Best Mountain Hiking Trails In The U.S. - The Comprehensive Guide

Woman at the top of a mountain hiking trail in the US

How do I know if a mountain hiking trail is too challenging for me? How long of a route should I pick? How long does it take to reach the summit and back?

These are just some of the questions people need to consider before heading out for hikes. Our mission today is to help you choose the right trail for you.

We've prepared a rundown of the best mountain hiking trails in the U.S. - along with the info you need to know about them.

There's something for everyone - from beginners to experienced hikers who are ready to tackle thru-hiking.

So, let's dive right into it!

Best Hiking Trails: From A to Z

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park views

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 101 miles
  • Location: Virginia, south of Washington, D.C.
  • Size of the national park: 80,000 acres

 

The famous Appalachian Trail (AT) is unquestionably one of the biggest challenges for thru-hikers. But you don't have to be a thru-hiker to experience it and hike a portion of the 2,181-mile-long AT if you head to Shenandoah Valley.

It features the longest section of the Appalachian Trail, with a length of 101 miles.

This section includes tunnels of trees, waterfalls, and spectacular viewpoints.

With that being said, the Appalachian Trail isn't the only hiking opportunity in the Shenandoah National Park. It has over 500 miles of park trails spanning across 200,000 acres.

Billy Goat Trail, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail Loop (Trail A)

billy goat trail
billy-goat-trail view

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Length: 7.8-mile-loop
  • Location: Maryland, near Great Falls and River Potomac
  • Alternative and easier trails: Billy Goat Trail B & Billy Goat Trail C

 

This trail isn't for the faint-hearted. You should tackle the Billy Goat Trail, Chesapeake, and Ohio Canal Trail Loop only if you are prepared to conquer the rocky crags of Great Falls.

The hikes can get slippery due to the proximity of the crystal-clear Potomac River. A 40-foot rock climb is part of the hike, so rocks will be hot on your hands - especially if you are going in summer.

Keep in mind that this is a popular hiking destination. If you hope to avoid the crowds, climbing the Billy Goat Trail early in the morning is your best bet.

Black Rock Trail, Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather mountain

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 1.8 miles
  • Location: North Carolina, north of Linville
  • Highest mountain peak: 5,946 feet

 

Black Rock Trail in NC is doable even for the inexperienced hiker, even though it's characterized by rocky mountain terrain for the majority of the climb. To reach the spectacular views at the end of the Black Rock Trail, you'll need to climb up a rope and ladder that lead to the peak.

Exciting, huh?

It offers visitors an authentic experience of nature, filled with wildflowers hiding between different rock formations.

The trailhead is accessible from the parking area, but it's advisable to make reservations for the park admission.

Big Elk Creek Trail, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Palisades Reservoir

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 10.2 miles
  • Location: Idaho, east of Idaho falls
  • Size of the forest: 3 million acres

 

Big Elk Creek Trail is one of the lesser-known beginner-friendly hiking trails with a minimal elevation gain.

Nestled in the scenic valley of Palisades Reservoir, it's pretty easy to approach the Big Elk Creek Trail. As you get off the main road, you'll find the trailhead - along with a small inlet lake that offers a variety of on-the-water activities, such as kayaking, canoeing, and even motorboating.

The area near the Creek also has two camping sites where visitors can stay after completing their hikes. Best of all, reservations are not obligatory.

Forest hiking trail
Mount Rainer

Burroughs Mountain Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Length: 4.7 miles to First Burroughs, 7 miles to Second Burroughs
  • Location: Washington, south of Tacoma
  • Size of the national park: 236,381 acres

 

Mount Rainier National Park is one of the national parks with the most varied landscape in the entire country.

Even more so, it also tops the list of the most dangerous hikes in America due to the extreme weather conditions, avalanches, and falling rocks.

It's worth it, though.

The two peaks with a total elevation of 7,800 feet offer great views of Mount Rainier - and hikers will pass two lakes along the way, Shadow Lake and Frozen Lake.

You'll find a paved parking area - the Sunrise parking lot - at the start. Fees are charged per vehicle - or per person - and there's also the possibility to purchase an annual pass.

Late spring and summer are generally the perfect time to trek the route, although the park remains open to visitors year-round.

Canyon To Rim Loop Trail, Smith Rock State Park

Smith rock state park

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Length: A 3.4 mile-loop
  • Location: Oregon, north of Redmond, near Terrebonne
  • Size of the state park: 650 acres

 

Canyon to Rim Loop hike in the Smith Rock State Park offers breathtaking views from the very beginning of the trail - and up to its 3,000-feet summit.

