While hiking is an incredible aerobic workout, a hike can be much better with unforgettable views of panoramic landscapes or rarely seen wildlife. Many of us have probably even planned hikes solely on their spectacular photo opportunities.
With cooler weather — and prime hiking season — just around the corner, we rounded up 10 of the most breathtaking hikes in the United States. From coast to coast and deserts to oceans, these hiking areas offer something for everyone, with options for beginners and experts alike.
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1. Backbone Trail
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California
This newly completed trail stretches nearly 68 miles through the Santa Monica Mountains, from Point Mugu State Park to Will Rogers State Historic Park. With views of the both the Pacific Ocean and downtown L.A., hikers can get the best of both worlds as they travel through sunny southern California.
The trail covers 25,000 feet of elevation gain and loss with varied terrain along the way, so experts recommend hikers be somewhat experienced and in good physical condition when taking to the trail.
2. Coyote Buttes North
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
With a variety of areas to explore in Coyote Buttes North, hikers will have no shortage of impressive desert views. While there are no designated trails to follow, this protected area includes sights of sandstone rock, desert plants and the world-famous “Wave.”
Interested in a hike? You’ll need to obtain a permit first. Because of the fragile and delicate geological structures in the area, just 20 people are allowed to visit the area each day. In fact, the Coyote Buttes North region uses a lottery system to dole out permits because of its extreme popularity, so planning ahead is a must!
3. South Rim Trail
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Located near the U.S.-Mexico border, Big Bend National Park offers a little something for everyone. With the Chihuahuan Desert, Rio Grande and Chisos Mountains all accessible within the park boundaries, the varied terrain lets hikers experience whatever outdoor challenge they’re looking for.
The South Rim Trail is a challenging 12-mile hike through the mountains with multiple scenic lookout points — and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. With a number of campsites for overnight stay, this trail is just begging you to grab your backpack and venture into the backcountry.
4. Lakeshore Trail
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
For the waterfall lover in us all, this waterfront park has countless opportunities for unforgettable sights. The Lakeshore Trail is 42 miles that run along the shores of Lake Superior, letting you choose your own hike distance. While on the trail, you’ll experience varied terrain from sand dunes and beaches to forests and waterfalls, so be prepared for a big swing in scenery.
5. Florida Trail
Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
This is anything but your typical dirt trail hike — this trail includes mud, swamp wildlife and plenty of water. The Florida Trail covers 1,400 miles across the southern tip of the state, and while there are some dry areas, much of the trail follows a path through the well-known Big Cypress Swamp.
Waterproof everything is recommended, as you might find yourself wading through water deep enough to your cover your waist. Experts encourage group outings, and the trail is not recommended for beginners, but hikers are sure to get a glimpse of numerous distinctive Florida sights including cypress trees, giant ferns and alligators.
6. Herman Gulch Trail
Arapaho National Forest, Colorado
Located near the Loveland Ski Area, this moderately difficult trail is a popular spot for both visitors and locals alike. With an elevation gain of 1,600 feet in less than 2.5 miles, it’s certainly no picnic, but the work is worth it when you reach Herman Lake, a beautiful body of water fed by mountain glaciers.
As part of the Continental Divide Scenic Trail, the trail offers quintessential Colorado mountain views, including mountain crests, subalpine flowers and various mountain wildlife.
7. Arethusa Falls Trail
Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire
Bring the family along on this hike, as the trail leads to one of the tallest waterfalls in the state, dropping water more than 200 feet. The looped trail covers 4.5 miles and increases more than 1,200 feet in elevation. Slip off your shoes, and cool yourself in the water at the waterfall’s base — and, of course, don’t forget your camera!
This trail can get crowded, so pack your patience along with your trail mix and water.
8. Watchman Peak Trail
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
For those who want a serious reward for just a little bit of work, the Watchman Peak Trail has just what you need. At the top of the fairly steep (but short) trail, you’ll find Crater Lake, a definite bucket list item for hikers of all abilities.
The trail is only 1.6 miles round trip, so it’s a quick hike to the top for spectacular 360-degree views of the lake and Wizard Island. Try a nighttime outing at non-peak times for some incredible stargazing.
9. Woodlands Trail
Belle Chasse, Louisiana
Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the family friendly Woodlands Trail includes over six miles of natural pathways great for hiking or trail running. Hikers will be surrounded by lush greenery and coastal wildlife along the trail, which is also a popular birdwatching location.
At the end of the trail, you will be treated to a history lesson as you come across a grouping of ammunition bunkers used in World War II.
10. Ridge Trail
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee
Running along the Virginia and Kentucky state lines, the 21-mile Ridge Trail spans the length of the park and give hikers options to take various finger trails along the way. Scenic views include pioneer settlements, regional wildflowers and wildlife, limestone formations and miles of mountaintops. With the ability to pick your own distance and degree of difficulty, this area is perfect for hikers of all experience levels.
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