20 Easy American Day Hikes

20 Easy American Day Hikes

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This 4.4-mile roundtrip climbs 1,500 feet, and takes hikers up one of Zion's trademark sandstone cliffs to a stunning summit on a narrow fin with stomach-turning drop-offs on either side (chain handrails provide some, but not much, extra stability—hikers have actually fallen to their death here). Start at the shuttle stop for the Grotto picnic area in Zion Canyon, and take the West Rim Trail, which starts broad and paved. A series of 21 switchbacks called Walter's Wiggles take hikers up to Refrigerator Canyon. Stop at Scout Lookout for views of Zion Canyon if you're scared of heights—the last half-mile is where it gets hairy.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Year-round, but it's especially refreshing on summer mornings (the heat can become oppressive in the afternoon).
nps.gov/zion
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/firehole

If slot canyons are your thing, Buckskin Gulch is your hike. The 13-mile corridor through bright red sandstone is so narrow, hikers must remove their packs to squeeze through some sections—Wire Pass, the first two miles of the hike, is only two feet wide. Follow the gulch through its claustrophobia-inducing twists until it intersects with the Paria River Canyon, where you can hire a shuttle to ferry you back to your car.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go:
April-June or September-October (summer brings flash flood danger)
blm.gov
—Amy Reinink

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Known as "the Grouse Grind" and "Mother's Nature StairMaster," this short (1.8 miles), steep (2,800 feet in elevation gain) thigh-burner draws more than 100,000 hikers per year. Celebrities, professional athletes and weekend warriors alike come to test their fitness on the trail, which has 2,830 steps compared to the Empire State Building's 1,860. Rewards include views of Mount Baker and Vancouver Island on clear days. Though most folks spend about an hour hoofing it uphill, local fitness freaks aim to summit in less than an hour. The record is 23:48. Adding to the challenge: The misty climate renders the trail too slippery to head back down, so once you start, you've committed to finishing.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: May to October.
grousemountain.com
—Amy Reinink

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This 1.5-miler leads to perhaps the most dramatic view in Badlands National Park. Hikers follow the trail through a canyon, up a log ladder and along a ledge to "The Notch," which offers panoramic views of the Badlands' characteristic prairies, buttes and spires.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go: Year-round.
nps.gov/badl
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/jdigit3l

It’s easy to feel trapped by city life and the sense that escaping to nature requires hours of planning, an empty weekend and some kind of sport-utility vehicle bursting with REI gear. But there are plenty of wilderness adventures you can access from public transportation without even leaving the city limits. Wissahickon Valley Park is right on the SEPTA line and features enough dirt and gravel trails—including this 7-mile namesake trail—to make you forget you’re less than five miles from the Rocky stairs in downtown Philly. The hiking is more casual than strenuous, but the views of giant sycamores and meandering creeks rival the best deep wilderness adventures.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go: Year-round
fow.org
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/USDA.gov

The North Country National Scenic Trail is a bit of an unsung hero in the thru-hiking world. Twice the size of the Appalachian Trail, it stretches from New York to North Dakota and, when completed, will stake its claim as the longest continuous hiking trail in the United States. In Michigan near Mesick, the NCST traces some of the wildest, most beautiful parks and forest the Great North has to offer. Start at the Marilla Trailhead and hike 20 brisk miles to High Bridge for scenery, solitude and a great stretch of tree-lined climbs through the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Several trailheads in between allow for shorter options.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Year-round, but early fall is best for mild temps and changing leaves
northcountrytrail.org
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/woolcarderbee

Plenty of day hikes offer a window to the past, but how many look back to the time of wooly mammoths and sabertooth tigers? The 1,200-mile Ice Age trail follows the outline of a former glacier that receded from Wisconsin more than 10,000 years ago. Hike the Baraboo Hills section just south of Baraboo, Wisconsin, which follows the bluffs above Devil’s Lake. It’s a beautiful trek through natural history that boasts diverse fauna, prehistoric geology and more than its share of glacial oddities.
Difficulty: Moderate, depending on length
When to go: Year-round
iceagetrail.org
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Sean Munson

In the book Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula, author Craig Romano quips that if "for some terrible reason you are only allowed one hike in the Olympics in your lifetime, this should be it," referring to the 5.3-mile hike to 6,000-foot Marmot Pass. The hike wends through roughly two miles of towering, moss-covered cedars, hemlocks and firs along the Big Quilcene River before heading uphill through meadows full of wildflowers and marmot burrows. The summit offers views of Mount Hood, Puget Sound and the Cascades in the distance, not to mention Olympic summits such as Mystery and Deception. Find it in the Quilcene Ranger District of Olympic National Forest.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Summer offers the best chance of sunshine.
wta.org
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/cm195902

Hiking the 15-mile Coastal Prairie Trail is a step away from the stereotypical eastern hike in that you won’t face much climbing. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be awesome views—you’ll weave through mangrove forests and salt marshes along Florida Bay, tick off every colorful bird listed in your guidebook, and spill out onto a natural beach at the turnaround point. There aren’t a lot of those left in Florida, so take full advantage of the view. This one is more of a spectacular nature walk than a rigorous hike.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go: Summer is fine, as long as you come armed with DEET
nps.gov/ever
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Alaskan Dude

