The Best Hiking Destinations in the US

From desert floors to ancient forests, sweeping vistas to plunging gorges, there’s no shortage of mind-blowing hiking destinations across the US. We’ve rounded up a variety of hiking destinations from coast to coast, for all levels and abilities. Whether you’re looking for a day hike, a weekend adventure, or a six-month long-distance trek, there’s something here for you.

Minnesota

Superior Hiking Trail

FANTASTIC SHORT THRU-HIKE
Moderate terrain
Many options for shorter distances
Lush, old-growth forest
Bugs can be bad depending on the season
Terrain isn’t super varied

The Superior Hiking Trail is an excellent option for hikers looking for easy access, moderate terrain, a forgiving hiking season, and the option to complete a “shorter” thru-hike. The entire trail can be completed in three to four weeks, and traverses primarily through old-growth forest. The best time to hike this trail is late spring to early fall, but be ready for humidity, bugs, and rain throughout the hiking season. Hikers looking to get onto the Superior Hiking Trail in the fall will be rewarded with splendid colors along its entire length.

Campsites are plentiful along the majority of the trail, except for the 50-or-so miles around Duluth, Minnesota. However, this section is one of the most scenic along the Superior Hiking Trail, and is prime for day hiking to avoid the logistics of finding a campsite. The trail crosses through eight state parks and skirts Lake Superior during breaks in the tree cover.

I thru-hiked the Superior Trail to get ready for my PCT hike, and it was the perfect length and difficulty level to get my backpacking setup perfected.

by Jack D

Backpacking the S...

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Superior Hiking Trail - good to know

Difficulty

Easy to moderate

Season

Late spring, summer, early fall

Terrain

Old-growth forest, some lakeside sections

Distance

310 miles, options for section and day hikes

Trail highlight

Short spur trail to the summit of Ely’s Peak

Best local restaurant

Cascade Restaurant & Pub, Lutsen, MN

Guidebook

Superior Hiking Trail Association Starter Kit

Travel notes

Small towns every 40-50 miles make trailhead access easy

Appalachian Trail

BEST FOR HIKERS WHO HAVE SIX MONTHS TO SPARE!
Easily accessible along the majority of the east coast
Potential for section hikes, day hikes, or a full thru-hike
Variety of difficulties and terrain
Some sections can be crowded
Shuttles required for section hikes

The Appalachian Trail (AT) runs 2,190 miles along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to the middle of Maine. It passes through 14 states, and is the most popular of the three “Triple Crown” trails in the US. The AT spends the majority of time in deciduous forest, with terrain difficulty varying from region to region.

Sections and day hike options abound along its entire length, and each year thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike hiking the entirety of the trail in one push. I hiked the whole trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine in spring/summer 2015, taking just over five months to complete. The mental challenges surpassed the physical challenges during the hike, but it was an accomplishment I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but experiencing the east coast from Georgia to Maine on foot, was something I’ll never forget.

by Maggie Slepian

The Entire Appala...

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Appalachian Trail - good to know

Difficulty

Moderate to challenging

Season

Spring, summer, fall

Terrain

Wooded and mountainous

Distance

Full trail is 2,190 miles, with myriad options for sections and day hikes

Trail highlight

McAfee Knob, Virginia

Best local restaurant

The Homeplace, Catawba Virginia

Guidebook

The A.T. Guide

Travel notes

Easily accessed at hundreds of trailheads. Private shuttle services are also an option

Arizona

Grand Canyon

HIKING RIM TO RIM IS AN EPIC CHALLENGE
Plenty of information available for routes
Epic scenery
Easy travel and hospitality
Conditions can be dry and dangerous
Highly challenging terrain

The Grand Canyon is a destination for travelers from around the world…but many of them never leave the rim. While simply standing at the edge of the precipice might be enough for some people, descending and ascending the Grand Canyon is something every avid (and fit) hiker should do in their lifetime. The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular way to descend from the South Rim to the Colorado River, and hikers can choose to hike back the way they came, or take the South Kaibab Trail back to the South Rim. This hike is no joke the descent plunges hikers over 4,000’ from rim to river, and those are all distances you’ll need to hike back up.

