The Best Hiking in the USA
Part 4 of the series: The Best Hiking Trails Around the World
The Best Hiking in the USA is the latest installment from the series discovering the best hiking trails in the world. Written by some of the foremost experts on the matter, we are confident you’ll agree with their choices.
This post interviews some of the best new travel writers. While they are skilled hikers, they are honing their chops and developing their own writing style. I think you’ll agree that they are as natural at trekking these trails as they are writing about them.
Obviously, there is a lot of ground to cover when it comes to the variety of trails in the United States. From the mountains and popular national parks to the oceans and islands that make it up, we had a lot to choose from.
So, which trails made the top of the list? Read on to find out!
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Art Loeb Trail, North Carolina
by Carrie Mann from Trains Planes and Tuktuks
The Art Loeb Trail is one of the most scenic hikes in the world. This 30-mile trail runs through one of the most biodiverse places in the United States. It starts along a rushing river, climbs through dense mountain laurel bushes, and ends with a spectacular 5-mile stroll along a ridge in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Art Loeb is a point-to-point hike. For a true sense of journey, start at the south end at Davidson River Campground and finish with the 6,000-foot peaks of Shining Rock Wilderness, culminating in Cold Mountain (but it is the more difficult direction!).
For the vast majority of your hike, you’ll have the trail to yourself. Crowds pick up around Black Balsam Knob for a mile or two, and you’ll see a few day hikers on Cold Mountain, but this is a great trail for solitude.
Adding to the sense of wilderness, the Art Loeb is nominally maintained for most of its run. The first half is white-blazed but still overgrown. Once you cross into Shining Rock Wilderness the trail markings disappear, the trail becomes washed-out/flooded/eroded, and parts of it are more of a rock scramble than a hike. You have a good chance of seeing bears, endangered salamanders, and bald eagles.
It is possible to hike the Art Loeb in a day. But most hikers turn it into a 3-day backpacking trip. This allows you to camp on Black Balsam Knob or Tennent Mountain, where you get a 360-degree view of the sunset with hardly a sign of human civilization in sight.
The Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
by Kate Rebel from KateRebel.com
The Kalalau Trail is Hawaii’s finest coastal hiking trail. It is located on the Northern part of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, a one-hour drive from Lihue airport.
The trail provides the only land access to see the stunning Na Pali Coast on foot. The trail from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach is 11 miles in total, but there are a few popular return spots for shorter hikes.
After two miles, and just after crossing the Hanakapiai stream, hikers reach Hanakapiai Beach. The waves in this area can be massive, and numerous visitors have been killed by unseen currents when crossing the stream or attempting a swim.
After 4 miles on the trail, hikers reach the Hanakapi’ai waterfalls. Check the Hāʻena State Park website for information on permits, as access to the trail can be limited based on weather conditions.
Hikers should plan for 3 – 5 days to hike the entire trail and have some time to explore Kalalau Beach. The trail crosses sea cliffs and lush valleys and thus is almost never level.
Whether opting for the 11 miles or a shorter option, Kalalau Trail offers amazing views right from the start, so there is no wrong option.
Hikers can dive into the extraordinary nature with emerald-hued cliffs, razor-sharp ridges, green valleys and beautiful beaches.
The trail was repeatedly named one of the world’s most dangerous hikes, but it’s probably one of the most beautiful ones, too.
Follow Kate on Instagram
Bright Angel Trail
by James Ian from Parks Collecting
There are several trails that descend into Grand Canyon, but the most famous is the Bright Angel Trail.
Most people only see Grand Canyon from the rim, but going down into the canyon and being surrounded by the towering walls gives you a whole different perspective and true appreciation for the canyon’s enormity.
The entire 9.9-mile trail goes from Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim down to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch, the only non-camping lodging inside the canyon.
Reservations are hard to get at Phantom Ranch (there is a monthly lottery that is run 15 months in advance), but staying at the bottom of the canyon is the only way you can hike the entire depth of the canyon, as it is too far, too deep and too hot to safely hike down and back up in one day.
However, you can hike halfway down to Indian Garden and back in a day, and this will still give you a real sense of being in the canyon.
