The 13 Best Hiking Trails in America
To say the hiking trail system in the USA is gargantuan would be an understatement; there are hundreds of thousands of stunning routes all over the country. America’s national parks give us millions of acres of land, all ready to explore, and epic trails show you the very best views and sights. With more jaw-dropping views around every switchback, it can feel like there’s never enough time to do all the best hikes, but we’re here to help.
We’ve compiled the best hiking trails in America here, so you can decide which to add to your bucket list. From short and sweet day hikes to mammoth multi-day treks, there’s a trail for every hiker on this list. North America is bursting with top-notch hiking trails, whether you prefer rocky mountains or sandy beaches. You’ve already read about the best hikes in Yosemite National Park, now read on to find out about the best hikes in all of the USA.
1. The John Muir Trail, California
The John Muir Trail is known as one of the most scenic in the US, as well as being one of the most famous. The 210-mile trail winds through California’s gorgeous Sierra Nevada Mountains, through fantastically varied landscapes. From the trail, hikers will see thousands of lakes, sweeping canyons, and impressive granite cliffs. The trail starts in Yosemite, where a plethora of intriguing red rock formations provide constant entertainment and photo opportunities. Then, into the Ansel Adams Wilderness, through Sequoia National Park, into Kings’ Canyon National Park, and finally concluding at the continental United States’ highest peak.
If you choose to start your thru-hike in Yosemite, you’ll just need a wilderness permit and you’re ready to undertake the journey. The first 160 miles of the John Muir Trail follows the same path as the Pacific Crest Trail, with all 200 miles of beautiful California wilderness a worthwhile path to walk. The climb at Mt. Whitney reaches an elevation of 14.496 feet above sea level, so hikers who complete the John Muir Trail can successfully say they climbed to the highest point in America.
This multi-day trek is no small endeavor, a lot of logistical planning goes into a long-distance hike such as the John Muir Trail. However, with a little effort and perseverance, any hiker can enjoy one of the best hiking trails in America. Many even place the John Muir Trail amongst the best hikes in the world. This trail is unsurprisingly popular, so be sure to apply for permits well in advance in order to complete this bucket-list-worthy hike.
2. Longs Peak, Colorado
The dramatic skyline of Rocky Mountain National Park is ruled by Longs Peak, a 14,259-foot peak which presents one of the most challenging hikes in Colorado. As one of the states “Fourteeners”, or highest peaks, the hike to the summit of Longs Peak is very popular. This rugged hiking trail is for only the most adventurous outdoor enthusiasts, as a 14-hour ascent with an elevation gain of 5500 feet is only the beginning. Many schedule their hike in time to watch the sunrise over the treeline at the famous boulder field, where phenomenal views welcome the new day.
After crossing the Keyhole, the terrain becomes more difficult, and hikers will need to scramble along challenging rocky ledges. Finally, hikers reach the steep “Home Stretch”, where a scramble to the summit completes this hike. Although this hike takes a minimum of 10 hours, it’s actually only 15 miles long, but it’s the longest 15 miles you’ll ever experience. Of course, the rewards at the summit are huge. Unobstructed panoramic views await at the top of Longs Peak, where hikers can see miles into the distance, over the eastern plains and the continental divide.
3. Grayson Highlands, Virginia
The Appalachian Trail, or A.T., is without a doubt one of the best hikes in America. It’s most famous as a grueling 6-month thru-hike, but can be enjoyed as a section hike as well. One such section of the A.T. is the Greyson Highlands in Virginia. During this 8-mile day-hike, visitors can see vast fields of wildflowers, wildlife such as wild ponies, and endless rolling hillsides. The peaceful Virginia backcountry offers a highly pleasant stroll through meadows and forests, and the opportunity to summit Mt. Rodgers as well, the state’s highest point.
The Appalachian Trail passes through fourteen states, including New Hampshire, Maine, and Georgia. Each of these states has its own uniquely beautiful section of the trail, but for a scenic and tranquil section hike, Virginia’s Greyson Highlands is an excellent choice. To hike the Appalachian Trail is a huge life event, which requires a lot of research before undertaking. Read our useful article to find out about the average miles per day on the Appalachian Trail, and lots of other useful information too.
