What are your favorite ways to connect with nature?
Are you someone who loves getting out to go fishing, spending hours on the river, lake, ocean, or pond watching the water and enjoying the ebbs and flows of ocean life? Perhaps you are someone who instead likes getting in the water, swimming, surfing, paddleboarding, or snorkeling.
No matter what it is, getting outside is a great way to connect with nature.
One of our favorite ways to enjoy nature, some relaxation, and work out is by hiking. Taking a walk through nature, the mountains, valleys, plains, and natural vistas can bring deep, all-encompassing serenity and joy.
The Japanese practice of “forest bathing” dates back to the 1980s, but it’s more pertinent and popular than ever. Research shows that a brief journey into natural spaces (120 minutes a week) can significantly boost happiness levels.
And the United States is full of incredible hikes with spectacular views year-round. With such rich and varied landscapes sprinkled across the great U.S. of A., you can’t go wrong!
Here are nine of the best hikes in the U.S. that you simply can’t miss:
1. Nugget Falls Trail, Tongass National Forest
Starting in the northernmost state of the USA, our first incredible hike is the Nugget Falls Trail in Tongass National Forest, Alaska. Centered right around the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, the Tongass National Forest offers 700 miles of trails for the ultimate adventure.
It is not uncommon to spot incredible wildlife such as bald eagles, black bears, and sockeye salmon as your hike through the park. Nugget Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails in the National Forest, as it offers views of both waterfall and glacier and many other panoramic views. You have to see it to believe the size and beauty of the place.
2. Burroughs Mountain Hike, Mount Rainier National Park
Our second hike takes us further south into the lower 48 but still out on the Pacific.
Next on the bucket list is Burroughs Mountain Hike in Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is a volcano that has looked out over the city of Seattle in Washington for thousands of years. The main mountain towers 14,000 feet above sea level, but there is much more on offer than just that.
Burroughs Mountain Hike takes you around the mountain rather than up the mountain. This makes for a more relaxing stroll through the forest with incredible views. The river valleys and dense forests are a site that will help you connect with nature.
3. Petroglyph Wall Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area of Nevada is so named because of its stunning red rock formations, canyons, and other interesting peaks, valleys, cliffs, and drops. Petroglyph Wall Trail in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area is more than just a great day hike; it is a can’t-miss-classic.
The hikes in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area are short; the longest of them only goes for six miles. Yet, these seemingly brief hikes are challenging and can take hours to complete.
Petroglyph Wall Trail is a short trail famous for the Petroglyph Wall, where you can see cave paintings that are hundreds of years old.
4. Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park
Any list of the best hikes in the United States would be incomplete without including at least one section of the Appalachian Trail.
Our first East Coast hike featured on our list today is one of the best hikes on our list. It takes us to the great state of Virginia for a hike along the Appalachian Trail. Located just a short drive outside of our nation's capital, Shenandoah National Park encompasses over 200,000 acres of wildlands.
Shenandoah National Park is also home to over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail consists of over 2,000 miles of hiking trails running from Maine to Georgia. A beautiful section crosses right through the Shenandoah National Park.
5. Halema'uma'u Trail, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Heading back from the East Coast, we hit the only state that is not road trip accessible. Let’s fly out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and land in Kauai, Hawaii.
Hawaii is itself an intense and beautiful display of the many different landscapes and ecosystems here on Earth. We love this mild tropical paradise's sandy beaches, dense rainforests, and warm rains.
Perhaps the most dramatic site is witnessing a real-life volcano in action: Halema'uma'u Trail in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park offers views of the Kilauea Caldera, shooting ash, smoke, and lava up from below the Earth's crust. The hike itself is only one mile long — short and sweet.
Luckily, there are plenty of other hikes and natural areas to explore in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, covering two of the state's largest volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Kea.
6. Charlies Bunion Hike, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Smoky Mountains, which occupy a large swath of the Eastern United States in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee, are a large and sprawling national protected string of mountain ranges that includes diverse landscapes and wildlife.
