On these spellbinding trails, it's just as much about the journey as the destination.
With majestic glaciers, hardwood forests, surreal rock formations and craggy coastlines, America's awe-inspiring backdrops beckon for exploration. Whether you're looking for a multiday hike with epic vistas and challenging climbs or a short, daylong trek crisscrossing legendary landscapes in one of the country's 59 cherished national parks, we've pinpointed postcard-worthy trails well-suited for all skill levels and interests. From Hawaii's cinematic Na Pali Coast cliffs to the snow-capped peaks of Colorado's Rocky Mountains to the famous sandstone spires of Utah's Arches National Park, these captivating paths will send you packing. Read on for a state-by-state guide to epic, expert-approved trails across America.
Alabama: Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail in Gulf State Park
With seven national parks, including the must-visit Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, Alabama boasts enchanting natural surroundings -- from cliffs to canyon rims to waterfalls -- matched with a rich cultural heritage. Trailblazers looking for an under-the-radar route should explore the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, which meanders through the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and stretches 15 miles. A top highlight is the Cotton Bayou Trail off Highway 161, where you can traverse pine-lined paths before taking a break in the Butterfly Garden, admiring American alligators on the nearby Rosemary Dunes Trail or refueling with a picnic at the pavilion on Catman Road Trail.
Alaska: Caribou Tracks at the Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve
The Gates of the Arctic National Park's claim to fame is its striking peaks -- Boreal Mountain and Frigid Crags -- that are known as the entry point to the Arctic. But that's not the only reason to make the pilgrimage here. It's also home to herds of caribou and other fascinating wildlife, from grizzly bears to wolverines. Visit in spring or fall to catch the seasonal migration along the rustic caribou tracks in the 19.6-million-acre refuge. Unless you are an experienced hiker with serious wilderness backcountry skills, it's recommended to hike with a reputable outfitter. To reach the park, take a hopper from Fairbanks or hike in from points along the Dalton Highway.
Arizona: Grand Canyon Rim Trail
Set on the Grand Canyon's South Rim, this 13-mile trail yields spectacular canyon views with picturesque overlooks, including Hopi and Maricopa points. Best of all, the trek is well-suited for novice hikers and boasts a free shuttle tracing the trail, allowing for convenient access to points of interest. Plus, there are plenty of lodging and camping options. Want to tackle more trails? Check out Sedona's crimson rock formations. "You don't have to be a weekend warrior or a long-distance hiker," says Jeffrey Ryan, avid hiker and author of "Appalachian Odyssey: a 28-Year Hike on America's Trail" and "Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery, and the Rivalry that Built the Appalachian Trail."
Arkansas: Lost Valley Trail on the Buffalo National River
Meandering along this rugged 2.3-mile trail set in the center of the Ozark Mountains offers the chance to enjoy wildlife-watching and weave past two waterfalls and a natural bridge. The crown jewel of the trail is Eden Falls, a towering 52-foot waterfall cascading over rocky cliffs. Aside from this scenic trail, you can tackle other Buffalo River trails in the Buffalo National River's Upper District, such as the Ponca to Steel Creek path, which grants breathtaking river views, or for more of a challenge, the Hemmed-in Hollow trail from Compton trailhead, a 5-mile path that ascends 1,100 feet and takes you to the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies.
California: High Sierra Camps Loop in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite's mesmerizing waterfalls, towering Sequoia trees and dramatic cliffs merit a visit all on their own, but this 50-mile alpine trail is a must for nature lovers. On the trail, you can trek in 6- to 10-mile increments to reach five camps, and embrace the park's high-country surroundings near Tuolumne Meadows. Sunrise Camp -- the final camp in the loop -- sits at 9,400 feet, adjacent to an alpine meadow with picture-perfect views of Mount Clark and Mount Florence. The only catch: Reservations are available via a lottery system. If you can't secure a spot, check out some of Yosemite's other must-see areas, including Half Dome and the John Muir Trail.