4. Cracker Lake Trail, Montana
Glacier National Park in Montana is one of the most underrated national parks in North America. The towering icy glaciers make for a dramatic backdrop for this 12-mile trail, where hikers can enjoy jaw-dropping views every step of the way. This trail includes creek crossings and log bridges, it’s a true Montana outdoor experience. A scenic trek through green woodlands is followed by an easy approach to the gorgeous Cracker Lake, where visitors should allow for extra time to stay and enjoy the view.
The stunning blue lake is nestled at the feet of some of Glacier National Park’s namesake features, with rocky mountainous surroundings. We recommend this beautiful hike to anyone looking to avoid the crowds, as visitors to this national park can enjoy million-dollar views in peace. Although this trail can be completed in one day, we recommend making your trip an overnight multi-day trek, so you have ample time to marvel at the scenery.
5. Pacific Crest Trail, USA
When discussing the best hiking trails in America, we can’t ignore the one which spans the entire country. Technically a National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail runs all the way down North America, from Canada to Mexico. Much of the trail follows the highest points of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, totaling 2650 miles from start to finish. This gargantuan trail cuts through California, Oregan, and Washington, through some of the most diverse and stunning landscapes in the United States.
Hikers on the PCT will experience arid deserts, thick forests, and deep glaciated valleys. This challenging long-distance hike takes 5 months on average to complete and offers an unparalleled way to experience American backcountry. The trail is open to backpackers and equestrian campers, all of whom may be lucky enough to walk this epic pathway. Any hiker who completes the PCT gains the coveted title of “2600-miler”, a testament to the perseverance and dedication required to hike such a challenging route.
6. Tonto Trail, Arizona
The Tonto Trail is a 90-mile hiking trail which passes through the heart of the Grand Canyon and an amazing perspective from which to experience this red rock national park. Hikers can see Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park from within the canyon itself, and enjoy the towering rock formations which surround every visitor. Phenomenal views of the Colorado River are offered to hikers of the Tonto Trail, as well as numerous backcountry campsites for your overnight stay.
Beginning at the south bank of the Colorado River, this trail passes along the South Rim to the eastern end of the Red Canyon. This long-distance hike isn’t too challenging other than the size, as most of the trail is level and easy-going. Reserve your primitive campsites in advance, as wilderness permits are mandatory when hiking the Tonto Trail.
7. Buckskin Gulch, Utah
If you’re tired of wide-open expanses and panoramic views, try a different type of hiking in Southern Utah. Buckskin Gulch is a 13-mile trail that winds through a labyrinth of red rock walls, it’s the best slot canyon hike in the area. Many hikers choose to extend their trek to Lees Ferry, creating a 46-mile trek. Buckskin Gulch is the longest slot canyon in the world, making it a must-see attraction. This unique pathway has to be one of the best hiking trails in America due to its singular setting, offering a different outdoors experience in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area.
Fourteen miles of the trail pass through narrow canyons, by patches of quicksand, and near to steep drops. This challenging trail offers an interesting perspective of the red rock canyons of Utah, we can’t recommend it enough.
8. Half Dome, California
Featured in our article on the best hikes in Yosemite National Park, Half Dome is one of the most popular attractions in all of California’s National Parks. Here, an intense 14-mile trail with an elevation gain of 4800 feet takes hikers to the summit of this huge granite rock formation. From the top, panoramic views of the Sierra Mountains extend in all directions. The beauty of this hiking trail is no secret, as Half Dome is an incredibly popular destination, so we recommend starting early and avoiding weekends.
The Half Dome is iconic to Yosemite National Park, and the climb to the peak is challenging. Hikers can expect to scale miles of stone using steel cable handrails, and some routes take you past some breathtaking waterfalls. Why not add in the Vernal or Nevada Falls to your itinerary in Yosemite, and see them on your way up from the valley floor. With some of the most famous views and mountain scenes accessible on the continent, Half Dome is surely one of the best hiking trails in America.
9. Kesugi Ridge Trail, Alaska
The Kesugi Ridge Trail is a point-to-point trail in Denali National Park, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful trails in the United States. It takes 3-4 days to backpack and totals 27.5 miles of trail. The path runs along the side of Kesugi Mountain and is richly rewarding in terms of scenery. The terrain is varied, with a large portion of the hike located in the endless stunning Alaskan tundra.
