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The springtime has arrived, signaling the beginning of the prime hiking season. You might be ready to head back out into the great outdoors for your next big adventure, but what’s the best place to explore?
With so many amazing hiking trails across the vast and varied USA, it’s hard to figure out where to start. To help you out, we’ve put together our top choices for the best places to go hiking in the U.S.
Do you prefer rocky or grassy hikes?
Photo by Dmytro M.
From colorful rocky deserts to vibrant grassy hills, there are thousands of stunning settings for the best hiking trail in America. Each memorable destination offers unique and impressive views for every level of hiker, beginner or advanced. Although even easy trails might require you to bring hiking equipment along. If you need inspiration for your next hiking vacation, then read on to discover the 5 best places to go hiking in the U.S.
Calico Tanks Trail - Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV
A colorful hiking spot for all the family!
Photo by Ian M.
Red Rock Canyon is truly one of the best places to go hiking in the U.S. because of its vivid colors, ancient petroglyphs, and entertaining rock scrambling. Situated on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert, Red Rock is characterized by the rusty shades of the Aztec Sandstone that forms the canyon and cliffs.
The Calico Tanks Trail is the best of Red Rock Canyon, with bold colors and an eventual vista overlooking Las Vegas. Along the Calico Tanks Trail, you will also find historic Native American sites, including an agave roasting pit. If the weather is not too dry you can find pools of water along your walk, which give Calico Tanks its name. The challenging segments of the trail are the fairly steep red sandstone steps and the rocky pathways where you might have to use your hands to scramble over the boulders.
Alternatively, kids and adults can both enjoy the ancient petroglyphs and cave art that can be viewed along the very short Petroglyph Wall Trail. More prehistoric writing can be seen along the 1-mile Children’s Discovery Trail along Lost Creek Canyon.
- Distance: 2.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 400 ft
- Average Time: 1 hour
- Hiking Level: Intermediate
Clatsop Loop Trail - Ecola State Park, OR
A spectacular coastal hike!
Photo by Miguel A. S.
With forests and mountains that stretch along the Pacific shoreline, Ecola State Park draws in many hikers with its picturesque landscape. Known as a hotspot for the explorers of old, the green trees, rocky mountains, and sandy beaches are irresistible to the avid adventurer.
The Clatsop Loop Trail at Ecola is one of the best places to go hiking in the U.S. if you want a stunning coastal hike. This trail includes a steep but simple climb along the cliffs of Indian Point which can be quite muddy. You also get to see the beautiful Indian Beach and Bird Point. Most of the Clatsop Loop runs through vibrant forests around the towering Bald Mountain and there are many opportunities to stop and take in the natural scenery.
If you’re up for a more challenging hike, try out the Lewis and Clark Discovery Trail. Although the full 12-mile trail is not for everyone, a section of it runs through Ecola State Park. There is no better way to experience the beauty of America than to follow in the footsteps of the nation’s greatest explorers!
- Distance: 2.8 miles
- Elevation Gain: 785 ft
- Average Time: 2 hours
- Hiking Level: Beginner
Fairyland Loop - Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
A dramatic and memorable hike!
Photo by Digital A.
Utah’s remarkable Bryce Canyon National Park is famed for the unique rock formations that rise from the canyon floor. Shifting layers of reds and oranges cut across the rocky valley on the tall stalagmite-like stones. Named hoodoo, these spiky rocks draw in many visitors who come to see their fascinating shapes and colors.
The greatest hike around Bryce Canyon is the long Fairytale Loop. The trail begins by winding down the canyonside until it reaches the staggering hoodoos. Once you’re able to draw yourself away from the captivating stones, the route continues back up the canyon and along the ridge where you can see panoramic views of the park. The extraordinary hoodoo forest, set against a fiery landscape, makes Bryce Canyon one of the best places to go hiking in the U.S. for anyone seeking a dramatic change in scenery.
For a shorter walk with astonishing panoramas, take a hike from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. This 1-mile trail leads you over Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre, where the best of the canyon’s intriguing rock formations can be seen.