Colorado: Maroon Creek Trail
Aspen's alpine scenery, golden-flecked trees and superlative resorts draw leaf-peepers in droves, but Maroon Bells, the legendary 14,000-plus-foot peaks towering over the White River National Forest, are a top draw for nature enthusiasts. For photographers seeking a cinematic backdrop, the vistas are hard to beat, Ryan says. Plan a trip in fall to take in the autumn scene in its full glory, with colorful aspens, clear skies and snow-capped peaks. The 3.2-mile one-way Maroon Creek Trail meanders through aspen forest, craggy slopes and alpine meadows and offers ample opportunities for spotting wildlife (think: moose, porcupines and big-horn sheep). To reach the Maroon Bells from Snowmass or Aspen, take Highway 82 to Maroon Creek Road.
Connecticut: New England National Scenic Trail
A 215-mile route stretching across Connecticut and Massachusetts, the New England National Scenic Trail offers plenty of areas where you can easily tack on a day hike, Ryan says. Colonial landmarks, waterfalls, forested areas and captivating cliff-side views of Hartford and Long Island are a few highlights on the trail. On the Mattabesett Blue Trail, look for spectacular vistas at Blue Head ridge. The Mattabessett Blue Trail carves through Durham, Guilford and Wallingford, Connecticut, affording water, ridge and mountain views. Another must: visiting the Bluff Head Preserve (managed by the Guilford Land Conservation Trust) for a challenging trek amid oak, maple and beech trees, along with spectacular vantage points from atop 500-foot cliffs.
Delaware: Beaver Valley at First State National Historical Park
It's hard to say what the top draw is of this storied green space: trails along the forested countryside or the wealth of national historic landmarks that pay homage to America's colonial heritage. Hike Beaver Valley's 1,100 acres along the picturesque Brandywine River to traverse through wooded areas, meadows and the Colonial-era Old New Castle Courthouse, which dates back to 1732. Then, make your way to The Green, a public square set in Dover that sits amid storied attractions and was the setting where the U.S. constitution was ratified. In spring, you can catch a variety of events in the area, like the Dover Days Festival, with a parade and kid-friendly entertainment.
Florida: The Florida National Scenic Trail
This federally recognized, 1,300-mile path winds through the Gulf Islands National Seashore to the Big Cypress National Preserve and offers ample wildlife-viewing opportunities, from Florida panthers to American alligators. You'll also find diverse landscapes, from grassy paths to oak- and palm-fringed forests. Ryan highlights this route, one of the 11 national scenic trails designated in the U.S., as a top hike in the South. For a rugged and rewarding hike, consider trekking along the swampy section of the Florida Trail in Big Cypress for optimal bird-watching in a rainforest-like setting. Prepare for the watery conditions -- sometimes waist-deep sections -- with sturdy shoes and extra socks.
Georgia: The Dungeness Trail in Cumberland Island National Seashore
The state's biggest barrier island, Cumberland Island teems with sandy beaches, marshes, forests and wild landscapes. While you'll need to take a ferry from St. Marys, Georgia, to reach the island along Georgia's southeast coast, you'll be rewarded with 50 miles of trails to explore. Tackle the Dungeness Trail through the Dungeness Historic District, a self-guided 1.5-mile path, road and boardwalk that weaves past a salt marsh, an oak-draped sand dune complex and finishes with sweeping beach views. Another popular and more challenging route is the 6.1-mile Parallel Trail, a backcountry stretch that traverses through forest floors lined with pines, oaks, palm trees and open fields.
Hawaii: Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast
Kauai's Na Pali Coast is renowned for its 3,000-foot cliffs, dramatic coastline and narrow valleys and caves. And on the Kalalau Trail -- a challenging 11-mile trek -- you can take in all of the island's rugged natural beauty and postcard-worthy backdrops (you may recognize the setting from the 1993 blockbuster hit "Jurassic Park"). You'll weave past verdant valleys and imposing sea cliffs and rocky summits before reaching the secluded Kalalau Beach. Just keep in mind that the climb is physically demanding and not well-suited for inexperienced hikers. Arm yourself with a sturdy pair of hiking boots to trek through the muddy terrain. For an easier hike, stop after the first 2 miles on the trail at Hanakapi'ai Beach.
Idaho: Broken Top Loop Trail in Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
As you explore Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, you'll stumble upon otherworldly landscapes -- punctuated by black lava fields, craters, cinder cones and other geological features. The 1.8-mile Broken Top Loop Trail is the showstopper here with lava tubes and pressure ridges that characterize the basaltic activity that created the park's surreal volcanic setting. Keep in mind that you'll need a cave permit to access any across the preserve. Begin your jaunt at the visitor center, where you can obtain a permit and learn more about the park's unique high desert landscapes and biological diversity. Spring is an ideal time to visit to catch blooming wildflowers and embrace cool, comfortable temperatures.
