10 of the Most Famous Hikes in US National Parks


, by Greg Heil

Angels Landing, Zion National Park. Photo: Unai Huizi Photography

The United States' most precious treasure isn't its gold reserves, its gigantic corporations, or its powerful military. No, its most valuable treasure is its public lands. The National Park System alone is a stupendous resource protecting more than 85 million acres of Planet Earth's most incredible landscapes. From towering mountain ranges to arid deserts, verdant jungles, arctic tundras, and almost every other landscape imaginable, these landscapes capture the imagination and make us feel truly alive. And through them all runs an intricate web of thousands of miles of narrow, rugged hiking trails.

Choosing the absolute best hiking trails among the thousands found in the National Park System is impossible, as exactly what qualifies as "best" is a sliding scale and up to interpretation. However, we have a pretty good read on which national park trails are the most famous. As a consequence of this fame, these trails are also unbelievably popular. Whether you think that popularity turns this into a bucket list to check off or a list of trails to avoid is up to you.

In this article, you'll find 10 of the most famous trails from the nation's 63 national parks. But if you want to dive even deeper, be sure to investigate our in-depth guidebook listing the most famous hike in every single national park:

1. Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim (South Kaibab and North Kaibab Trails), Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is renowned as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and thus holds well-earned global fame. Crossing the entire canyon from one rim to the other is naturally an ultra-popular bucket list item for hikers from around the world. The classic Rim to Rim route descends the South Kaibab Trail and climbs the other side via the North Kaibab Trail.

DID YOU READ? "The 7 Best Long-Distance Thru-Hikes in the USA"

2. Angels Landing, Zion National Park

The stunning views and scary chains of Angels Landing have made this hike so popular that Zion National Park had to institute a permit limiting access. In fact, many of the hikes on this list are now subject to permits of one type or another, even if it hasn't been explicitly mentioned here. Some of these trails require a permit to hike, and others simply require a timed entry into the national park. No matter which hike you choose, be sure to research the permit requirements far in advance.

3. Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

The hike to the spectacular granite summit of Half Dome may be one of the most difficult permits to score, but this incredible ascent is undoubtedly worth the effort! While some of the famous trails on this list are short and accessible (like #4, Delicate Arch), Half Dome is anything but. You'll need to not only train for months in order to have a chance of completing this challenging ascent, but also feel comfortable climbing a ladder of metal cables attached to the side of a cliff thousands of feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley.

4. Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is one of the most famous rock formations in the world! This entire 3-mile round-trip hike is a fantastic desert experience ending at a stunningly beautiful destination. While this hike is always crowded, if you can adjust your expectations and anticipate sharing the trail with other people, you'll still enjoy this gorgeous area.

5. Observation Point to Geyser Hill, Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful is one of the most famous natural features in the country, and this hike takes you to a lookout over Upper Geyser Basin, which has incredible views of Old Faithful and many other impressive geysers. You can't miss this one!

6. The Narrows, Zion National Park

Even though the Narrows is the second trail on this list found in the depths of the visually stunning Zion Canyon, the worldwide fame of Zion National Park warrants two spots on this top 10 list. The narrows is a "one-of-a-kind hike through a flowing stream, between soaring sandstone walls, in one of the world's most dramatic slot canyons," according to FATMAP writer Jesse Weber.

RELATED: "10 of the Most Beautiful Slot Canyons in the Desert Southwest"

7. Mount Whitney via Whitney Portal, Kings Canyon National Park

At 14,505 feet above sea level, the top of Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States. While Mount Whitney might be one of the most famous spots in the country, it's far from being an easy hike. Even though the climb to the summit via the Whitney Portal is considered a non-technical peak climb, the route covers 20 miles round-trip and over 6,500 vertical feet of climbing.

8. Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

While the standard Rim to Rim route mentioned above generally follows the South Kaibab trail down from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the Bright Angel trail is actually the most popular trail below the rim of the canyon. Jesse notes that "it is the only trail from the South Rim that has water stops and a campground along the way." If you just want to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back up, the Bright Angel Trail is the way to go!

9. General Sherman Tree and Congress Grove, Sequoia National Park

The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world by volume. This staggering behemoth "stands 275 feet (83 m) tall, and is over 36 feet (11 m) in diameter at the base. Sequoia trunks remain wide high up. Sixty feet above the base, the Sherman Tree is 17.5 feet (5.3 m) in diameter," according to the NPS. The hike past the tree is surreal, in part because it takes you through the Congress Grove—one of the densest concentration of giant sequoias in the world. While it's one thing to see the biggest tree in existence, walking through a forest full of such trees is guaranteed to make you feel small.

10. Longs Peak: Keyhole Route, Rocky Mountain National Park

"Longs Peak is a true Colorado icon," writes Jesse Weber. "At 14,259 feet, it’s one of the state’s proudest 14ers, and the only one within Rocky Mountain National Park. It looks imposing from every side, but the 'Keyhole' notch allows passage to the summit." While the Keyhole Route is one of the most popular 14er routes in Colorado, that doesn't mean it's easy. Longs Peak draws many thousands of unprepared tourists toward its summit, which also makes it one of the deadliest mountains in Colorado.

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