America the beautiful is home to a diversity of majestic landscapes and sceneries. Getting to the best viewpoints is half of the fun, especially when it requires that you lace up your hiking footwear and hit the trails. Some routes are extreme endeavors that can last for days, while others deserve a spot on your itinerary for the sheer beauty of the surrounding environment and wildlife. Whether you're looking for a scenic day trip or an overnight adventure in the wild backcountry, be sure to add one of the best hikes in the United States to your bucket list.
The South Rim Trail at Arizona's majestic Grand Canyon is one of the most hiked in America. Its stunning layers of orange and red sandstone reveal Earth's 2 billion-year-old history, and the Bright Angel Trail is a great way to witness it for yourself. Make a day trip of your journey by turning around at the Mile-and-a-Half or Three-Mile rest house, or the lush Indian Garden campground, an oasis of vibrant greenery between the colorful canyon walls. Venturing further along Bright Angel Trail takes you to several impressive viewpoints all the way to the shores of the Colorado River. Camp overnight to enjoy the breathtaking sunrise and to get an early start on your return trip to the trailhead. Bright Angel Trail is a steep descent into the canyon, but the return trip uphill can be a real challenge if you're not rested enough.
In the vast wilderness of the Olympic National Park, a unique ecosystem abundant with life awaits. A dreamy rainforest of old-growth trees elegantly draped in mosses, lichens, and air plants in striking greens and yellows. The Hoh River Trail navigates through these quiet woods, insulated by dense greenery and accompanied by various species of wildlife. Some sections are pretty strenuous, but most of the trail is easy for families or the average hiker to traverse. Day trips can take you to Mineral Creek Falls or Five Mile Island, the perfect spot for a picnic lunch or a siesta. If you want to hike the Hoh River Trail to its end, take the five-day round trip to Blue Glacier, and swim in Elk Lake if the weather permits. You'll likely spot elk, bears, and deer along the way.
While there are more picturesque and less-crowded slot canyon hikes in the Southwest, the Zion Narrows is a prime destination for experienced and casual hikers alike. This spectacular gorge located in Zion National Park is 16 miles long, carved over millions of years by the flowing Virgin River. The first mile is also wheelchair accessible. Continue through the water from the Temple of Sinawava, admiring the warm tones of the 2,000-foot deep canyon walls. Wade upstream as far as you'd like before returning the way you came. Hiking from the top of the canyon down requires a canyoneering permit and starts outside the park. Complete the 16-mile route in one day, or backpack overnight to take advantage of the dark skies. Check weather reports for rain, when flash floods can make the journey much more dangerous.
Acadia National Park is the crown jewel of Maine's Atlantic Coast. The scenic park protects a diversity of wildlife and ecosystems such as rocky beaches, glacier-carved mountain peaks, and dense forests that transform beautifully in the autumn. Hikers have over 158 miles of trails to explore, and the Pemetic Mountain Loop Trail is a favorite. The strenuous path guarantees a bit of climbing and scrambling, as well as a flat lakeside trail through the woods. Old iron rungs and wooden ladders ease the journey along the way and provide charming photo opportunities for your Instagram feed. The 4-mile round trip averages two to three hours, but bird-watching and nature viewing could make it an all-day adventure. From the summit of Pemetic Mountain, views of the outlying islands and surrounding landscapes aren't too shabby, either. Hike to Pemetic Mountain as an alternative to the heavily trafficked Cadillac Mountain Trail.
The Half Dome Hike at Yosemite National Park isn't the toughest in America by a long shot, but it remains a fixture on hikers' bucket lists worldwide. The iconic rock formation towers 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and is the world's most photographed natural landmark. Reaching the summit is a feat in itself, but getting there takes preparation and physical, as well as mental conditioning. This hike is not for the faint of heart. Metal cables embedded in the rock face help hikers ascend the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment. The exciting journey takes about 12 to 14 hours round trip, but the incomparable views are well worth the trouble.
The Grayson Highlands of Virginia is a breathtaking show of high mountain meadows, colorful wildflowers, and wild ponies against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. You'll find unique sights within the park, but the hike to Virginia's tallest peak reveals the true splendor of this wooded wonderland. The route to Mount Rogers' summit is just over eight miles round trip through dense spruce forests. Hikers ascend in a spiral staircase-like path that links with the Appalachian Trail in grassy pastures. As you get closer to the summit, the terrain becomes rockier, but the views are spectacular. The 21-mile trail is a two to three-day backpacking adventure, so visit during the warmer seasons, and don't be afraid to bring your dog.
The Florida Trail is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in America and an abundance of natural wonders. Some of the most biodiverse landscapes in Florida are accessible along the long-distance hiking trail, which stretches for over 1,000 miles from the panhandle to the south. You'll see everything from wood and grasslands to swamps, but the Big Cypress National Preserve is uniquely beautiful. Almost 30 miles of paths wander through this remote section of the Florida Trail, passing through pinelands, prairies, and marshes. A boardwalk path navigates through dense swamplands where you might catch a glimpse of alligators in their natural habitat.
Haleakalā National Park on the island of Maui is a dreamily beautiful landscape best explored on foot. Many visitors choose to summit Haleakalā for the breathtaking views and bragging rights, but the 10,000-foot elevation isn't for everyone. Hiking the Pipiwai Trail is a beautiful alternative that provides equally stunning views with less risk. That's not to say the hike is easy. The moderate trek is sometimes steep as it navigates through dense foliage and towering bamboo forests. A freshwater stream is always nearby, and you'll spot several spectacular waterfalls, including the gorgeous Waimoku Falls. The trail is considered by some to be the best hike on the island.
Traversing the Alaskan wilderness seems like a huge undertaking, but there are some beautiful trails that you can explore on a day trip. The Harding Icefield Trail at Kenai Fjords National Park is a challenging hike through forests and meadows with a steep climb in elevation. By the trail's end, you might be knee-deep in snow, but the view from the top is transcendental — and so worth the struggle. Ice fields stretch elegantly into the distance for miles, resembling an otherworldly landscape. If you're still skeptical of venturing out on your own or without experience, consider joining a ranger-led hike. Reservations aren't required, but you'll have to make the trip during the summer season.
At the southern end of the Appalachians, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park awaits outdoor enthusiasts with over 800 miles of trails. Take Boulevard Trail to the summit of Mount LeConte for unforgettable views at the Appalachia Trail junction. Whichever path you take, stop at LeConte Lodge or reserve an overnight stay at a cabin. For a shorter day hike, consider the Chimney Tops Trail. The 2-mile trek navigates through old-growth forests and along picturesque creeks, culminating in fantastic, 360-degree views. Despite its short distance, Chimney Tops Trail isn't an easy hike. You'll climb lots of steps and gain over 1,300 feet in elevation, with a 960-foot incline in the last mile alone. Reaching the summit also requires scrambling up steep rocks, but the heavily-trafficked route sees adventurers of all ages meet the challenge. Visit during the springtime when the wildflowers are in bloom for the perfect, Instagrammable shot.