John Muir is often referred to as “the father of our national park system” and he also co-founded the Sierra Club way back in 1892.
His vision has left an amazing legacy of protected wild spaces for the generations that have followed. In large part, we owe the existence of so many breathtaking hiking trails in the U.S. to this vision.
No matter where you’re from in the U.S., there’s probably a national park within driving distance. And within that national park, there are most likely a plethora of breathtaking hiking trails to choose from. In this article, we’ll detail five trails that are worth going out of your way to experience!
You’ve probably seen photos of this one online and even though they say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” we all know that nothing substitutes actually seeing it in person.
The Narrows can draw big crowds (check out this video), but it’s absolutely worth it once you get down into the canyon.
The trail winds through the narrowest section (hmm, I wonder how it got its name) of Zion Canyon. You’ll actually be hiking in the Virgin River on this one, which is sometimes only 20 or 30 feet wide with walls rising 1,000 vertical feet on either side. Make sure you wear proper footwear for a hike in a river and be prepared for a 10-mile round trip adventure.
Harding Icefield Trail
Head really far north if you want to check out this strenuous, but breathtaking hike in Kenai Fjords National Park.
It’s a tough day hike that covers about 8.2 miles in length and gains approximately 1,000 feet of elevation over that distance. The Park Service recommends setting aside between six and eight hours to complete the hike, especially if you want some time to photograph or just take in the breathtaking scenery.
The Harding Icefield covers an area of 700 square miles and is one of four major ice caps in the United States. The trail winds its way through forests and meadows before climbing well above treeline to give you an incredible view of this massive expanse of ice and snow.
If you’ve never been able to picture what much of the United States might have looked like during the last ice age, this breathtaking hike will give you a great idea!
Heading west (just a little way into the Pacific Ocean), our next hike is located on Hawaii’s Big Island. The Muliwai Trail is an out-and-back style hike and distances vary depending on your preference.
Some day hikers cover about five miles on this zig-zagging trail, but it actually runs a longer distance that is better covered on an overnight or multi-day backpacking trip. An overnight permit must be obtained if backpacking on the Muliwai Trail is your preference.
The Muliwai Trail offers incredible views of the island’s Waimanu and Waipio valleys. The five-mile stretch detailed in the above link will take you from the Waipio Overlook down to the beach and then back up the other side of the valley.
Be careful to check the tides before going on this hike, as some sites suggest that you’ll have to cross the Waipio River when walking along the beach. These sites caution that this should only be attempted at low tide.
You might begin to notice a theme with our location choices, but many of these breathtaking hiking trails are within some of our country’s most scenic locations, in general.
The Highline Trail in Glacier National Park is certainly no exception. AllTrails rates this hike as the fourth-most difficult hike in the park (out of 136!). The good news is that the trail remains relatively level for the first three miles and there are still plenty of breathtaking views to enjoy along that stretch.
It is a nearly 15-mile out-and-back style hike that will take you from Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet (and back).
The Chalet is a great backcountry lodging option for hikers and backpackers that want to experience the Highline Trail but don’t want to push for a 15-mile day hike. The lodge is only accessible by trail and is also a great destination for experienced hikers to access trails deeper within the park.
Slaughter Canyon Cave Trail
Located in Carlsbad Caverns National Park just outside of Whites City, New Mexico, the views on Slaughter Canyon Cave Trail are entirely unique from the expansive landscapes that you’ll find along the first four trails we’ve mentioned in this article.
Instead of taking you up to elevated scenic vistas, this trail takes you underground and into a world of stalactites and stalagmites (which one is which again?)!
The trail to get to the cave is only about a half-mile each way. Once you’re inside the cave, routes vary, but typical hiking distance is about one mile. Unlike the other hikes in this article, you’ll need to reserve a spot in advance for a guided adventure into the Slaughter Canyon Cave.
The guided adventure will take you into an entirely unique underground environment devoid of electricity, paved walkways, or other modern conveniences. For a true glimpse into what might have been witnessed by some of the earliest discoverers of these cave systems, reservations can be made at recreation.gov.
More Breathtaking Hiking Trails in the US
This is far from an exhaustive list of the most breathtaking hiking trails in the U.S! You might have guessed that when you learned that the Highline Trail was just one of 136 (highlighted) trails in Glacier National Park alone.
It doesn’t take an AP Calculus student to do the math on how many national parks there are on the U.S. and how many hikes there might be within each of those national parks.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of amazing hiking trails to choose from in the U.S. We are very fortunate to have these trails in our backyard.
Do you have any that you would add to this list? Leave a comment below.