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 and all of these parks total almost 52 million acres. Not surprisingly, hundreds of miles of hiking trails exist entirely within these national parks. So if you’re planning some hiking for the summer, you might be stuck on where to begin.
Not to worry—out of all the trails, there are a few that really stand out as can’t-miss trails. They have some degree of challenge, are full of breathtaking scenery and will leave you with something you will remember for the rest of your life.
Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana
Many people live their entire lives without ever seeing a glacier in person. Hiking Grinnell Glacier trail in 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’ll get to hike through wooded areas, around lakes, near waterfalls and on a boardwalk above a marsh. In total, you gain over 1800 feet of elevation on the way to the destination, which is the beautiful Grinnell Glacier.
Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah
One of the most popular and breathtaking trails in any U.S. National Park is the Angels Landing trail in Zion. Although the out-and-back Angels Landing trail is only about 5 miles roundtrip, it’s a steep one! You’ll gain over 1,500 feet in elevation in just 2.5 miles! It can also be a bit terrifying if you’re afraid of heights, as some sections of the trail are exposed on one (or both!) sides, featuring a long drop to the bottom of the canyon.
However, there are plenty of rails and chains to hold on to as you hike these sections. Plus, the steep drop-offs provide some spectacular views, including 360-degree views of most of Zion Canyon from the top.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, CA
No list of the best hikes in the US National Parks would be complete without mention of Half Dome in Yosemite. Although the hike is difficult (and can be scary at the end, as you’ll have to ascend the steep, sheer rock face to the submit using cables) and long, the views are unbeatable. Most hikers take about 10-14 hours to complete the hike, but with waterfalls, mountain vistas and a stunning panorama of Yosemite Valley from the 4,800-foot peak will be well worth it. Keep in mind that you’ll have to get a permit to complete the trail. Everything you need to know about permits for Half Dome can be found on the National Park website.
Kalapana Lava Viewing Trail, Volcanoes National Park, HI
Wanna see lava flowing IRL? Search no longer. This 10-mile out-and-back trail is mostly paved, so you can even rent bikes to make the trip a bit faster. The trail passes through lava fields and at the end, you’ll be able to cross lava rock to come to a viewing area where you can see lava spilling into the ocean. Just make sure you wear sturdy hiking shoes for the end of the hike!
Cadillac Mountain Loop, Acadia National Park, Maine
While you’re hiking National Parks, don’t miss the chance to head out to the East Coast! This is a great trail that is challenging without being unreasonable for the casual hiker, and presents some amazing views. The 7.5-mile loop trail takes you through forests and waterfalls before bringing you to the summit, featuring amazing views over the ocean harbor. Some parts of the trail can be quite steep, so make sure you’re well-prepared with good hiking shoes!
Enchanted Valley Trail, Olympic National Park, WA
Olympic National Park’s Enchanted Valley definitely lives up to its name and is a must-visit spot while you’re in the park. While there are longer trails that can take you through more of the Valley, the Enchanted Valley Trail to Pony Bridge path is 5 miles out and back and crosses a great section of the larger valley. It’s perfect for a day hike! And it’s a great way to experience the dense forests, waterfalls and river-crossings that the Pacific Northwest is famous for.
Other popular trails to consider while hiking national parks include 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. Although these trails are lesser-known, they’re definitely worth hiking and deserve to be at the top of your must-hike list!
Looking for more amazing hikes—or a longer trip? Check out our favorite backpacking trails in the US for more ideas about where to go.