Epic National Park Hiking Trails
Whether your idea of a hike involves hardcore boots, trekking poles, and backcountry maps, or a pair of sneakers, water bottle, and paved trails with signage, you're embarking into the wild with the same goal. Hiking into the wilderness brings us closer to nature and grants us access to some of the most spectacular vistas on Earth.
Thanks to the United States National Park Service, there's no shortage of protected lands crisscrossed with extraordinary trails. Though it's difficult to narrow down, we've picked a few of our favorite hiking trails with epic views.
Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Combination Trail
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
The Queens Garden and Navajo Look Combination Trail has been called "the best 3-mile hike in North America," by trekking aficionados and national park rangers, and with good reason. The trail winds through one of the world's most surreal landscapes: an endless expanse of twisting red-rock hoodoos, sometimes known as "fairy chimneys," because of their whimsical appearance. You'll hike along the Rim Trail overlooking Bryce Amphitheater, where you'll gaze upon the hoodoos, minarets, spires and arches, before descending through stone passageways to the canyon floor, until the path rises skyward. The trail is moderate in difficulty and takes between 2-3 hours to hike.
Forks of Cascade Canyon via Cascade Canyon Trail
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The Grand Tetons' reflection shimmers in Jenny Lake, where the Cascade Canyon Trail begins. Hikers can either walk 2.4 miles to the trailhead or take a boat ride across the lake (for a small fee), which drops you off at the start. Once on the trail, you'll climb above thundering Hidden Falls waterfall, past Inspiration Point and its views of Jenny Lake, Jackson Hole, and Gros Ventre Mountains. Eventually, you'll trek into Cascade Canyon and through huckleberry, thimbleberry and wild raspberry patches -- beware of bears! Also, keep an eye out for moose and other wild animals as you take in the jaw-dropping views of craggy Mt. Owen and jagged Table Mountain looming in the distance.
South Rim Trail, Maricopa Point to Hermits Rest
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Not everyone has the physical ability -- or nerves of steel -- to hike steep inclines with precipitous drops, or manage slippery rock surfaces. Thankfully, that doesn't mean they aren't privy to one of the most exceptional hikes in the world. Yes, world. The Grand Canyon ranks as one of the great natural wonders of the world, and the park's South Rim Trail offers sweeping views of the canyon's vast nooks and colorful crannies while remaining completely accessible to people of every ability. Hikers will find an easy, level path alongside the canyon's edge and people who are unable to walk long distances can ride alongside the trail in one of the park's hop-on-hop-off shuttle buses, which makes numerous stops at overlooks.
Zion National Park, Utah
Steep trails? Check. Narrow cliff ledges with sheer drops? Check. Leave your fear of heights on the ground when you embark on Zion National Park's Angel's Landing hike. There's a good reason it's become one of the park system's most famous hikes, and a rite of passage for hikers. Angel's Landing trail runs along a narrow ledge until it ends at the peak of a 5,785-foot rock formation. If you make it to the perch, you're awarded views of Zion Canyon. Though the trail measures a mere 5 miles, the steep incline, switchbacks, slippery surfaces (even in dry weather) and precarious ledges mean it can take at least 5 hours round trip to hike.
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail
Acadia National Park, Maine
It's not the nation's tallest mountain or most difficult trail, but hiking Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park remains one of the park system's most remarkable treks. Of course, the 7-mile round-trip hike is no stroll in the, er, park. The South Ridge Trail may be family-friendly, but it still marks a 1350-foot steady ascent to the summit of Cadillac Mountain -- the highest point on the East Coast. Hikers pass overlooks with views of the forest and ocean, as well as a small lake, before finally reaching open views of the sparkling blue ocean and beckoning green islands that dot the surrounding sea.
From seasoned road tripper Mike Shubic to founder and CEO of RoadTrippers.com James Fisher, meet the panel of advisors behind Travel’s Best Road Trips 2015.