20 Epic American Day Hikes

20 Epic American Day Hikes

Flickr/nc_hiker/zackojones

When you want to crash onto your pillow at the end of the day, content that you’ve conquered something straight out of an epic fantasy adventure, clamber up the trails around Falls Creek Falls. The climbing is brutal on this 6.1-mile point-to-point hike, but the scenery is pure magnolia magic. Start with a mile and a half of uphill climbing to the falls, and continue on over creeks and rocky switchbacks to the entrance of Jones Gap State Park. You’ll gain about 1,700 feet of elevation and earn a restful night.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go:
Late winter/early spring is best, but summer is great, too.
alltrails.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/cm195902

Good ol’ Rocky Top—the peak that launched a thousand country cover songs—sits way up in the Smoky Mountains along the border of Tennessee. To scope it for yourself, take the 13.9-mile roundtrip Lead Cove Trail to Bote Mountain. Yes, this is the same Rocky Top of Tennessee fight-song fame, so once you’ve taken in a panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains from atop this lovely Thunderhead Mountain sub-peak, prepare to have the twangy melody stuck in your head for life. Go in late May or June to enjoy the blooming laurel and rhododendron.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go:
Early summer
hikinginthesmokys.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Joe Dsilva

Think you appreciate just how huge the Grand Canyon really is? See how you feel after taking in its seemingly endless layer-cake strata by foot in a single day. True, only the worst kind of masochist/speed demon/ultralighter honestly considers this 23-mile epic trek a day hike. Luckily, we are all of those things. Earn your bragging rights by descending from the north rim on the North Kaibab trail, and connecting to the South Kaibab Trail via Bright Angel. The smart and sane may want to rest at one of the lovely campsites in between.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: Early spring to escape crowds. Heavy snows usually close the road to the North Rim from late October through May each year.
nps.gov/grca

—Amy Reinink

Shutterstock

The uphill climb is tough, with switchbacks, rock scrambles and lung-searing steeps. But the wildflower-laden meadows on the way up and the 360-degree views of turquoise mountain lakes—including the Garibaldi Provincial Park’s namesake Garibaldi Lake—and the jagged peak of Black Tusk from Panorama Ridge make this 18-miler worthwhile. Leave around sunrise for a full day of gorgeous hiking, then reward yourself with a craft beer and local fare from Vancouver's Alibi Room.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: July-October
vancouvertrails.com
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/Tim Gage

With log bridges, cold, clear creeks and a waterfall along the trek, then a bright blue mountain lake surrounded by jagged mountain peaks at the end, this might be the quintessential British Columbian hike. Start at Skagit Valley Provincial Park's Eaton Creek Forest Recreation Site, and follow the old road until it becomes a trail (orange squares serve as trail markers). The 5-mile trek gains 3,000 feet in elevation, so prepare for a grind.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: June-October
tourismchilliwack.com
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/katstan/dogtooth77

This short-but-scrappy 6.7-mile loop of the highest peak in the Catskills is an eternal favorite for killer autumn foliage and breathtaking views of 33 (out of a possible 34) other peaks. Come in from the east up the Curtis Ormsbee Trail for over 3,000 feet of climbing over Cornell Mountain and Wittenberg Mountain, which add together to produce one of the more brutal treks in the Catskills. Of course, it goes without saying that when it comes to hiking, rewarding and brutal go hand-in-hand.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go:
April-October
nynjtc.org
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/patrickhashley

Trace the Great Range’s ridgeline on a magical journey past 150-foot waterfalls, open summits and multiple challenging peaks. Don’t be fooled by the “lower” qualifier of this “Lower Great Range Loop”—it’s still an epic, 14- to 17-mile trek over 4,000-plus-foot mountains with tellingly imaginative names like Wolfjaw and Little Nippletop. Get an early start from the St. Huberts Trailhead, and follow the West River Trail and Gothics-Armstrong Trail for a full day of dramatic, panoramic views. This is one of the best hiking areas in the Adirondacks, so there are plenty of more manageable options, including a 9-mile roundtrip on the West River Trail along the East Branch Ausable River to glimmering, glacier-carved Lower Ausable Lake.
Difficulty: Strenuous; Moderate to Ausable Lake
When to go: Summer to early fall
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/Mr. Moment

The 296-mile Superior Hiking Trail follows the ridgeline over Lake Superior, through old-growth forests and stunning views of the St. Louis River and Superior’s north shore. Famous for its maple-and-pine beauty and carefully maintained paths, day sections of the trail rank as moderately difficult and are easy to break up from 75 different access points. Watch out for moose, black bears and other wildlife waltzing across the trail into the majestic Superior wilderness.
Difficulty: It's up to you.
When to go: Late summer is best.
shta.org
—Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/nordique

Bypass cruise-ship tourists on this tough 6-miler, a favorite of Skagway locals and area park rangers. Hikers ascend 3,100 feet from Lower Dewey Lake to Upper Dewey Lake via switchbacks, footbridges and muskeg meadows along Dewey Creek, and are rewarded with views of nearby Mount Harding and downtown Skagway below, not to mention the crystal-clear lake itself.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: Summer
skagwayrecreation.org
Amy Reinink

Flickr/Zach Dischner

If you've ever wished for a hot tub to massage your sore muscles post-hike, head to Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen, Colorado, where an 8.5-mile hike through the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness area leads to 102-degree natural springs. Masochists can spend a short while enjoying views of 14,265-foot Castle Peak before heading back downhill, but you'll likely want to spend the night at one of 16 primitive campsites nearby. Then again, since views often include peeks at nude swimmers (bathing suits are definitely optional), you may prefer to make this a day hike.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: July-October
colorado.com
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/Lee Edwin Coursey

