From its craggy Southwestern rises to its rolling New England countryside, the US is a nature lover’s paradise. This diverse swath of land delights and challenges with its forest parks, challenging mountain ascents, and coastal walking paths. You’re guaranteed remarkable scenery down pretty much any trail you plant your pole in. But the best hikes in the US are jaw-dropping, gasp-eliciting experiences. Plan properly and you might just get them all to yourselves.
If you’re eager to hit the footpaths running, lace your hiking boots, put on that face mask, and get ready for a thrilling outdoors experience. With over 400 million visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve found the very best hikes in the US. With locations across the country, these terrific trails are great ways to restart and reenergize at a time when we all need to be thinking carefully about where and how we travel. To that end, we’ve also combed our extensive data for local accommodation that is putting health and hygiene first during the pandemic.
First Though: Let’s Talk Proper Park Safety
We all know the importance of staying active and vigilant in 2020, and there is plenty to be said for the benefits of spending outdoors. Still, nowhere should be considered a safe-haven from the virus. While, broadly speaking, you are less likely to catch COVID outdoors than indoors, Studies point to its airborne transmission as being a very real thing. That means when you visit a crowded viewpoint or trail parking lot, you posing a risk to yourself and others — notably the rural towns that surround many US parks.
Still, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself and others. Before visiting, check the official park websites for up-to-date information on the local situation. Consider skipping any scenic drives or easy-access viewpoints until your next visit, as these areas are the most likely to experience crowding. Lastly, opt for longer hikes in so much as you can. They normally have less foot traffic, which often makes maintaining a proper social distance of 6 feet so much easier. While you can’t corona-proof your summer vacation, you can be a responsible traveler and show local communities that you care.
Now, Here’s Our Pick of The Best Hikes in The US:
1. Halema’uma’u Trail, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Smouldering craters, lush tropical forests — the Halema’uma’u Trail offers everything to be desired in a Hawaiian adventure. Located on the south side of the Island of Hawai’i, this short, one-mile hike takes visitors along a densely wooded trail before descending 425 feet to the edge of Kīlauea Caldera. Expect to be rewarded by a smoldering field of hardened lava circling one its towering steam plume. Halema’uma’u is one of a few shorter trails that circle the caldera. While you’re there, check out the Kīlauea Iki overlook and trail, which takes you to an equally impressive lookout. Importantly, this hike has recently been made a one-way trek to help visitors maintain a social distance while they walk.
- Distance: 1.3 km.
- Length: Day Hike.
- Difficulty: Moderate.
- Permits: Available over the phone or from the park office daily (8 a.m. to 4 p.m).
- COVID Restrictions: Services are limited. Bring everything you need, including water, appropriate hiking gear, and hand sanitizer. See here for detailed information.
Where to Stay Near Halema’uma’u Trail: Hale Nahele by Hawaii Volcano Vacations
Set in lush tropical gardens, this charming two-bedroom cottage provides independent accommodation and easy access to Volcanoes National Park. Its self-service check-in system is a handy feature. Instead of dealing directly with staff, you’ll receive a lockbox code for access to the property upon payment. The Hale Nahele’s cozy queensized rooms offer views of its leafy garden, while one also has direct access to a verandah space and jacuzzi. Guests particularly love its peaceful, secluded location.
Star Rating: 5*
Price: USD 265 – USD 300
Guest Rating: 8.4
Address: 19-4002 Kalani Honua Loop, Volcano, HI 96785, United States
2. Canyon to Rim Loop, Smith Rock State Park
The blueprint for Smith Rock State Park’s jagged landscape was set 30 million years ago when a layer of surface rock collapsed into an underground lake of molten magma. Over time this created the startling region or boney rises and broken pine forests that today house some of the best hikes in the US. There’s enough here to keep even seasoned hikers busy for weeks. But if you want to get the full flavor of the park from a single trail, look no further than the Canyon to Rim Loop. This 3.4-mile path takes you along the banks of the Crooked River before rising up steeply to reveal spectacular canyon views. Guides recommend hiking Canyon to Rim early in the morning to catch sight of huge flocks of geese and ducks on the water. Keep an eye on the rocks as you climb up the trail; they’re a popular nesting place for bald eagles.
- Distance: 4 miles.
- Season: All year. Gets very hot in summer.
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Elevation gain of 627 feet.
- Permits: Can be purchased for USD 5 from self-service stations.