Mountain views come one after another on the Kesugi Ridge Trail, with excellent perspectives of Mt. Foraker and the Eldridge Glacier. The trail also passes by the winding Chulitna River, near to plenty of desert rock formations, and through lush green pastures. Hiking the Kesugi Ridge Trail is not without its challenges, as there are several steep climbs and boulder fields to traverse. This just makes it an even better destination for adventurers, so we recommend checking out this super-scenic hike in Alaska.
10. Titcomb Basin, Wyoming
For a hike filled to the brim with impressive landscapes, challenging scrambles, and gorgeous vistas, we recommend Titcomb Basin in Wyoming. The breathtaking views of the Wind River Mountains give this hike a place on everyone’s bucket list. From the edge of the Titcomb basin, you can see the phenomenal vista of Island Lake and the surrounding mountains, it’s arguably the most spectacular sight in the state.
The hiking trail passes through wildflower-filled meadows and dense green forests, by peaceful lakes and ponds. 29 miles of trails offer countless wildlife-sighting opportunities, with deer, marmot, and even Grizzly Bears to be spotted. Alpine peaks, countless blue lakes, and plenty of challenges along the way; this visually marvelous hike in Wyoming has an awful lot to offer.
11. Rae Lakes Loop, California
Rae Lakes Loop is a 41-mile trail loop in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Here, hikers can soak in some of the very best scenery in the High Sierra on this perfect 3-day hike. With multiple beautiful alpine lakes accessed from this trail, it’s the perfect trip to combine with some lakeside camping. The expansive granite canyons provide an impressive backdrop to this harsh yet refreshing landscape.
This challenging trek requires a lot of climbing from hikers, as the trail gains nearly 7000 feet in elevation. Hiking the Rae Lakes Loop will take you through both idyllic green meadows and intense rocky climbs, offering a different and more diverse landscape than other locations in California. One thing we love about this hike is that as a loop it can be approached from two directions, so hikers can pick their route based on experience. Trekkers looking for a challenge can complete the loop counter-clockwise, whereas the clockwise alternative avoids several of the hardest climbs.
12. Greenstone Ridge Trail, Michigan
Isle Royale National Park is a completely isolated island in Lake Superior, Michigan. The island is only 45 miles long, yet it holds an impressive 165 miles of hiking trails. Other than the spectacular trail system, attractions in this national park include the ruins of a copper mine and an 1800’s lighthouse. The Greenstone Ridge Trail runs along the ridge which forms the east-to-west spine of the island and includes summiting Mount Desor, the island’s highest peak.
This quiet trail is a great place to come and hike in solitude, with only the wildlife to keep you company. Sightings of moose, east timber wolves and foxes are common on the island, making it a top hiking destination for nature lovers. Most of the hiking trail passes through forested areas, however, fields of wildflowers are scattered around the island. Stunning views await hikers around every turn in this peaceful national park, where there’s even a chance to see the famous Northern Lights.
13. Art Loeb Trail, North Carolina
This 30-mile trek in North Carolina is an ideal multi-day hike for beginners, within just three days hikers can traverse three of the state’s biggest mountains. This doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge however, as the Art Loeb Trail is one of North Carolina’s most challenging. The trail begins in the Davidson River Valley, from where hikers must climb the Blue Ridge Parkway in order to make their way through its peaks.
The trail ends with a descent down Cold Mountain, where hikers can soak in their final glance of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. The Art Loeb Trail is a diverse and interesting hike, passing through forests, meadows, and a variety of scenic landscapes. Pisgah National Park has a wealth of poetic natural scenery, and to view it from the lofty peaks of the Art Loeb Trail is our favorite way to see it.
To narrow down all the thousands of hiking trails in America into one short list of the best is an almost impossible task. The United States has a bottomless pool of breathtaking hikes worth making it onto anyone’s bucket list, and our selections truly offer some of the best hiking on the continent. Multi-day treks will take any ambitious hiker to every corner of the country, from desert sierras to alpine peaks.
From the red rock formations of Grand Canyon National Park to the tranquil water pools along the Rae Lakes Loop, hiking in America is rich and plentiful. Scale the nations most iconic rock at Half Dome in Yosemite, or traverse the entire United States on the PCT. Whichever trail you choose, the changing landscapes and awe-inspiring vistas are sure to re-invigorate your love of hiking.
Bonus tip: Check out this video to see the winding red rock maze of Buckskin Gulch!