Before setting out to hike from rim to river, be sure your fitness and preparation are up to snuff. Each year, hikers run out of water, underestimate the difficulty of the trail, and find themselves in dangerous or deadly situations.

I hiked rim to rim during the shoulder season, and was pretty astounded by how challenging the climb out was. I considered myself to be in good shape when I set out, but felt the effects of thousands of feet of climbing for a week after the hike. That said, the Grand Canyon is truly a life-list hiking destination, and traversing from rim to river or rim-to-rim is something you’ll never forget. In its entirety, the Grand Canyon National Park has five ecosystems. Hikers venturing from the South Rim of the river to the North Rim will hike through everything from riparian areas to desert scrubland to boreal forest.

The Grand Canyon is often referred to as the Inverted Mountain, and the name feels especially apt when you’re standing at Plateau Point on the Bright Angel trail, looking up at the rim above you. Going down is easy. Almost too easy. Going up is hard.

by Krista D

Grand Canyon Hike...

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Grand Canyon - good to know

Difficulty

Very strenuous

Season

Fall, spring

Terrain

Steep, rugged desert hiking

Distance

Dozens of trail options, from short overlooks to ultra-length excursions

Area highlight

Devil’s Corkscrew on the Bright Angel Trail

Best local restaurant

El Tov Dining Room and Lounge

Guidebook

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park: A Guide to the Best Hiking Adventures on the North and South Rims

Travel notes

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is the closest international airport. The South Rim is a 3-hour drive from there.

California

Yosemite National Park

ICONIC VIEWS
Variety of hikes for all abilities
Shuttle system for trailhead access
Spectacular high country
Valley is often crowded during summer
Wildfire season can impact routes

From paved strolls to multi-day high-country expeditions, hiking in Yosemite National Park doesn’t disappoint. The moment you enter the valley, the 3,000’ granite walls dominate the skyline. John Muir was so taken by Yosemite Valley that he lobbied Congress for the act that would eventually create Yosemite National Park in 1890. The proliferation of climbing and backcountry exploration in the 1970s drew crowds and increased the popularity of Yosemite Valley, and today the park sees an average of four million visitors each year. Hiking terrain ranges from open meadows, granite peaks, deciduous and conifer forests, and everything in between.

Plan your visit and routes before heading to Yosemite. My father and I started planning our six-day backpacking trip an entire year before we departed. Backcountry permits are required for overnight stays, and even staying in the tent cabins or other accommodations in the valley requires advanced booking. We knew we wanted to hike Half Dome, which also required a separate permit, and planning the campsites and permitting was logistically challenging. Even with all of our planning, we ended up with only one out of three itineraries working out, so be sure to have a backup plan (or two) when you plan a Yosemite backcountry trip.

Some of the most famous and worthwhile hikes include scaling the Half Dome cables (not for the faint of heart), or hiking the steep ascent to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. Hikers looking for overnighters or longer backcountry treks should begin exploring the Tuolumne Meadows area as a classic launch point. Note that bear canisters are required for all backcountry travel.

Hiking in Yosemite is nature’s church; Granite cathedrals rise overhead, and birdsong rings like bells. It’s something everyone needs to experience.

by Dawn B.

Hiking Half Dome,...

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Yosemite National Park - good to know

Difficulty

Easy, moderate, difficult…and everything in between

Season

Summer, fall

Terrain

Open meadows, riverside trails, granite rock faces

Distances

Everything from day hikes in the valley to multi-week sections and long-distance trails

Area highlight

Half Dome cables…for advanced hikers only!

