The 10 Best Hikes in the USA


, by Charlie Boscoe

Hidden Lake at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park on the Continental Divide Trail. Photography by: Tom Robertson

America is the land of extremes, whether it's the country's world-defining economy, its huge cities or its vast open spaces. New York is arguably the most famous city on the planet and provides a remarkable contrast to the wildness of the nation's natural sites. Any country the size of America will have some great hiking routes, but - even when considering the scale of the nation - the diversity is extraordinary. Narrowing down the list of hikes to just ten is an all-but-impossible task, but it's still fun to try!

Reflecting the country's diversity, the list is varied, and completing the hikes on it will lead you from bustling streets to a desolate wilderness. Some of the hikes are short and easily accessed, others are thousands of miles long. It's a list that represents all that is great about America, and, in keeping with the country's aspirational culture, provides an impressive ticklist for those wanting to complete all ten routes!

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Continental Divide Trail

Let's start with the big one! The longest and most challenging trail in North America, the Continental Divide Trail is a beast of a hike and a lifetime goal for most outdoors people. The route travels 3100 miles / 4988km from the Mexican to the Canadian border and leads you from barren deserts to the wilds of Alberta via some of the most rugged terrain in North America. Just planning for the CDT is a long process, and then executing the plan is likely to take around six epic months. Suffice it to say that if you're working your way through this list numerically, you're halfway through - effort-wise - by the time you get to number two!

Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, California

Picking the best hike in Yosemite, let alone California, is a tough proposition, and the trip up Half Dome would be an obvious choice, but we're going for the journey from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley just because it allows you to see a little more scenery.

Tenaya Lake in Tuolumne Meadows, California. Photography by: Nyokki

Tuolumne Meadows is a serene, high-altitude meadow located at about 8,600 feet / 2,621,m, and it's known for its expansive subalpine meadows, granite domes, and clear streams. Hiking from there to the legendary walls of Yosemite is an unmissable experience.

Central Park Outer Loop, New York

How's that for a change of pace?!? From the magnificent towers of Yosemite to the looming skyscrapers of New York, the journey from route two to three is geographically and stylistically huge.

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Central Park Outer Loop is the best hike in the world's greatest city, and it's a versatile and scenic route that captures the essence of Central Park's diversity. Whether you're in the mood for a leisurely walk, a vigorous run, or a scenic bike ride, this loop provides a comprehensive and enjoyable way to experience one of New York City's most treasured landmarks and soak in some city ambiance from well-manicured paths.

Kachina Trail, Arizona

A slightly left-field choice, the Kachina Trail is less famous than most of the routes in this list, but it's a truly exceptional hike. It offers a blend of lush forests, stunning mountain views, jagged cliffs, and rich cultural history, so it's a varied hike and a beautiful one.

Humphreys Peak in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Arizona. Photography by: Nicole_N

You can do the hike as an out-and-back, but shuttling vehicles is arguably a better option unless you're planning to make it a multi-day trip and aim to summit Arizona's highest mountain, Humphreys Peak. Heading all the way to the top of the peak increases the quality of this trip even more, but it's a loooong way!

Angels Landing, Utah

Angels Landing is a strenuous hike that demands physical fitness, sure-footedness, and caution, especially on the final exposed ridge. However, for those who are prepared and undaunted by heights, it offers an unforgettable adventure and some of the most dramatic scenery in Zion National Park. The last half-mile to the summit is equipped with chains bolted into the rock and requires a good head for heights, plus careful footing to deal with the exposure and sheer drops. This definitely isn't a beginner hike....

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Despite the challenges, if you reach the summit of Angels Landing you'll be rewarded with one of the most spectacular views in the park. The top of Angels Landing, at an elevation of about 5,790 feet / 1,764m, offers a 360-degree panorama of Zion Canyon, with the Virgin River winding through the valley floor far below and towering red rock cliffs surrounding you.

Pacific Crest Trail

Some consider it the finest multi-day hike in the world, but we've ranked the PCT behind the CDT primarily because it's marginally shorter, and size matters in America! The hike is staggeringly varied and leads you from the deserts of southern California up through the Sierras, the wilds of Oregon, and the rugged peaks of the Cascades to the Canadian border. The PCT has better weather than most long-distance hikes, and many thru-hikers will get over halfway along the 2650 mile / 4,264km trip before they get rained on! The Cascades usually deliver plenty of precipitation, but by that stage, you're almost there - put your Gore-Tex on and keep going!

A Mountain Goat Passes a Camp in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington. Photography by: Tobin Akehurst

Lone Star Hiking Trail, Texas

Another left-field choice, including this hike corrects Texas' often overlooked hiking prowess. At almost 100 miles, this is a trip that takes most hikers around a week to complete, and it passes through some rugged and remote terrain despite its proximity to some small towns.

The hike can easily be extended at any point because most of the campsites have great day hikes from them, and with the weather in this part of the world being close to guaranteed during hiking season, there's no need to rush the longest hiking trail in Texas!

San Francisco Bay Trail, California

There is talk of the San Francisco Bay Trail being stretched out to 500 miles (!), but you can see its best existing parts by going from San Rafael to San Francisco International Airport.

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Listing every landmark en route would be a mammoth task, but if you love Ocean views, famous historical sites and exceptional food - this is a hike you'll enjoy.

Appalacahian Trail

The third of the "big 3" American thru-hikes, the Appalachian Trail is the only one that doesn't stretch from border to border, but it's a rightly famous trail nonetheless. The density of states in the northeast means that this trail crosses more states than either the PCT or CDT, and it's a cultural journey as much as a scenic one. The weather can be wild, and much of the trail is forested (it's somewhat unflatteringly referred to as "The Green Tunnel"), but the Appalachian Trail is rightly considered one of the most incredible hikes on the planet.

Ridge line along the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Photography by: David Whitemyer

The Wonderland Trail, Washington

There are few hiking experiences more satisfying than a circumnavigation, and this trip around Mount Rainier is one of the best you'll find anywhere. Rainier itself dominates the view, obviously, but the fact that you move around the peak allows you to see different parts of it every day, and each sunset will be completely different. You need a permit for the Wonderland hike as numbers are limited, so get in the lottery and cross your fingers!