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The 10 Best Hikes in the USA For Every Type of Adventurer

I’ve hiked all over the world, and mile for mile, the USA has the best hiking out of anywhere I’ve ever been.
Maggie Slepian
Backpacker, trail runner, climber, and mountain biker

From desert floor to ancient forests, sweeping vistas to plunging gorges, there’s no shortage of mind-blowing hiking destinations across the US. I’ve trekked across many of the best hiking destinations around the world, but overall the United States has the most variety, views and rewards of any of the places I’ve been.

10 Best Places to Hike in the US

I’ve rounded up the best hikes in the US, locations 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.

Easy Hiking Destinations in the US

  • Big Sur – located in California, best for seeing redwoods on short trails
  • Sedona – located in Arizona, best for desert-loving hikers


Moderate Hiking Destinations in the US


Difficult Hiking Destinations in the US

  • Appalachian Trail – located in multiple states in the East, best for hikers with six months to spare
  • Grand Canyon – located in Arizona, best for epic hiking challenges
  • White Mountains – located in New Hampshire, best for hikers ready for rugged terrain


All-round Hiking Destinations in the US


Let’s find out what makes these hikes so special!

1. Appalachian Trail

Easily accessible along the majority of the east coast
Potential for section hikes, day hikes, or a full thru-hike
Variety of difficulty and terrain
Some sections can be crowded
Shuttles required for section hikes

The Appalachian Trail 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 thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine in spring/summer 2015, taking just over five months to complete it. 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.

Appalachian Trail New Jersey
Views of the Delaware Water Gap in the state of New Jersey along the Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Photo by Maggie Slepian

Section, day and weekend hiking options on the AT

For those not looking to undertake an entire thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, there are seemingly infinite options for section hikes, day hikes, and weekend hikes — with access to other trails branching off the famous white blazes. The Appalachian Trail can be accessed from hundreds of road crossings and trailheads, with the most popular sections including the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and the White Mountain National Forest.

Appalachian Trail | East Coast
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
From $1,000 | 6-10 days
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.

Read Maggie’s full review of thru-hiking the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail - Good to Know


Moderate to challenging


Spring, summer, fall


Wooded and mountainous


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

Appalachian Trail hiking map:

Check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s

interactive AT trail map

Trail highlight:

McAfee Knob, Virginia

Best local restaurant:

The Homeplace, Catawba Virginia

Recommended guided trips:

2. Grand Canyon

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.

Bright Angel Trail
Hikers on the Bright Angel Trail —- which gives hikers the option to hike back the way they came or take the South Kaibab Trail back to the South Rim.

Advice for hiking in the Grand Canyon

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 to desert scrubland to boreal forest.

Grand Canyon | Arizona
Hiking Day Tours in the Grand Canyon
From $250 | 1 day
The trick most people miss when visiting the Grand Canyon is that the best views aren’t from the top. The Grand Canyon is so big, that you need to hike into it to get the real scope of its size and beauty.

Read pro hiker Liz Thomas’ review of the 5 Grand Canyon hiking trails that will take your breath away

Grand Canyon - Good to Know


Very strenuous


Fall, spring


Steep, rugged desert hiking


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

Grand Canyon hiking trails map:

The National Park Service maps are a great overview of Grand Canyon’s hiking trails

Area highlight:

Devil’s Corkscrew on the Bright Angel Trail

Best local restaurant:
Getting there:

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

Recommended guided trips:

3. Yosemite National Park

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 visitation to 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.

The base of the 400 foot cable climb. Bring your camera because the views from the top are absolutely breathtaking.

Plan ahead for hiking in Yosemite

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. For hiking in Yosemite, backcountry permits are required for overnight stays, and even staying in the tent cabins or other accommodations in the valley require advance 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.

Yosemite National Park | California
Hiking the Best of Yosemite National Park
From $2,375 | 5 days

Scaling the Half Dome cables is a must do

Some of the most famous and worthwhile hikes include scaling the cables Half Dome (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.

If visiting Yosemite isn’t on your hiking bucket list, it should be. As a professional hiker, I’ve adventured around the world and Yosemite is one of my favorite hiking destinations anywhere.

Read pro hiker and California local Liz Thomas full guide to the best places for hiking in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park - Good to Know


Easy, moderate, difficult…and everything in between


Summer, fall


Open meadows, riverside trails, granite rock faces


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

Yosemite National Park hiking trail map:

Yosemite Hikes have a great collection of trail maps to choose from

Area highlight:

Half Dome cables… for advanced hikers only!

Best local restaurant:

The Ahwahnee Dining Room, Yosemite Valley

Guide Book:
Getting to Yosemite Valley:

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

Recommended guided trips:

4. Big Sur

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 in Big Sur. 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. Stone Ridge Trail in the Ventana Wilderness is an excellent loop trail that gives you a taste of Big Sur’s many ecosystems with several campsite options.

Currently closed, Cone Peak Trail will have you climbing the highest coastal mountain in the contiguous US (you’ll have to check for updates on this one). Create a loop with two of the most popular and scenic trails in Big Sur by hiking Buckeye Trail to Alder Creek Camp in the Silver Peak Wilderness area. And Salmon Creek Falls offers a great spot to cool off on a hot day.

Big Sur Highway 1
Carved into the seaside cliffs, follow California’s iconic Highway 1 to Big Sur

Discover family-friendly hiking in Big Sur

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, the coastal weather changes in the winter months are as crazy as what you’d find hiking New Zealand’s North Island. Bringing an extra layer is never a bad idea, as fog and drizzle can roll in and drop the temperatures rapidly.

