There are oodles of postcard-worthy drive-up views in the United States, but there’s something extra-special about earning your ooh-and-aah vistas with some hearty, honest-to-goodness human muscle power, right?
In this wide-ranging roundup, we’re talking up 10 of the best hiking trails with views in the US. Mind you, we’re leaving off a slew of eye-popping routes - that goes without saying. And these routes have been selected not only for their scenery, but also for the variety of their natural geography: they show off at least some of the amazing diversity that defines “wild America.”
If you’ve got the mettle to tackle some 3,000 feet over four miles or so, you’ll be treated to one of the most dazzling payoffs of any hike in the world on this awesome footpath in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Kicking off from the Exit Glacier Area, you’ll trek upslope above the forest line and take in a stunning view of the Kenai Mountains’ vast Harding Icefield, a body of ice better than 700 square miles across and feeding dozens of glaciers besides the Exit itself, including such tidewater glaciers as the Aialik, the Holgate, and the Bear. The sight of toothy peaks—“nunataks”—rising above the blank ice is unforgettable.
It’d be downright sacrilegious to compile a list of the best hiking views in the US and leave off a Grand Canyon trail, now wouldn’t it?
Although any number of paths in this mind boggling chasm deliver world-class vistas, perhaps the finest overall that’s available via a relatively short day hike is Skeleton Point, reached by the South Kaibab Trail on the South Rim. Armed with plenty of water and sun protection (shade’s basically nonexistent on this trail), you’ll hoof it past the aptly named Ooh Aah Point and the Cedar Ridge waystation to reach Skeleton Point in three miles. This prospect sits on a peninsula overlooking the Tonto Platform and the depths of the Grand, complete with a glimpse of the Colorado River itself boiling its way through the inner gorge.
The Wind River Range holds its own with any mountain block in North America for sheer grandeur, and is also significant for the scale of its wildlands and for the largest concentration of glacial ice in the Lower 48 outside of the Pacific Northwest.
The Big Sandy Trail in the southern part of this huge Middle Rocky Mountain range leads to perhaps the most famous piece of scenery in the Winds: the Cirque of the Towers, which’ll bowl you over when you reach the 10,800-foot saddle of Jackass Pass. The granite tusks and spears here, which include such whoppers as Wolf’s Head, Shark’s Nose, Warbonnet, and (tallest of all at 12,842 feet) Lizard Head, cradle Lonesome Lake and draw climbers from all around the world.
This classic Pacific Northwest backpack in Olympic National Park (close to 40 miles round-trip and absolutely worth every step) takes you through a truly awesome landscape spectrum that shows off some of the tremendous ecological and scenic diversity this popular park is famous for, and a peek into its big backcountry, which accounts for by far most of Olympic’s acreage.
You’ll start with a long mosey up one of the planet’s greatest examples of temperate rainforest, marveling at the Hoh’s bryophyte- and fern-shaggy bigleaf maples and titanic conifers (and keeping an eye peeled for Roosevelt elk). Past the Olympus Guard Station, you’ll start climbing out of the deep green of the rainforest lowlands, ending up right at the doorstep of the Blue Glacier tonguing down from the multi-horned head of 7,980-foot Mount Olympus, king peak of the Olympics and one of the snowiest massifs anywhere.
As in the Grand Canyon, superlative views in Yosemite National Park are a dime a dozen. One of the best awaits you atop the 9,930-foot granite pate of Clouds Rest, attained via a 14.5-mile round-trip dayhike from Tenaya Lake along the Tioga Road.
Tromp your way through close to 1,800 feet of elevation gain - and brave the rather agoraphobic rock ridge leading to the broad summit - and you’ll find yourself peering down on Yosemite Valley and a smorgasbord of stunning Sierra landmarks, including Half Dome (which seems close enough to touch with your fingertips), Sentinel Dome, El Capitan, and Cathedral Rocks.
Scenic vantages abound along the 2,200 world-famous miles of the Appalachian Trail, but few of them are so celebrated as Max Patch: a wide-open Southern Appalachian grass bald set at 4,600 feet in the Bald Mountains along the high border of Tennessee and North Carolina.
You don’t have to hike the “A.T.” to take in the panoramic glories of Max Patch, though: a fairly easy 1.5-mile path provides ready access. From the bald, you can drink in an incredible viewshed that includes the very highest ranges in the eastern U.S.: the Black Mountains, the Great Craggies, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Great Balsams, and the Roan Highlands - fabulous Blue Ridge crests and promontories as far as the eye can see. Heads up: this is a blue-ribbon spot for taking in a sunset!
The Lake Superior sanctuary of Isle Royale National Park attracts comparatively few visitors compared to many U.S. national parks, but those who do come get to explore a gorgeous, wildlife-rich, and surprisingly rugged piece of Upper Midwest wilderness.
Hiking the 40-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail takes you along the island’s spine, part of the ancient Superior Syncline and host to the loftiest point on Isle Royale, 1,394-foot Mount Desor. Where the path breaks out of the timber, Greenstone Ridge affords some ace views out over Lake Superior to the Canadian mainland; Mount Franklin and Mount Ojibway are particularly fine vantages.
Don’t attempt Acadia National Park’s famed Precipice Trail if you have a fear of heights - but then again, the name alone should tell you that!
This 3.2-mile round-trip undertaking is more of a climb than a hike, taking advantage of metal rungs and ladders to surmount cliff faces and involving plenty of scrambling over talus and ledges to reach the roughly 1,000-foot summit of Champlain Mountain. The views of the Atlantic, the Porcupine Islands, and the great dome of Cadillac Mountain are unforgettable, and the route back down this coastal height a lot less hair-raising.
Two things to get out of the way upfront:
We’re including this paved path because the vistas of the “River of Grass” from the Shark Valley Observation Tower at the turnaround point (out in the sprawling marsh-way of the Shark River Slough) are utterly captivating in their way, and provide an unforgettable overview of one of the world’s most wholly unique wetland wildernesses. Plus, you’re likely going to see a lot of smiley alligators and picturesquely poised waterbirds along the way.
Unquestionably one of the most spectacular oceanfront hikes on the globe, the Kalalau Trail takes stout-hearted and surefooted trekkers into the roadless, vertiginous northwestern seaboard of Kauai: the legendary Na Pali Coast, defined by soaring, sharply dissected sea cliffs (“pali”) coated in lush vegetation and streaked with waterfalls.
The 11 miles of the Kalalau Trail between Ke’e Beach and the remote Na Pali camping area of the Kalalau Valley (a route long used by Native Hawaiians) navigate some tricky, pandanus-edged terrain and stream crossings, and in wet weather can be incredibly dangerous. Most wisely try the full length of the Kalalau as at least an overnighter.
Whether you’re backpacking a few days or just whipping up a trailside lunch en route to some of the most wow-worthy sightlines on Earth, keep that switchback-pounding foot machine of yours going with some just-add-hot-water Mountain House meals, the tastiest and most convenient trekking fuel you could ask for!