The route is easy for the most part, except for the steep - but short - entrance and exit sections at the trailhead.

Walking north to south along the path, you'll get a chance to walk over the little streams of the Crooked River - and experience birdwatching, too. Eagles and blue cranes can often be seen during hikes.

Charlies Bunion Hike, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Forest hiking trail
Mount Rainer

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
  • Length: 4 miles
  • Location: Tennessee, east of Knoxville, near North Carolina border
  • Size of the national park: 522,427 acres

 

Charles Bunion is one of the park's most popular trails, and it starts from the trailhead at Newfound Gap before it crosses the section of the Appalachian Trail.

Due to the very steep drop-offs, this trail is not recommended for beginners. At one point of the hike, while crossing a narrow ridge, you'll reach an elevation of around 6,000 feet with stunning panoramic views.

It might also be interesting to learn that the park has the so-called "Hike the Smokies" challenge - and they award exclusive mileage pins to hikers who explore 100+ miles of the national park.

Fall Creek Falls Waterfall Via Gorge Overlook Trail, Fall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls waterfall, Tennessee

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Length: 2.7 miles to the waterfall, 4.4-mile loop
  • Location: Tennessee, southwest of Crossville and Lake Tansi
  • Size of the state park: 16,181 acres

 

The Fall Creek Falls State Park is home to the gorgeous 256-foot Fall Creek Falls waterfall - one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States. The best way to access Fall Creek Falls waterfall is via the Gorge Overlook Trail.

The trail first leads you to the mesmerizing peak of the Fall Creek Falls waterfall and allows you to hike to the base of the falls, which is the only challenging part of this trail, as things can get slippery.

The good news is that there are plenty of handrails for added safety.

Hikers can access the trail from a variety of routes. However, the Betty Dunn Nature Center, near the North entrance, is the most popular trailhead.

Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim Hike Via North Kaibab Trail And Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park Trails

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Length: 24 miles
  • Location: Arizona, near the Nevada, Colorado, and Utah state borders
  • Size of the national park: 1,281,375 acres

 

Grand Canyon doesn't require any introduction - it's arguably one of America's most popular national parks.

Over 5 million people annually come to see the park's natural beauty - but do you have what it takes to join less than one percent of them who complete the rim-to-rim hikes?

As you descend 14.3 miles down the North Kaibab Trail, surrounded by the massive stone walls and rock formations towering above you along the hike, you'll reach the connection point - the Bright Angel Trail - at the bottom of the canyon and the banks of the Colorado River.

What follows is a 4,500-hike back to the South Rim.

The trail is strenuous and dangerous, though, so make sure you are well-prepared.

Grand Canyon Mountain Ridge
Lake Superior, Isle Royal National Park

Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
  • Length: 41.7 miles
  • Location: Michigan, northwest of Lake Superior
  • Size of the national park: 132,018 acres

 

Those of you who are in search of a beginner thru-hiking or backpacking trail should consider the best long-distance route in the state of Michigan - the Greenstone Ridge Trail.

This point-to-point hike takes about four to five days to complete and connects the southwest and northeast points of the unique island, which hosts one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States.

Although the trail is open year-round, it's best to go in the spring - or even fall - and avoid the peak heat during the summer months. There's also the possibility of getting an annual pass, especially if you plan to conquer the Greenstone Ridge Trail in stages.

It's also helpful to know that hikers have access to nine backcountry campgrounds along the trail.

Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park

Grinnel Glacier hiking trail and peaks in the background

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 10.6 miles
  • Location: Montana, near the Canadian border
  • Size of the national park: 1 million acres

 

Glacier National Park offers some of the most epic rocky mountain hikes in the world.

You get to explore so many natural wonders in a single day - from waterfalls and lakes to stunning alpine flora and fauna. All of that, of course, topped off with the Grinnell Glacier viewpoint.

This scenic hiking trail should not present too much of a challenge for the majority of hikers - unless you are afraid of heights, that is.

It's also possible to shorten the hike - and make it more suitable for novice hikers - by taking two boat rides across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine.

Half Dome Hike Via Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Length: 17 miles
  • Location: California, in the central Sierra Nevada
  • Size of the national park: 748,542 acres

 

There's no question about it; Half Dome is one of the most iconic hikes in the entirety of U.S. national parks - and possibly in the world.

The fact that it is one of the rare hikes that not only require reservations but a permit, as well, is a true testimony to its popularity.

