The United States offers a wealth of diversity and vastness to explore. This is what sets it apart, making it an exceptional destination for hiking enthusiasts. The country is home to a rich tapestry of top-notch hiking trails, spanning from the rugged eastern shorelines to the sprawling great plains.
With a multitude of landscapes of different weather patterns, the US has a varied collection of some of the finest hiking experiences.
What’s truly remarkable is that whether you’re an experienced hiker, a seasoned pro, or simply looking for a stroll, there’s an extensive array of trails awaiting your exploration.
Strap on your hiking boots, grab your water bottle, and get ready to explore the great outdoors! We’ve compiled a list of some of the most breathtaking, challenging, and awe-inspiring hikes across the country.
Nugget Falls Trail, Alaska
Distance: 0.8 miles
Elevation gain: 140ft
Time to complete: 40 minutes
Nugget Falls, also known as Nugget Creek Falls or Mendenhall Glacier Waterfall, is a crown jewel for hiking enthusiasts exploring the rugged beauty of Alaska. Nestled within the pristine Tongass National Forest, this natural wonder offers an array of captivating experiences.
Hikers can wander through thick forests, traverse lush meadows, embark on spelunking adventures in caves, or meander along a well-constructed “boardwalk” trail that winds its way through the enchanting muskegs—soggy, swampy bogs. With an extensive network of trails spanning over 700 miles throughout the area, explorers can expect a diverse and ever-changing landscape.
Many of these accessible paths commence at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, located in the charming Juneau. This region, a utopia for nature enthusiasts, frequently bestows its visitors with the sight of majestic bald eagles, vibrant sockeye salmon, and the occasional sighting of curious black bear cubs.
For a particularly awe-inspiring experience, the Nugget Falls Trail offers a relatively easy 0.8-mile hike, delivering breathtaking views of the cascading waterfall and the magnificent glacier. This hike is an absolute must for those seeking an immersive encounter with the raw, untouched beauty of Alaska’s wilderness.
Appalachian Trail via Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Distance: 107.5 miles
Elevation gain: 21,879ft
Difficulty: Extremely challenging
Time to complete: 2 days and 6 hours
Spanning a colossal 2,000 miles from the depths of Georgia to the wilds of Maine, the Appalachian Trail is the Himalayas of hiking for many. It’s like the blockbuster equivalent of the hiking world, a cinematic journey filled with epic challenges that will test your mettle.
Along this scenic path, you’ll find breathtaking vistas, dense forests, and a profound sense of camaraderie among fellow hikers that can be truly life-altering.
But, for those who may not be up for the Herculean feat of conquering the entire trail, fret not. You can easily trim it down and savor a slice of the adventure. Just 75 miles from the bustling heart of Washington, D.C., lies Shenandoah National Park, Virginia’s haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
This sprawling park covers 200,000 acres of protected land, playing host to a thriving population of deer, a symphony of songbirds, and a mesmerizing night sky adorned with countless stars. Within this pristine wilderness, you’ll discover an extensive network of over 500 miles of hiking trails, among them, more than 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
So, if you’re looking for a day hike that packs a punch, you’re in the right place. Each trail within the park offers a unique experience, whether it’s chasing the sound of cascading waterfalls, soaking in awe-inspiring viewpoints, or immersing yourself in the embrace of ancient, towering forests.
Shenandoah is a condensed version of the Appalachian Trail’s wonders, perfect for a quick and rejuvenating escape into nature’s beauty.
Burroughs Mountain Trail, Washington
Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2,800ft
Difficulty: Moderately difficult
Time to complete: 5 hours and 28 minutes
Nestled within Washington state, Mount Rainier National Park boasts one of the most iconic peaks in the United States. The colossal Mount Rainier soars majestically to a breathtaking height of 14,410 feet, seemingly piercing the very heavens. Yet, this park’s hiking treasures extend far beyond the summit.
Burroughs Mountain, a majestic peak standing at an impressive elevation of over 7800 feet, is often referred to as a mountain within a mountain.
Nestled against the rugged northeastern face of Mount Rainier, it hugs the Winthrop Glacier, offering one of the most striking vantage points to behold Washington’s largest volcano. The landscape atop Burroughs Mountain stretches out broadly and appears stark, with little to obstruct your view.
While one might expect minimal plant life to endure in this challenging high-elevation environment, the sheer diversity and vibrancy of wildflowers that thrive during this hike can be truly astonishing.
Especially in the early summer, the hillside becomes a canvas painted with a riot of floral colors. But it’s not just the flowers that steal the show; the wildlife that graces this summit is a delightful bonus.
As you explore, you’ll encounter mountain goats gracefully traversing the slopes, and chipmunks, marmots, and pika darting amongst the rocks, along the trail, and atop each of the three distinct “peaks” that define this extensive, tundra-like alpine wonderland.
Charlies Bunion Hike, Tennessee and North Carolina
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 1,600ft
Difficulty: Moderately difficult
Time to complete: 4 hours and 16 minutes
Spanning across two states, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has earned a global reputation for its astounding flora and fauna, as well as its expansive mountain terrain, which beckons explorers far and wide. The park generously unfolds before you, offering a vast network of official trails and backcountry routes that lead to enchanting waterfalls and pristine old-growth forests.
For those in search of a truly awe-inspiring panoramic spectacle of these majestic mountains and the sprawling valleys below, the hike to Charlies Bunion presents an irresistible choice. This vantage point is a well-loved promontory nestled along the famous Appalachian Trail.
Commencing your adventure to Charlies Bunion, you’ll start from the parking area at Newfound Gap. From here, you’ll head eastward along the storied Appalachian Trail, embarking on a journey that will gradually leave the crowds of Newfound Gap behind, as you ascend into the tranquility of nature.
As you make your way through the initial two miles of the trail, a steady climb will be your companion, but this uphill endeavor is an investment that pays off early and repeatedly.
After just two-thirds of a mile, the landscape opens up to reveal breathtaking vistas of the North Carolina Smokies to the south, rewarding your efforts with sweeping views that are nothing short of breathtaking.
As you traverse this captivating terrain during the spring and early summer, you’ll be greeted by a delightful array of wildflowers adorning the landscape. Look out for the delicate blooms of violets, the ethereal charm of spring beauty, and the elegant presence of trout lilies.
Billy Goat Trail, Maryland
Distance: 7.8 miles
Elevation gain: 280ft
Difficulty: Moderately difficult
Time to complete: 4.5 hours
The Billy Goat Trail, nestled in Maryland just a stone’s throw from the bustling heart of Washington, D.C., offers a mesmerizing outdoor experience for nature enthusiasts. This trail invites you to embrace the untamed spirit of the Potomac River and navigate the rugged crags of Great Falls.
Given its immense popularity, setting out early to outpace the crowds is sage advice. Also, please remain vigilant for closures, as flooding occasionally bars access to Section A, and trail damage and erosion may temporarily close Section B.
As you embark on this captivating circuit, you’ll find yourself hopping from rock to rock for nearly a mile, all while being treated to awe-inspiring vistas of the mighty Potomac River.
The Billy Goat Trail unfolds in three distinct sections, A, B, and C, each starting and concluding along the scenic C&O Canal. The mapped 7.8-mile circuit encompasses the exhilarating rock-hopping journey of Section A, the more leisurely stroll of Section B, and a return trip to the Great Falls parking area via Berma Rd. Trail and Overlook Trail.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just dipping your toes into the world of trail adventures, these hiking trails in the U.S. offer some of the most spectacular natural wonders you’ll ever encounter. So, grab your backpack, embrace the great outdoors, and get ready for an adventure that will leave you with stories to tell for years to come. Happy hiking!