Here’s another great section-hike on the Appalachian Trail, but this 11-miler will make even the most creature comfort-loving of thru-hike skeptics consider quitting their jobs to tackle the whole thing. At 3,644 feet, White Cap Mountain is the highest peak in the area and offers Appalachian Trail voyagers a glimpse of Mount Katahdin—the northern-bound finish line of a months-long journey. It’s a tough climb, but the reward is the chance to swim in Cooper Brook Falls and take in the rugged Maine wilderness from high above. For a shorter, 7-mile segment of the trail, tackle Gulf Hagas, which passes a series of breathtaking gorge waterfalls that feel like they’re a million miles from civilization.
Difficulty: Strenuous for 11 miles/Moderate for 7 miles
When to go: Summer
outdoors.org
—Caitlin Giddings

Shutterstock

Trace the rugged coastline of a secluded section of the Hawaiian island of Kauai on this narrow 11-mile trail, which leads from Ke'e Beach to Kalalau Beach. Part of the Hawaii State Parks system, Na Pali—"the cliffs" in Hawaiian—is aptly named, as it treks over high cliffs above the turquoise Pacific surf below. Don't let the coastal location fool you—this is a rigorous trek with some steep ascents and descents, thanks to rolling hills.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: Year-round
hawaiistateparks.org
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/Jeff Bang

File this one under “Hikes you don’t need a car to access,” and enjoy the hour-and-a-half train ride out to the beautiful Hudson River Valley. The views of the Hudson River can’t be beat from this admittedly challenging trek (the word “scramble” comes up often in Breakneck Ridge trail ratings). There are a number of shorter routes, including a 2.8-mile loop, but if you want a full 12-miler and a glimpse of downtown NYC, follow the white blazes to the fire tower at South Beacon.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: Year-round
nynjtc.org
—Caitlin Giddings

Shuttterstock

The trail to Grinnell Glacier traces the shores of glittering blue Lake Josephine, ringed by shadows of dark mountain peaks before ascending into those peaks on a narrow, rocky trail. Stands of fragrant pines and ever-changing views of the surrounding peaks and the lake below make the climb worthwhile. Six miles and 1,600 feet after beginning, hikers arrive at Upper Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier, which sit at the base of the continental divide.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go:
Late summer or early fall; the trail isn't free of snow until mid-August
nps.gov/glac
—Amy Reinink

Flickr/adamiwebb

Is it really that surprising that so many great eastern hikes are on the Appalachian Trail? At 3,941 feet, Mount Greylock is the highest peak in Massachusetts, offering spectacular, colorful views of four neighboring states on a clear day. Base to summit is an all-day, 13.6-mile roundtrip undertaking, but there’s a 1930s-era lodge at the peak where you can eat lunch or spend the night. You’ll also pass rich vegetation, scores of interesting wildlife, and a stray lighthouse miles and miles from the ocean.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: April-October
mass.gov
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/paul+photos=moody/found_drama

The view from Camel’s Hump, the state’s third-highest mountain, is unsullied by cell towers, ski lifts and other standard manmade distractions, which is a surprisingly rare treat for a Vermont hike. There are a number of trailheads around the mountain, and all offer a chance to rock-hop your way to the 4,083-foot open summit. Our favorite is the 6.8-mile roundtrip route on the Monroe Trail. Expect steep climbs and exceptional views of endangered alpine vegetation.
Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous
When to go: All summer is great, but fall is best.
summitpost.org
—Caitlin Giddings

Wikimedia Commons/Knowandtell

The Zaleski trail network offers moderate to difficult treks through a woodland wonderland. Start at the historical Hope Furnace, which produced iron ore and weaponry starting before the Civil War, and disappear into a forest filled with mining remnants, secret caves and dense clusters of maple, hickory and oak. If you don’t have the time or energy for an all-day 18-mile push around both loops, no one will you call you lazy if you stick to the 10-mile South Loop.
Difficulty: Strenuous for 18 miles; Moderate for 10 miles
When to go: Year-round
ohiodnr.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/WanderingtheWorld (www.LostManProject.com)

Don’t dismiss all things Franconia simply because they’re so popular—there’s a reason this 9-mile loop is an eternal best-hikes chart topper. Sure, when it comes to hiking the White Mountains, you could dig up deeper cuts, but you’d be missing out on a classic high-elevation day hike with waterfalls, breathtaking 360-degree views for miles, and just the right amount of suffering to get to the top of Mount Lafayette, Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack. Come for the scenery, not the solitude—chances are your good taste in hikes will be shared by plenty of other Appalachian Trail section hikers.
Difficulty: Strenuous
When to go: Fall is best, but summer's pretty great, too.
sectionhiker.com
Caitlin Giddings

Flickr/John 'K'

If the romance of the name "Lost Coast" isn't enough to lure you on this classic Northern California beach hike, the promise of ancient redwoods, black-sand beaches, sea cliffs and creek crossings should be. The trek starts at Shelter Cove, which is near—well, nothing, hence the name Lost Coast—and proceeds north to Mattole. The full point-to-point hike is 24 miles, so day-hikers may want to experience the beauty in smaller doses.
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous, depending on how much you bite off
When to go: Year-round
redwoods.info
—Amy Reinink

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/-Raeky

The aptly named Chimney Top is a striking rock structure presiding over hickory-oak forestland and West Virginia countryside. You’ll gain 1,700 feet of elevation on your way up the 2.9-mile (one way) North Fork Mountain trail, but rewards come in the form of 360 views from multiple vista points and the chance to spot a peregrine falcon on its morning commute. Getting to the very top of the peak will require a small amount of rock-climbing skills, but you can take in the rock formations on Chimney Top without too much scrambling. Bring a camera—and lots of water.
Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous
When to go: April-November
trails.com
Caitlin Giddings

20 Epic American Day Hikes