From Alaska’s remote bush to downtown Cleveland, our national parks provide us with millions of acres of public land to explore. We compiled a list of the best hikes in each park, according to the wilderness guides, park rangers, and hikers who know them.
The Expert: Pat Johnson, Maine Outdoor Adventure Club trip leader
The Hike: Penobscot and Sargent Mountain Loop
Summit two of the park’s highest peaks on this 9.5-mile loop through thick spruce forest that eventually gives way to pink-tinted granite crags. The route offers access to three carriage-road bridges, relics from John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s philanthropic work—consider detouring less than a half mile to the 230-foot-long Cliffside Bridge.
The Expert: John Tillison, former Washington State park ranger
The Hike: Devils Garden Loop
You’ll see eight of the park’s stunning rock formations on this 7.9-mile tour through Devils Garden. It’s an easy stroll to the longest arch in North America, Landscape Arch, but then the gentle trail transitions to narrow ledges that involve some scrambling to reach Double O, Navajo, and Partition Arches.
The Expert: Kelsy Koerlin, Rapid City, South Dakota, hiker
The Hike: Notch Trail
An easy 1.5-mile round-trip, this trail tours the best of the Badlands’ otherworldly assortment of eroded rock and clay, splashed with a brilliant array of red, white, and black. Ascend a log ladder to a bird’s-eye view of the rugged terrain and distant prairie of White River Valley.
Camping and hiking (Photo: Maxine Weiss/iStock)
The Expert: Courtney Lyons-Garcia, Big Bend Conservancy executive director
The Hike: Lost Mine Trail
Soak in the solitude through the heart of the Chisos Mountains for 4.8 miles round-trip, past alligator junipers and piñon pines. The views of the Sierra del Carmen mountains in Mexico are spectacular. Visit in November or March to avoid the summer heat.
The Expert: Sandra Friend, author of 'The Florida Trail Guide'
The Hike: Spite Highway Trail
Only accessible by boat, Elliot Key is the largest island in the park, home to the “Spite Highway,” a seven-mile sliver of forest that in the 1960s was flattened in opposition to a national-monument designation. It’s the park’s only hiking trail, and on it you’ll be immersed in tropical forests, even as Miami looms to the north.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Expert: Elaine Brett, North Fork Valley, Colorado, hiker
The Hike: North Vista Trail
At Exclamation Point, snag the best view of the park’s namesake canyon from 900 feet above the rim. Continue to Green Mountain for a panoramic vista of the San Juan Mountains and Grand Mesa, a seven-mile round-trip.
(Photo: Tom Mendola/iStock)
The Expert: Charlie Neumann, owner of Willow Canyon Outdoor, in Kanab, Utah
The Hike: Under the Rim Trail
At 23 miles one-way, Under the Rim Trail is the longest in Bryce. Take two days to experience the best of the Paunsaugant Plateau’s hoodoo rock spires. Tackle most of the 5,000 feet in elevation change early by starting at Rainbow Point—you can arrange a shuttle there with the Park Service, free with your entry fee.
(Photo: Myrabella/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons)
The Expert: Cort Wright, Moab Adventure Center guide
The Hike: Grand View Point
Although only a two-mile round-trip, the trail leading to Grand View Point isn’t short on views—you’ll gawk at the maze of basins, dozens of canyons, and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. Arrive before dawn (and the crowds) to watch the sun cast the desert in an amber hue.
The Expert: Andrew Wojtanik, former Capitol Reef interpretive ranger
The Hike: Halls Creek Narrows
The beauty of the Halls Creek Narrows, a slot canyon with towering cliffs, is often compared to the famous Narrows of Zion, yet this 22.4-mile round-trip hike is much more remote and rugged. The unmarked route requires a topographic map and compass to navigate. Plan to spend two nights in the backcountry and to get wet through several creek crossings.
(Photo: Elisabeth Bender/iStock)
The Expert: Colin Walfield, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, employee
The Hike: Big Room Trail
It takes about an hour and a half to encircle the Big Room—the largest chamber within Carlsbad Caverns and the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. This 1.25-mile walk twists among giant stalagmites on a paved trail with handrails. A ranger-guided tour provides insight into the geologic history of the cave system.
The Expert: David Begun, Channel Islands park ranger
The Hike: Lobo Canyon Trail
This 5.2-mile loop is marked by its ecological diversity—more than a dozen rare plants grow in the park. You’ll start in grassland bluffs, with sweeping views of the Pacific, before dropping into a canyon harboring native plants like the canyon sunflower. When you reach the coastline, look out for peregrine falcons and bald eagles.
The Expert: Barbie Smrekar, Columbia Outdoor Adventure Network organizer
The Hike: River Trail
Tour this park’s namesake river on a 10.4-mile trail through bottomland and bald cypress forest, home to whitetail deer, otters, and feral hogs. In periods of low water, lounge near the river on exposed sandbars—but keep an eye out for alligators.
(Photo: Markgorzynski/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons)
The Expert: Erik Fernandez, Oregon Wild wilderness-program manager
The Hike: Garfield Peak Trail
Starting from the Crater Lake Lodge, at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, climb another thousand feet in 1.7 miles to Garfield Peak. From here you’ll have a view of the lake’s crystal-blue water, the deepest in the country at almost 2,000 feet. Go in July for peak wildflower viewing and early in the morning to miss the crowds.
The Expert: Erik Baldwin, Cleveland Hiking Club member
The Hike: Buckeye Trail
You’ll be hard-pressed to find another park quite like Cuyahoga Valley, nestled in the middle of Cleveland. This one’s for the trail runners and the hardcore hikers: a 12.6-mile section of the statewide 1,400-mile Buckeye Trail from Station Road Bridge to the historic village of Boston. Pass waterfalls and old homesteads dotting densely forested hills before looping back.
(Photo: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company/Creative Commons)
California and Nevada
The Expert: Alan Gegax, VegasHikers trip organizer
The Hike: Panamint City Ghost Town
Panamint City was a mining town founded by outlaws in 1873 that quickly garnered a rough reputation, but it was leveled a few years later in a flash flood. Hike to its ruins from Chris Wicht’s Camp, five miles via Surprise Canyon, and admire its flowing water and lush vegetation—rarities in Death Valley.
(Photo: Melissa Kopka/iStock)
The Expert: Amy Eckert, travel writer
The Hike: Savage Alpine Trail
Few trails exist in Denali National Park, but among the handful that do, Savage Alpine offers a lot in only eight miles round-trip. Wind over tundra and past Dall sheep before climbing a ridge that on a clear day offers a view of 20,310-foot Denali, North America’s highest peak.
Read more: outsideonline.com