While on the road leading tours, a lot of my time within the Western half of the United States is spent hiking. Although (for some strange reason I still don’t understand) many of my young passengers don’t enjoy hiking, it really is the best way to see the most beautiful parts of this country. For this reason, whether they like it or not, I’ll often drag my groups out on the trail with me even if it’s just for an hour. Once it’s over, everyone always agrees it was worth it, regardless of the initial moaning and feet dragging.
Since I’ve been fortunate to visit numerous national parks and traverse many of their popular hiking trails, here are my favorite hikes around the U.S. divided up by length.
1. Mesa Arch, Canyonlands, UT
One of the best views in the park is surprisingly easy to get to. From the trailhead, a .5 mile long loop will bring you the arch and view of the canyon toward the Colorado River. If you dare (and are careful!), climb up the arch and take a photo on top. While a popular spot all day long, sunrise and sunset are also busy (but beautiful) times to go.
- Distance: .5 mile loop from trailhead.
- How to get there: From Island in the Sky Visitor Center, take Grand View Point Road until you reach the Mesa Arch Trailhead on your left.
2. Fern Canyon, Redwoods, CA
Featured in the movie Jurassic Park 2, it makes perfect sense why Fern Canyon was used for the setting. This 50 foot tall narrow canyon is covered in ferns and moss, surrounding you in lush green plant life. You’d think you were in the rainforest rather than redwood forest.
For a short quick visit, you can get to Fern Canyon from the parking area for Gold Bluffs Beach, another beautiful area. If you’d rather a longer hike, you can get there from the Prairie Creek SP Visitor Center, 4.5 miles each way.
- Distance: From Gold Bluffs Beach, take the one mile loop.
- How to get there: Take the bumpy dirt road of Coastal Drive to the end where you’ll find facilities and a parking lot. You’ll have to pay a fee at the entrance, so you might as well enjoy the entire area and check out the beach while there.
3. Horseshoe Bend, Page, UT
Near Page, Arizona, the Colorado River winds down from the Grand Canyon creating some equally impressive scenery. The easiest and most stunning spot can be reached after a short uphill hike over a sandy well-trodden path. Before you know it, you’re standing at the ledge looking down on little boats the size of tiny pebbles.
- Distance: 1.5 miles roundtrip, moderately steep at parts.
- How to get there: From Page, AZ drive south on Highway 89 to between mileposts 544 & 545. Look for the large parking area to the right.
Couple Hour Hikes:
4. Navajo Loop, Bryce Canyon, UT
Bryce’s out-of-this-world scenery, is well appreciated on this moderate hike through the hoodoos. Starting at Sunrise Point, it is recommended to go counter-clockwise, dropping down into the amphitheater and then through Wall Street, a narrow switchback through a tall slot canyon.
With more time, you could join on Queen’s Garden to your hike to get further into the canyon.
- Distance: 1.3 miles, 2.8 miles with Queen’s Garden.
- How to get there: Find the trailheads from the parking lot at Sunset Point inside Bryce Canyon National Park.
5. Devil’s Garden Arches, Arches, UT
You can reach up to six different arches on this moderate trail towards the back of Arches National Park. If you have a trail map, you can make this hike into a loop and find the less maintained primitive trails. If you don’t feel like wandering around the backcountry, you can go back the same way you came.
This is the perfect hike for early mornings. Sunrise can’t be recommended enough– it’s a lot cooler and you’ll be one of the only people on the trail. Mid-morning it becomes much more crowded.
- Distance: 5.8 miles to the Double O Arch, up to 9 miles if taking the primitive loop.
- How to get there: The Devil’s Garden parking area is 18 miles from the entrance to the park, there is also a basic campground nearby.
6. The Narrows, Zion, UT
On the North Fork of the Virgin River, the Narrows is a beautiful example of a tall narrow slot canyon. With waterproof shoes and optional hiking poles, you can wade through the water and hike as far into the canyon as you wish.
Perfect for hot days, hiking the Narrows is a unique way too see the park and cool down at the same time. Prone to flash floods after heavy rainstorms, be sure to check the weather from the National Park Service before trekking into the canyon!
- Distance: As far as you’d like
- How to get there: From the Temple of Sinawa shuttle stop, walk the paved path to the entrance to the river.
