12 Epic Hikes in the U.S. to Plan a Trip Around

From six miles to 4,800, here are some of the most incredible hikes in the United States.


Photo by Jacqueline Kehoe

With such a spread of diverse terrain, the U.S. is one of the best countries in the world for hiking—whether you’re looking for a remote forested escape or a scramble up a mountain’s razor-like edge. And while many are familiar with treks like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, there are hundreds of other movie-worthy hikes of all distances crisscrossing the nation, from sea to shining sea.

Aiming to mirror this signature smorgasbord of landscapes, these 12 trails promise epic adventure—and challenge, serenity, and an intimate connection with the beauty that defines America’s great outdoors.

Maah Daah Hey Trail

North Dakota

  • Distance: 144 miles
  • Difficulty: Varying degrees of difficulty

In the Mandan Hidatsa language, maah daah hey roughly translates to “grandfather.” That’s the Indigenous understanding of North Dakota’s oft-overlooked Badlands—a wizened, grizzled, stoic landscape. The Maah Daah Hey Trail runs for 144 miles, offering some of the best exposure to what’s left of the country’s majestic grasslands, plus surprisingly jagged peaks, rugged plateaus, and ample river crossings. For thru-hikers, it’s broken up into eight segments with six access points and designated campsites roughly 20 miles apart. Trekking through Little Missouri National Grasslands and the North and South Units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ll be hoofing it in the quiet company of pronghorn, bison, and bighorn sheep.

Mount St Helens in Washington, USA.

Mount St Helens in Washington, USA.

Photo by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

Mount St. Helens


  • Distance: 2–20 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate to challenging

“Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption placed it firmly in American memory; over four decades later, this Washington peak is still the most active volcano in the Lower 48, and steam can be occasionally seen venting from the dome.

Of course, hiking it is entirely safe—and entirely epic. Go with the folks at Mount St. Helens Institute, and in less than 10 miles, they can get you exploring the blast zone, the crater itself, pumice plains and waterfalls, and even Crater Glacier, one of the fastest-growing glaciers in the world. (To summit on your own, you’ll need a permit.)


Photo by Gerald A. DeBoer/Shutterstock

Rattlesnake Arches


  • Distance: 15.5+ miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

In 2022, Arches National Park received roughly 1.5 million visitors. Colorado’s McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, home to the second-highest concentration of natural arches in the country, received 100,000. Getting to this backcountry spot—known as Rattlesnake Arches—requires a strenuous 15.5-mile round-trip trek, plus whatever miles you want to wander in the canyon itself, marveling at the sandstone wonders from above, below, or both. Rattlesnake Arch, to name just one architectural landmark, spans 120 feet high and 40 feet wide.

An off-road vehicle can handle much of the trek, if you’d prefer to clock your miles amongst the arches and hoodoos (each shaped with the gentle curve of a rattlesnake contemplating an attack). Or hand off the driving to Adrenaline Driven Adventures, the only operator running regular tours to this “secret” spot.


Photo by CSNafzger/Shutterstock

Alice-Toxaway Lake Loop


  • Distance: 6-21 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate to challenging

Idaho’s epic Sawtooth Mountains rival the best views in Glacier, Yosemite, and Grand Teton. Though the Alice-Toxaway Lake Loop is popular—for the Sawtooths—it’s a great introduction to this rugged area, and you can tackle it in a number of ways: Reach Alice Lake in six miles, do the whole loop in 21 miles, tack on an extra 1,000-foot climb to Edith Lake, or simply stick to the shores of Toxaway.

Regardless of your trek, the whole way comes lined with Douglas fir and lodgepole pine, sparkling alpine lakes, and the jagged peaks that gave the Sawtooths their name. You’ll even spot Idaho’s own El Capitan, a famous peak rising over the Alice Lake Basin.


Photo by Jacqueline Kehoe

North Country National Scenic Trail

North Dakota to Vermont

  • Distance: 4,800 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy to challenging

Running for 4,800 miles—over twice the length of the Appalachian Trail—the North Country National Scenic Trail winds across Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. It’s currently the longest trail in the country, traversing from the flowing Great Plains to the Upper Midwest’s dense forests to New England’s maze of gentle mountains.

Of course, you can hike as much or as little as you like. The roughly 200-mile stretch through northern Wisconsin is a particular delight, venturing from massive waterfalls (Copper Falls State Park, Pattison State Park) to countless lakes and the pine tunnels of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.


Photo by Geartooth Productions/Shutterstock

Lost Coast Trail


  • Distance: 24.6-33.6 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Roughly 250 miles north of San Francisco, the Pacific Coast gets too rugged for development. Escaping a destiny lined with highways, it now provides some of the country’s best coastal hiking, with a name that promises exactly what’s in store: the Lost Coast.

The most popular stretch, Mattole to Black Sands Beach, is 24.6 miles—across a recommended three days. Because of the tides, you’re forced to slow down, savor the waterfalls pouring into the ocean, the cliffside beaches, the forests and fog, and the sea lions, elephant seals, and otters frolicking not far off your path.

Note: You’ll need a permit for this one; they become available on October 1 for the following year.