- COVID Info: At the time of writing, The State of Oregon had an outdoor mask order for whenever it its not possible to maintain 6 feet between others and your party. Should you forget to bring one, the Welcome Center has a limited supply. Up-to-date information will be posted on the official Smith Rock Facebook page.
Where to Stay near Canyon to Rim Loop: Best Western Plus Rama Inn
This Best Western’s location in nearby Redmond is ideal for anyone seeking out great hiking trails in Oregon. Smith Rock State Park is less than 10 minutes drive from the property, while Lake Billy Chinook and Mt. Bachelor can be reached within an hour. The accommodation itself is a comfortable standard set up with a couple of nice extras, including a heated pool and jacuzzi. Breakfast is served at the property. A notable feature of this is that Best Western has spaced out the dining area so that parties can easily keep within social distancing guidelines.
Star Rating: 2*
Price: USD 159 – USD 313
Guest Rating: 8.5
Address: 2630 Southwest 17th Place, Redmond, OR 97756-9625, United States
3. Half Dome Day Hike, Yosemite National Park
The semispherical rise of Half Dome towers 5,000 feet above the valley floor as one of the most iconic sights in the US. Scaling this mammoth formation takes about 10 to 12 hours and is a strenuous hike. The park advises against attempting Half Dome if you are a novice or unfit hiker. Take plenty of water, too, as dehydration is reason for first aid responses in this area. Still, as the pine forest dissolves away and you ascend up the Dome’s famous cable walkway, you’ll see for yourself why this is doubtless one of the best hikes in the US.
As it’s the most popular hike in Yosemite National Park, you’ll need to get a permit to hike Half Dome. Places are limited, but if you can’t land a slot, there’s a number of spectacular viewpoints where you can take in the full splendor of this iconic mountain. Sentinel Dome, in particular, faces Half Dome straight on and is a much easier two-mile loop that’s suitable for families. It also offers some spectacular views of Yosemite Falls and the valley.
Half Dome Quick Facts:
- Distance: 14 to 16 miles.
- Season: The cables are laid between May and June after which hiking in good weather is feasible through to November.
- Difficulty: Strenuous.
- Permits: With its fame as one of the best hikes in the US, Half Dome is very oversubscribed and there’s a strict permit system in place. The permits are up for grabs via a lottery system either in March or daily, two days before you want to hike. Check the Parks website for more info.
- COVID Info: Yosemite is taking a phased approach to reopening. You’ll need a reservation to enter the park and some other restrictions do apply, so see here before you make your trip. Half Dome is open as of July 2020.
Where to Stay near Half Dome: Yosemite Valley Lodge at the Falls
Centrally located at the heart of the valley, this charming hotel has numerous outdoor attractions right on its doorstep. Nearby is the Cook’s Meadow Loop, a year-round hike (read: walk) that offers great views of Half Dome and the towering Yosemite Falls. When you return, your cozy guest roos will be waiting, some with lovely forest views. The scenery is even better at The Mountain Room Restaurant, where soaring windows offer an intimate perspective of the valley floor.
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 278 – USD 278
Guest Rating: 8.2
Address: 9006 Yosemite Lodge Drive – Yosemite, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389, United States
4. Roan Mountain, Tennessee
Winding its way through the rises and falls of the Eastern US, the Appalachian Trail is every serious hiker’s dream. But at 2,200 miles long, you’re unlikely to do it in a single trip. Roan Mountain, a real highlight of the trail’s southern end, straddles the Tennessee and North Caroline border. For 14 miles, it offers some stunning scenery on both sides, with blue-green hills and seas of pinkish clouds extending off into the horizon. What’s more, return in December and you can cross-country ski across much of this winter wonderland.
- Distance: 14 miles.
- Season: Year-round. Roan Mountain also makes one of the best hikes in the US in winter.
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Elevation gain of 300 feet.
- Permits: Open access.
- COVID Info: At the time of writing, Roan Mountain was open but could be closed in future if capacity is reached. Tennessee state parks have a map which you can refer to as the situation develops.
Where to Stay near Roan Mountain: Azalea Inn Bed & Breakfast
On the North Carolina side of the trail, Azalea Inn provides charming cottage accommodation in the village of Banner Elk. A 20-minute drive will get you to the Roan Mountain trailhead. Meanwhile, nearby Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain are great spots for skiing in winter. Accommodation at the hotel ranges from cozy guest rooms, to a well-equipped detached cottage rental, perfect for larger parties. Guests love the food and delightful hospitality of this lovely little getaway.