7. Siphon Draw, Lost Dutchman State Park, AZ
Coming straight out of the desert valley, almost out of nowhere, the Superstition Mountains are a welcome sight. Surrounded by tall Saguaro cactus and nearby a gold mining ghost town, Lost Dutchman State Park is highly under-rated.
One trail will lead you into mountains, and although the map only mentions one to the top, it isn’t accurate. Unfortunately, many spur trails have been created and if the trail markers are not visible (like when we hiked it) you may have a hard time finding your way anywhere past the Basin. If you’re like us and completely unable to find the infamous Flatiron trail, just follow one of the other trails to the right and get up to the ridge. This took us on a less strenuous hike than the Flatiron but still with beautiful views and few people.
Overall, after taking Siphon Draw for a couple miles, any trail will be a good choice. The Superstition Mountains are stunning and varied, taking you high above the valley floor in no time.
- Distance: 4 miles
- How to get there: You can find the trailhead from the small day use parking lot in Lost Dutchman State Park. It is also accessible from the campground.
Half or Full Day Hikes:
8. Angel’s Landing, Zion, UT
Probably one of the most popular hikes in the entire park, hiking Angel’s Landing as early as possible is crucial. Not only will it be more enjoyable this way, but safer too. This trail is known for it’s narrow, 1,000 foot drop offs, and any overly crowded paths or horse-play can lead to severe consequences.
Still, if you can stomach the heights and be cautious, Angel’s Landing will reward you with one of the most spectacular views you’ve ever seen.
- Distance: 5 miles
- How to get there: Get off the Zion Canyon Shuttle at The Grotto, cross the street and the trailhead begins from the footbridge over the Virgin River.
9. Grinnell Glacier, Glacier , MT
It was this hike which lead to find my new favorite national park– Glacier. With wildflowers in bloom, turquoise lakes below and bright blocks of glacial ice in front of you, you’ll think you’re in another world– surely not the United States.
While it’s a long hike to get to the glacier, it’s well worth it. Watch the icebergs float in the lake over some lunch. If you dare, take a polar plunge too!
Don’t forget your ‘bear bell’ or ‘bear spray’!
- Distance: 11.6 miles
- How to get there: Park at the Many Glacier Hotel and head around the left side of the lake to find the start of the trail. Trail maps and bear spray are available inside the hotel.
10. Panorama Trail, Yosemite, CA
If you only have one day to hike in Yosemite, this would be the one I’d recommend. Starting up top on Glacier Point, one of the most stunning views in the park, you’ll then hike almost entirely downhill for the rest of the way.
While still demanding, the views should hopefully distract you. You’ll see Half Dome, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls and even have an option to walk some of the John Muir trail.
- Distance: 8.5 miles
- How to get there: Take the shuttle to Glacier Point to begin your hike. At the bottom you can once again catch the shuttle to reach your parking spot in the valley.
11. Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ
Although there is a closer parking lot to Cathedral Rock, hiking in this direction allows for beautiful views of the monolith you’re about to scale. It is also sparsely populated with other hikers, giving you some alone time before the crowded portion.
From the top of Cathedral Rock, the view of both Sedona and Cottonwood are stunning. In the distance, try and spot the ghost town Jerome tucked on the far away mountain slope.
- Distance: 5 miles take the Baldwin Trail to the Templeton Trail, trace Oak Creek, ascend 600 feet of switchbacks, and follow cairns to the saddle. Circumnavigate the towers and descend the far side of Cathedral Rock to reunite with the Baldwin Trail for the 1.5-mile return.
- How to get there: Use the Baldwin Trail Parking Lot on Verde Valley School Road. You can pay the $5 day use fee on the machines.
12. Emory Peak, Big Bend, TX
The biggest hike in the park to tackle, getting to the top of Emory Peak is no minor achievement. After scaling the rock scramble to the top, you are rewarded with views of the entire park, a wide expanse of rugged high desert scenery. You really feel like you’re on top of the world here.
I did this hike during winter, and while it was chilly with some snow on the ground, it was still a fine time to do the climb. It was pretty overcast though, so I can imagine that a clear spring day when the wildflowers are in bloom would be optimal. After the long hike, reward yourself with a soak at the hot springs in the park right on the Mexico border.
- Distance: 9.3 mile out and back
- How to get there: Park at the village at Chisos Basin. The trail begins as the Pinnacles Trail until continuing on to Emory Peak 1 mile from the summit.