Photo by Jacqueline Kehoe

Kīlauea Iki Trail


  • Distance: 3.2-6 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Not enough hikes take you across a solidified lava lake. But the Kīlauea Iki Trail does, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island. The most direct route comes in at 3.2 miles, where a quick descent through a lush rain forest pops you out onto a cairn-lined trail across the blackened Kīlauea crater. By starting from the Devastation Trailhead, you can extend it to six miles, adding on views from Uēaloha (Byron Ledge) and, should you like, from inside the Nāhuku Lava Tube.

Tip: Start early to avoid the crowds—and to catch the desolate crater in the eerie morning mist.

Aerial view of the Bighorn Mountains with a dense evergreen forest near Buffalo, Wyoming.

Aerial view of the Bighorn Mountains with a dense evergreen forest near Buffalo, Wyoming.

Photo by Jess Kraft/Shutterstock

Solitude Loop Trail


  • Distance: 59.3 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Another mountain cathedral that doesn’t get the glory it deserves: Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. While everyone else flocks to the Yellowstone corridor, you can avoid the crowds by circumnavigating the Bighorns’ Cloud Peak Wilderness via the Solitude Loop Trail, or trail #38, sharing your glacier-carved valleys and lakes, mining ruins, and above-tree line views with bears, moose, and elk.

Bring good shoes and a good map for this one—it’s a 59.3-mile, not-always-well-marked loop that gains over 10,000 feet in elevation.


Photo by Ryan Garrett/Shutterstock

Presidential Traverse Trail

New Hampshire

  • Distance: 18 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

You’ll bag seven peaks (all named after U.S. presidents) in just 18 miles on New Hampshire’s Presidential Traverse Trail. And while 6,288-foot Mount Washington, the highest, may sound like the junior leagues, this up-and-down trek involves 9,000 feet in elevation gain at near-constant maximum exposure—aka a near 20-mile rock scramble. If you’re looking for an epic hike in the Northeast, this is it. Many choose to tackle this brutal trek in two to three days, utilizing the Appalachian Mountain Club’s shuttle and huts along the way for snacks, water, self-serve coffee, and moments to soak it all in.

Second Tunnel On Bright Angel Trail Overlooking The Grand Canyon in late spring

Second Tunnel On Bright Angel Trail Overlooking The Grand Canyon in late spring

Photo by Kelly vanDellen/Shutterstock

Rim-to-Rim, Grand Canyon National Park


  • Distance: 23.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Almost no one hikes the Grand Canyon rim to rim, but doing so turns this crowded national park into a serene-if-sweaty adventure. The trek begins on the North Rim’s North Kaibab Trail, descending 14.3 miles and 6,000 feet to the watery bottom of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Dark Sky Park, and one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of The World.”

Watch thousands of stars rise from Bright Angel campground, and in the morning, leave the banks of the Colorado River for the Bright Angel Trail, climbing across two billion years of Earth history—that’s 4,500 feet and 9.6 miles—emerging, gratefully, on the South Rim.

Group of young hikers at Kalalau Valley near Kalalau Beach at Nāpali Coast on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii. The only way to have this unique view from below is to hike the 11 mile long Kalalau Trail.

Group of young hikers at Kalalau Valley near Kalalau Beach at Nāpali Coast on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii. The only way to have this unique view from below is to hike the 11 mile long Kalalau Trail.

Photo by Juergen_Wallstabe/Shutterstock

Kalalau Trail


  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

As dangerous as it is beautiful, Kauai’s Kalalau Trail winds for 11 miles along the famous Nāpali Coast, from Keʻe Beach to the Kalalau Valley. Though expert hikers can make the round trip in a day, many take up to three, granting extra time to float in swimming holes, scope out waterfalls, and take in the hanging valleys and lush forests pouring into the sea. Don’t assume this 360-degree serenity means ease, though: The path is narrow, and waters can rise unexpectedly.

In addition to skills, you’ll need an overnight permit to hike beyond mile two (Hanakāpīʻai Valley), even if you don’t plan to camp. They’re available up to 90 days in advance.

Hiking Harding Icefield trail in Kenai Fjords National Park with Exit Glacier in the background.

Hiking Harding Icefield trail in Kenai Fjords National Park with Exit Glacier in the background.

Photo by Jaime Espinosa/Shutterstock

Harding Icefield Trail


  • Distance: 8.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

About 20 years ago, you could walk right up to Exit Glacier, in Kenai Fjords National Park. Simply strolling the one-mile Glacier Overlook Trail, you could lean against, pick up, and touch the blue ice. Today, the glacier has receded over half a mile since 2010, and that same loop gets you a distant photograph. Hop off the loop and onto the Harding Icefield Trail, a strenuous 8.2-mile round trip, and you can chase the glacier in its hasty retreat. You’ll course through forests and heather-filled meadows to views of the entire icefield—you’ll even spot nunataks, or peaks projecting above the ice, future mountains for future generations.

Jacqueline Kehoe is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, and photographer. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Sierra, Backpacker, Thrillist, Midwest Living, and elsewhere.
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