Best 15 Hikes in United States National Park 2021

Sure, with 60 National Parks across the U.S. and U.S. territories, it’s no problem to find plenty of hikes with views that are sure to score likes on your Instagram. But with the popularity of national parks–more than 331 million visits were tracked last year–you’ll sometimes need to go off the beaten path to find the views you’ll remember for the rest of your life. While hiking aficionados will recognize some of the trails on this list, others are located in the least traveled, most remote areas of U.S national parks. But if you’ve got the desire, the stamina, and, most of all, a good pair of hiking shoes, we encourage you to consider adding these 25 trails to your National Park bucket list.

Iceberg Lake Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana

Expert level: 5/10 – Long but with very gradual climbs

This trail through alpine valleys ends at the stunning, sky blue Iceberg Lake, surrounded by 2,000-foot cliffs. Though this trail is popular, you should be able to find a quiet space to yourself if you start walking along the lake’s furthest edges. While the water may look refreshing, it’s extremely cold–after all, there are pieces of icebergs floating on it. Swimming is discouraged, though no one will stop you from dipping your toes in after this long but rewarding hike.


The Hoh River Trail to Blue Glacier

Expert level: 6.5/10 – Easy multi-day hiking for first-time backpackers

If a rainforest hike is on your bucket list but you don’t have time to head to South America, head to the Hoh River Trail in Washington’s Olympic National Park. This backpacking trail runs through one of the U.S.’s few legitimate rainforests, and the views along the way are exactly what you’d imagine: massive, moss-covered trees; giant ferns, and flowing streams. Time seems to stand still in this abundantly green forest, which may make you think you’re in Jurassic Park, not Washington state. The Hoh Rainforest has also been described as the quietest place in the U.S., ideal for backpackers seeking solitude.


The Wonderland Trail, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

Expert level: 9.5/10 – Extended hiking with constant elevation change

The Wonderland Trail’s sweeping valley and snow-capped mountain views may make hikers think they’ve stepped out of the U.S. and into the Alps. Though this hike can take up to 14 days, every day offers a different vista, as this trail passes through everything from glaciers to waterfalls to rocky canyons. Given the variety of this trail’s terrain, it requires savvy packing, as conditions may be wet and warm one day and dry and cold as you ascend two days later. It’s hard to pick one highlight of this stunning trail, though the wildflower viewing near the Indian Bar campsite is not to be missed.


Slaughter Canyon Cave, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Expert level: 4.5/10 – A steep climb to the entrance and hot temperatures may turn off novice hikers

For hikers who prefer stalagmites to summits, this underground hike deep inside the Guadalupe Mountains goes past some of the largest cave rock formations in the world. Though New Mexico has no end of places to explore, the massive underground system at Carlsbad is certainly a must-do. Pictographs–evidence of Native American use–dot the walls of the cave, which is home to the Monarch, the tallest column in the entire cave system and one of the largest in the world. The Slaughter Canyon Cave can be visited by tour only, with advanced reservations recommended.


Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine

Expert level: 6.5/10 – May be too long and steep for non-experienced hikers

If you fancy the idea of being the first person in the country to view the sunrise, aim to summit Cadillac Mountain in October in Acadia National Park. This hike takes guests to the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard and passes pink granite boulders, remnants of the last ice age. Taking the South Ridge Trail Loop towards the summit will take you past wildflower fields and small ponds, perfect for relaxing along the way. This trail can also be hiked (carefully) at night, for photographers seeking clear and bright shots of the milky way.


Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Expert level:  5/10 – Appropriate for hikers prepared and in average shape

As one of the highest trails in the park, the Lost Mine Trail is often several degrees cooler than other places in Big Bend, one of the country’s most remote national parks. Because of the Lost Mine Trail’s elevation, it also features fantastic views across not one but two countries, looking down into Mexico’s ecologically-rich Sierra del Carmen. Several rock outcroppings along the way provide space to rest while taking in the views, and since Big Bend is one of America’s least visited parks, you’ll probably have them to yourself.


Sierra Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Expert level: 6/10 – Short but steep with difficulty wayfinding at times

Yosemite may be famous for well-known hikes like Half Dome or the waterfall-laden Mist Trail, but when it comes to beauty, it’s hard to beat the short-but-steep Sierra Point Lookout Trail. This trail–ecologist John Muir’s favorite, according to records from the early 1900’s–leads hikers to the only spot in the park where four of the Yosemite Valley’s five waterfalls can be seen at once. Photography aficionados might recognize these vistas, as many of the Ansel Adams photos that spurred international interest in Yosemite were taken from this partially hidden summit.


Mt. Katmai Caldera, Katmai National Park, Alaska

Expert level: 10/10 – Hikers wishing to hike to the caldera need ice climbing gear and experience on glaciers and crevasses

For expert hikers and alpinists only, the trek to the snow-covered Katmai Caldera involves glacier crossing over crevasses–significant ice-climbing experience is required. However, if you’ve got repelling gear and crampons just waiting to be used, this hike will make all others pale in comparison. Non-maintained backcountry camping huts along the way are open to the public (first-come, first-served) though it’s recommended that you not attempt this hike without a guide. Deep ash still remains from the massive 1912 volcanic explosion that formed the caldera. You’ll need to fly into Brooks Camp to begin the hike, though if water levels are high enough, you can occasionally arrive by boat from nearby King Salmon Village. The easiest way into The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, where this hike starts, is via bus through the park’s official tour concessioner, Katmailand, Inc.