- Distance: 8 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1700 ft
- Average Time: 4 hours
- Hiking Level: Intermediate
Saint Louis Canyon - Starved Rock State Park, IL
For a peaceful woodland hike!
Photo by Ryan H.
The Starved Rock State Park is one of the best places to go hiking in the U.S. for waterfall lovers. This Illinois park is famed for the many falls that flow into the various canyons that form the park. Far different from the desert canyons, Starved Rock is lush and green, with pleasant woodland hikes winding around mossy cliffs.
The nicest hike is the path to Saint Louis Canyon which leads you to a calm waterfall seeping into the cave-like canyon. The fresh, earthy smells and the sun-dappled trail make a perfect place to relax in nature. Birdwatchers can even enjoy the chance to spot a bald eagle. While the route is an easy one, it does involve a fair amount of stairs.
A longer and more scenic hike can be found on the Starved Rock and Sandstone Point Overlook Trail. This 4-mile hike leads to a natural vista that looks out over the Illinois River.
- Distance: 1.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 154 ft
- Average Time: 1 hour
- Hiking Level: Beginner
Rocky Top Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
For an endurance hike!
Photo by Cheryl B.
The Great Smoky Mountains cover the east of Tennessee and form part of the great Appalachian Trail. While that 2000-mile trail is a significant hike to take on, there are many shorter trails that run through the forested National Park.
Not a hike for beginners, the Rocky Top Trail is a test of fitness and endurance. The rewards are worth the effort as the highlight is a satisfying summit of Thunderhead Mountain. The entire trail features incredible views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the summit allows you a 360-degree look over the mountains and Fontana Lake. The Rocky Top Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is one of the best places to go hiking in the U.S. for an all-day endurance hike.
If you’re visiting the Great Smoky Mountains and seeking a much shorter hiking route, try out the easy Laurel Falls Trail. This 2 ½-mile trail leads to the 80 ft Laurel Falls which pours down the mossy mountain rocks.
- Distance: 14 miles
- Elevation Gain: 3665 ft
- Average Time: 8 hours
- Hiking Level: Advanced
Why You Should Take Up Hiking
There are so many places to see that are not always accessible by vehicle. Hiking solves that problem. Not only do you get in some great cardio, you also get to take in the beauty nature and your surroundings have to offer. Take some food and drinks and make a day of it.
If you didn’t grow up in an outdoorsy family, the idea of wandering into the woods can be pretty daunting. If you’re queer, trans, BIPOC, disabled, or plus-sized, hiking might be an even scarier idea to consider, for a number of reasons. Though you may not have had access to outdoor activities in the past, or don’t think you belong outside, I’m here to tell you that you absolutely do! Anyone with any body type and any ability can hike, no experience necessary. Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be prepared. In this article, we will cover everything you need to know to start hiking and to make sure your first experience is safe and fun. First, let’s cover a few basics that you’ll need on your first hike.
What to Bring Hiking
Hiking and having fun outdoorsPhoto by photo nic on Unsplash
No matter where you decide to hike, you still need to have the best hiking gear so your adventure is safe and comfortable. Here is a brief list of some items you will need:
- A comfortable and breathable outfit - The clothes you choose to wear should fit comfortably and ideally should be made of quick-drying or wicking materials. This means synthetic materials (think stretchy leggings or shorts) or natural fibers, like wool. These materials will quickly dry sweat or moisture, whereas cotton will hold onto moisture, leaving you more vulnerable to becoming cold and uncomfortable.
- Supportive footwear - You have a couple of different options when it comes to hiking footwear. Hiking boots are great if you have weak ankles or tend to trip a lot, as they offer more support around your ankles. Boots tend to be durable and waterproof. The downsides of boots are that they can be a bit bulky and heavy, and can also be a big investment. Another great option for hiking is trail runners. Trail runners are sneakers designed to perform well on different types of terrain (dirt, grass, pavement). They are typically lightweight and less expensive than hiking boots but offer less overall support. If you’re not ready to invest in hiking shoes, any pair of athletic sneakers you have will do the trick on most easy to moderate trails.
