This hiking guide to America covers 8 states, 10 National Parks, and 42 hiking trails.
Welcome to our guide to hiking in America!
The United States is home to some of the most remarkable national parks filled with interesting topography, wildlife, and history dating back thousands of years. There are 50 states to explore including Alaska and Hawaii, leaving an endless amount of trails and landmarks to explore. The National Park Association protects these parks, so we can continue to enjoy them for years to come.
This section of our website is designed to provide you with the most current and valid information when it comes to hiking in America. It is maintained by outdoor enthusiasts and updated regularly.
Stop and browse the useful links and leave a comment if you’ve experienced hiking in these regions. Feel free to contact us directly if you have specific questions or are looking for a hiking partner we can vouch for.
The United States is the fourth largest country in the world with a population of 313 million. With its total area, including Alaska and Hawaii being over 3 million square miles, you can imagine how much there is to explore.
The United States borders Canada and Mexico. Its highest point is Mount Denali in Alaska at 6,190m. The country’s terrain is made up of vast plans, mountains, rivers valleys, and even volcanic topography in Hawaii. The three largest mountain ranges are the Appalachian Mountains, 1,500 miles along the east coast. The Rocky Mountains, which run 3,000 miles from New Mexico, Montana, and into Canada. Lastly, the Sierra Nevada is the third largest and runs north to south for 400 miles in California and Nevada.
There are 58 national parks to discover in the United States. This is approximately 84.9 million acres of the U.S. There are so many things to do at a national park, from camping in the summer to mountaineering in the winter. There is a vast amount of nature and wildlife to experience.
Walk among active glaciers in Montana, the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone, the majestic canyons in Arizona, the vibrant colored hoodoos in Utah, or the panoramic views of the iconic High Sierra in California.
United States Quick Facts
In such a massive country, there are countless hiking trails. There is such a abundance, that anyone could find a hike that is best suitable for them, whether you are a novice or expert.
Below are brief descriptions of each national park, specifying what you can expect to see, when is the best time to visit, and recommended trails.
Yosemite National Park is a majestic and iconic playground for hikers. It is home to glaciers, ancient sequoias, waterfalls and incredible panoramic views. You will certainly not be disappointed when visiting this World Heritage Site. Yosemite’s international recognition brings over four million people each year to see the park in all its glory. Explore over 800 miles of trails and embark on a leisurely nature walk or a lengthy backpacking trip.
The best time to visit Yosemite depends on what experience you are looking for. Generally, springtime is best to avoid the crowds. May and June are ideal if you are looking to see the picturesque waterfalls. July and August are perfect for hiking or backpacking in the High Sierra.
The most common hike is the Half Dome via the Mist Trail in Yosemite Valley. A 14.2 mile-round trip hike that is moderate to difficult. Another well-known hike is the Four Mile Trail, 9.6 miles but difficult. Yosemite Falls is one of the oldest trails that leads to the top of the waterfall. It is about 8 miles round trip and is difficult. Some other popular trails include the Panorama and Pohono Trail.
A park designed for lovers of the backcountry. Glacier National Park is a fantastic place to explore for a summer family vacation or for those who crave an individual hiking adventure. With over 700 miles of trails, 25 active glaciers, and hundreds of species of animals, the Rocky Mountains are sure to have you in awe. Whether you are looking for a short hike or extended backpacking trip, Glacier National Park will have you covered.
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is the months of July and August. This is peak time for visitors while the temperature are pleasant. Although it will be busier and entrance fees will be higher, most facilities and shuttle services are open.
The 50-mile trek called “Going-to-the-Sun-Road,” is famous for its striking views of Montana. When on this trek you will come across several lakes, a historical site, and a location that crosses the US-Canadian border. For a shorter alternative, the Highline Trail is 11.4 miles that still offers stunning views of the summits. Some other frequently visited trails are the Grinnell Glacier (10.3 miles) and Hidden Lake (2.8 miles).