Best local restaurant

The Ahwahnee Dining Room

Guidebook

Hiking Yosemite National Park

Travel notes

Fresno-Yosemite International Airport and Merced Airport are both about 90 minutes from the valley

Pennsylvania

Laurel Highlands

FAMILY-FRIENDLY TRAILS
Hiking variety has options for all fitness levels
Trails are ergonomic and well maintained
Huge rewards and overlooks for moderate effort
Humidity in summer can be rough
Cell coverage can be spotty, even on shorter trails

While the Appalachian Trail through Pennsylvania might have a bad reputation for its rocky tread, the Laurel Highlands and Ohiopyle region has some of the mid-Atlantic’s best hiking trails and terrain. Hikers heading to this area can expect lush valleys carved by thousands of years of river currents, sweeping vistas, laurel blooms, and a wide variety of trails that offer everything from kid-friendly waterfall hikes to longer backpacking trips on well-maintained, clearly marked trails.

The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is one of the crown jewels of the region. This 70-mile trail has campsites and overnight areas every 10 or so miles, making it ideal for a few days out on the trail, or an easy overnight out-and-back excursion. This is a great place to experience backpacking for the first time and get your gear dialed. Accessible trailheads provide a variety of loops, out-and-backs, and trail options for all difficulty levels, and many of the trails are easy-to-moderate while offering spectacular views for not too much effort.

The amount of information, plus local outfitters in the region, makes this an easy destination throughout the entire year and a friendly community to be involved with.

by Eric K

Thru Hiking the L...

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Laurel Highlands - good to know

Difficulty

Easy to moderate

Season

Spring, summer, fall, winter

Terrain

Forests, overlooks, waterfalls, gorges

Distances

Short day hikes to multi-day overnights

Area highlight

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

Best local restaurant

Carol and Dave’s Roadhouse, Ligonier

Guidebook

A Hiker’s Guide to the Laurel Highlands Trail

Travel notes

This is a populated region and is highly accessible by vehicle and from urban areas in the mid-Atlantic

California

Big Sur

SEE REDWOODS ON SHORT TRAILS
Oceanfront views AND redwood forests
Year-round hiking
Trails are moderate and well marked
Hikes are on the shorter side
Area can be highly populated

If you plan ahead, motivated visitors can pack multiple day trails into one day of hiking. Get the most out of the area by choosing a few hikes of varying lengths and types some trails like the McWay Waterfall Trail will take less than a mile to get to a waterfall, while others like the Limekiln Trails will have you winding on level paths through towering redwood forests.

With few exceptions, the trails around Big Sur are perfect for families and hikers who don’t need to get deep into the backcountry to enjoy themselves. The reward for relatively short hikes is high, and exploring redwood forests is something every nature enthusiast should experience. While the hiking out here is glorious year round, watch out for coastal weather changes in the winter months. Bringing an extra layer is never a bad idea, as fog and drizzle can roll in and drop the temperatures rapidly.

We had our family reunion out here, and were able to get everyone out at least once on a waterfall hike with no complaints.

by Kelsey S

THE EWOLDSEN TRAI...

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Big Sur - good to know

Difficulty

Easy, a few moderate hikes

Season

Spring, summer, fall, winter

Terrain

Redwood forests, coastal views

Distances

Ranges from <1 mile to moderate day hikes around 6-9 miles

Area highlight

Ewoldsen Trail

Best local restaurant

Lucia Lodge, Big Sur

Guidebook

Day Hikes Around Big Sur

Travel notes

Car rentals, hotels, and cities are all within easy access. Travel around this area is a dream.

New York

Bear Mountain

EASY ADVENTURE NEAR NYC
Easy access from NYC
Popular for families
Plenty of trail-difficulty options in a close range
Can be highly populated
Parking lot at the top of the mountain is kind of a buzzkill

Bear Mountain State Park is just over an hour’s drive from New York City, making it a solid weekend option for people looking for a hiking getaway without a huge travel commitment. This 5,000-acre park has year-round recreation (skating, cross-country skiing) along with the accessible hiking trails. Hiking Bear Mountain is a must-do, just don’t be turned off by the cars at the top. Yes, you can drive to the overlook, but doing the hike is well worth it.