- Water and snacks - Whether your hike is two miles or ten miles, remember to always bring water. Fill up a couple of water bottles or purchase a hydration pack, and make sure you take frequent sips while hiking to prevent dehydration. Bring a couple of snacks to enjoy on your breaks. Jerky, fruit, cookies, and trail mix are my go-to's while on the trail and always give me a boost of energy.
- Tip: Pack all of your snacks in a gallon-sized ziplock bag for easy access, then use that bag for trash later. Always practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out all trash and waste.
- Sunscreen and bug spray - These two items are fairly self-explanatory. Even if hiking under tree cover, it is good practice to wear sunscreen to avoid getting roasted, especially in the summer. Depending on where you are hiking, you might encounter pesky flies or ticks, which you can deter by spraying your clothes, shoes, and backpack with bug spray.
- A map or GPS - Make sure you bring a map of the area you are hiking in or a GPS that depicts the trail you are on. My recommendation for this is an app called AllTrails. You can download it for free to search for hikes and to make sure you are following the correct trails. A physical map is always good to have as a backup, in case your phone were to die.
- Backpack - Bring a comfortable backpack or hip belt to place your water and other items in. While special hiking packs are the best choice for hiking, any pack that doesn’t move around or slips while you walk will be just fine for your first few adventures.
Choosing a Hike
Choosing where to hikePhoto by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash
Now that you have everything you need to begin hiking, it is time to decide on a destination. This will be highly dependent on where you live, how far you want to travel, and what type of hike you want to do. Even if you are relatively fit, you may want to seek out an easy to moderately difficult hike for your first outing. As mentioned in the last section, AllTrails is a wonderful resource for finding hikes in your area. You can search by your location or your desired destination and can filter hikes based on distance, difficulty, and other factors, such as whether or not the hikes are dog friendly.
Once you apply your filters, select a hike that has something you will enjoy, whether that be a body of water, trees, wildflowers, cool rock formations, or great views. Read reviews on the hike so that you know what to expect.
Though hiking is a relatively safe activity, there are certain things to consider in terms of personal safety, especially for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC folks. If you are hiking in a more rural area and are nervous, try hiking with friends or joining a hiking group. Check social media for local hiking groups that get together, or reach out to someone you know who hikes. Unlikely Hikers is an organization that offers group hikes all around the US and is inclusive of all people.
Do your research and find out what kind of wildlife exists in the areas you’ll be hiking. If you are hiking in an area with bears, always carry bear spray with you. Most of the time, wildlife will keep their distance, but you should always be aware of your surroundings and keep a safe distance from any wildlife you come across.
Check the weather before you depart for your hike. A little rain is fine, but if storms are in the forecast, save the hike for another day.
Most importantly while hiking, trust your instincts. If someone is giving you bad vibes or you feel unsafe, leave the area. Go back to your car, or link up with another group on the trail if you can.
You're Ready to Hike!
Hiking is a wonderful way to enjoy nature, exercise, and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Preparing for a hike ahead of time can create a more safe and more enjoyable experience for you and anyone you choose to bring on your adventures. Hopefully, these tips help you gear up and get outside. Happy Hiking!
The only way to describe Iceland is...magical. It truly is. Iceland is like no other place I’ve visited in the world. It’s topography, climate, people, culture, history, and nightlife blended together make Iceland a surreal adventure that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. In my case, this is my second visit to the country, and probably not my last.
The first time I set foot on the island, I was on a mission to see the elusive northern lights. While they evaded me during that visit, this time was different. I didn’t see Aurora dancing through the sky, but I did see a hint of the lights, enough to make me stop and stare in awe of their beauty.
One of Iceland’s many strengths is its people. I met an incredible group of people who helped make this visit extremely memorable, including openly gay Icelandic pop star Friðrik Ómar, who invited me to his Christmas concert. Although most of the concert was in sung in Icelandic, many of the songs were recognizable, including a fabulous version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. Friðrik was a former contestant on Eurovision, and it was easy to see why. His vocals and stage presence were extraordinary, reminiscent of George Michael.
