StudentUniverse Travel Blog

The Best Hiking Trails in the U.S. National Parks

As one of the largest countries in the world, America stands out in terms of land mass, varied terrain and its number of national parks. There are 59 national parks in the United States, spread across twenty-seven states and two American territories. The Wrangel-St. Elias national park alone is larger than the nine smallest states in the country individually.

All of these parks total to almost 52 million acres. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails exist entirely within these national parks. Out of all the trails, there are a couple that really stand out as the best. They have some degree of challenge, are full of breathtaking scenery and leave you with something you will remember for the rest of your life.

The Grinnell Glacier Trail

Many people live their entire lives without ever seeing a glacier in person. Hiking Grinnell Glacier trail in Montana’s Glacier National Park will give you a chance to see quite a few of them up close. It is a tough hike with a round trip length of 7.6 miles, but it is worth every step.

You may even add some difficulty to the hike by hiking around the large Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake instead of taking the available shuttle boats. Hiking around these lakes adds a few extra miles to the round trip length.

The trail passes through a variety of terrain. You will hike through wooded areas, around lakes, on a paved trail, near waterfalls and on a boardwalk above a marsh. Most of the way through the hike, you will steadily increase your altitude. In total, you gain over 1800 feet of elevation on the way to the destination, which is the beautiful Grinnell Glacier.

The Grinnell Glacier spans a total of 152 acres. If you are feeling adventurous, you may be able to hike onto the glacier itself. Rangers led groups onto the glacier in the past, but no longer do so. You are still allowed to hike onto the glacier without the assistance of a ranger, but it can be dangerous.

The Angels Landing Trail

One of the most popular and breathtaking trails in any U.S. national park is the Angels Landing trail located in the Zion National Park in Utah. The Angels Landing Trail makes up the lower section of the West Rim Trail, which is about 16 miles along the rims of the Zion Canyon.

The Angels Landing section is only about 2.5 miles from start to destination. By the end of the trail at the Angels Landing viewpoint, you will have gained 1,500 feet in elevation.

Many sections of incline on the rims of the canyon are exposed on one side or the other. You can view down to the bottom of the canyon and see all of the scenery from an unbelievable angle. It is not recommended for those who are afraid of heights. Though, there are plenty of rails and chains there to help you stay safe.

The Angels Landing viewpoint is near the center of the canyon area. It is slightly lower in elevation than some of the rims, but the view is still spectacular. You will have a full 360-degree view of most of Zion Canyon. Once you are done with Angels Landing you simply hike back the way you came. The hike back down the rims is much easier.

If you want a bigger challenge and a higher viewpoint, then you could choose to continue hiking further up the West Rim trail. The trail ends at Lava Point, the highest peak in the canyon. Be prepared because it is a long trip and usually takes two days.

Honorable Mentions

A few other trails that are fairly popular and worth hiking are the Upper Geyser Basin trail in Yellowstone National Park, the Harding Icefield trail in Kenai Fjords National Park and the Greenstone Ridge trail in Isle Royale National Park, Michigan.

The Grinnell Glacier Trail and the Angels Landing Trail are two of the best trails in the U.S. national park system. They are very different from each other and both offer unique scenery that is hard to find anywhere else in the country. If you are an avid hiker looking for a new trail, then they deserve your attention.