There are hundreds of miles of both unofficial and official trails throughout the park. This rocky landscape offers striking views of massive forests, mountains, trees, and waterfalls. Charlies Bunion Hike is also a portion of the Appalachian Trail, giving you another opportunity to walk to the most famous trail in the United States, but from a different perspective.
7. South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
Just like no list of American hikes could be considered complete without at least a portion of the Appalachian Trail, every good list of the best hikes in the United States must feature the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park showcases the world's largest canyon, offering stunning views of rock formations formed throughout history by the mighty Colorado River.
Arizona’s South Rim Trail is a relatively easy and self-guided trail with stunning views from the South Rim of the canyon. If you are looking to get more adventurous, there are expert-guided tours that will take you on a hike of the canyon rim to rim to see how truly massive the Grand Canyon is.
It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can’t be missed. That being said, perhaps try to visit in the spring or fall before hot summer temperatures make the Grand Canyon particularly strenuous.
8. Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park
Montana is one of the least densely populated states in the United States. It contains 147,000 square miles and only one million residents, giving each resident their own 147 square miles of personal space. Montana also showcases some of the most spectacular natural sites in the United States at Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park includes Many Glacier, a glacier that serves as the headwaters for many rivers flowing to the Pacific and the Gulf. The beautiful mountain vistas and forests that you can see at Glacier National Park have few peers in either the United States or the world at large.
9. Upper-Emerald Pool Trail, Zion National Park
The final hike on our list takes us to Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah. Zion is a preserve for some of the most spectacular and mesmerizing rock features anywhere in the world. Zion is covered in red, pink, and cream ledges, arches, and peaks and valleys.
There are some trails that are particularly difficult and even a bit dangerous for novices, as well as simple trails with almost no elevation change that are easy for small kids and the elderly. We love the Upper Emerald Pool Trail because of the stunning emerald sparkling waterfalls.
Exploring Zion National Park is a right of passage in the United States hiking community. It is something that has to be experienced to see just how quirky, crazy, and cool the geography of the middle of the United States can be.
Hiking Essentials for Your Trip
Before we leave you, we want to remind you of a few essentials for a good hike.
Here are a few key items:
- Sunscreen: The last thing that you want on a hike is to get a nasty sunburn. Apply sunscreen liberally before and during your hike to prevent the development of sunburns and other unwanted effects of prolonged sun exposure.
- Food and Water: You are going to want to have a few snacks to keep your energy high and manageable. Focus on calorie-dense snacks and things with easy energy, like fruit, nuts, protein bars, and jerky. Don’t forget to stay hydrated; even chilly days pose a risk of dehydration.
A Cooler: Keeping your water and food cold during your hike is essential so that it stays fresh and remains refreshing.
- For day hikes, grab a Backpack Cooler to easily carry up to six gallons of water. A Backpack Cooler should be lightweight, water-resistant, and equipped with padded straps.
- If you’re setting up a long-term campsite or just chilling lakeside, easy-to-carry Hard Coolers will keep your food cold, secure, and protected from bears.
- Athletic Wear: Finally, you will need to wear athletic gear for your hike. While not every hike will be wildly challenging, it is always best to be in comfortable clothing that can withstand exercise and sweat. No matter the sun level, bring a reliable cap to keep the sun out of your face.
From Trailhead to Journey’s End
Few countries have as many spectacular hikes as the United States. We have tons of protected National and State parks, which showcase the various environments and landscapes of the United States.
By traveling across the country, you can see all nine of these once-in-a-lifetime hikes and see the most incredible natural sites. Any of these hikes would make a great addition to your travel plans or a good weekend outing for a fun family activity.
No matter where the wide-open road takes you, at Patriot Coolers, we urge you to take a moment to appreciate the brave Veterans who made all this natural splendor possible. Without them, these cascading mountains and daring treelines wouldn’t be there for us to enjoy.
Head to the trailhead, pull out your map, and live your next great adventure.