Best Hikes in the National Parks System

If you like to hike, the National Parks System in the United States has some really fun, challenging, and breathtakingly beautiful hiking trails for you to explore.  If you are looking for which parks have the best trails, you are in luck.  We are going to rank which hikes in our National Park System we would recommend.

Now, we are only ranking the hikes that we have experienced.  So if we are leaving off a hike at a park that you have explored, but we haven’t, we would love to hear about it.

In order to give you an idea of the level of skill, endurance, and physical stamina that are required to complete each of these hikes, we have rated each of the hikes on a four level scale.

Beginner For all hikers.  No hiking experience required.
Moderate Adequate for all hikers, but beginners should use extra caution.
Difficult For experienced hikers.  Adequate preparation is required.
Expert For skilled hikers.  Extreme caution and preparation required.

So let’s begin!


15.  Tall Trees Grove – Redwood National Park (3.5 miles)

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Redwood National Park in California

If you are interested in taking a scenic hike thru some amazingly huge and beautiful trees, then this is the hike for you.  The Tall Trees Grove trail takes you thru some of the more remote, and most beautiful, parts of Redwood National Park.

Be prepared to stare up in awe at the enormity and beauty of the tall Redwood trees in the park as you slowly meander your way thru the forest.  It is hard to understand just how big and beautiful these trees are until you see them in person.

Difficulty:  Beginner

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14.  Cattail Falls Trail – Big Bend National Park (3.1 miles)

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Big Bend National Park in Texas

Cattail Falls Trail is a beautiful hiking trail that crosses undulating hills and dense woodlands in the Big Bend National Park in Texas. At the hike’s conclusion, you will get to explore a series of gorgeous pools at the base of an 80 foot waterfall.

The contrast between the red rock behind the falls and the crystal blue water is breathtaking. Parking for the Cattail Falls Trail is on a stretch of good quality gravel road that forks east off of Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, opposite of the pull-out for Sam Nail Ranch.

Difficulty:  Beginner

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13.  Hurricane Hill – Olympic National Park (11.4 miles)

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Olympic National Park in Washington

The trail to the top of Hurricane Hill is one of the most popular hikes in Olympic National Park. The hike is very scenic and the viewpoint at the top of Hurricane Hill is amazing. If you decide to do the hike in the summer, you will be treated to gorgeous views of wildflowers growing along the trail that add an extra pop of beauty to the hike.

Don’t be surprised if you run into such wildlife as elk, mountain goats, and even bears while hiking, as wildlife is plentiful in Olympic National Park. From the top you will be able to spot Mount Walkinshaw, Mount Clark, Crystal Peak, Chimney Peak, Mount Olympus, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This hike is a great way to explore this beautiful national park.

Difficulty:  Moderate

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12.  Grinnell Glacier – Glacier National Park (9.8 miles)

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Glacier National Park in Montana

An absolutely stunning hike that rewards you with a breathtaking view of the 152-acre Grinnell Glacier, Upper Grinnell Lake, the Garden Wall (which is part of the continental divide), as well as the beautiful Mount Gould.

Grinnell Glacier was first discovered in 1885 by George Bird Grinnell, who went on to found the Audubon Society.  He believed the glacier and the surrounding area to be so beautiful that he spent the next two decades of his life working to make Glacier a national park.

Be aware, this is a strenuous hike, but the views are equally as rewarding.  If you decide to visit Glacier National Park and would like to complete this hike, make sure that you are properly prepared, both in time and equipment.

Difficulty:  Difficult

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11.  Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop – Bryce Canyon National Park (3 miles)

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Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

If you are looking for the best possible way to get up close and personal with Bryce Canyon National Park’s many hoodoos, then this is the hike for you.  If you think the views from the canyon rim are stunning, just wait until you hike down into the beautiful red rock canyon among the many awe-inspiring hoodoos.

If we can give you one piece of advice for this hike it would be to take your time.  Take some time to enjoy the incredible views looking up at these amazing rock formations.  Too often we see people motoring along the trail and not stopping to enjoy the breathtaking views.

Difficulty:  Beginner

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10.  Mt. Washburn Spur Trail – Yellowstone National Park (17.3 miles)

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Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

The top of Mount Washburn offers some of the absolute best views in a park where breathtaking views are in abundance.  From the top you can see virtually all of Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area.  You can catch a glimpse of the beautiful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, and even the gorgeous Grand Teton range further to the South.