Grand Canyon National Park is the second most visited park in the United States and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Six million travel from around the world to see the striking canyons made of rich red rock. The canyon is divided into the South Rim and North Rim. The South Rim
The best time to visit the Grand Canyon is March-May and September-November. Temperatures are cooler and it is less busy. When visiting in the summer during peak season, the park will be crowded and accommodation will be difficult to book.
The Rim-to-Rim trail is one of the longest hikes. It is 44 miles round trip and takes about 5-7 days to complete. It is strenuous and takes great endurance; the views, however, are absolutely immaculate. The Bright Angel trail is a shorter option, 9.5 miles with campsites along the way. There are several other trails varying in distance and difficulty.
As the first National Park in the United States, Yellowstone is home to a vast amount of wildlife and numerous diverse ecosystems. Yellowstone runs through 3 states and spans over 3,500 square miles. When hiking through Yellowstone, you will explore canyons, forests, rivers, hot springs, and geysers.
The most popular time to visit Yellowstone is July and August. If you are looking to avoid the crowds, April to May or September to November are best for this. The weather is mild during this time as well.
Uncle Tom’s Trail is a popular Yellowstone hike as it is only one-mile long round trip. However, do not be deceived, there are 328 stairs and a 308ft vertical gain and loss. You will be rewarded with views of Yellowstone River’s Lower Falls. For a more secretive adventure, visit The Grand Prismatic. Located in the southwestern part of Yellowstone, this spring is naturally filled with vivid rings orange, yellow, green, and blue. You could stop and see this feature while on route to Fairy Falls, a 5-mile easy hike to another spectacular waterfall. For a relaxing dip, visit The Boiling River.
The oldest national park east of the Mississippi River: filled with mountains, woodlands, an ocean shoreline, lakes, marshlands, and fields.
There are 47,000 acres to explore as the park stretches across Mount Desert Island, Isle Au Haut, and the Schoodic Peninsula.
Acadia is home to various animals such as mollusks, mammals, reptiles, and raptors. On water, you can expect to see whales, seals, and herons. There are over 120 miles of hiking trails to choose from with two main campgrounds, Blackwoods and Seawall.
The best time to visit Acadia is September to early October. This time of year avoids the crowds and tends to be less rainy unlike the months of March to May.
Cadillac Mountain is a popular trail in Acadia. With stellar views of the park and the potential of spotting a peregrine falcon, Cadillac is a memorable one. Cadillac Mountain is a moderately difficult hike at 1,380ft of elevation gain and spans over 7 miles.
For a shorter hike leading to the shoreline, the Wonderland Trail is a great option with flat ground and minimal roots and rocks. Take a visit to Acadia’s deepest and clearest lake by taking the Jordan Pond Path. A moderate, 3.3mile loop trail.
People have inhabited Zion National Park and its surrounding areas for over 8,000 years. Zion has several life zones and a unique geography of mountains, deserts, canyons, forest, and rivers, creating numerous habitats for plants and animals. Zion National Park is perfect for short family-friendly hikes or longer multiple-day backpacking trips.
The best time to visit Zion National Park is either in spring or fall, this being the months between April and May or September and October. These months are pleasantly warm with highs between 60-90°F.
The Canyon Overlook Trail is the perfect hike for any age group or ability level. It is only 1 mile long, easy to moderate in difficulty, and will only take 1 hour. At the top, you have a fantastic view of Zion Canyon. The Weeping Rock trail is another iconic hike at Zion. It is the shortest and can get crowded for its popularity. For a lengthier hike, Emerald Pool Trail is a great option.
The Great Smoky Mountains or the Smokies, a UNESCO world heritage site with over 78 structures protected throughout the park. With 9 million people visiting a year, it is one of the most-visited parks in the US. There are over 187,000 acres of mountains and forests housing the densest population of black bears. With over 850 miles of hiking trails, there is an endless amount of trails and places to explore.
