Natural splendor awaits.
10 Picturesque National Park Hikes For the Outdoor Enthusiast
Natural splendor awaits.
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant forever changed the trajectory of protected land in the United States – he signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law, and on that day the world’s first national park was born. Fast forward to now, and visitors around the world are able to enjoy these wild landscapes by visiting any of the 63 unique national parks.
Whether you’re a die-hard camper, an avid explorer, or a novice who’s ready to dip your toes into a pair of hiking boots, the best way to do all of the above is by setting off onto a picturesque trail. If you’re based in the western part of America, options abound in destinations like California, Utah, and Washington. Out east? Head for forested landscapes in states such as Virginia, Maine, and Tennessee. There’s a slice of national park heaven for everyone, beginning with 10 ideas below to inspire your next grand adventure.
Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park
Despite being the smallest national park in Utah, Bryce Canyon lures in over 1.5 million visitors each year with its extraordinary scenery. It is known for its ‘hoodoo’ rock formations, some of which soar over 200 feet up into the sky. The Navajo Loop Trail is a perfect hike for those who want to immerse themselves in this alien landscape, taking you along iconic parts of the park including Wall Street, Twin Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer.
Beehive Loop in Acadia National Park
Considered to be the crown jewel of the north Atlantic coast, Acadia National Park boasts over 158 miles of hiking trails and 27 miles of historic motor roads. Rocky shorelines contrast blanketed forests and woodlands, and hikes like the Beehive Loop make good use of the land’s beautiful diversity. The first part of the trail ascends a 450-foot cliff and offers gorgeous glimpses of Maine's coastline. And at the summit, hikers are rewarded with panoramic views.
Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park
Situated in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is a treasure trove for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its iconic vistas featuring ancient sequoia trees, granite cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. Get a front-row seat to this natural splendor with the Yosemite Falls trail that involves a 2,700-foot elevation gain. But don’t worry, the views of these falls (the highest in North America) are well worth the sweat.
South Rim Trail in Grand Canyon National Park
A six-million-year-old national park known around the world, the Grand Canyon is, in a word, magnificent. It’s a mile deep, 277 miles long, and 18 miles wide (in other words, it’s big). The elevation goes up to 8,000 feet and there are estimated to be around 1,000 hidden caves tucked within the canyon. There are several hikes to choose from, so begin with the South Rim Trail. It’s 13 miles but has minimal elevation change and lookouts like Mather Point, Powell Point, and Yavapai Point can all be experienced along the route.
Skyline Loop Trail in Mount Rainier National Park
It isn’t every day you can hike on an active volcano, but at Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington, it is. It became a national park in 1899 and the mountain stands tall at a towering 14,410 feet (the highest in the state). Among the more breathtaking hikes to explore in this part of the Cascade Mountain Range is the Skyline Loop Trail in Paradise. Here, breathe in fragrant blooms wafting from alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers while also experiencing the colder climate of the mountain with snow activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding.
Fern Canyon Loop in the Redwoods National Park
You’re probably familiar with Redwoods as being the tallest trees on earth, which is one of many, many reasons to head to this breathtaking national park. Sprawling prairies, wandering rivers, and woodlands also make up this part of California and a walk along the Fern Canyon Loop Trail is a low-effort, high-yield way to begin your journey here (remember to get a permit first!). It’s a mini canyon covered in ferns and is only one mile long, which means you can take your time to absorb your lush surroundings.
Sliding Sands in Haleakalā National Park
The Hawaiian island of Maui is replete with beauty – crashing waterfalls, tropical forests, and crystal-clear beaches. Venture inland, however, and you’ll discover a landscape you might not have expected on the island at Haleakalā National Park. It’s the site of an inactive shield volcano and thanks to a gaping crater and black volcanic rock, it looks utterly alien-like. Lace up your hiking boots and go for a hike on the Sliding Sands trail, which takes you into the astounding Haleakalā crater. As you descend into this otherworldly environment you’ll traverse through lava rocks on a challenging 11-mile hike you (and your leg muscles) won’t soon forget.
Rainbow Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains are diverse, ancient, and undoubtedly worth a visit (it’s no wonder this national park rivals the Grand Canyon as the most visited in the country). Wildlife abounds with black bears, salamanders, elk, and more inhabiting the region and over 130 tree species blanketing the forest. Named after the rainbow produced by mist from its 80-foot-high waterfall, the Rainbow Falls Trail is a must in the region. It’s a moderate hike and is around 5.4 miles with a 1,500-foot elevation gain.
Barker Dam Trail in Joshua Tree National Park
Named after its twisted, prickly trees, Joshua Tree National Park features two distinct desert ecosystems of the Mojave and Colorado. Visitors here can enjoy a myriad of unique features that come with this diverse bioclimate, like wildflowers, cacti, and a range of animals like rattlesnakes, coyotes, and bighorn sheep. Try a milder route like the Barker Dam Trail that’s a breezy 1.1-mile loop and takes you along fascinating boulders and desert washes.
The Valley Trail in Grand Teton
Head for northwest Wyoming to the sprawling Grand Teton National Park. Here, visitors can experience the major peaks of the Teton Range and bask in the mystic quality of land that’s been inhabited by humans for at least 11,000 years. Dazzling lakes are punctuated by gorgeous rivers and alpine terrain, with wildlife in the area including grizzly and black bears, bison, moose, and elk. The Valley Trail departs from Teton Village and culminates at Phelps Lake Overlook, a strenuous out-and-back route with big-time payoff.
Here's some more travel inspiration for your next big adventure.