It is only a moderately difficult hike, so it should not be too intimidating for novice hikers.  You will just need to make sure you commit enough time to complete the hike, and make sure that you are properly prepared.

Difficulty:  Moderate

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9.  Cloud’s Rest – Yosemite National Park (21 miles)

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Yosemite National Park in California

The Cloud’s Rest hike is one of Yosemite National Park’s most rewarding hikes.  The views from the top are stunning from all directions, and we do mean all directions as you will have a 360 degree view from the top.  Make it to the top and you will be able to catch glimpses of Tenaya Lake, Half Dome, Mt. Hoffman, Sentinel Dome, North Dome, Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan.  But the most eye-popping view of all might just be straight down from your perch at the top.

Be aware that, although only a 7 mile hike, it is a strenuous one.  If you are planning to make the hike, do be sure that you plan enough time and you are adequately prepared.  And share your pictures with us when you get back!

Difficulty:  Difficult

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8.  Cascade Canyon Trail – Grand Teton National Park (9.3 miles)

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Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

Starting from the Jenny Lake Trail, the Cascade Canyon Trail is a very beautiful, yet strenuous, vertical climb up into the Teton range towards Lake Solitude.  Along the way, you pass by Hidden Falls, which is a gorgeous waterfall that is roughly 100 feet high.

When you reach Cascade Canyon, you will be rewarded with views of a beautiful glacial canyon in the middle of one of America’s most beautiful mountain ranges.  Along the hike, make sure you keep an eye out for wildlife.  There is a good chance you will see black bear, grizzly bear, moose, marmot, and a variety of other wildlife.

Difficulty:  Moderate

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7.  Rim Trail – Crater Lake National Park (33 miles)

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Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

If you are looking for a trail with virtually non-stop breathtaking vistas, then the Rim Trail at Crater Lake National Park has what you are looking for.  The hike may be long, but it is not difficult terrain to navigate, so novice hikers will thoroughly enjoy this hike.

Enjoy fantastic views of the lake, as well as the infamous Wizard Island, as you take in their beauty and the serenity of nature as you hike along.  Some notable stops along the trail include Discovery Point and the steep drop of Devil’s Backbone.

Difficulty:  Beginner

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6.  Guadalupe Peak – Guadalupe Mountains National Park (4.2 miles)

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a park that you really have to hike to enjoy.  And one of the more impressive hikes in the park is the hike to the top of Guadalupe Peak, which is the highest point in Texas.

It is a fairly strenuous hike that takes you up over 3,000 feet vertically to the summit, so be prepared for the challenge if you attempt to hike this trail.  The trail also presents numerous cliffs that drop off more than 1,500 feet, so hiking this trail does require your complete attention.

But once you make it to the top you are rewarded with some incredible views.  If you decide to take this hike, be on the lookout for wildlife.  Black bear, bobcat, mountain lion, coyote, rattlesnakes, and many other animals call the park their home.

Difficulty:  Difficult

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5.  Precipice Trail – Acadia National Park (1.5 miles)

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Acadia National Park in Maine

Our pick for the top national park hike East of the Mississippi River, the Precipice Trail hike is one of our favorite hikes in the park system.  It is a very strenuous, and very exposed, hike, so novice hikers or people with a fear of heights may not want to tackle this one.  But if you are an avid hiker looking for a challenge, then this hike will give you the challenge you are looking for.

The trail follows an ingenious path up the cliffs on the east face Champlain Mountain, which is Acadia National Park’s 6th tallest peak.  Multiple iron rungs, ladders, handrails, and wooden bridges are fastened along the trail to assist with the more difficult and exposed sections, which makes this trail feel more like a climb than a hike.

If you would like to take this hike, you should be aware that the trail is usually closed between March 15 and August 15 for peregrine falcon nesting.  We would suggest you visit sometime in the middle-to-end of September.

Difficulty:  Expert

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4.  Rim-to-Rim Trail – Grand Canyon National Park (23 miles)

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Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

The Rim-to-Rim Trail in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona should be a bucket list item for anyone who loves hiking.  The views are grand, as is the experience of of hiking on one of America’s most famous hikes.

But be aware, the challenges of this hike are almost as big as the canyon it crosses.  In addition to the 24 mile distance and 6,000 foot drop in elevation, you will need to navigate some tricky terrain.  You need to be in good physical condition to tackle this hike, and experience in both hiking and navigating are helpful as well.

