• Jessica Stough

The Best Hikes in the United States

"Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility." – Gary Snyder


As you may recall from my 2022 goals and vision board, a few of my focuses this year are to improve my meditation and yoga practices. I recently completed a meditation practice in which the goal was to sit and reflect on what I envision my life will be like in five years. The exercise asked questions like: where are you, what are you doing, who are you with, and do you have pets?


To be honest, I’m still not very good at meditation. I can tell because I can't focus on it and it is really tough to get in the zone (which, I've been told, is how a person knows they really need to practice more). However, this particular exercise was one of the most fun and enlightening meditation practices I’ve had to date. When I envisioned my life five years from now, I obviously still saw myself married to Zac – I feel like this is a given, but I still need to throw that out just so there is no question. I also saw us with all of our dogs. I know that may be wishful thinking in five years since they are all getting fairly aged already, but it’s my “ideal” life so I can envision it however I want.


What was really fun and enlightening about the exercise, though, was that the practice shifted me right into how I saw myself spending my time in five years. I visualized myself running through single track trails, taking in the vibrant orange and yellow fall tree colors around me, crunching on those leaves that had already fallen with each step. I felt the wind in my hair as I flew up and down the little hills on the trail and zoomed through the switchbacks.


The very best part was that I was running free, but as I did so, I also saw mountains on the horizon. I don’t necessarily think that means in five years we will be living in Colorado – but I certainly wouldn’t be against that if that is where life takes us. When I shared my thoughts with Zac, he didn’t necessarily say it couldn’t happen, so I’m not going to throw the idea out. Again, it's my "ideal" life so I will envision it however I choose.


Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse into my dreams of running the trails in the mountains forever and ever, I should probably get to what I intended to write about. Since I recently decided to review all of the best hikes in Iowa, I figured it was only fitting to also go through some of the best hikes in the United States.

Devils Bridge, 20

 

The first link I found was from (my go-to) the tried-and-true AllTrails. When I opened their link, I found that Zac and I had already hiked a few of the very top hikes in the United States – but we still have a lot more we can do.


According to AllTrails, below are the best hikes in the United States:

  1. Angels Landing (Zion National Park, Utah)

  2. Devils Bridge (Coconino National Forest, Arizona)

  3. Emerald Lake Trail (Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado)

  4. Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden (Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah)

  5. Cathedral Rock (Coconino National Forest, Arizona)

  6. Delicate Arch Trail (Arches National Park, Utah)

  7. Skyline Trail Loop (Mount Rainier National Park, Washington)

  8. Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge (Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado)

  9. Vernal and Nevada Falls via Mist Trail (Yosemite National Park, California)

  10. Avalanche Lake via the Trail of the Cedars (Glacier National Park, Montana)


Zac and I have hiked three of the top ten (Angels Landing, Devils Bridge (twice!), and Vernal and Nevada Falls), and have seen the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden in Bryce Canyon.

 

Of course, I could not just stop with one list of 10 hikes, so I also reviewed a few other lists claiming to share the top hikes in the United States. Another list, by the Broke Backpacker, shared an alternative top 25 list, with those chosen seemingly longer and potentially more challenging than those listed by AllTrails. The top ten on their list were:

  1. Lost Coast Trail (California)

  2. Tonto Trail (Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona)

  3. Trans-Catalina Trail (California)

  4. Mount Katahdin (Maine)

  5. Kalalau Trail/Napali Coast (Kauai, Hawaii)

  6. The Wave (Arizona)

  7. Cracker Lake (Glacier National Park, Montana)

  8. Mauna Loa Summit (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii)

  9. Long’s Peak (Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado)

  10. The Narrows (Zion National Park, Utah)

 

Yet another list, by Travel + Leisure, shared 18 more hikes, all of which were different than those from AllTrails and Broke Backpacker. The top ten on Travel + Leisure's list were:

  1. Nugget Falls Trail (Tongass National Forest, Alaska)

  2. Appalachian Trail (Shenandoah National Park, Virginia and more)

  3. Burroughs Mountain Hike (Mount Rainier National Park, Washington)

  4. Halema'uma'u Trail (Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii)

  5. Charlies Bunion Hike (Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee)

  6. Billy Goat Trail (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park)*

  7. Kalalau Trail (Ha'ena State Park, Kauai, Hawaii)

  8. Chautauqua Trail (Chautauqua Park, Colorado)

  9. Canyon to Rim Loop (Smith Rock State Park, Oregon)

  10. Petroglyph Wall Trail (Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada)


* This trail is listed as “often closed” due to flooding, and it is highly recommended to review trail conditions prior to making plans to hike it.


We did, at one point, also hike a very small portion of the Appalachian Trail.

 

Basically, after reviewing just three “top hikes” lists, I quickly found that there are many, many incredible hikes in the United States – to the point where millions of hikers have entirely different opinions of which ones are the best. I decided to review one additional list of “top hikes” and found ten more hikes, with most of those different still than the other lists. The interesting piece about the fourth list I reviewed was that each hike was the top hike for something – for finding yourself, for extreme weather, etc.


As with the top Iowa hikes in my previous post, I cross-referenced each of the four lists for the top hikes in the United States. There were only three hikes repeated across all four of the lists I reviewed: Kalalau Trail, The Narrows, and The Wave (which I bolded on the lists I shared above, a few of which were found on the fourth list I did not detail). With just three repeated, the four lists provide ample options for hikes – all different distances, locations, terrain, and type – and there is definitely a hike for everyone.


Honestly, to me, all of those listed look like hikes that are definitely worth checking out. As such, I have officially added each and every one to our one-thousand-years long bucket list of places to go and things to do. I can only hope that within our lifetimes, they figure out how to allow us to live forever so we have the opportunity to visit all of the places and do all of the things.

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