There are a total of four steep switchbacks that get you down the steep sides of the canyon. The trail starts easy and goes through a tunnel carved into an outcrop across the path. If you have kids, this is a good place to turn back.
Soon after, the first switchback starts. There are rest areas at 1.5 Mile Resthouse and 3 Mile Resthouse. Then, at 4.5 miles, is Indian Garden.
There are trees, water, picnic tables and even the ruins of an ancient native American settlement if you have the energy to explore the area.
The trail continues down the last switchback and eventually crosses the Colorado River over a narrow silver suspension footbridge before ending at Phantom Ranch. This is truly one of the most epic hikes in the world.
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Cathedral Rock Trail; Sedona, Arizona
by Candice from CS Ginger
Located in Northern Arizona, Sedona is a beautiful place for hiking. Hiking Cathedral Rock in Sedona is a wonderful experience for an adventurous hike.
The best time to be at the top of Cathedral Rock is at sunset. From the top, there are beautiful views of the surrounding Sedona area and the colors of the sunset do not disappoint.
If you do stay at the top until sunset, be sure to bring a headlamp to help you get down the trail.
The trail is about 1.2 miles roundtrip but there is an elevation gain of 744 feet. The hike is ranked as moderate because the hike will require you to scramble over some rocks with your hands and do some climbing. The trail is short but does have some steep and challenging spots.
Once you get to the top, you can explore to the left or right for beautiful views of Cathedral Rock. The most popular viewpoint is called the Edge of the World. From the top, it is the ledge on your right. If you explore to the left, there are some pretty singular rock formations you can see.
Candice, CS Ginger
Old Rag Hike; Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
by Erin of Go Hike Virginia
The strenuous 9.8-mile Old Rag hike at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, USA makes many lists. It’s been named among the very best hikes in the world.
Old Rag even sits atop the list of the top trails in Virginia, as ranked by users of the popular AllTrails trail finder guide.
While this hike is popular, it’s not for everyone. For starters, the elevation gain exceeds 2,600 feet, which is a challenge for many hikers.
A mile of this hike is an intense rock scramble that requires hikers to navigate tight spaces, strategize rocky passages, slide down granite surfaces and use every ounce of strength to climb onto rocks and boulders.
You will, however, be rewarded with stunning 360-degree vistas when you reach the summit of Old Rag. There’s a lot of space to sit, snack, and revel in the far-reaching views of the surrounding mountains.
From here, the trail descends to reach Byrd’s Nest Shelter, a day-use shelter with a wooden picnic table. In a few more steps, you’ll reach Old Rag Shelter, another day-use shelter with a picnic table.
Near the end of the hike, you will walk alongside the burbling Brokenback Run. It’s a refreshing way to end your day at Old Rag.
While the vast majority of hiking trails at Shenandoah National Park are accessed from Skyline Drive, the 105-mile scenic byway that runs the length of the park, Old Rag is not one of them.
Rather, this popular hike begins at a parking area on the outskirts of Sperryville, guiding hikers into the park from the eastern boundary. Thankfully, a large new parking lot opened in 2020 allowing more hikers access to this much-loved hiking trail.
See what we mean? These are some great ideas for hiking in the United States, so if you’re in the area be sure to hit them up.
We also set the bar pretty high for these travel writers. But I think it may have been an understatement.
We want to thank each of them for helping us out with this article. Be sure to check out each their websites to find more great hikes.
But while you’re here, check out our other guides on Hiking around the world. If you missed it, the previous post in this series explored the best trails on the other side of the world – Australia and New Zealand.
We have also begun publishing some of our other trips around the world. We just published one of our favorite campgrounds around Iceland. We took a trip there in September of 2019 for our second trip to the country.
And while the camping was excellent in Iceland, whale watching with North Sailing in Husavik was a highlight of the entire trip.
But we are so excited to be embarking on another aspect of blogging. Check out our first guest post by Jordan Smith from My Financial Diary to see what that is. Hint: it has something to do with funding our future travels.
And of course, stay tuned for the continuation of this series later this week.