With so many national parks in the U.S. and so much ground to explore, choosing an ideal hiking trail can be a challenge.With so many national parks in the U.S. and so much ground to explore, choosing an ideal hiking trail can be a challenge.
The best hikes should get visitors to see the park's top sights, and our friends at ShermansTravel.com put together a top 10 list of the ones people should be certain not to miss.
These trails, some more strenuous than others, guide the explorer past stunning landscapes and offer a glimpse of the park's most remarkable treasures: Rare species, peculiar rock formations, pristine beaches, spectacular canyons, or abundant wildlife.
Nature's wonderland beckons – all travelers need are a good pair of walking shoes, plenty of water, and a taste for adventure.
Text and images courtesy of ShermansTravel.com
Best National Parks Hikes
10 Best Hikes In America's National Parks (PHOTOS)
Bryce Canyon in southwest Utah boasts a unique beauty, thanks to multi-hued rock formations known as hoodoos. These spire-like formations (ranging from the height of the average person to that of a 10-story building) were created from the erosion of layers of sedimentary rock.
Despite its name, Bryce Canyon isn’t actually a canyon but rather a series of depressions formed by erosions in the Paunsaugunt Plateau; the largest, Bryce Amphitheater, is 12 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 800-plus feet deep. Queens Garden Trail is the easiest way to get you into the amphitheater.
With three different ecosystems and a maximum of 300 park guests per day, the Cumberland Island National Seashore, located just north of the Georgia-Florida border and only accessible via ferry from St. Mary’s, is perfect for nature lovers seeking quiet and crowd-free exploring.
Established as a national seashore in 1972, the island’s beaches, salt marshes, and maritime forests are stunningly beautiful. The Willow Pond Trail takes visitors from the rugged coast into the verdant forest.
Covering more than a million acres in northwest Montana, Glacier National Park brims with verdant forests, craggy mountains, tranquil lakes, and lush alpine meadows. Close to 350 species of birds and mammals call this park home, including grizzly bears, gray wolves, and golden eagles.
With over 700 miles in trails, there's no shortage of options for exploring, but the Grinnell Glacier Trail (hikeable from mid-July through September) takes visitors especially close to the glaciers. Sadly, the park’s namesake features have disappeared at an alarming rate over the past 100 years: Where once there were over 150 glaciers, today there are only 25.
Forgo being swept along with the tourist crush that winds its way down Grand Canyon National Park’s more-popular South Rim thoroughfare, the Bright Angel Trail, in favor of the lesser-trammeled South Kaibab Trail, just east of Grand Canyon Village.
The well-maintained route – fresh from a 2-year reconstruction project – affords superlative scenery, tracing the canyon’s ridgeline via a series of switchbacks on a steep descent to the Colorado River.
Hike Laurence S. Rockefeller returned this formerly private, 1,106-acre preserve to the public in 2007, adding eight miles of trails to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
ShermansTravel.com recommends the primary loop, including trails Lake Creek and Woodland, for its tranquil views and summertime appeal. Locals fancy the shoreline for a run or hike, followed by a splash into the waters from Phelps Lake Rock, a 20-foot high perch midway around the pond.
Maui’s Haleakala National Park is named for its showpiece 10,000-foot Haleakala “crater” (actually an erosional depression), and comprises five different climate zones and amazingly contrasting nature realms of lush coastal jungle and stark subalpine desert mountains.
The upper Kipahulu Valley, the result of erosion at the summit, is home to Waikomoi Preserve where rainforests shelter some of the world’s rarest species of plants, insects, and birds. Only a guided hike led by the park staff will get you there.
A limestone and sandstone labyrinth lurks beneath the rolling hills of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, home to the world’s largest known cave (the current surveyed distance is 360 miles, though scientists estimate the subterranean complex extends for as many as 1,000 miles).
Intrepid explorers can walk through this fascinating underworld, which inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendental appreciation of nature, on the Star Chamber Tour, a guided, evening hike.
The cliff dwellings at Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park are among the best preserved in North America. Occupied for about 100 years between the late 1190s and 1300 by Pueblo Indians, these sandstone brick structures were built with wooden beams and mortar; some contain just one room while others are massive complexes resembling mini-villages.
Cliff Palace is by far the largest dwelling at Mesa Verde, with 150 rooms believed to have housed a population of about 100 people.
With 101 miles of Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park is an ideal compromise for hikers who want to trammel the legendary, 14-state path but can’t commit to the half-year the 2,180-mile journey demands.
Though the Appalachian Trail sections at Shenandoah don’t delve as deep into the wilderness as the park’s remaining 399 miles of paths, the historic route offers plenty of opportunities to take in the many shades of the Blue Ridge Mountains – and supplies serious bragging rights.
Natural attractions at Yosemite National Park in California are bountiful: Half Dome, one of the park’s hallmark rock formations, towering 5,000 feet above the valley floor; Horsetail Fall, a cascade that reflects the sunset and turns a fiery shade of red in February; and Glacier Point, an overlook with expansive views of the park.
Yet the appeal of giant sequoias – almost fantastical in their proportions, with trunks wide enough for cars to pass through – is irresistible. Hike to Mariposa Grove along the Outer Loop Trail where there are some 500 mature sequoias.