This 8.7-mile trail delivers exactly what it promises, with four of its namesake 10 waterfalls towering more than 100 feet above the trail. The loop trail travels through Silver Creek Canyon in Silver Falls State Park, and provides hikers with nonstop views of the falls, plus bright-green moss, rushing creeks and forests of old-growth cedar, fir and hemlock.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Year-round
oregonstateparks.org
—Amy Reinink

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Locals claim that at 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep, Palo Duro Canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon as far as size is concerned. Most would argue that it offers just as much natural beauty, thanks to unique rock formations such as Lighthouse Rock, a red rock pillar at the edge of steep, eroded cliffs. The three-mile trail leading from the park's main drive to the rock formation takes hikers around Capital Peak, crossing several creeks and small ridges before a final steep ascent scrambling over often-loose claystone to the stone pillar.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go
: Year-round, but skip summer afternoons to avoid heat and crowds.
palodurocanyon.com
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/stevenosloan

Shining Rock Wilderness off the Blue Ridge Parkway is a popular Asheville escape for good reason—6,000-plus-foot peaks offer amazing views of blooming rhododendron and laurels for miles. Scramble up the steep rise to the 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob for a quick survey of the scene, then continue up the rugged trail to the quartzite peak of Shining Rock for a 10-mile loop. Wild blueberries are everywhere in August.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Summer rules here
localhikes.com
Caitlin Giddings

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View what might be the world's most famous natural arch on this easy, 1.5-mile trail from Wolfe Ranch to the iconic, 65-foot Delicate Arch. Hikers start on a wide, flat trail that leads to the base of a steep sandstone slope. Then, they hike up the slope, known as "slickrock," following a series of cairns to the less-famous Frame Arch (literally used as a frame through which to photograph Delicate Arch) before arriving at Delicate Arch. The hike also offers sweeping views of Arches National Park, with its characteristic sandstone formations and, in the distance, the snowy La Sal Mountains.
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate, depending on skill level
When to go:
Year-round, but avoid summer afternoons
nps.gov/arch
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/mabecerra/Matt Peoples

Arkansas isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you consider top-notch backpacking destinations, but the Ozarks definitely deserve some top-ten list credit for long treks like this 14-miler (turning back at Cherry Bend) through lush, dogwood-studded forests with quiet trailside camping. Prepare for moderate climbs and a gorgeous view from the top of White Rock Mountain. Go in November to see the leaves changing color, or soak in the swimming holes and waterfalls during the heat of summer.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Late fall is the time for leaves and mild temps, but summer delivers cool swimming holes and refreshing waterfalls.
ozarkhighlandstrail.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Oblivious Dude

DC's 2,800-acre Rock Creek Park has more than 25 miles of trails, and while it doesn’t offer much in the way of truly strenuous hiking, it’s a great way to get a quick jolt of nature before plunging back into the noise and stress of the city. There are two main trails, which meander around streams, waterfalls, rolling hills and a Nature Center and Planetarium. It’s like escaping to an island of comparative wilderness for when you want to get away without leaving the city limits.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go: Year-round
nps.gov/rocr
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Thomas Shahan

This six-mile roundtrip hike through Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge takes hikers over a small boulder field in the shadow of Elk Mountain before leading to some of the most stunning rock formations in the state, and promises views of long-horned steer, elk and bison. The tall granite peaks of the Wichita Mountains and the small outcrops of Meers quartzite are all the more stunning considering the prairie surrounding them.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go:
Year-round
fws.gov
Amy Reinink

Flickr/Fatty Tuna

This easy, 5.5-mile roundtrip hike from the Wild Basin Trailhead skirts past multiple waterfalls, including Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades, on its way to Ouzel Falls. You'll hear Ouzel Falls before you see it—this waterfall positively roars. Watch for the falls' namesake bird, the ouzel, which plunges into the water below the falls.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go: Summer
nps.gov/romo
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/mikerhicks

Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world, with more than 370 miles of known subterranean passages. Although the cool underground labyrinths are the park’s obvious draw, the above-ground trails are well worth exploring for the sinkholes, springs and wildflowers. The 16.6-mile roundtrip Sal Hollow connects singletrack and fire roads for a moderate trek past the mouth of cave entrances. There’s a lot to explore, including plenty of options to connect to other trails or take a wild cave tour that involves rock-climbing and army-crawling through keyhole spaces.
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Year-round
nps.gov/maca
Caitlin Giddings

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The 5.3-mile Lamar Valley Trail promises views of Yellowstone's most exciting wildlife—bison, elk, wolves, coyotes and bears (black and grizzly) all frequent the Lamar River Valley's grassy meadows. Start at the Soda Butte Trailhead about four miles east of the Lamar Ranger Station. You won't only be peeping wildlife—hikers enjoy views of 9,600-foot Amethyst Mountain above and long stretches of cottonwood clumps and sagebrush all around.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go:
Year-round, but check with rangers about seasons for specific wildlife.
nps.gov/yell
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/satosphere

Traipse through a grove of ancient, towering redwood trees up to 360 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter on this easy, 4-mile trail. Get to the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center early—the National Park Service only issues permits on a first-come, first-served basis to 50 cars per day, locking the gate to the rest of the masses.
Difficulty: Easy
When to go:
Year-round
nps.gov/redw
—Amy Reinink