12 can’t-miss trail hikes across the US
Monday, June 26, 2017
My husband and I have been full-timing it across the United States for several years. We stay at national parks, state parks and RV parks, and we boondock.
One of our favorite things to do is hike, and below is a list of our 12 best hikes.
I am defining "best" as somewhat difficult plus great views — though keep in mind, these are not hardcore difficult, just a challenge to me. I am a short woman in my late 50s and in good health but certainly not an athlete or a runner.
Most of these hikes are one to three hours, so it can be good to bring water and snacks.
12. Cave Loop and Slot Canyon Trails
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument | Cochiti, New Mexico
These rock formations are a variation of the hoodoos found in other parts of the country. There is a harder rock at the top that reduced erosion below it. Sometimes the hard rock stayed and you can see round balls on top that look like a round star on a Christmas tree. Sometimes the rock fell and and the resulting formation looks like a tent.
The geology includes pumice, ash, tuff and small round balls of obsidian. These connecting hiking trails include a small cave and travels through a very narrow canyon. The end of the trail is the top of a mesa with an incredible view.
11. Base of the Falls Trail
Amicalola Falls State Park | Dawsonville, Georgia
This hike includes 600 steps. If that doesn't give you pause, you are either in rock-hard shape or you don't understand how difficult 600 steps can be.
The trail runs along a waterfall with several landings where you can pretend to admire the view while you are just trying to breathe. At 730 feet high, it's one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. An extra is that the park is the start of the Appalachian Trail.
10. Lava Falls Trail
El Malpais National Monument | Grants, New Mexico
Even though this hike is only one mile, it is still quite a challenge — not because of elevation changes, but trying to find the cairns to follow the trail.
The trail runs along volcanic lava flow (well, basalt now). There is no better way to mark a trail on a lava bed, but these cairns seem spread out too far. We got a bit lost when we hiked it and skipped a small section.
You have to jump over cracks and watch your footing the whole time. It's a unique hike.
9. Plunge Basin Trail
Linville Falls | Linville Falls, North Carolina
There are two major trails here. The first — a 1.6-mile round trip called Erwin's View Trail — goes up for views of several falls and is fairly easy. The second trail — a 1.5-mile round trip called Plunge Basic Trail — is much tougher.
It's difficult to go down to the falls. It is even more difficult on the climb back up. We had to grab roots and trees to crawl up. Many of these roots are dark from hundreds of people grabbing them for help.
It's both the challenge and the view of the falls that makes it worthwhile.
8. Summit Trail
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area | Fredericksburg, Texas
The main trail at Enchanted Rock is a short hike (0.67 mile), but it is to the top of a 425-foot-high granite exfoliation dome.
The views while climbing and at the top are gorgeous. You walk on granite, but flowers hide in cracks along the way. The last time we were here we accidentally got off-trail, but it provided a bit of a challenge and we found the trail fairly quickly.
The legends of flickering lights, groaning rocks and invisibility add to the enjoyment. By the way, Stone Mountain in Georgia is also a good exfoliation dome for hiking but has too many people to really enjoy it.
7. Prospector Trail
Tucson Mountain Park | Tucson, Arizona
Tucson Mountain Park has acres of paths and even more that are not mapped. The paths on the flat desert were great, but the ones among the hills were more interesting.
We found an old mine dug into the side of a hill. We also found small surface mines on the side of some of the hills — one had several leftover old-style tin cans spread around that I assume were used by the miners.
The desert is gorgeous with all types of cacti along with hills to climb. I must mention that the cacti can be extremely painful, so stay on the trails!
A morning hike may be best. The air is crisp, and the colors are brighter and more golden in the morning versus the glare of the day. You can see animals such as rabbits and coyotes along with lots of birds.
6. Foothills Loop
Kartchner Caverns State Park | Benson, Arizona
The big thing to do at this park is visit the caverns, but the thing I really liked at this park was the hikes.
This trail is 2.5 miles. At some points I saw spring flowers, and at other points there was snow. I saw birds, an occasional rabbit and a herd of javelinas.
The hike is along a stream and then takes you over and around a large hill. I thought the views were spectacular. Loved it!
5. Siphon Draw and Flatiron Trail
Superstition Mountain, Lost Dutchman State Park | Apache Junction, Arizona
On our first attempt to climb this staggering trail, we ran out of water and energy. We tried several years later and finished the trail by being better prepared.
Start early in the morning with plenty of water (we had 2.5 liters each on a cool day) and enough snacks to keep up your energy. Don't expect to find the Lost Mine, but the view at the top is memorable. The trail is full of people that help and urge you on. Matter of fact, given that I am short, I was literally given a boost by fellow hikers.
The hike goes 2 miles to a point called The Basin. That's as far as we could make it the first time. The full hike is 3 miles to the Flatiron with an elevation change of 3,000 feet. That is a lot of climbing. Plus, from our campsite we added another 0.6 miles to the trailhead, so it was a total of 7.2 miles.
This was the most difficult trail I've ever done. By the end of the hike, my legs were like spaghetti, and my arms were exhausted from bracing myself on the climbs and getting back down the rocks. We both hurt a lot the next two days, but we did it!
4. Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail
Palo Duro State Park | Canyon, Texas
This canyon is the second largest in the country after the Grand Canyon. Hikes in this park may include seeing deer, turkey and road runners.
There are multiple trails with different lengths and difficulty. My favorite hike here is the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail. This trail is 3.08 miles one way, but you can turn around if you want something shorter.
In some hikes, it is the destination that you enjoy. In this one, it is the trail itself. The views, colors and rock formations are really remarkable!
3. Devil's Hall Trail
Guadalupe Mountains National Park | Salt Flat, Texas
This trail is spectacular. The backdrop is mountains and blue sky, while the leaves on the trees are red, orange, yellow and dark green. The 4.2-mile round-trip hike runs along a river wash on white rocks and boulders. It had to be the most picture-perfect trail I have ever been on.
Be careful jumping between the boulders. I twisted my ankle on the return trip, but it was worth it! The end of the trail is Hiker's Staircase and Devil's Hall, but again it is the trip, not the destination that makes this trail outstanding.
2. Hunter Trail
Picacho Peak State Park | Picacho, Arizona
Picacho Peak has a challenging hike at 4 miles round trip. It starts fairly easy, though when you reach the Saddle you are tired. Then, you find out the real work starts.
The second half of the trail uses cables for sections that are just too difficult to hike. We needed the gloves we brought for all the cables. We were frequently climbing, not hiking, on this trail. I missed the cables when they weren't there since the trail can be very narrow along steep edges.
Since I am scared of heights, I may have missed the views by staring at my feet instead of looking up and out. All in all, this trail got my heart beating! Wildlife included lizards on the rocks and hawks that swoop nearby.
The end is worth it. The views are stunning. Hills that we thought were big were small from the top.
1. Lost Mine Trail
Big Bend National Park | Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend is full of amazing hikes such as Hot Springs Trail with not only the hot springs but petroglyphs and pictographs, a wall of cliff swallows and the ruins of a resort. The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is a must with a canyon, river and the Mexico border.
But the Lost Mine Trail deserves a special call-out. It is 4.8 miles round trip. There are legends surrounding this trail that involve a lost silver mine and spirits of the dead. As you hike up the trail, returning hikers urge you onward.
The end of the hike is beyond spectacular. What an incredible view!
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