Illinois: Illinois & Michigan Canal
On the 15-mile I&M Canal State Trail from Channahon to Morris, you'll weave past waterways, rivers, dams and ghost towns on crushed limestone terrain. Beginning in Channahon State Park -- just a quick drive from the Windy City -- you'll hike past the DuPage River to Dresden and Aux Sable -- two ghost towns with distinctive canal features like locks. Afterward, visit the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center to learn about the nexus where the four rivers intersect. If you're looking for an ideal photo op, visit William G. Stratton State Park, which overlooks the Illinois River. Wrap up your adventure at the Grundy County Historical Museum to brush on the area's heritage.
Indiana: Tolleston Dunes Trail in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Stretching along the south Lake Michigan coastline, this serene park offers 50 miles of trails weaving through prairies, dunes, rivers and forests. For a strenuous hike, tackle the Tolleston Dunes Trail System, a 2.9-mile trek snaking through wetlands, oak savanna and unique plants, like prickly pear cactus, and sand dunes dating back 10,000 years. Arrive in autumn to catch beautiful colors; in spring, admire wildflower-laden landscapes; and in winter, try your hand at cross-country skiing. After hitting the trail, venture to the Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk Trail, a gateway to a beach, snack bar and fishing pier that's open from March to November.
Iowa: Effigy Mounds National Monument
The sacred site of Native American ceremonial mounds, the 2,526-acre space showcases 200 mounds -- scattered across Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- representing more than 20 tribes. As you take the 2-mile guided hike along the Fire Point Trail, you'll pass by unique mounds and learn about the history and culture of the sites. Throughout the park, you'll come across animal-shaped mounds (like bird and bear effigies) that reflect three distinct hunter-gatherer subcultures of the Woodland people. Another popular route is the Yellow Bridge River Trail, a 2-mile trek that meanders beneath limestone rock formations and features unique structures, such as linear and conical mounds. On the trails, keep your eyes peeled for red-winged blackbirds, ducks and snapping turtles.
Kansas: Castle Rock
Though only a short 2.3-mile round-trip hike on the Hackberry Creek Valley, the trail to Castle Rock packs plenty of inspiring scenery. The crown jewel is the 70-foot chalky, limestone rock formations. Set in the Badlands, Castle Rock is one of many limestone pillars that comprise the Chalk Pyramids. To reach the area, take Interstate 70 to Quinter. Another worthwhile limestone monument in the area worth checking out is Keystone Arch. After taking in the rocky, Stonehenge-like structures, check out other arresting trails in the Sunflower State, like the Flint Hills Nature Trail, which meanders through the state's iconic tallgrass prairie landscapes past rolling hills and woodlands.
Kentucky: Cherokee Park
Take the 2.4-mile Scenic Loop past serene woodlands, meadows and hills to admire the pastoral landscapes of the Beargrass Creek valley. On the loop, you'll wind past the Cherokee Golf Course, the Baringer Hill Overlook (an ideal spot for scenic photo ops) and the Wildflower Woods Walk, where you can spot 83 different types of ferns and wildflowers. You'll also pass by the Hogan's Fountain and "The Dingle," a romantic wooded valley. Along the journey, you'll also cross over the Hert Bridge and the Cochran Bridge and stumble upon the Christensen Fountain. The enchanting landscape is even more alluring in fall, when shades of crimson, green and amber blanket the path's wide open spaces.
Louisiana: Barataria Preserve trails of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park
In the Barataria Preserve's 23,000 acres, forests, bayous, marshes, swamps and alligators beckon to nature and wildlife lovers. You can traverse wooden platforms to admire the area's alligator-filled marshland and swamps on a free Wetlands Walk, available Wednesday through Sunday at 10 a.m. There are also a variety of other trails of varying lengths worth exploring. On the 1.8-mile Plantation Trail, you'll snake past live oaks and might even catch sight of armadillos, deer and other wildlife. On the Bayou Coquille Trail, you can catch sight of a Native American shell mound, wildflowers live oaks and the showstopper -- a 600-year-old bald cypress tree.