Visit Smoky National Park in summer (June, July, and August) or during the fall. July is Smokies busiest time of year and October showcases vivid colored foliage for the autumn season.
Alum Cave Trail is one of the most hiked trails featuring the Smokies unique topographies and breathtaking views. It is a strenuous hike lasting 11 miles round trip. If you’d like to see more than the cave, you are able to summit Mt. LeConte at 6,593ft on the same route. There are so many other wonderful trails to explore such as Thunderhead Mountain (strenuous, 13.9 miles), Porters Creek (moderate, 4 miles), and Andrews Bald (easy, 3.6 miles).
When entering Grand Teton, you will be in awe of the 40-mile long Teton Range and the valley known as Jackson Hole. The National Park gets its name from the tallest mountain in the Teton Range. Just 10 miles south of Yellowstone, you could easily add Teton to your agenda. Humans have walked along Grand Teton as far back as 11,000 years. Grand Teton is a popular destination for hiking, mountaineering, and fishing. With more than 1,000 drive-in campsites and 200 miles of hiking trails, one will be in the best circumstances to explore.
Mid-May to late September is the best time of year to embark to Grand Teton National Park. This time is ideal as all visitor centers and trails are open.
At 2.2 miles round trip, Hidden Falls aka Inspiration Point is one of the well-known trails at Grand Teton. It is easily accessible from two locations and offers impressive views of the park and falls. String Lake Trail is another easy option at 3.8 miles, offering fantastic views of the “Cathedral Group” otherwise known as Teewinot Mountain (12,325ft), Grand Teton (13,770ft), and Mount Owen (12,928ft). There are plenty of opportunities to summit a mountain in the Grand Teton, although it will be a technical climb.
Bryce Canyon National Park is most famous for its massive natural amphitheaters and Hoodoos. Hoodoos are uniquely shaped natural pillars and Bryce Canyon has the largest collection of them in the world. Despite “canyon” being in the parks name, it is actually not a canyon. It is a park made of amphitheaters with rocks colored vibrant shades of red, pink, orange, and gold. Bryce Canyon is 50 miles northeast of Zion National Park.
The most popular time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park is during the summer, May-September. Spring/Fall will have fewer tourists. Wintertime has increased snowfall and wonderful winter activities.
A popular trail at Bryce Canyon is the Navajo Loop/Queens Garden Trail. It is 3 miles long with remarkable views of the hoodoos. If you are looking for a more secluded trail and experience, the Fairyland Loop is for you. It’s 8 miles long with spectacular views of the amphitheaters and it also fantastic in winter.
Located on the Olympic Peninsula, this park is made up of four different regions, the coastline, temperate rainforest, dry rainforest, and alpine area. All of these different ecosystems are homes to numerous species of wildlife. Olympic National Park offers a variety of activities. Whether you want to hike, backpack, or climb. As a UNESCO work heritage site and International Biosphere Reserve, this 1 million acre National Park is an extraordinary adventure.
The best time to explore Olympic National Park is during the spring or fall. The park can get quite busy over the summer.
Take the Enchanted Valley Trail and be immersed in forests and waterfalls. This 5-mile hike is great for any age group. A popular hike at the Olympic is Hurricane Ridge, just 3.2 miles round trip and the Olympic Mount peaks and ocean are perfectly in your view. If you are looking to see the most picturesque rainforest, check out the Hoh Rainforest. All trees are covered in green hanging moss. You won’t miss the Hall of Mosses while going through the Hoh Rainforest. It really is unlike any rainforest you’ve ever seen before. Other fantastic short hikes include Lake Quinault (1.3 miles) and Sol Duc Falls Trail (1.6 miles).
The brilliant thing about hiking in the United States is that a lot of the parks are located in different climate zones, offering a unique experience, depending on the time of the year you are planning to take on this adventure.
To give you a better sense of the seasons and what the parks offer during various times of the year, we have written an overview of each below.
