The 20 Most Beautiful Day Hikes In America

Spring is here and if you haven’t dusted off your hiking shoes you better have a good excuse-like a broken


adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america coyote buttes south utahjpg

Coyote Buttes South. Photo: John Fowler/Flickr

Spring is here and if you haven’t dusted off your hiking shoes you better have a good excuse-like a broken leg or recent ACL surgery. The whole season is spread out before you for walking out into the showy extravagance of nature, and here are the best places in America to do that in one day.

Note: These are not ranked.

1. Observation Point, Zion National Park, Utah
Of course you’ve heard of Angels Landing in Zion, and The Narrows, and maybe The Subway. This one is a little longer than Angels Landing (8 miles RT), a little more strenuous, and gives a view of Zion Canyon from above-you’re actually looking down on Angels Landing, if you can wrap your head around that.

adventure journal observation point zion national park utah

Photo: Steve Dunleavy/Flickr

2. Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Nothing in the U.S. quite compares to the massive seracs, avalanches, and rockfall on Mount Rainier-but you don’t have to climb the whole thing to get a taste. Mid-summer, you can hike up the Muir Snowfield from Paradise and watch the mountain come alive on your way up to Camp Muir with just a pair of waterproof boots and a pair of trekking poles.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america muir snowfield mt rainier washington

Photo: Matt Kowalczyk/Flickr

3. Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California
We all know that the only true way to experience the magic of Yosemite is to hike up the Half Dome cables route, right? Okay, that’s not true. Also, it’s a little tough to get a permit these days. For a much-less-crowded but just as amazing day, the hike to Upper Yosemite Falls will crush your quads on your way up to a panoramic view of the Valley.

Photo: Joyce Cory/Flickr

Photo: Joyce Cory/Flickr

4. Kalaulau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii
When people say “Hawaii” and “hiking” in the same sentence, they usually also say “Na Pali Coast,” and for good reason. Walking the 11-mile Kalaulau Trail is the only way to see this section of rugged island coastline. It’s an out-and-back 22-mile backpacking trip with a permit, or, as of 2012 you can dayhike the first six miles to the lush, hanging Hanakoa Valley without a permit.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america na pali coast hawaii

Photo: David Marks/Flickr

5. Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona
The tough news is that you can’t see Upper Antelope Canyon without a paid guide for at least $30 per person, and then you’re only in the canyon for about an hour, and you only walk about a half mile. The good news is you’ve seen a billion photos of the trippy, wavy sandstone walls in the canyon, and they never look the same twice, depending on what time of day and what time of year you’re there. The even better news is that this is one of the only places on earth that looks better through your point-and-shoot camera than it does when you’re standing in it, even if you’re the most amateur of photographers.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america antelope canyon utah

Photo: James Gordon/Flickr

6. Coyote Buttes North, aka “The Wave,” Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona
The tough news, like Antelope Canyon, is that Coyote Buttes North is only accessible with a permit, secured through a lottery, or getting extremely lucky and finding someone else has canceled. The good news is, just like Antelope Canyon, you’ve seen photos of The Wave all over the place-the perfectly parallel striations on the slopes of sandstone buttes look like Dr. Seuss drew them on.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america coyote buttes north the wave

Photo: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

7. Rim-to-Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Sure, packing the entire Grand Canyon from North Rim to South Rim in one day means you’ll miss some things-but we’re talking day hikes here, and if you want the most Grand Canyon for your day’s work, tackle this 23.5-miler in 24 hours. From the tall forests on the North Rim down to the Colorado River and back up, you’ll walk backwards in time through millions of years of geology and back again, with a cup of coffee (or beer) at Phantom Ranch midday.

Photo: Ignacio Izquierdo/Flickr

Photo: Ignacio Izquierdo/Flickr

8. Tallulah Falls North and South Rim Loop, Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia
Tallulah Gorge is 1,000 feet deep and two miles long, making it one of the most dramatic canyons in the East. The North and South Rim Loop might be the best way to pack it all in-climbing up from the bottom, passing four waterfalls, including the tallest in the canyon, 96-foot-tall Hurricane Falls.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america tallulah gorge

Photo: Ted Van Pelt/Flickr

9. Ptarmigan Tunnel, Glacier National Park, Montana
If you’ve been to Glacier National Park, you know how tough it is to recommend one thing to do there-it’s like choosing which one of your kids is your favorite. The Ptarmigan Tunnel hike wins on simple math: one big hike, commanding views of two glacial valleys from above, and one of those views coming as you pop out of the 240-foot long historic Ptarmigan Tunnel.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america ptarmigan tunnel montana

Photo: Brian and Jaclyn Drum/Flickr

10. Star Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
America’s tallest sand dune is in Colorado, with a backdrop of 14,000-foot peaks rising behind it. In the otherworldly Great Sand Dunes National Park, the hike to the top of Star Dune takes about five hours round-trip-you’re hiking up and down sand, remember, and we said “most beautiful,” not “quickest.”