Maine: The Appalachian Trail
Encompassing 228 miles in rugged and beautiful areas, the Appalachian Trail is "phenomenal," Ryan says. He highlights striking vistas of the 5,268-foot Katahdin -- Maine's dramatic peak -- as especially inspiring, along with the beautiful lakes and wooded areas in the challenging 100 Mile Wilderness section of the trail. Along the 100 Mile Wilderness section, a scenic and isolated stretch of the AT, you'll weave past forests, mountains, rivers, lakes and ponds, and Slugundy Gorge and Falls, starting in Monson, Maine. For this long-distance hike, you'll need to acquire a permit to access Baxter State Park (available at Katahdin Stream Campground). You'll also need to adequately prepare physically and map out a realistic, well-laid-out plan.
Maryland: Billy Goat Trail
Though it's less than 15 miles from the nation's capital, this popular trail, in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Historical Park, can feel like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the district, says Kathryn Van Waes, executive director of the American Hiking Society. Plus, you can take in amazing views of the Potomac River gorge and enjoy rock scrambling (free-climbing along easy rock formations without equipment) in the most challenging part of the trail (Section A), she adds. While Section A is less than 2 miles long, it the most strenuous area. Visitors are advised to wear sturdy hiking boots and take caution on the slippery terrain.
Massachusetts: Mount Greylock State Reservation
Though lesser-known than other trails in Massachusetts, a trek in this reservation tucked in the city of North Adams in the Berkshires should be on your must-hike list. The standout is its namesake -- the 3,491-foot-high Mount Greylock -- the tallest point in the state, yielding vistas up to 90 miles in the distance, including New Hampshire's White Mountains and the Catskills. Aside from getting rewarded with inspiring summit views, you can also meander past enchanting waterfalls and carriage roads. There are a variety of trails throughout the reservation, ranging from easy treks to steep climbs. After hitting the trails, enjoy more of North Adams as you stroll past Victorian buildings at The Porches Inn.
Michigan: Greenstone Ridge Trail in Isle Royale National Park
You'll weave past dense forests, pristine lakes and craggy coastlines on this memorable 42-mile trek in Isle Royale National Park. With plenty of isolated areas for reflection and solitude, the trail is well-suited for serenity-seekers looking to commune with nature and enjoy wildlife-viewing opportunities. Aside from keeping your eyes peeled for postcard-worthy photo ops of scores of barrier islands, look out for loons and wolves along the way. Rock Harbor and Windigo offer ideal base camps. At the end of the journey, refuel at Rock Harbor Lodge, which offers cottages, a dining area, snack bar, marina and easy access to picturesque lookout points.
Minnesota: Superior Trail
Along the 277-mile Superior Hiking Trail, you'll weave through the Duluth and Ontario border, meandering past wild landscapes with craggy bluffs, rivers and maple- and birch-laden forests and the ridgeline of the Sawtooth mountain range. If you don't have it in you to map out a weeklong or monthlong hike, enjoy a quick hike at one of the 30 trailheads along the way. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is an especially appealing section for nature lovers with its dramatic canyons, crags, hills and sandy stretches, and ample opportunities for embracing the great outdoors, from hiking to canoeing. Consider embarking on an organized expedition with outfitter Boundary Country Trekking, which can arrange a trip from May to October.
Mississippi: Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
On this 450-mile long trail, you'll encounter diverse landscapes: hardwood forests, Spanish moss, scenic overlooks, storied historical attractions and, of course, wetlands and swamps. Across the five unique trails, you can retrace the legacy of the Choctaw and the Chickasaw tribes in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee. If you make it to the Tennessee section of the trail, visit landmarks like explorer Meriwether Lewis' monument. Along the Natchez Trace Parkway (or Natchez Trace to locals), you'll also want to stop by the Natchez National Historical Park, where you'll find unique sites and structures, including the Fort Rosalie site above the Mississippi River, the townhouse of William Johnson -- a slave who was freed -- and 13 national historic landmarks.