Though steep in spots, the trail is ergonomic and very well maintained. Note the section with over 1,000 stone steps, and marvel at the amount of time and effort it took to build them. I hiked Bear Mountain during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, and the stone steps were exhausting but an incredible feat of trail building. I ended up here in early July, and it was crowded. There were several school groups and a lot of families at the top. If you have a choice, aim for a weekday visit, or check it out in the shoulder season.

There’s no shortage of things to do at Bear Mountain State Park. If the kids are too young to enjoy a longer day hike, check out the zoo, take a scenic drive, or grab lunch at the lodge. For those looking to really hit the best trails, there are more than 200 miles of trails to choose from, with enough loops to keep you busy for every outing you make. No matter how much time you have to spend, there is a mileage and trail combination suited for what you want.

The stone steps up Bear Mountain felt pretty brutal with a full pack, but it was one of the coolest trail sections I’ve hiked in New York.

by Robert P

The Best Hike in ...

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Bear Mountain - good to know

Difficulty

Easy to moderate

Season

Spring, summer, fall

Terrain

Wooded trails, scenic overlooks

Distances

Day hikes ranging from 1-10 miles, many loop options

Area highlight

Bear Mountain, note the 1,000+ stone steps

Best local restaurant

Bear Mountain Inn and Overlook Lodge

Guidebook

Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails Map

Travel notes

Easy to get to from NYC via Palisades Interstate Pkwy N

Arizona

Sedona

PERFECT DESERT HIKING
Winter hiking access is prime
Great rewards for short distances
Epic, varied desert landscape
Parking at trailheads can be challenging
Summer is hot

Looking for a winter hiking getaway? Look no further than the red rock paradise of Sedona. Many of the outings will feel less like trails and more like fun rock scrambles leading to deep canyons, flat-topped mesas, and expansive overlooks. Keep your eyes peeled to follow the cairns on hikes without defined trails, and be sure to bring plenty of water.

 Desert landscape here is surprisingly lush, but you don’t want to get caught out of the shade without adequate hydration. Fay Canyon and Bell Rock are both rewarding hikes appropriate for families and hikers of all abilities. If these trailheads look too crowded for your liking, there are plenty more area trails that will get you out and back in five miles or less.

This incredibly beautiful area will stun new visitors with the stark contrast of red rock against blue sky, making it a place you want to visit again and again. Trail access around Sedona is concentrated in small areas and easy to find. It’s possible to get up early for a short hike to an incredible natural feature, head back into town for lunch, then pop back onto the trails in the evening for another excursion. Many trails lead out to unique natural features in just a few miles with minimal elevation gain.

The whole area is luscious red stone you can see melting into the sky, and the trails are user friendly. Hiking in Sedona is easy, supported desert hiking.

by Hannah R

Devils Bridge Tra...

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Sedona - good to know

Difficulty

Easy

Season

Winter, spring, fall

Terrain

Desert sandstone, redrock

Distances

2 to 7-mile day hikes

Area highlight

Bell Rock, on the Bell Rock Pathway Trail

Best local restaurant

Creekside American Bistro, Sedona

Guidebook

Great Sedona Hikes

Travel notes:

Basecamp is Sedona, and trails can be accessed within an hour of town.

Utah

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument

AMAZING CANYON ADVENTURING
Wide variety of terrain
Mostly moderate grades
Some of the best cross-country travel in Southern Utah
Seasonally dependent access on some roads
Water sources can dry up in the summer

Named for the immense “staircase” formations displaying millions of years of geological history, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was originally designated as a nearly two-million acre national monument in 1996. The size of the monument was reduced with a controversial presidential proclamation in 2017, but the area still features winding trails that cross canyons, desert floor, sandstone, and natural features that highlight some of the best that Southern Utah has to offer.

Grand Staircase has a plethora of day hikes and overnights, with easy and accessible camping. This area is less crowded than other star attractions in Southern Utah, making it a prime getaway for hikers looking to get off the beaten path. My road-trip partner and I hit the area without a specific plan in mind. We knew we wanted to visit a slot canyon (Spooky and Peek-a-Boo), do an overnight trip (Escalante Canyon), and see some of the most famous attractions in the area (Coyote Gulch), and we were not disappointed.

