain: Varies
While not really close to Detroit, we’ve included this hike on the list because it was too epic not to share. The Lakeshore Trail, like its name suggests, runs along the northern coast of the upper peninsula along the shores of Lake Superior. This 40.5 mile trail follows sky-blue water bordered by rocky cliffs. You might forget you’re in the Midwest while hiking here.
We recommend this trail only to experienced hikers as the trail signage is not great and it requires at least 3-4 nights on the trail. You’ll have to register for backcountry permits at the National Park Service website and do some proper food and pack planning. The trail is part of the 4,600 mile North Country Trail, so you might meet a long distance hiker on the way! May and late July are the best times to go due to mosquitos and flies.
Breakneck Ridge, New York
Trail Length: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
A local favorite for a more challenging, mountainous trail, Breakneck Ridge combines gorgeous scenery with accessibility to the city. At just one hour away from Grand Central Station, Breakneck Ridge is a fantastic spot for hiking near NYC that’s perfect for an adventurous day trip. The trail is about 4 miles of moderate to challenging terrain, including a few areas in the beginning that require significant scrambling. Tough inclines are worth it, though – the views from the top of surrounding forests and mountainsides are absolutely jaw-dropping.
Sky Pond, Colorado
Trail Length: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,761 feet
Possibly one of the most gorgeous hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Sky Pond is a real stunner of a destination on this 8.5-mile trek. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the premier destinations for hiking near Denver, and Sky Pond is one of the most popular trails, so be sure to come on weekdays or before sunrise on weekends to enjoy the trail with fewer crowds and better conditions for taking in the scenery.
After a steady and moderate incline, you’ll eventually hit a very steep rock scramble which takes you past a waterfall to Sky Pond. The views from the top are 360 degrees, with the pond and peaks on one side, and the valleys of Rocky Mountain National Park on the other. Note that Sky Pond can get extremely windy and cold, so we’d recommend several layers and trekking poles to brace yourself should you happen to go on an especially blustery day.
Chilkoot Trail, Alaska
Trail Length: 31+ miles
Elevation Gain: 6,040+ feet
If there ever were such a thing, the Chilkoot Trail would be one of Alaska’s most “popular” hiking trails, but even so it sees a fraction of the visitors of more popular backpacking routes in places like Yosemite or Yellowstone. This 31-mile trail takes you through some of the remote mountain areas near Skagway, Alaska, passing through historic mines and worker areas as well as some of the most breathtaking scenery in the area. This trail is well worth the effort if you’re planning to do some backpacking in Alaska during the warmer months!
Trail Length: 2,190 miles total
Elevation Gain: Varies
No list of the best hikes in the USA would be complete without the Appalachian Trail. Why? Because this iconic, 2,190-mile trail from Georgia to Maine was one of the first of its kind in the world. To this day, over 3,000 hikers attempt the full trail each year, spending anywhere from 4 to over 6 months traversing the East Coast on foot. Along the way, you’ll see some of the most astounding, underrated wilderness in the United States.
Not planning to hike for months on end? No problem. There are hundreds of day hikes that cover sections of the Appalachian Trail across 14 states. Some of our favorites include:
Mount Katahdin, Maine
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
McAfee Knob, Virginia
Anthony’s Nose, New York
Presidential Range, New Hampshire
You can also choose to backpack this trail in sections, choosing your route based on how long you want to spend hiking. When it comes to iconic trails in the world, the Appalachian Trail is hands-down home to the best hikes in the United States.
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