20 Great Western Day Hikes

20 Great Western 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

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

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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/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

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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

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/mabecerra/Matt Peoples

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

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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

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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

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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/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

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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/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

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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/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/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