Unlike national parks, we didn’t need advance reservations for overnights or hikes, and the camping was plentiful. It was easy to spend a few days here spur-of-the-moment, and the people in town were incredibly kind and welcoming.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitors Center is a hotbed of information, with up-to-date beta on water sources, road conditions, and trail accessibility. Plan your trip in advance, not because you need reservations, but because there is so much to do you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

There’s base camping at any number of sites off Hole-in-the-Rock Road, and you plan your adventure from the quaint Escalante Mercantile in town. A few options include mellow overnight hiking through the 14-mile Escalante Canyon, Coyote Gulch, and exploring the narrow slot canyons at Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slots. These canyons are easily accessible and some of the most popular features in the region, but can be more crowded than other trails and hikes. No matter what you decide to do here, you can’t go wrong.

Doing an overnight end-to-end hike through Escalante Canyon was the highlight of our visit. Just be sure your feet are ready for many miles hiking through ankle-deep water!

by Kala J

Coyote Gulch in G...

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Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument - good to know

Difficulty

Easy to moderate

Season

Spring, fall

Terrain

Desert, sandstone, slot canyons

Distances

Day hikes, overnights

Area highlight

Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons

Best local restaurant

Escalante Mercantile, Escalante

Guidebook

Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante & the Glen Canyon Region: A Guide to 59 of the Best Hiking Adventures in Southern Utah

Travel notes

Take Scenic Route 12 to get to Escalante. You won’t regret it

New Hampshire

White Mountains

GREAT RUGGED TERRAIN HIKING
Trailheads are easy to locate
Well-marked trails
Exciting, challenging terrain
Trails can be eroded
Weather can be unpredictable throughout the year

The White Mountains are where I discovered my love for hiking, and they hold a special place in my heart. The hiking here is never easy, but that’s not why I hike these trails. I’ve lived and breathed the Whites since I was barely old enough to carry my own backpack, and no matter how many times I’ve heaved myself up the flank of one of the Presidentials, I’m always inspired.

For visitors, trailhead access is easy, information on trail conditions abound, and the hikers working off the New Hampshire “lists” are some of the most dedicated trail hounds out there. The trails are incredibly rugged…you won’t find a switchback in sight. A typical peak hike in the Whites gains over 1,000’ per mile, mostly while clambering over boulders, grabbing tree roots, and traversing glorified rock slides with trail signs being the only reason you know you’re still on track. It’s well worth it though – breaking treeline and seeing the green expanse rippling out on all sides makes it worth all the effort.

The New Hampshire 48 4,000-Footers are the most popular peaks, but there’s a lot more to see. Try going off the list and exploring lesser known peaks and trails to avoid the crowds. Despite their lower elevation and (relatively) short distances from trailhead to peak, peak bagging in the White Mountains is nothing to be taken lightly.

Weather can change drastically from the time you leave the car to when you reach treeline, and exposure (even in summer) is no joke. Avid New England hikers climb these peaks in all four seasons, but hikers without winter backcountry experience should stick to three-season outings.

I hike in the Whites year round. The peaks are challenging, the views outstanding, and there are a multitude of trail options. It’s beautiful for a different reason in every season.

by Neil S

Franconia Ridge Loop

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White Mountains - good to know

Difficulty

Difficult

Season

Summer, fall

Terrain

Rugged, steep mountain trails in deciduous and conifer forest; open summits

Distances

Hikes range from 2-mile day hikes to week-long peak bagging adventures

Trail highlight

Franconia Ridge Loop, Franconia Range

Best local restaurant

Flatbread Company, North Conway

Guidebook

White Mountain Guide

Travel notes

The driving is scenic through this part of New Hampshire…visit in the fall for the famous foliage

About the author

Maggie Slepian

Maggie Slepian

Writer, Adventurer

Maggie is a freelance writer and editor based in Bozeman, Montana. When she's not in front of a computer, she can be found backpacking, trail running, mountain biking, climbing, shooting archery, or trying to teach her cat how to walk on a leash.

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