Each year, the American Hiking Society celebrates National Trails Day on the first Saturday in June. On that day, thousands of people across the country head out to their favorite trail to enjoy a good walk in the woods, while taking the opportunity to reconnect with nature along the way. Others donate their time to help build new trails or provide maintenance on those that already exist. It is a chance for hikers, bikers, horseback riders, paddlers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to show their appreciation for the more than 200,000 miles of recreational trails that are available across the U.S., a resource that few other countries can come close to matching.
Some of the absolute best hiking trails are found inside America's national parks, of course, many of which are tailor-made for exploring on foot. With so many trails to choose from, it is difficult to pick which ones are the very best. But here are 10 hikes that every active traveler should have on their national park bucket list.
Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is home to one of the most classic hikes in all of North America. The 12-mile roundtrip walk along Bright Angel Trail provides stunning views of the canyon, and the surrounding landscape, which is amongst the most iconic and well-known in the entire world. The walk can be a strenuous one at times, but it is also a very rewarding one. No matter the season, always bring plenty of water.
Navajo Loop - Bryce Canyon
Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park offers some of the most unique landscapes that you'll find anywhere, and one of the best trails to explore that environment on is the 3-mile long Navajo Loop.
Starting at Sunset Point and running out to a place called the "main amphitheater," this trail takes hikers past some of the more scenic elements in the entire park. Beware of falling rocks though, as it can be a bit treacherous at times.
Sargent Mountain Loop - Acadia National Park
As one of the preeminent wilderness areas in the eastern United States, Acadia National Park in Maine is a wonderful escape for many hikers.
One of the top trekking routes found there is the Sargent Mountain Loop, a 5.5-mile round-trip walk that takes visitors to the top of 1373-foot Sargent Mountain, one of the main landmarks in the park. At the summit, you'll find outstanding views of the Acadia coastline, as well as the lush forests of spruce and fir below.
John Muir Trail - Multiple Parks
In terms of sheer beauty, few trails can match California's John Muir Trail, which passes through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks along its 211-mile route. The path, which is actually part of the much larger Pacific Crest Trail, offers numerous day hikes or can be tackled end-to-end for a true backcountry adventure in the High Sierras. Breathtaking vistas, crystal clear streams, and peaceful solitude are the norm here.
Grinnell Glacier Trail - Glacier National Park
Montana is a state filled with beautiful scenery, but Glacier National Park just might encompass the absolute best of all. To get a great look at what Glacier has to offer, take a stroll along the 11-mile round-trip Grinnell Glacier Trail, which takes hikers out to an overlook that provides spectacular views of some of the parks namesake features. This trail is only open from July to September, but it is a grand walk during those summer months.
Hawksbill Loop Trail - Shenandoah National Park
At just 3 miles in length, the Hawksbill Loop Trail in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park may not seem very long, but it packs plenty of punch. The route wanders along part of the legendary Appalachian Trail on its way up to the top of Hawksbill – the highest point in the park at just over 4000 feet. Along the way, hikers can spot plenty of wildlife as they wander there way up to the summit where they'll discover a stone platform that offers views of thick forests and rolling hills that stretch to the horizon.
Upper Yosemite Falls - Yosemite National Park
California's Yosemite is well known for its spectacular waterfalls, and none are more awe-inspiring than Yosemite Falls – the tallest waterfall in North America. If you're up for a challenging hike, taking the trail to the top of the falls is a good way to stretch the legs.
You'll climb more than 2700 feet in 3.5 miles, but the reward will be an amazing view of Yosemite Creek as it tumbles over the rock face right at your feet.
Zion Narrows - Zion National Park
For a hike unlike any other, leave the traditional dirt trails behind and take a stroll through the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park located in Utah. The route follows a series of slot canyons, through the backcountry, with the official route running about 16 miles in length round-trip, although there are numerous offshoots to be explored, and hikers can, of course, turn back at any time. Be sure to bring a pair of water shoes or sports sandals for this hike, as the canyon floor is often covered by a rushing river.
Greenstone Ridge Trail - Isle Royal National Park
Isle Royal National Park is unique in that the entire preserve exists on an isolated island in the middle of Lake Superior in Michigan. Just to get there, hikers must first catch a daily ferry that can carry them to the start of the 40-mile long Greenstone Ridge Trail, which runs west to east through the wild center of the park. Surprisingly, there is plenty of wildlife to spot on Isle Royal, including moose, deer, and wolves. The trek is a scenic one too, often offering prime views of the Lake Superior shoreline along the way.
Guadalupe Peak Trail - Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Texas is well known for its dry desert landscapes in the west, thick forests in the east, and rolling hill country in the center. But did you know that it is also home to a mountain that stands more than 8750-feet in height? The Guadalupe Peak Trail, located in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, winds its way to the top of that mountain, adding more than 3000 feet of vertical gain – spread out over 8.4 miles – along the way. At the top, hikers discover a view as big as Texas itself, with dramatic vistas to be seen in all directions. It is a strenuous hike, but a surprisingly good one too.
Of course, there are literally hundreds of other great trails in U.S. national parks as well, each with its own personality and story. If you've visited any of the parks while traveling, you no doubt have a favorite or two that you've come across over the years as well. Why not add a few more to your list in the years to come. Chances are, they'll help you forge indelible memories of the places you visit.