10 Most Breathtaking Day Hikes in the U.S.
By Nick Wharton on 18 May 2018
The United States is home to some of the most diverse landscapes on the planet, ranging from barren deserts and vast canyons to lush forests and snow-capped mountains. Because of this, it's no surprise that it also has some of the most spectacular and accessible hiking trails in the world.
The National Park Service has done wonders to preserve the trails and scenery that make these destinations so special. Here are some of the best national parks for hiking in the U.S., as well as some easy day hikes that you can do within each park. Of course, there are plenty of multiday treks available in most parks as well, but if your time is limited or you'd simply rather spend your time doing other things, day hikes may be what you're looking for.
So get your boots on, get your daypack stocked, and get ready for a look at the 10 most breathtaking day hikes in the United States. (See also: How to Save on National Park Visits in 2018)
1. Yosemite National Park
Located in California, Yosemite sits amid the stunning granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Within the park, there are countless waterfalls, including nine with drops cascading over 1,000 feet, so no matter where you go in the park, you're bound to be wowed. Yosemite is also known for groves of ancient, giant sequoia trees, some of which are estimated to be around 1,800 years old and stand at over 200 feet tall.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona's awe-inspiring Grand Canyon is over 270 miles long, at some points 18 miles wide, and in some places up to a mile deep. Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, there are several ways to explore the scenery — with helicopter rides, rafting, and cycling all popular options.
Hiking, however, provides you with a unique experience among the canyon's landscapes. You'll get to experience the different weather systems it creates, ranging from chilly to balmy, and feel the sheer awe as you peer out across this massive crevice. (See also: 11 Incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites Right Here in the U.S.)
3. Glacier National Park
In northern Montana, skimming the border with Canada is the wondrous Glacier National Park. It has so many lakes (762 in total) that only 131 of them have ever been named. There are also 175 mountains, including Mt. Cleveland, which stands at over 10,000 feet tall. And of course, there are the 26 glaciers that have shaped the landscapes and given the park its name. The biggest of these is the incredible Harrison Glacier. The park has over 700 miles of trails allowing visitors to discover the picturesque scenery by foot. (See also: 20 Hiking Hacks to Take to the Trails This Summer)
4. Arches National Park
Deriving its name from the 2,000 plus, naturally formed stone arches, this national park has some of the most distinctive scenery in the U.S. Besides the arches, you'll also find towers, turrets, and rocks balanced on top of each other, all from the same striking sandstone. Utah's Arches National Park has various trails that weave their way through, over, and even under the main attractions here, giving visitors a remarkable perspective of them. (See also: 7 Best Free Treks in the World)
5. Denali National Park
Boasting the record for being North America's highest peak, the inimitable, snowcapped Denali (aka Mount McKinley) is undoubtedly the main attraction for the national park that bares its name. Standing at over 20,000 feet, it casts a vast shadow over the surrounding area, but there's a lot more to be discovered here including lakes, rivers, and wildlife such as bears, wolves, and caribou.
The hiking in Denali is mainly free from the restrictions of marked trails, so it's an exciting opportunity for you to carve your own path in this barely touched wilderness. Many visitors end up doing a considerable amount of off-track hiking. Make sure you stay alert for wildlife as there have been bear encounters in the park. If you're new to self-guided hiking, stop in at the Denali Visitor's Center and ask about easy trails near the entrance to the park. (See also: 5 Natural Wonders You Can See for Free)
6. Kenai Fjords National Park
Situated on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park is a frozen wilderness punctuated by icefields, glaciers, and of course the fjords that give it its name. The mountains appear to tumble directly into the ocean, and behind them is the Harding Icefield, which dates back to the ice age. It's here that you'll find the phenomenal Harding Icefield Trail that gives hikers astounding views of the valley floor and the famous Exit Glacier.
7. Acadia National Park
Lying just off the coast of Maine is Acadia National Park, which is well-loved for hosting a diverse range of landscapes. The majority of the park lies on Mount Desert Island, but it also encompasses some of the smaller surrounding islands. Acadia National Park has over 120 miles of hiking trails that provide stunning views of the local terrain, taking in waterfalls, lakes, mountains, and harbors.
8. Zion National Park
Utah's Zion National Park showcases the outstanding Zion Canyon, whose craggy red rocks protrude spectacularly from the lush greenery below. One of the main attractions here is the five-mile hike known as Angels Landing. It's consistently rated as one of the most dangerous in the world with sheer drops lining the steep ascents. However, the views across the canyon make it well worth the effort. There's also an underground hike named The Subway that includes climbing, swimming, and plenty of scrambling.
9. Isle Royale National Park
Michigan's Isle Royale National Park is located mostly on the largest island within what is the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior. Its remote location means it can only be reached by boat or by seaplane, so just getting to this park is an adventure in itself. Wheeled vehicles are completely prohibited, with the only permitted means of navigation being on foot or on water in a boat, canoe, or kayak. Visitors are treated to a taste of real wilderness here, with the Greenstone Trail that runs from one end of the island to the other.
10. Mount Rainier National Park
Named after the 14,410 foot tall active volcano that dominates the surrounding landscape, Mount Rainier National Park is one of Washington's most prominent natural gems. The park encompasses glaciers, snowfields, meadows, waterfalls, valleys, and forests, made all the more picturesque by the backdrop of the towering, snowcapped Mount Rainier. The Wonderland Trail, which is the main hiking route, winds its way for 93 miles around the circumference of the mountain, but is also broken down into numerous magnificent shorter sections.