Click on each tab to see more information on what to expect in each season in every park.
What to expect from September to November:
Yosemite National Park: September is great month to skip tourist crowds and still enjoy warm mild days and evenings. October paints the maple and oak trees in stunning colors - it's just a great fall's treat. First snow usually falls mid-October to mid-November, blocking Tioga Road.
Glacier National Park: To benefit from a quitter more colorful hiking experience, you need to be more prepared to rely on yourself, as lodges will be closing at the end of September. From mid-September till mid-October, the tree colouring sets in first in the west, slowly going towards the east side of the park. Head to Hwy 2 near the southern border to see golden larch trees in mid-October
Grand Canyon National Park: Fall offers a great hiking experience in Grand Canyon, thanks to its cool and comfortable weather and lesser popularity among tourists. Accommodation is also more affordable in the North Rim.
Yellowstone National Park: Closely following spring months, fall is arguably one of the best times to visit the park with fuel tourists and lovely mild temperatures.
Acadia National Park: September and October are absolutely stunning in the park. As the crowds return home, you get to experience the park in peace. The weather is also still very pleasant with warmer temperatures during the day and cooler temperatures at night.
Zion National Park: In fall, the park offers one of the best tree color spectacles across the United States.Trees are just magical - with shining yellows, stunning reds and bright oranges.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Although incredible thanks to the fall tree colors, fall can be a bit crowded with visitors. If you prefer to have a more peaceful hiking experience in the Smoky Mountains try to avoid coming here in October.
Grand Teton National Park: Although some visitors are still attracted to the annual tree color changing show (Sep till mid-October usually), unlike other parks Grand Teton is surprisingly quieter. You also have an added bonus of wildlife viewing. , and smaller crowds make for a wonderful and relaxing time of year.
Bryce Canyon National Park: From the beginning of September till mid-October you'll be treated to a great tree color show across the park. Snowstorms are possible in fall.
Olympic National Park: The parks is practically deserted in fall, so you'll get to experience all its quarqy beauty in peace. And wildlife-viewing is just great: head to the Sol Duc River to see the salmon jumping up the Salmon Cascades. As well as adorable otters, this great annual event also attracts bobcats and eagles, so be vigilant.
Check out our hiking gear recommendations for tents and sleeping bags, clothing and boots, day paps and duffel bags, and more.
What to expect from December to February:
Yosemite National Park: In winter the park opens Yosemite Ski Area, but if you are only after hiking you might be able to see the natural Firefall - one of the park's best natural show. Usually in mid-February, the sun sets with light falling on Horsetail Fall illuminating the waterfall. And the waterfall lights up with amazing bourgundy, red, orange and other sunset colors.
Glacier National Park: As the name implies, Glacier offers very special snowshoe hiking experiences, which are better with an experienced guide. Apart from an amazing winter scenery, you will also be able to track animal and bird steps in the snow - a truly magical experience.
Grand Canyon National Park: The South Rim is stunning during winter, and is something not many tourists choose to see, allowing you all that space to yourself. Sunsets are absolutely breathtaking, as they color the Canyon in a number of shades of purple, blue and pink.
Yellowstone National Park: As one of top 5 most visited parks in the States, Yellowstone is believed to loose its wild magic in summer because of endless visitor crowds. But in winter, the experience is totally unique - you will still see the infamous geysers, steam vents and animals populating over 2 million acres of the park, without sharing it with hundreds of other hikers.
Acadia National Park: Winter transforms the park into a cross-country skiing, snowboarding and winter hiking paradise.
Zion National Park: The Canyon is milder in winter, compared to other parks. This is why the park offers great hiking, biking and even driving opportunities in the dead of winter.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Porters Creek, Andrews Bald and Charlies Bunion trail are usually the best for winter hiking in the Smoky Mountains. However, watch out for icicles and take ice and snow precautions more seriously, as the mountains are really cold, and need to be treated with respect in winter.