Check In & Check Out Reykjavik youtu.be
Book your stay at the Reykjavik Konsulat hotel located in the heart of the downtown Reykjavik, just a short walk from all of the city’s main attractions including Harpa concert hall, Sun Voyager and the iconic Hallgrimskirkja cathedral, the largest church in the country which and towers over the center of Reykjavik. Its 240-foot-high tower provides a wonderful 360° view of the city. Visitors can either walk up the stairs to the top or pay a small fee to use the elevator.
Our spacious room at Reykjavik Konsulat included a walk-in shower, king bed with ultra-luxurious linens as well as a seating area. Every day the hotel offers a complimentary happy hour as well a delicious breakfast buffet, featuring a variety of local specialties including smoked salmon. The hotel also offers a nice fitness center as well as bath house complete with sauna and hot tub. Don’t get too excited, bath house means something completely different in Iceland than it does in the United States.
Going to Iceland in the winter is an adventure. It definitely isn’t a relaxing trip; more like a journey to the most extraordinary ends of the earth you will ever discover. With that in mind, book a full day private excursion to the South Coast with Friend In Iceland. Our wonderful guide Gunnar picked us up from our hotel in a Mercedes mini-bus and we were off to explore a part of the country I hadn’t been to on my prior visit.
Seljalandsfoss, Iceland in 4K (Ultra HD) youtu.be
The nearly 9-hour tour took us to Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls where we had the opportunity to stand at the base and feel the power of these natural wonders. Next, we journeyed up to the top of a cliff which provided views of the ocean as well as a rock formation jutting out into the sea which connects to Reynisfjara black sand beach. Words can’t describe how beautiful this moment was. I’m almost in tears again just thinking about it. The waves crashing on the beach coupled with a clear sky and mesmerizing sunrise made for an absolutely majestic view.
Gunnar then brought us to a cute restaurant where we had lunch which consisted of pizza and a sandwich, not typical Icelandic cuisine, but it was delicious non the less.
Reykjavik is home to one gay bar, called Kiki. Although it was closed during this visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, we did happen to meet the owner who invited us back to the country this summer for their pride celebration. 2022 marks the 23rd annual Reykjavik Pride, which is held in early August. The festival attracts over 100,000 people to the city for a week-long celebration including a festival, parade, and numerous parties.
Wake up early the next morning and get ready for your next Icelandic adventure in the Golden Circle. Although this region is easily drivable from Reykjavik in the summer, I wouldn’t recommend venturing on your own during the winter months as many of the roads are icy and the weather can be quite spontaneous. One moment it will be sunny and then 30-minutes later you can find yourself in a winter storm with 40-mile per hour wind gusts.
Begin your Golden Circle tour with a trip to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO heritage site and home to Gullfoss, also known as the 'Golden Waterfall', one of the most beautiful and powerful waterfalls in Iceland. I recommend descended the stairs to the lower viewing area to really comprehend the size and scope of this natural treasure. Not too far away is Geysir, Iceland’s version of Old Faithful. The geyser erupts about every 7 minutes, so keep your camera ready.
Finally, end your tour with a snowmobile ride on the Langjökull glacier. This is also something I didn’t experience on my first visit, and I can honestly say it was one of the coolest (literally) experiences of my life. We had to jump off our luxurious tour bus and board a souped-up monster truck looking bus which transports you to the glacier where a team is ready to outfit you with protective gear and teach you how to use the snowmobiles. The hour tour of the glacier will make you feel like you were on another planet. There are points where the sky and the glacier meet, and you can’t tell them apart. I was fooled by a few optical illusions a few times.
Iceland can be inexpensive to get to, but then very expensive while you are there, so please plan accordingly. Food and alcohol can add up really quickly, so pace yourself when visiting the bars. One of my favorite restaurants we visited in Reykjavik was Noodle Station. Guests can order soup three ways: with chicken, beef, or just vegetables. It is the perfect way to end a long day spent playing in the ice and snow and quite affordable. Do your research before visiting to find some of the city’s hidden gems and cheap eats.
Icelandair offers direct flights to Reykjavik for relatively low prices from Boston, New York, Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, and a few other U.S. cities, so check their website regularly to catch a great deal.
Enjoy the Journey!