Missouri: Ozark National Scenic Riverways
The Ozarks offer "a great trail system," Ryan says. Whether you're interested in meandering past limestone bluffs, oak-pine forest ridges, caves, oak-cedar forests, streams or other landscapes, there's a trail for you. For optimal wildlife viewing, take the 3.3-mile Partney Ridge Trail, where you can weave past oak, hickory and pine trees and look out for raptors and song birds. The 3.8-mile loop Chubb Hollow Trail is another enticing path with its pine-oak forest. The 1.2-mile Spring Branch Trail is also appealing; along the path, you'll meander past limestone cliffs and wildflowers and connect to the Stone Ridge Trail. "Once you get started seeking out these long-distance trails, the sky's the limit," Ryan says.
Montana: Mystic Lake and Sundance Pass trails in Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness
For a scenery-packed hike, check out Mystic Lake Trail at Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness on the Montana-Wyoming border in the Shoshone National Forest and Custer Gallatin National Forest, Waes says. On the roughly 20-mile loop, which includes more than 2,000 feet of exposed switchbacks, you can take in superlative views of the Absaroka-Beartooth Massif, she says. Another picturesque and less strenuous route Waes highlights is the Mystic Lake Trail, which offers a beautiful lake for swimming (if you don't mind cold conditions). And if your heart is set on exploring Glacier National Park, Waes says Grinnell Glacier Trail is especially enchanting with its sweeping glacier-carved landscapes, pristine lakes and more than billion-year-old fossil formations.
Nebraska: North Overlook Trail at Scott's Bluff National Monument
One of Nebraska's prized natural possessions may be this geological landmark. Rising 800 feet over the North Platt River, Scott's Bluff is a captivating site. On the brief, half-mile North Overlook Trail, catch sight of the North Plate River valley, badlands and ravines, along with junipers and ponderosa pines. The nearby 1.6-mile Saddle Rock Trail is also popular, particularly among geology enthusiasts, thanks to its unique eroding rock sediment layers, as well as among birders, who can spot everything from golden eagles to red-tailed hawks. After getting some exercise, don't forget to take in the legendary bluff, which has served as a beacon since the 19th century, along the Oregon, Mormon or California trails.
Nevada: Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail
Often described as the "Alps of Nevada," this four- to seven-day hike in the Ruby Mountains Ranger District offers spectacular scenery. In spring, you can enjoy camping, fishing, horseback riding and hiking, along with bright blooms; in autumn, aspens give the area a golden glow. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats, antelope and big-horn sheep during your visit. On your journey (Elko, Nevada, is an ideal place to start), you'll be rewarded with stunning views of glacial lakes and streams. If you would rather enjoy the alpine scenery of the Ruby Mountains on a daylong trek, the Lower Thomas Creek Trail, a 4-mile round-trip route, offers an ideal option.
New Hampshire: Presidential Traverse
Incredible terrain, a chain of 4,000-foot peaks and more than 20 miles of awe-inspiring landscapes are top draws of this challenging hike in the Presidential Range. The 9,000-foot elevation incline over nine summits, including Mount Jefferson (5,712 feet) to Mount Washington (6,288 feet), is strenuous, and you'll want to check for weather advisories ahead of your trip. It's best to embark on the journey with an experienced guide, like a reputable expert with the Appalachian Mountain Club, who can point out panoramic views of forests, ridges and peak, and can navigate the physical demands of the trail. For a less challenging trail, consider the 9-mile Franconia Ridge Loop.
New Jersey: Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
A beautiful scene any time of year, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area charms visitors with its hemlock forests, wildflower-covered paths and diverse landscapes. While there's more than 70,000 acres to explore, the 1.4-mile George W. Childs Park Trail offers a memorable landscape with its three gushing waterfalls, wooden mill and tranquil picnic area. For a more challenging hike, the rocky path to Mount Tammany on the 1.7-mile, one-way Blue Blaze Trail yields epic views of the Delaware Water Gap. If you're craving more adventure, check out other scenic trails in Worthington State Forest, such as sections of the AT, the Turquoise Trail or the Holly Springs Trail.