Kalapana Lava Viewing Hike, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Expert level: 3/10 – Mostly flat, but a little long and bumpy for anyone with walking issues

The full fury of Mother Nature is always on display on this hike, where red-hot lava can be seen seeping into Hawaii’s blue ocean. Towards the end of the hike you’ll be able to trek across lava flows, so thick hiking shoes are a must. However, lava can be seen seeping out of the earth at various points throughout this hike, so there’s no need to push yourself across uneven terrain if you’d rather play it safe. Boat tours are also available for visitors wishing to see the lava without doing any hiking.


Moraine Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska

Expert level: 4+ /10 – Anyone can walk around this area, but steep hikes and ice climbing are for experienced athletes only

To explore this stunningly beautiful alpine lake, start in the town of Talkeetna, the gateway to Denali National Park. From here, only the adventurous can proceed, as you’ll need to take a seaplane ride to the Ruth Glacier, only 17 miles from the summit of North America’s highest Peak, Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley.) Once here, options range from shorter day hikes to multi-day, high altitude alpine treks. Because of changing weather and wintery conditions year-round, long hikes here should be attempted only by expert hikers. Views of Denali aren’t guaranteed thanks to always-changing weather conditions, so have your camera ready if the clouds start to clear.


Cascades Pass Trail, North Cascades National Park, Washington

Expert level: 6/10 – Moderate elevation gain and distance, with longer and steeper routes available.

The Cascades Pass Trail is really more of a series of trails, with routes ranging from mid-level day trips to extended, difficult overnight treks. However, all hikers on this trail are rewarded with the best of the Pacific northwest–wildflowers, glacial valleys, alpine lakes, and the chance for black bear and mountain goat sightings. A variety of distances and routes are available, most of which encounter at least some of the views that make this trail one of the most popular in the state. Hikers looking for a multi-day experience will want to check out the Cascades Pass to High Bridge Route at a distance of 23 miles, with shuttle service back to the trailhead available at High Bridge.


Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Expert level: 6.5/10 – A good introduction to backpacking for those in average shape

As the lower 48’s least visited National Park, visitors to Isle Royale are treated to views of remote, rugged wilderness, not to mention the occasional wolf. This trail is a wildlife photographer’s dream, with rare birds, wolves, and moose on the island. Even if you don’t catch views of the park’s megafauna, the unspoiled, remote wilderness offers an experience unmatched at other national parks. Cold-water scuba divers can explore the waters off Isle Royale’s shores, offering dives on some of the most well-preserved shipwrecks in Lake Superior. This park closes in the winter and is accessible only by boat in the summer months.


Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana

This trail could probably be accomplished in about four hours for a speedy hiker, but you’ll want to give yourself double that amount of time to stop for photos. There’s literally no bad view anywhere on this cliffside trail, which starts at Swiftcurrent Lake. This trail showcases one of only a few glaciers left in the park, but the real highlight is the view of waterfalls flowing over mountain cliffs for most of the length of the trail. Unfortunately, though it’s been around for 7,000 years, naturalists estimate that the entire glacier could be entirely melted as soon as 2020–so we recommending bumping this one up on your list and visiting as soon as possible.

Mammoth Hot Springs Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Expert level: 2/10 – Easy and well maintained, only difficult for guests with mobility issues. Some areas of the viewing deck are wheelchair accessible.

Closest to Yellowstone’s north entrance, the Mammoth Hot Springs area is actually a series of hot springs, all of which can be viewed from an easy 3.6-mile path through the park. While the travertine-covered rock and blue waters of Pallette Spring easily make it the star attraction, the terraced, multilevel formations are unlike the rest of Yellowstone’s famous hot spots and geysers and are well worth the drive across the park. Come at the right time of day, and you’ll catch the sun reflecting off the mineral deposits, resulting in a shimmering, diamond-like effect.


Cloud’s Rest, Yosemite National Park, California

Expert level: 9/10 – Long with significant ups and downs

Half Dome may be Yosemite’s most famous trail, but 9,931’ feet, nearby Cloud’s Rest is so high that the clouds seem to be resting on summits below – hence the name. This hike is long and challenging, but it doesn’t have the white-knuckle fear factor of Half Dome’s exposed cables near the top. That said, the top of Cloud’s Rest is narrow and steep, so make sure you’ve got good weather in the forecast before summiting. Those with a fear of heights can still enjoy amazing views without getting near any drop-offs, as the summit features 360 degrees of Yosemite’s most famous peaks, including Sentinel Dome, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral Rocks. And even if you don’t make it to the top, never fear: photo-worthy spots like Tenaya Lake start at approximately one mile in.


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