The benefits of getting outside and going for a hike are irrefutable. Is your work or home life stressful? There’s nothing like being enveloped by Mother Nature on a forested or mountainous trail to mentally unwind and clear your mind of unwanted stress. In addition to de-stressing, you also benefit from moving your body physically, with no gym membership required. Any fitness level can enjoy hiking because you get to set the pace. The people you encounter on the trail are almost always friendly and give you genuine greetings; perhaps you even have the opportunity to make new friends. As if that isn’t enough, simply drinking in the thrilling, panoramic views gives you a fresh perspective that will undoubtedly benefit you once you get home and are once again faced with the thousand-and-one things on your to-do list.
From Vermont to California, these are 6 of the best hiking trails in the USA.
- The Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
The Northeast Kingdom encompasses three counties in the northeast corner of Vermont, and is often referred to by Vermonters simply as “The Kingdom.” In addition to it being paradise to hikers, campers, boaters, fishermen and snowmobilers, it is home to Kingdom Trails, rated as one of the top five mountain biking networks in the world. In 2006, the National Geographic Society named the Northeast Kingdom as the most desirable place to visit in the country and the ninth most desirable place to visit in the world. It has also been listed in the North American and international editions of “1,000 Places To See Before You Die.” Some say that hiking in the Northeast Kingdom is as breathtakingly spectacular as hiking in the wilds of Alaska.
Both locals and visitors flock to the mountains, rivers, and lakes to enjoy the spectacular hiking trails. The Northeast Kingdom, which encompasses 1.3 million acres of land, has eight state parks within its boundaries, some of which have camping facilities. Visitors can choose a short bog walk or choose to climb to elevations of over 2,000 feet.
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
This piece of paradise is a superb hiking destination for both camping (in backcountry sites that require a reservation) and day hikes, as it includes over 60 miles of trails in nothing less than spectacular scenery. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore entered the park system as the nation’s very first “National Lakeshore” in 1972 after the federal government singled out the stretch of shoreline “by virtue of the unique and spectacular scenery…unmatched elsewhere in the Great Lakes.” While hiking, you may very well spot beavers, fishers, mink, martens, skunks, fox, wolves, deer, and even a very rare glimpse of moose.
The most dramatic region of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (on the southern end) includes the cliffs of Pictured Rocks that stretch for 13 miles and are up to 200 feet in height. Layers of sandstone, eroded over eons, have formed distinct, concave shapes in cliffs topped by a rather hazardous sandstone crust that overhangs the cliff tops. In the central zone of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stretches 14 miles of pristine, and practically untouched, beach that is named, rather amusingly, Twelvemile Beach. At the northern end lies the enormous Grand Sable Banks, a dramatic landform rising 275 feet and looking, from a distance, like enormous sand dunes perched at impossibly steep grades.
- Big Sur, California
Big Sur is a mountainous region of the central coast of California. Although it has no specific boundaries, it generally includes the 90 miles of coastline and extends about 20 miles inland to the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The name “Big Sur” is derived from the Spanish reference “el sur grande”, meaning “the big south”, which refers to its location south of the city of Monterey. The terrain offers stunning views, including Big Sur’s Cone Peak, which is the highest coastal mountain in the contiguous 48 states. It ascends 5,155 feet above sea level at a mere three miles from the ocean!
In Big Sur, you can embark on short walks of half a mile or you can hike longer, ten-mile loops. Specifically, the Vicente Flat trail is a ten-mile hike that provides vast ocean, mountain and canyon vistas in addition to shady trails winding through redwood, bay tree and oak forests. The Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View trails, at two miles, are moderately challenging hikes through giant redwoods. These trails culminate at a rocky waterfall with the added option to climb a little higher to indulge in expansive views of the Big Sur River gorge.
- Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah and is actually a collection of giant natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Distinctive hoodoos—geologic formations formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of the river and lake bed sedimentary rock—and the red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views for park visitors. The sandstone spires of hoodoos form amazing mazes that shimmer in fantastic reds and oranges, and the whimsical trail names are equally as magical. The Queens Garden/Peekaboo figure-eight loop (6.5 miles) is Bryce’s signature hoodoo hike, while the 8-mile Fairyland Loop loses and gains 2,309 cumulative feet as it navigates through what looks like a hoodoo graveyard and ends in a “forest” of tall hoodoos that rise to the canyon rim. For a spooky adventure, descend down into the canyon along steep and rocky trails on a guided two-mile, full-moon hike and see for yourself the ghostly personalities of the hoodoos dancing in the shadows of the shimmering moonlight.
Bryce Canyon area was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a homesteader. Bryce Canyon was designated as a National Park in 1928, and covers 35,835 acres and receives relatively few visitors largely due to its remote location.
- The Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas and Oklahoma
Originally known as the Arkansas National Forest, it became the Ouachita National Forest in 1926. The Forest covers 1.8 million acres in central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma and its pristine wilderness boasts rolling hills, pine-forested mountains, and numerous crystal lakes, all perfect for those looking for outdoor recreation. There are plentiful hiking trails as well as many miles of unpaved roads perfect for dirt-bikes and four wheel vehicles.
The diverse trails offer various level of effort. One of the most beautiful is an 11-mile hike on the Horsethief Springs Trail that begins at Cedar Lake and takes the hiker across numerous small streams before looping back down the northern face of Winding Stair Mountain to Cedar Lake. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail is the longest and spans 192 miles across its entire length. Elevations range from 600 to 2,600 feet as the trail passes through forested mountains, across sweeping valleys and near clear-running streams. Spur trails connect to various recreation areas and points of interest. Numerous road crossings and access points provide opportunities for point-to-point hikes of various distances.
- Whitefish Dunes State Park, Wisconsin
This Door County park, which boasts rugged Lake Michigan shoreline and magnificent sand dunes, is day use only and offers many features for people with disabilities including beach wheelchair and a special beach trail. Whitefish Dunes State Park has a total of 14.5 miles of hiking trails. In the winter, some of the trails are groomed and can be used for cross-country skiing. In the summer, the trails take hikers through a forest of mixed hardwoods and exposed rocks and onto sandy beaches and magnificent sand dunes. The park also offers a 1.5-mile interpretive hike that introduces the visitor to its special treasures, one of which is “Old Baldy”, the tallest sand dune in the park. Old Baldy, which rises 93 feet above lake level, has an observation platform for views of Lake Michigan and Clark Lake.
Historically, as early as the 1930s, conservationists began calling for the preservation of the rare plants and sand dunes on the western shore of Lake Michigan. By 1967, the Whitefish Dunes State Park was established and, in 1982, 230 acres of the 867-acre park were designated as a State Natural Area.
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