Summer is the perfect time to lace up your hiking boots, pack a backpack, and immerse yourself in the gorgeous scenery the U.S. has to offer. Here are 6 fantastic options to add to your bucket list:
1. Dipsea Trail, California
This legendary trail, host to one of the oldest races in the U.S. each June, is one of the most beautiful in the country. Starting in charming Mill Valley, the trail begins on a staircase with nearly 700 steps up, and then traverses terrain that includes both deep woods and expansive views of the San Francisco Bay. It’s 7.4 miles to Stinson Beach, where you can grab a bite to eat and lounge in the sand. If you don’t want to hike back, there are shuttle buses you can grab to Mill Valley.
2. Clayton State Park, New Mexico
Situated on a grassy prairie, this park offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity: To hike on a “dinosaur freeway.” There are trails to more than 500 dinosaur footprints dating back to the cretaceous period. It’s a good place to meander and explore. If you want to stay overnight—the stargazing is phenomenal—you can camp in the park or head to nearby Clayton, 12 miles south, which has everything from small hotels to the Historic Hotel Eklund.
3. Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado
A favorite for both locals and visitors, this 11-mile trail, one way, offers beautiful views of the world-renowned Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak. You can start in either town, and you’ll experience a bit of everything along the way: meadows of wildflowers, a 12,500 foot summit, and whimsical groves of Aspen, before descending back into civilization. Some hikers carry overnight essentials in their backpack and then stay at a lodge or B&B overnight before hiking back. The other option, of course, is to shuttle back to your starting point.
4. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon and Washington
Within this 80-mile canyon, home to the second largest river in the U.S., hiking trails abound. Angel’s Rest is a pretty 4.5 mile round trip trail near Portland that’s moderate in difficulty and offers lots of rewards. There are scenic Gorge views galore, plus you’ll also experience a fern-filled forest, a waterfall, and a seasonal wildflower display. If you want more of a challenge, check out Mount Defiance, a 12-mile loop, which gains nearly 5,000 feet in elevation and will take you to the highest summit in the Gorge.
5. Arches National Park, Utah
Very simply, the rock formations in this park are jaw-droppingly cool. A leisurely drive through the park is almost enough. Except why not get out and explore? If you’re looking for a short jaunt, check out the Park Place Trail, named because the sandstone fins jutting up into the sky resemble the Manhattan skyline. It’s a steep, one-mile trail walk down into the canyon, and the scenery is stunning: sheer walls on both sides with flat or craggy tops, and a giant rock balancing precariously on the tip of another. For a longer hike, head to the infamous Delicate Arch, which even offers an opportunity to view petroglyphs. Keep in mind that the desert really heats up in the summer, so hiking in the early morning is the most comfortable.
6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
There are a whopping 800 miles of trails in this national park, so the hardest part of your day may be deciding which one to try. The good news is you can narrow it down by what you’re hoping to experience. For example, if you’d like a pretty, short hike, head to the Porter’s Creek Trailhead, where you’ll wander four miles round trip along a burbling stream, with plenty of wildflowers and a waterfall. If you’re into Mother Nature’s unique land formations, the moderately strenuous Alum Trail, 4.4 miles round trip, will take you up to a cave-like bluff, which has expansive views and opportunities to marvel while exploring.