Great North American Day Hikes Slideshow

Great North American Day Hikes Slideshow

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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/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/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

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 both 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

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

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/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/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/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/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/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

Shutterstock

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

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/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

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/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/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

Shutterstock

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/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

Shutterstock

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/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

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

Shutterstock

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

Shutterstock

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/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

Shutterstock

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/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

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

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

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/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

Great North American Day Hikes Slideshow