New Mexico: Aspen Vista Trail
This steep, 11-mile climb near Santa Fe is best experienced in autumn, when the path is blanketed in golden aspens. Admire wildflowers, diverse bird species, aspens and ponderosa pines on this lovely trail. You can also opt to take in the striking scenery in spring, summer or winter, if you want to enjoy snowshoeing. Once you reach the summit, you can take a break at a peaceful picnic area before proceeding on to the Tesuque Peak or the Alamo Vista Trail. After tackling the trail, unwind in Santa Fe or check out one of the area's other picturesque trails set beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
New York: Devil's Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve
Spanning six summits in New York's Catskills Mountains, this 24-mile hike is not for the faint of heart. The trail weaves past peaks rising more than 3,500 feet, where thrill-seeking hikers can scramble across slick, loose rock. Just a three-hour road trip from New York City, the path is easy to reach, but it takes plenty of preparation, stamina and serious hiking experience. Prepare for the trek with sticky rubber approach shoes. If you would rather skip the preparation required for this hike, check out moderate backcountry trails. An enticing option is the Overlook Mountain Trail near Woodstock, set along gravelly, old carriage roads, where you can view wildflowers and sweeping Hudson River and Catskill views.
North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway
One of America's most-loved routes meanders past enchanting hiking and biking trails, charming mountains and picturesque overlooks. Aside from leaf-peeping along the 469-mile stretch (approximately 250 miles weaves through North Carolina), the parkway's hiking trails offer plenty of scenery to soak in, from misty mountains to magnificent waterfalls. Libby Wile, the American Hiking Society's senior director of programs, highlights the Black Balsam Knob Summit on the Art Loeb Trail as a worthwhile endeavor. The wildflower- and blueberry speckled trail offers sweeping mountain vistas and the fragrant scent of basalm fir trees. It's just a 1.4-mile round-trip hike, and is easily accessible from Asheville.
North Dakota: The Painted Canyon Nature Trail in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Trailblazers looking to traipse across prairie grasses, painted canyons and rugged, sprawling badlands should make their way to this iconic park. The 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive is a must, as is the Oxbow Overlook, gazing over the Little Missouri River. When you're ready to stretch your legs, make your way to the Painted Canyon Nature Trail. On the quick hike, which typically takes around 45 minutes, you can enjoy primo canyon views along the rim and admire distinctive features like junipers and layered rock. After embracing your surroundings, venture to the visitor center (open from May to October), where you can enjoy a picnic, wildlife viewing and snap pictures at a scenic overlook.
Ohio: Brandywine Gorge Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
If you're aching to escape your hectic daily lifestyle, find your bliss on the 125 trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where lovely hills, forests and rivers tempt nature enthusiasts. On the 1.5-mile loop, you'll pass 65-foot-high cascading waterfalls, millennia-old rock layers and the occasional salamander. Plan an autumn visit for cooler temperatures and spectacular fall colors draping hemlocks and crimson red maple trees. The nearby Stanford Trail, a 1.5-mile path, is also worth exploring, as is the Old Carriage Overlook, where you can rest your legs and take in tranquil surroundings.
Oklahoma: The Antelope and Buffalo Springs Trail in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area
As you stroll along area's peaceful trails, you'll find diverse landscapes, from prairies to streams to freshwater springs surrounded by cascading waterfalls. The Antelope and Buffalo Springs Trail offers three scenic and easy loops across 1.2 miles that snake past mixes grass prairies, prickly pear and yucca plants and towering trees. The half-mile Tall Oaks Loop Trail has it all: thick cedars, a stream bed and a forested landscape blanketed with oak, elm and sycamore trees, and finally the Travertine Creek. The last Dry Creek Loop Trail passes by a rock bridge, meandering through hardwoods, cedar trees and limestone rock structures.
Oregon: Trail of Ten Falls
Most hikers think of the staggering 611-foot-high Multnomah Falls as a natural gem in Oregon. But if you would rather ditch the heavy crowds and selfie sticks, venture farther afield in Silver Falls State Park. Along this spectacular 7.2-mile loop, which ascends about 800 feet, you'll weave past a series of magnificent falls (some reaching higher than 100 feet) along the Rim and Canyon trails, ending at the Upper North Falls. Even better, there are plenty of access points for those looking for a shorter trek, and it's just a quick daytrip from the City of Roses, with the park 15 miles southeast of Silverton and about a 60 miles south of Portland.
Pennsylvania: Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail
A hidden gem, the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail brims with photogenic paths and prime areas for wildlife-watching, Ryan says. It's "an amazing trail system," he adds. The path leads through state forests and parks, private and public lands and even a portion of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. Along the trail, keep your eyes peeled for spotted salamanders, box turtles and woodpeckers. In early spring and fall, you can also catch sight of migratory birds, such as hawks and warblers. Ryan also points to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, with its picturesque trails, lookouts and 300 varieties of predatory birds as worth exploring.