Above all else, you need to be thoroughly prepared.  Make sure you bring adequate amounts of water and the right equipment, as being stuck in the canyon unprepared can have disastrous consequences.

For those who tackle this challenge, the pay off is priceless.  There are few things in nature more impressive than the Grand Canyon, and this trail exposes you to that beauty and grandeur seemingly at every turn.

Difficulty:  Difficult

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3.  Panorama Point – Mount Rainier National Park (4.8 miles)

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Mount Rainier National Park in Washington

If you have to pick a single hike in Mount Rainier National Park, without a doubt, the hike up to Panorama Point is the one we would recommend.  To get to Panorama Point, you will need to follow the Skyline Trail.   Along the trail you will hike through everything from meadows with incredibly beautiful wildflowers, to snowfields, to the rock-strewn rubble of glaciers.

Tourists travel from all over the world to make this hike, as the meadows filled with wildflowers with Mount Rainier as a backdrop is more beautiful than you can imagine.  On a clear day you will also be treated to sights of the Tatoosh Peaks, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood.

This is only a moderately difficult hike, but you should still be adequately prepared.  Make sure you leave yourself enough time to complete the hike and get back down.  It is a hike that you definitely do not want to rush.

Difficulty:  Moderate

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2.  Half Dome – Yosemite National Park (15.6 miles)

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Yosemite National Park in California

The name Half Dome alone conjures up visions of the majestic beauty of Yosemite National Park.  After all, it is one of the most iconic features, not just in the park, but in the United States.  First deemed inaccessible when Yosemite Valley was first accessed back in 1865, now over a thousand people a year reach its summit.

While large portions of the hike only require a moderate level of hiking experience and physical stamina, there are sections of the hike that can challenge even the most accomplished hikers.  Most notable of these sections is the accent up the last 400 feet of steep, rocky terrain to the summit using only cables for support.

Since statistics started being recorded back in 1919, very few people have fallen to their deaths on this hike, but it has happened.  Most of the injuries occur because people are not prepared to make the hike or are hiking irresponsibly.  So if you decide to hike to the summit of Half Dome, like any other difficult and strenuous hike, you should know what you are getting into beforehand and make sure that you are properly prepared.

For those that do make it to the summit of Half Dome, the beauty that waits at the top will never soon be forgotten.  The views of the valley are beyond words and the sense of accomplishment is satisfying.

Difficulty:  Expert

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1.  Angel’s Landing – Zion National Park (4.4 miles)

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Zion National Park in Utah

In our opinion, there is no more iconic hike in America’s national park system than the hike to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.  One of the world’s most renowned hikes, known for being both breathtaking and perilous, it lives up to every single bit of its reputation.  It is the master course in hiking America’s national parks.

It’s only a 5 mile hike round trip, but it will take you roughly 4-5 hours to complete the hike because of its steep switch-back and sheer drop-offs.  Although this hike isn’t that physically exerting, it does require every bit of your attention to complete safely.  According to National Park’s Traveler, five people have fallen to their deaths on this hike in the 100 years since Zion National Park was established.

So if you are tentative or afraid of heights, this may not be the best hike for you.  However, if you are up for the challenge, this hike is an avid hiker’s dream.  Not only is the challenge rewarding, but the views of Zion Canyon from the top are absolutely amazing.

Difficulty:  Expert

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About Josh Hewitt

Avid traveler and photographer who loves to see new places, meet new people, and experience new things. There is so much this world can teach us, we just need to explore!
This entry was posted in Arizona, California, Hiking, Maine, Montana, Mountains, National Parks, North America, Oregon, Texas, Uncategorized, United States, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Best Hikes in the National Parks System

  1. Diana says:

    What a great list! I haven’t done all of these but I absolutely agree with the ones I have done. If I were to add any, it would be Delicate Arch in Arches NP (because it’s something everyone should see up close) and Star Dune at Great Sand Dunes NP (one of the top 3 most difficult hikes I’ve ever done, but you get the thrill of saying you stood atop the tallest sand dune in North America!)

    Like

  2. LuAnn says:

    Great post! We love hiking in the National Parks. Beautiful images!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: 2017 – A Review of Our Year of Travel | Wanderlust Travel & Photos Blog

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