Big Sur | California
Hiking Tours in Big Sur
From $175 | 1 day
Big Sur is one of California’s natural treasures: a dramatic coastline where redwood groves sprout within sight of ocean coves.

Read pro hiker Liz Thomas’s full review of the four best hiking trails in Big Sur

Big Sur - Good to Know


Easy, a few moderate hikes


Spring, summer, fall, winter


Redwood forests, coastal views


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

Big Sur hiking trail maps:

Check out All Trails for more than 50 Big Sur hiking trail maps

Area highlight:

Ewoldsen Trail

Best local restaurant:

Lucia Lodge, Big Sur

Travel notes:

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

Recommended guided trips:

5. Superior Hiking Trail

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 trail starts about three hours from Minneapolis at Jay Cooke State Park and ends at the Canadian border. The southern section is a 52.8-mile stretch along the Minnesota/Wisconsin state border to the coastal city of Duluth that is only open to day hikers. The northern part runs from Duluth to the Canadian border, with 269 miles of main trail with a bunch of added spur trails for hiking and camping.

Upper Gooseberry Falls Along Minnesota’s North Shore in Indian Summer

The best time to hike the Superior Hiking Trail

The best time to hike the Superior 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 SHT in the fall will be rewarded with splendid colors along its entire length.

Duluth | Minnesota
Hiking the Highlights of the Superior Hiking Trail
From $3,495 | 6 days

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.

Looking to take your first crack at thru-hiking? This 310-mile long trail in Minnesota might be your best bet.

by Ali Carr – Read the full review on why you should make Superior Hiking Trail your next thru-hike

Superior Hiking Trail - Good to Know


Easy to moderate


Late spring, summer, early fall


Old-growth forest, some lakeside sections


310 miles, options for section and day hikes

Superior Hiking Trail map:
Trail highlight:

Short spur trail to the summit of Ely’s Peak

Best local restaurant:
Guide book:
Travel notes:

Small towns every 40-50 miles make trailhead access easy

Recommended guided hiking trips:
New Hampshire

6. White Mountains

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.

White Mountains
The author, seen here hiking in the White Mountains — where she’s been trekking since she was a little girl. Photo by Maggie Slepian

Find rugged, steep hiking in the White Mountains

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 — the author’s longtime trail partner

White Mountains - Good to Know




Summer, fall


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


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

White Mountains hiking trail map:

Find day hiking and backpacking trail maps on the US Forest Service website

Trail highlight:

Franconia Ridge Loop, Franconia Range

Best local restaurant:

Flatbread Company, North Conway


White Mountain Guide compiled and edited by Steven D. Smith

Travel notes:

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

Winter activity:
New York

7. Bear Mountain

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.

Perkins Memorial Tower
Perkins Memorial Tower sits at the summit of Bear Mountain — you can drive up, but I recommend hiking.

Hiking Bear Mountain as part of the Appalachian Trail thru-hike

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.

Bear Mountain | New York
Hiking in Bear Mountain State Park
From $400 | 1 day

Plenty of things to do at Bear Mountain

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 Bear Mountain Loop Trail is the classic hike, with some steep, rocky sections to get the heart rate up. The view from the top (along with the lookout tower) is worth the effort it took to get there.

Read Maggie’s full review of hiking in Bear Mountain State Park

Bear Mountain - Good to Know


Easy to moderate


Spring, summer, fall


Wooded trails, scenic overlooks


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

Bear Mountain trail map:

Check out the NY Parks website for your Bear Mountain State Park Trail Map

Area highlight:

Hiking the 1,000+ stone steps

Best local restaurant:

A paper version of a comprehensive Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails Map

Travel notes:

Easy to get to from NYC via Palisades Interstate Pkwy N

Recommended guided trips:

8. Sedona

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 hiking 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. This desert landscape is surprisingly lush, but you don’t want to get caught out of the shade without adequate hydration.

Where to find the best hiking in Sedona

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 — hiker and friend of the author

Sedona - Good to Know




Winter, spring, fall


Desert sandstone, redrock


2 to 7-mile day hikes

Sedona hiking trails map:

View the Forest Service’s NW Trails Map and the SE Trails Map

Area highlight:

Bell Rock, on the Bell Rock Pathway Trail

Best local restaurant:

Great Sedona Hikes by William Bohan and David Butler

Travel notes:

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

Other activities:

9. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

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

Southern Utah has some of the best hiking trails in the US, and the Grand Staircase is no exception. 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 hiking that Southern Utah has to offer.

Escalante National Park Hiking
The author seen here doing a little creek wading as she makes her way through a canyon in Grand Staircase. Photo by Maggie Slepian

Accessible camping makes Grand Staircase worth the trip

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.

My favorite Grand staircase escalante overnight hiking trips

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 — hiker and friend of the author

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument - Good to Know


Easy to moderate


Spring, fall


Desert, sandstone, slot canyons


Day hikes, overnights

Area highlight:

Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons

Best local restaurant:

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


10. Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail

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. Utilize the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail shelters in Laurel Ridge State Park. 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 — hiker and friend of the author

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail - Good to Know


Easy to moderate


Spring, summer, fall, winter


Forests, overlooks, waterfalls, gorges


Short day hikes to multi-day overnights

Laurel Highlands hiking trail map:

Download this free Laurel Canyons trail map

Best local restaurant:

A Hiker’s Guide to the Laurel Highlands Trail by Pennsylvania Chapter Sierra Club

Travel notes:

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

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