Grand Teton National Park: With snow over the Teton Range, the park becomes a winter wonderland for cross-country skiers and snowboarders.
Bryce Canyon National Park: The park offers beautiful contrast scenery of red rock, still colourful leaves and astonishingly deep blue sky. It is definitely the time and place for winter photography.
Olympic National Park: Hurricane Ridge attracts most of skiers and snowboarders, so if you are not into winter sports, avoid this particular region.
Please note: Before embarking on a winter hiking adventure check weather forecasts to avoid road closures and very dangerous winter storms.
Check out our hiking gear recommendations for tents and sleeping bags, clothing and boots, day paps and duffel bags, and more.
What to expect from March to May:
Yosemite National Park: Spring is arguably the most popular time to visit the park, because days are already warming up. Although nights are still chilly, so pack up warm layers.
Glacier National Park: Although many park's facilities are still closed, its very special to see the park turn green and wake up from the winter.
Grand Canyon National Park: Some might say these are the best months to hike in Grand Canyon, because tourists have not yet arrived, but the temperatures are cool and comfortable.
Yellowstone National Park: Arguably April and May are the best months for visiting the park (together with fall), because temperatures are pleasant but crowds have not yet arrived.
Acadia National Park: Hiking in sring in Acadia isn't for the faint-hearted, as frequent rainfall and dense fog decrease visibility, and arguable make the entire experience more challenging. As the weather is still not as warm, warm layers, waterproof gear and 3-season tents are recommended. Avoid early spring as it is also known as mud season. But in late spring the weather is warm, the trials are empty and the scenery of awaking nature are unmatched.
Zion National Park: The weather is almost perfect for hiking in spring. This is the time that attracts a lot of climbers to the Prodigal Son and Moonlight Buttress.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: In Spring you can hike in very nice temperatures and enjoy the view of some of the best wildlife fields in the world, with over 1,500 types of flowers.
Grand Teton National Park: Snow is present in the mountains through out spring, and most of the park gets rather muddy in April.
Bryce Canyon National Park: Many believe spring to be the best season to hike in the canyon to see snowcapped tent rocks (or hoodoos) and among beautiful wildflowers, while occationally catching a glimpse of baby animals.
Olympic National Park: As the Grey Whales pass the Washington coast during their annual migration, visitors flock to the park to catch this magnificent event. While other visitors congregate by the coast, on your inland hike you will also be treated by the park's powerful stunning waterfalls.
Check out our hiking gear recommendations for tents and sleeping bags, clothing and boots, day paps and duffel bags, and more.
What to expect from June to August:
Yosemite National Park: June, along with May, is the best time to see Yosemite Valley’s waterfalls.High Sierra is best in July and August.
Glacier National Park: July and August are the best months to hike. Although during the day temperatures are around 70F, night time is colder and be prepared to sleep in temperatures as low as 40F. August is the busiest month for hiking in the Glacier National Park.
Grand Canyon: This is the most popular time to visit Grand Canyon, as from about second week in May to mid-September, the sun shines for hours on end with warmer temperatures around 45-85F. Pack sunblock if you don't want to get burned.
Yellowstone National Park: Although July and August are usually very popular with tourists and hikers alike, as you can camp outside with relatively light gear and still be comfortable. Light gear also guarantees you can hike for longer in comparison to other seasons at Yellowstone, where 4-season tents might be a better bet.
Acadia National Park: Avoid early spring as it is also known as mud season. But in late spring the weather is warm, the trials are empty and the scenery of awaking nature are unmatched.
Zion National Park: Although temperatures reach 100F, the park also has a monsoon season from July, making hiking a bit more challenging.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Due to its location, the park offers very warm summer weather and almost guaranteed clear sky, so park sunblock to avoid burns and plan plenty of water refill stop to avoid dehydration. If you can get to Cades Cove in the early evening you might be able to spot some wildlife.
