The Best Hiking Trails in the U.S.
Are you craving time in the great outdoors but not really sure where to go? Perhaps you are looking for solitude and the chance to be at one nature. If you are, then you are lucky the world has the Americas. Even if you are not seriously into hiking but seeking the spiritual uplift that comes with witnessing the truly spectacular, here are some of the best hiking trails wide open and waiting in the US.
The Billy Goat Trail, Maryland
On this trail in Washington, D.C., you might find yourself having to jump like a goat on this striking but difficult trail. The infamous Billy Goat Trail is a rugged 4.7mile hike that needs that level of fancy footwork. Be ready for serious exercise and some very impressive sights.
Half Dome Trail, Yosemite National Park, California
Since the first cableway to California’s Half Dome was built in 1919, millions of tourists have traveled to Yosemite National Park with a license and the hope of climbing its granite monolith. Originally believed to be unscalable, this 8,842-foot landmark is world-famous among the best of America’s hikes. These days, people with a pair of high-quality hiking gloves and a rather carefree mindset head off straight up into the high altitudes between May and October.
The 16-mile round-trip to Half Dome includes waterfalls, steep steps and traversing the rugged backs of the sub-dome. As you push the 400 feet of wire-framed by a sheer wall of ice, enjoy the clearest sky and stunning views of the Yosemite Valley as well as the Sierra Nevada. You will feel very tiny and even vulnerable but also utterly driven and unstoppable.
Avoid bottlenecks on the cables by making an early start after sleeping over at the campground in Little Yosemite Valley, a handy 3.5 miles from Half Dome summit.
The Narrows Trail, Zion National Park, Utah
If you are on a 10-mile Bottom-Up trek to Big Spring or lazing your way through the canyon, be prepared to hoist your backpack over your head when it’s time to wade through Utah’s mighty Virgin River and be surrounded by stunning two thousand foot vermillion sandstone cliffs.
To combat the masses and escape the harsh desert heat, visit the narrowest area of Zion Canyon, mostly just 20 feet wide, first thing in the morning. You will be alone with just your reflection for company and at the time of day with the ideal light on the sculptural cliffs for your photos. Traversing the Narrows is not the only travel-worthy walk in Zion National Park. Angel’s Landing, is a fantastic 2.5-mile hike that rises 1,488 feet to its jaw-dropping top.
The Knife Edge Trail, Maine
The Knife Edge is a full package including a magic carpet of fall’s russet colors visible from Mount Katahdin, the highest Maine peak. After an already pretty intensive hike up the Hunt Trail, you’ll arrive at the start of the 1.1 mile mind-and-leg twisting Knife Edge route. It’s a relentless assault with rock climbing, difficult stairs, small ledges, sharp drop-offs and 360-degree views of the state’s largest wilderness forest. After only an hour experiencing life on the Knife Edge, you hit the 5,267foot Baxter Mountain at the north-eastern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. This could easily be one of the most frighteningly spectacular summits on earth. As you look back at the jagged path you’ve just climbed you’ll have some idea of what it feels like to survive on the brink.
The West Branch Trail, Colorado
Colorado might be popular for its 14’s, but if you’re searching for a glimpse of real nature, forget about bagging the peak for boasting rights and instead, explore Northern Colorado’s backcountry. Considered one of America’s best remote sites, the Rawah Wilderness in the Roosevelt National Forest hosts a wide expanse of unadulterated natural beauty just 2.5 hours from Denver. Between Rawah’s 85 miles of trails, the 14-mile West Branch Trail, with a top elevation of 11,130 feet, provides a positive cornucopia of natural beauty; glacier-sculpted mountains, columbine-dappled meadows, trout-rich alpine streams, aspen groves and nonchalant mosses. The trail criss-crosses other scenic pathways, such as Camp Lake Trail and Blue Lake Trail and finishes with a dreamscape view of Island in the Carey Lakes.
Wave Trail, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona/Utah
It feels like you’ve won a climbing draw walking on these vivid red-orange rock waves. The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument spans over 294,000 acres and has just 20 licenses a day available for visitors who want to experience the old sandstone rainbow in the Paria Canyon. Situated very close from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Wave Path, also known as Coyote Buttes North, is a six-mile trip across the open desert that is better explored in spring and fall.
Although you’ve come for the spectacular striations, fossil footprints and mesmerizing ice cream swirl patterns, there are no specific paths or markers, only a map sheet from the Land Management Bureau, so you will need to take a peek at your map before setting off into this Martian-like landscape. Arrive soon after sunrise as the sandstone butts erupt with flaming colors and leave time to discover the 16-mile Buckskin Gulch, the largest and widest slot canyon in the country.
Whichever hike you eventually decide to take, these are, without doubt, some of the very best the US and even the world has to offer. Serious hikers plan months in advance and for many walking the Knife Edge or climbing Half Dome is a once in lifetime experience. Before you set out, to take in the red rocks and deserts, the forests, rivers and mountains of the US, find out if a permit is required and that you have the right gear and skills. That way you can enjoy the best hikes in the US and make back home again uplifted and safe.