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america star dune colorado

Photo: David Fulmer/Flickr

11. Tall Trees Trail, Redwoods National Park, California
The tallest living tree in the world is somewhere in Redwoods National Park, but you’ll never know where it is-its location is top-secret. The Tall Trees Grove is home to a tree 16 feet shorter than the world record: the 363-foot tall Libbey Tree. And seriously, craning your neck and staring straight up at it, you won’t be able to tell the difference. Or know if it’s taller than the other ginormous redwoods that are its neighbors on the Tall Trees Trail, a 3.7-mile permit-only hike.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america tall trees trail

Photo: Monty VanderBilt/Flickr

12. Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia’s claim to fame is its cliffy coastline and rocky summits in view of the Atlantic Ocean-they come together on this 102-year-old route drilled into the granite on Champlain Mountain, climbing up 1,000 feet to the summit, often using the iron rungs installed in 1912 by Rudolph Brunnow.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america precipice trail

Photo: Wayne Boardman

13. Harding Icefield, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
You don’t have to get dropped off by a bush pilot to see the largest icefield in North America. The trail to a viewpoint of the 300-square-mile Harding Icefield starts at a parking lot at Kenai Fjords National Park, and climbs 3,400 feet in 4.1 miles through bear habitat to a view of the stark ice sheet with peaks popping out of it.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america harding icefield alaska

Photo: Ianqui Doodle/Flickr

14. Knife Edge, Katahdin, Baxter State Park, Maine
What an exposed ending Appalachian Trail thru-hikers have to their journey: Katahdin’s three-foot-wide “Knife’s Edge” drops a thousand-plus feet off either side for 1,500 feet of trail. Remember to breath, and to enjoy the 360 views of the surrounding mountains, while you’re up there checking off this East Coast bucket list item.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america knife edge trail katahdin maine

Photo: Ellsworth Bell

15. Mt. Scott, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Oregon’s Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America, and the seventh deepest in the world, at almost 2,000 feet deep. It’s blue. Really blue. The highest non-airplane view you can get looking down into its depths is on top of 8,832-foot Mount Scott, a stout 2.5 miles gaining 1,100 feet to the summit, perched on the rim of the crater.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america mt scott crater lake oregon

Photo: Matt Malone

16. Rocky Top from Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Good old Rocky Top, Tennessee, is mentioned every time the University of Tennessee’s band fires up the fight song, and it’s not for no reason. The summit, popping with rhododendrons and plenty of green, is one of the best places to take in the views of the Smokies. Heading up from Cades Cove makes it a worthy 13-mile round-trip hike.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america rocky top tennessee

Photo: Notneb82/Wikimedia Commons

17. Gothics via Lower and Upper Wolfjaw mountains, Adirondacks, New York
Here’s a good way to start an argument: Say that either Whiteface, Mt. Marcy, or Gothics is the most beautiful peak in the Adirondacks. Here’s why we pick this one: the drama. All three are great summits and have great views, but Gothics has incredible rock slabs surrounding the summit, and cables to aid hikers. Whiteface has a road and an elevator, and Marcy has the crowds that come along with being the highest peak in the state. This route tackles three Adirondack 46er summits on the way to the top: Lower and Upper Wolfjaw, and Armstrong Mountain, all higher than 4,000 feet.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america gothics adirondacks

Photo: Monty VanderBilt/Flickr

18. Hoh River Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington
One of the last remaining examples of a temperate rainforest that once stretched all the way from California to Alaska, the Hoh River trail walks under a dense canopy that owes its green to the 12-plus feet of precipitation that falls there annually. Bring a rain jacket and walk as far back as you want-the trail is mostly flat all the way back to the Olympus Ranger Station, 10.3 miles down the trail.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america hoh river trail

Photo: Daniel Pellegrino/Flickr

19. Old Rag Mountain via the Ridge Trail, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
It’s four miles through the forest, up onto scrambly granite boulders on the ridgeline, to the top of Old Rag Mountain and wraparound views of 300-plus square miles of protected wild land below-you won’t be alone on this one, but it’s worth sharing, especially in the fall.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america old rag mountain

Photo: Chappie/Flickr

20. Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, New Hampshire
Think of it as a one-day-sized Presidential Traverse where you’ll have time to get a beer and a burger afterwards: This nine-mile ridge traverse tags the 5,000-foot summits of Lafayette and Lincoln, walking across the skyline for 1.7 miles between with huge views to both sides.

adventure journal most beautiful day hikes in america franconia ridge new hampshire

Photo: Scott Sayre/Flickr


Photo by Ianqui Doodle/Flickr


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Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
Showing 27 comments
  • Karen Catchpole
    Karen Catchpole
    Reply

    does it look like it’s wrapped in bacon to anyone else????

  • Bill
    Reply

    #17. Do from the Orebed Brook Trail via John’s Brook Lodge to enjoy the cable section up to the summit of Gothics… Heading down this in a heavy rain is not so much fun. But My vote for the prettiest peak between the three discussed would definitely be Gothics. Although a day hike up Mt. Colden via Avalanche Pass/Lake and around Lake Colden could easily rival #17…

    • Dennis Paul Himes
      Reply

      The best way to do Gothics is via Pyramid, IMHO. Pyramid doesn’t have enough prominence to be on the 46er list, and is thus often overlooked, but when you’re there the entire Great Range is in your face. It’s the best view in the Adirondacks.