Grand Teton National Park: As a very fun and family-friendly park, Teton offers a lot of actives in the summer, including boat trips, fishing and even a wildlife safari. This is why the park gets very busy during this time, so hikers might want to avoid trekking near main attractions.
Bryce Canyon National Park: In summer temprerutes are around 65-75F. The park is very busy. Utah Shakespear Festival takes place in Cedar City, which is a fun way to end a hike.
Olympic National Park: Although the weather is unpredictable here, in summer there is much less rainfall and fog.
As all the parks are in different zones you need to check what type of gear is best suited for a particular park's weather conditions and trails.
To help you prepare we have provided a comprehensive multi-day trek packing list. The packing list provided includes a number of essential trekking items. Many of these items such as sleeping bags, tents, water bottles etc can be rented at park entrances, however, for the of important pieces of kit we strongly recommend taking with you to America.
Hiking boots: All hikes start with a pair of worn-in hiking boots. Trails will have a variety of terrains including rocks, gravel, steps, etc. Conditions can also be wet from waterfalls and rivers, so you will want boots with excellent traction for this as well.
Clothing: It’s always smart to wear layers while spending time in the outdoors. Temperatures can shift, especially when you are at higher elevations. You should wear a breathable base layer such as a tank or t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a lightweight waterproof jacket, and a breathable trouser. You should not wear jeans while hiking. They are too heavy and not breathable. You will need hiking socks, a hat, and sunglasses as well.
Trekking Poles: For long distance hikes, it’s always great to have adjustable trekking poles. Make sure they are strong yet lightweight.
Daypack: Bring a lightweight daypack to carry all your essentials. Including water and snacks.
Headlamp: An LED headlamp is great for when you begin your hike early before sunrise and finish after sunset.
Sleeping bag: A warm sleeping bag is a necessity if you plan on spending the night in the park.
Other accessories: Water bottles/ hydration bags, water purification tablets, medications, snacks.
A full overview on United States hiking gear, including a helpful checklist, is available here. Find our packing lists for specific hikes like the Half Dome at Yosemite National Park and others here.
Here are some essential trekking gear items we strongly advise to bring with you, for more information see our hiking packing list.
Travelers from 38 different countries are exempt from obtaining a visa prior to visiting the U.S. If your country is apart of the United States Visa Waiver Program, you may enter the country for 90 days or less. Some of these countries include the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, etc. You must have a round-trip ticket, a valid passport, and complete an I-94W form upon arrival.
If your country is not apart of the U.S.’s Visa Waiver Program, consult with your local US embassy of how to obtain a visa.
It is essential you check the National Park Service website (nps.gov) before your trip to a national park. Some trails do not require permits. However, some popular trails or overnight stays in the park will require a permit.
National Parks may refer to this as a “Wilderness Permit Reservation.” You can apply for this permit up to 24 weeks in advance. You can find the reservation form online and either fax it, complete it over the phone, or mail it. The earlier you apply for this permit the better, as they are awarded by lottery. Once the reservation is confirmed, it will cost you $5 and then an additional $5 per person. If you are traveling with a group, submit one application.
On the day of your arrival, pick up your permit at the permit station and you will be off on your hike.
Hiking in the United States does come with risks. Some trails do reach high altitudes (over 4,000ft) and could require technical skills.
We recommend taking out travel and hiking insurance if you plan to visit the United States.
Read this article to understand what you should look for in a travel and hiking insurance policy.
Check out the World Nomads calculator for a quick calculation of the cost of travel insurance for your trip to the States.
There is a great collection of useful books and guidebooks on hiking in the United States.
Check out our United States library where we review some of our favorite guidebooks and literature.
For the most comprehensive general travel guide to the United States, we recommend the United States Lonely Planet Guidebook.
In terms of hiking in National Parks, Your guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 58 National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald is a fantastic place to start. It provides you with maps and hiking tables of all national parks. You can find specific hiking guides for certain regions/national parks through The Falcon Guide books by Bill Schneider.
Please share it...