Here's an interesting fact:

Permits are obtained via a lottery system.

All reservations are noted, and then a maximum of 300 people is allowed access to the Half Dome cables - the final climb before the peak - per day.

It's also possible to obtain a limited "first-come, first-served" type of permit, though. In essence, you can try arriving early to beat the crowds.

Despite its popularity, the Mist Trail is not recommended for inexperienced hikers.

Yosemite National Park, lake, nature, waterfall
Hickman Bridge Trail

Hickman Bridge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 1.7 miles
  • Location: Utah
  • Elevation change: 400 feet

 

The Hickman Bridge Trail is a short and relatively easy, family-friendly hike with lots of natural caves that the youngest hikers can explore along the way.

From the trailhead to summit and back, the entire loop is just under two miles and doable in about 90 minutes - even with numerous breaks.

After climbing a set of rocky stairs and starting to descend, you will catch a glimpse of the magnificent natural stone arch bridge. And on your way back to the trailhead, you will pass through the hole in the arch.

It's one of the more heavily trafficked rocky mountain hikes, so you should try and arrive at the ticket office as early as possible.

Mount Ida Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Basic Info:

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Length: 9.3 miles
  • Location: Colorado, south of Denver and east of Colorado Springs
  • Size of the national park: 265,769 acres

 

We top off the list with one of the most beautiful parks in Colorado - the Rocky Mountain National Park and its incredible Mountain Ida Trail.

The Mount Ida Trail is no stroll through the park - but it's more than rewarding and a true nature lover's paradise.

There's a lot of elevation gain, which can feel overwhelming at times. Once you get above the tree line, the conditions get pretty windy and cold, too.

The trek takes you through a variety of terrain - from the alpine tundra and deep forests to some fun rock fields towards the final mile, accompanied by fantastic views the entire time.

The trail is notorious for afternoon thunderstorms during the summer months, though. So, it's highly recommended to be off the mountain summit before noon.

Rocky Mountain National Park, river, Colorado

Picking The Right Hiking Trail For You? Consider This

How can you determine what hiking trail is for you?

Consider the following:

#1 Be Realistic About The Difficulty Of The Trail

Our list offers so many hikes of diverse difficulty levels, and we are confident that you will find just what you're looking for here.

But as you continue your search, the two most important factors to consider should be distance and elevation of the trail.

If you're hiking with kids or you're a beginner, there are a range of easy trails that allow you to take your time and explore the spectacular views.

On the other hand, those of you who are up for a challenge should go for a more challenging route - like the rocky mountains and rugged backcountry terrains or a designated off-trail path in national parks.

#2 How Much Time Do You Have?

Can you spend all day hiking? Just a couple of hours? Or do you plan to approach hiking as an all-weekend trip?

There is a hike on the list to cater to any of these scenarios.

On average, a mile and a half per hour is the walking pace for mountain trails. However, there's more to how much you will need. If you are going with a group, it will also depend on other hikers' abilities.

How experienced and fit are the members?

That will influence your pace, too.

P.S. Don't forget to take into account the time it takes to arrive at the trailhead.

#3 Grab A Map

Even though you can search up the information about pretty much any route online, maps can greatly help you assess what's ahead.

So, it's time to grab a map and plan out your hiking trip. Check how accessible the trailhead is and whether there are any local places you'd like to visit along the way.

No car?

You can take the bus to many of the trails on our list. National parks and state parks are usually well-connected by public transport.

Remember:

Good planning is half the hike!

Along with maps, there are more essentials you'll need to plan and prepare for hiking adequately.

#4 Inquire About Additional Info

Some trails might require reservations for a spot in the camping or parking area, while some may only require it during busy days.

Requirements for reservations, access to additional facilities, opening hours, and similar factors might change due to COVID-19 restrictions, too. Some sections of trails or peaks might also be unavailable for visitors.

If you have the opportunity, visit the local ticket office because you will get access to first-hand information regarding working hours, access to parking - and anything else you would like to know.

Of course, you can also search their official website and reach out with questions you might have.

Oh, and don't forget to check the weather and trail conditions before you hit the road. Snow and mud have thwarted even the most prepared hikers - so make sure to have up-to-date information.

Final Words

 

So, what will your next hiking destination be?

One thing's for sure:

You won't make a mistake adding any of these mountain hiking trails to your bucket list! You're bound to experience sweeping views of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

Just make sure to pick the trail according to your skill levels and follow the tips we provided before you explore the outdoors.


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