Rhode Island: Cliff Walk
As you stroll along this windswept, 3.5-mile stretch in Newport, you'll find commanding views along the rugged shoreline. The walkway is a recognized National Recreation Trail that extends from Memorial Boulevard at Easton's Beach to Bailey's Beach. Highlights include strolling past Marble House, a stately home that reflects the glamour of the Gilded Age (it was originally owned by the Vanderbilt family), and Rough Point, another Vanderbilt estate that later switched hands when art collector Doris Duke purchased the property. You also can't miss catching sight of the Breakers, a sprawling, Renaissance-inspired cottage. After your stroll, reward yourself with a memorable meal at the Chanler at Cliff Walk.
South Carolina: Foothills Trail in Oconee State Park
The Palmetto State has plenty of picturesque parks, but if you're looking for a memorable trail, tackle the strenuous Foothills Trail. In total, the path encompasses 77 miles, crosses through Upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina, and includes a mix of easy, moderate and challenging stretches. The trail also meanders through Oconee State Park and Caesars Head State Park. In Oconee, you can tackle a variety of short, challenging sections of the trail. The 2.4-mile Hidden Falls Trail meanders past chestnut and oak trees and hilly Blue Ridge landscapes to the glistening falls. Meanwhile, the 2.1-mile Tamassee Knob Trail snakes past dogwoods and black oaks and leads to a postcard-worthy view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
South Dakota: Notch Trail in Badlands National Park
While you may associate South Dakota with Mount Rushmore, the Badlands offers plenty of equally impressive cinematic vistas, with its rust-tinted spires. Cruise along the 40-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway to admire the surreal landscapes. When you're ready to stretch your legs, hike along the 1.5-mile, round-trip Notch Trail, which snakes through a canyon and ends at "the Notch," a striking vantage point for taking in the White River Valley. Along the more challenging Medicine Root Loop, a 4-mile round-trip path, you can also take in the grass prairie landscape. The moderate, half-mile Cliff Shelf loop is ideal for wildlife-viewing if you're most interested in spotting big-horn sheep and deer and the imposing Badlands Wall.
Tennessee: Roaring Fork Motor Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is rife with postcard-worthy trails and enchanting mountain scenery. And along the 5-5-mile, one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, you'll wind past old-growth forests, mountain streams and colorful wildflowers. The Place of a Thousand Drips waterfall at stop 15 is a top highlight. Nearby, you'll stumble upon the trail to Rainbow Falls, cascading waterfalls known for their misty multicolored falls best seen on clear days. Keep in mind it's about a three- to five-hour hike to the waterfall and back, and the trip is not for the faint of heart, with its 1,500-elevation incline. After your hike, enjoy a picnic to embrace the surrounding scenery or explore nearby Gatlinburg.
Texas: Desert Hikes in Big Bend National Park
A lesser-known path in Big Bend National Park, the 3.8-mile round-trip Mule Ears Spring Trail offers sights aplenty. The trail weaves through the Chisos Mountains, snakes around Trap Mountain and winds through canyons, cactus-lined paths and an old rock corral. For a more challenging route, try the Chimneys Trail, a 4.8-mile, round-trip trail that meanders past volcanic rock formations known as chimneys, namely Chimneys Arch. Or explore the 2.2-mile, round-trip Grapevine Hills Trail, where you can admire the legendary Balanced Rock and other unique structures, including enormous boulders. Arrive in spring, when the dessert backdrops are speckled with bluebonnets, desert marigold and cacti blossoms -- creating the perfect photo op.
Utah: Delicate Arch
It's hard to say which of Utah's legendary national parks is more picturesque: Arches National Park, with its graceful natural spires and rocks shaped in surreal formations, or Canyonlands National Park, with its renowned sandstone spires and dramatic canyons mazes (not to mention Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef). While Ryan highlights Canyonlands as a favorite with its striking natural wonders and famed attractions like The Maze, if you're looking for a shorter hike, consider Delicate Arch, a 3 mile-roundtrip trail, where you can take in astonishing views of this legendary 46-foot-high, free-standing sandstone structure. Arrive at sunrise or sunset for awe-inspiring photo ops. Just make sure to arrive prepared with a hat, sunscreen and water, and review weather conditions before tackling the strenuous trail.