  • KenandGail Franks
    KenandGail Franks
    Reply

    I’ve always wanted to do that hike to the Coyote Buttes.

  • TomT.
    Reply

    Minor clarification, AT thru hikers don’t actually have to hike the Knife Edge on Katahdin. They’ll only do it if they chose to continue hiking beyond the northern terminus of the trail at the summit of Katahdin.

  • Carol McLoughlin
    Carol McLoughlin
    Reply

    At least, I’ve been to 2 places. Been wanting to go to Antelope but you need reservation way ahead and the Wave limit number of hikers, you’d be lucky to be picked in their daily lottery so you can get in.

  • Carol McLoughlin
    Carol McLoughlin
    Reply

    At least, I’ve been to 2 places. Been wanting to go to Antelope but you need reservation way ahead and the Wave limit number of hikers, you’d be lucky to be picked in their daily lottery so you can get in.

  • Larry Lemon
    Larry Lemon
    Reply

    Mt. Bacon

  • Larry Lemon
    Larry Lemon
    Reply

    Mt. Bacon

  • Cori H. Baybay
    Cori H. Baybay
    Reply

    Hi Lyan Villacorta, been to this place?

  • Erin Duffey
    Erin Duffey
    Reply

    10 of 20 here.

  • MAV
    Reply

    Er, if you’re going to do #2 (Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington) I’d recommend you also bring a good windproof jacket with you.

    If only because you’re going to get cold when you stand around looking at the view from Camp Muir.

  • Reply

    Did 4 out of 20 ! Have been planning a trip to Crater Lake for a while ! Wanted to do mountain biking, and paddleboarding, but looks like hiking Mt Scott is going to be another great way to see the lake ! Thanks for the tip !

  • Eric Ortman
    Eric Ortman
    Reply

    11 of 20, and 5 of the top 6

  • Jessica Denny
    Jessica Denny
    Reply

    Adam Young all the above please

  • Emily
    Reply

    As an experienced day hiker and backpacker I would point out that the Grand Canyon rim to rim hike is strongly discouraged as a day hike by the park rangers, particularly in the summer when temperatures in the inner gorge at Phantom Ranch can reach above 120 degrees F. It’s a beautiful trip, but I’d advocate taking your time on a backpacking trip, or enjoying one of the segments–the most common victim to heat stroke in the park is actually an in shape 20 something (like myself) who thinks the rim to rim is a good summer break adventure. Please hike responsibly.

  • Leslie Olson
    Leslie Olson
    Reply

    Road trip!

  • Leslie Olson
    Leslie Olson
    Reply

    Road trip!

  • Supertrips
    Reply

    Stunning hikes and beautiful photo’s. So far i only did number 11, but I want to try them all!

  • David Bouquet
    Reply

    I agree that it’s hard to pick just one trail in Glacier NP, which is a hikers paradise. My favorite long day hike in US is the Pitamakan Pass/Dawson Pass Loop trail. The long days in the summer make the 17 miles easily doable in one day. The views along the continental divide, which the trail crosses several times, are among the most spectacular anywhere in the world. You can also expect to see Bighorn sheep, Mountain goats, and possibly bears along the way. Perhaps the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point in Yosemite competes for the most spectacular views, but I like the Loop Trail aspect of this Glacier NP trail.

  • Ron Andrews
    Reply

    Hiking from the North Rim to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in one day is about like driving the Blue Ridge Parkway at 90 mph. You’ll cover the distance, but you won’t experience the canyon. The best advice we got before hiking from the South Rim to the river and back (in 3 days) was to go slow. “You’ll know you are going at the right pace when everyone else is passing you. You are not going to do this very often. Take your time and enjoy it.”

  • Ron Andrews
    Reply

    A worthy addition to this list is in Rocky Mountain National Park from Bear Lake to Nymph Lake to Dream Lake to Emerald Lake and back. One can easily make the trek in an afternoon.

  • Sky
    Reply

    Ive been to 3 places still want to see all of them !! Exciting!!

  • Mindau
    Reply

    Great article, lovely hikes! Thanks! Hiking in N. America is great, but do not forget that it’s the true wilderness. Stay safe. Read more here: http://backpackersnation.com/hiking-in-north-america-safety-bear-country/

  • sams
    Reply

    Pictured Rocks in Michigan..10 Mile Chapel loop is as good as many of the ones on list.
    Utah has so many hikes that could be on this list Zion/Bryce/Arches

  • Olivia Wade
    Reply

    Kalaulau Trail is an amazing hike, went for three days got lucky with the weather. The views are astoundingly beautiful. You are tucked away in nature only the helicopters ruin it! They buzz by all day, very loudly, obnoxiously. You have to get a hiking permit, so the hiker amount is limited, why aren’t the helicopters? They create terrible noise pollution.

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