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 184 – USD 255
Guest Rating: 10.0
Address: 149 Azalea Circle, Banner Elk, NC 28604, United States
5. Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, New Hampshire
A reputation for the best skiing in the Northeast is what brings most visitors to New Hampshire’s majestic White Mountains. And don’t get us wrong — you should keep areas like Bretton Woods, Wildcat Mountain, and Tuckerman’s Ravine on your radar if you’re thinking about road-tripping in the area. Still, what few realize is that the area, which is bypassed by the Appalachian Trail, is home to some of the best hikes in the US.
If you’re going to do one, do the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. This strenuous day hike takes you up Mt Washington, the tallest US mountain east of the Mississippi. It begins by trailing a river through deciduous woodland, before rising sharply up the mountain’s western face. Breaking the treeline, you’ll be treated to astounding views of the surrounding countryside. That is if the weather holds — Mt Washington is infamous for its wild climate and high wind speeds.
- Distance: 8 miles.
- Season: Best hiked from May to October.
- Permits: Open access, but parking will cost you USD 3.
- COVID Info: At the time of writing, virtually all trails in the White Mountains were open for hiking. However, the park does urge visitors to come properly prepared with hand sanitizer and face masks. They also ask that visitors maintain a social distance of 6 feet, especially on local communities and businesses — up-to-date information is available here.
Where to Stay near Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail: Omni Mount Washington Resort
Set at the foot of the acclaimed Bretton Hills skiing area, this hotel is a gateway to all the outdoor adventure that Mount Washington has to offer. Omni Mount Washington Resort was first opened in 1902, during an era when the well-to-do New York families would flock to New England on lavish summer retreats. It’s maintained much of its grandeur, with a chateau-like layout and distinctive red roof that melds beautifully into the surrounding forests when the leaves start to change in late September.
Of course, you’re going to want to save a little time to explore the enchanting mountain trails that can be found a short drive from this property. However, there’s also plenty on-site at the hotel if you want to linger at Mount Washington a little longer. Play a full 18 holes on a championship golf course, surrender to a full body massage, and enjoy a delightful meal at the airy main dining hall. This resort is a vacation in itself.
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 342 – USD 1,107
Guest Rating: 8.2
Address: 310 Mt Washington Hotel Rd, Carroll, NH 03575, United States
6. Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park
Angel’s Landing is… well, angelic — a shocking green vein of vegetation that courses down the center of Zion Canyon, dusty red walls rising vertically on either side. The final lookout, marked by a rocky letter A, is a suckerpunch of awe that renders you speechless. It’s easily one of the best hikes in the US.
Of course to experience this stunning view, you’ll first have to complete the challenging climb to the top. The hike toys with you at the trailhead, taking you along a gentle riverside path for about two miles. After that though, it’s a calf-burning 21 switchbacks up the canyon wall. The final stretch is a daunting tightrope walk over a narrow ridge — with chains for support. As of July, this final stretch was closed due to impracticalities with social distancing. The climb up to the edge, however, is still worth the visit, with stunning views of the surrounding valley.
- Distance: 4 miles.
- Season: Open year-round, but spring and autumn are recommended.
- Difficulty: Elevation gain of 1500 feet.
- Permits: Open access.
- COVID Info: Zion National Park has closed Kolob Canyons Area. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, meanwhile, is off-limits to all private vehicles. More information here.
Where to stay near Angel’s Landing: Zion Lodge – Inside The Park
With its cozy cabin-inspired lodgings, Zion Lodge is the perfect place to come back to after a day experiencing some of the best hikes in the US. It’s twenty-eight rustic cabins come well-appointed with gas-log fireplaces and private porches, giving you space to cozy up at a safe distance. Two onsite restaurants serve hearty, traditional fare to refuel your tank after scaling the canyon walls. It’s an order-out only situation for the time being as part of the hotel’s COVID response plan. But when did a little room service spoil the fun anyhow?
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 220 – USD 229
Guest Rating: 9.3
Address: 1 Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Springdale, UT 84767, United States
The Best Hikes in the US Are More Than Just a Walk in the Park
No North American adventure is complete without pulling on a pair of sturdy boots and making straight for the trailhead. And while 2020 might have made mountains out of most travel plans, hiking is a sorely needed antidote for those of us that are scrambling for a vacation. At the very least, it’s a chance to get some fresh air while we remain vigilant. But on the scenic trails of the best hikes in the US, it’s a chance to rediscover what we love about local travel — before we inevitably (and eventually) are able to jet off again.
What’s your pick for the best hikes in the U.S.? Let us know in the comments below.