Vermont: Mount Peg Summit Hike in Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park
In autumn, the Green Mountain State provides crisp weather and spectacular fall colors in shades of red, orange and yellow. And charming Woodstock -- with its covered bridges, carriage roads and scenic trails -- offers an ideal home base for exploration. When you're ready to embrace the great outdoors, head to Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Park, where you can tackle the enchanting 2.5-mile round-trip Mount Peg Summit, which weaves past a scenic overlook of the Ottauquechee River, along with the Billings Farm and Museum. Across the 555-acre park, there are also plenty of old carriage roads meandering along woodlands, meadows and countryside, and a mix of easy, moderate and challenging Appalachian Trail hikes.
Virginia: The Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park
Along this 101-mile sliver of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, you'll take in jaw-dropping views with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the backdrop. Compton Peak, a moderate 2.4-mile loop from Compton Gap that weaves through the AT at Milepost 10.4, yields sweeping views of Skyline Drive. Other top hikes include the 2.7-mile Hawksbill Loop and the 3.3-mile round-trip Lewis Spring Falls loop. Along the way, you can take in striking views of waterfalls and forests. Aside from the AT, Waes highlights the challenging White Oak Canyon Area's Cedar Run/White Oak Circuit, an 8-mile hike as especially memorable with striking waterfalls, swimming holes and even a natural rock water slide.
Washington: The Pacific Crest Trail
"I have to say that the Pacific Crest Trail through Washington State is just an astounding experience," Ryan says, adding that the magnificent North Cascades "is nicknamed the American Alps for good reason." Along the Washington portion of the 2,650-mile path weaving through California, Oregon and Washington, you can take in rugged landscapes starting at the Bridge of the Gods along the Columbia River, to the Columbia River Gorge, past alpine lakes, snowfields and glaciers. You'll reach Chinook Pass, meander past the 14,410-foot Mount Rainier and continue through the North Cascades. To tackle any segment of this 500-mile stretch, you'll need thorough planning.
West Virginia: Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreational Area
An outdoor wonderland for backcountry hikers, the Spruce Knob Area in Monongahela National Forest encompasses 70 trails and weaves through beech, birch and maple-lined hardwood forests streams and red spruce, with summits rising 3,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. For captivating views, take the 6-mile Huckleberry Trail, which ascends from Seneca Creek up 1,000 feet to Spruce Knob's peak, a staggering 4,863-foot summit. Aside from enchanting views, you can also smell fragrant azaleas and weave past blueberries. In spring and summer, the 3-mile Spring Ridge Trail is also popular, with a winding path traversing wildflower-laden forest to Allegheny Mountain. If you're looking to embrace more time in the great outdoors, visit the nearby Dolly Sods Wilderness.
Wisconsin: Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Inspiring views of Wisconsin's pristine lakes, rolling hills and Ice age wonders make this trail a must for nature and geology lovers, alike. "It's 1,200 miles long and never leaves the state," Ryan explains, highlighting that the trail traces along a former glacier edge, through Door County, toward Madison, Wisconsin, and loops back up again. Admire glacier-sculpted landscapes, including potholes, moraines, ridgelines and basalt- and gray-stone trails. In winter, enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in some areas; in the warmer months, enjoy biking. Don't have it in you to hike the entire trail? Trek from Devil's Lake State Park to Madison, or meander through Straight Lake State Park for picturesque side trails and lake vistas.
Wyoming: Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail in Yellowstone
Yellowstone is instantly recognizable for its otherworldly natural wonders, from its imposing canyon walls to its kaleidoscopic hot springs -- and there's no better way to admire the park's unique geothermal features than on this 1.2-mile round-trip trail. Accessible at the Midway Geyser Basin, the trail affords mesmerizing views of the chromatic orange, red, blue, yellow and green layers created from thermophilic bacteria in the iconic 370-foot wide and 121-feet deep Grand Prismatic Spring. Aside from checking out the grandeur of the hot spring, you can also visit other nearby natural splendors in the Old Faithful area, such as Mystic Falls, which offers an overlook of Old Faithful, and Fairy Falls, which weaves to Spray and Imperial geysers.
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