8 great day hikes across the US
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
From the red rock canyons of Arizona to the rugged coast of Maine, America is blessed with a bounty of great hiking trails. But when your time is limited, it's not always easy to find a trail you can do in a day.
So we went on the hunt to find some trails that will fill that bill in a variety of locations across the country – and here’s what we found.
1. Misery Ridge Trail
Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
This popular state park, about 30 minutes north of Bend, has been described as one of the "Seven Wonders of Oregon," notable for its diverse and dramatic red rock formations. It's best known for its challenging rock-climbing, but hikers will find 6-mile-long Misery Ridge Trail a perfect day-hike option.
Pay a $5 usage fee at the main parking lot, follow a switchback path down to the Crooked River, cross the bridge and head up the trail. The first mile is a tough climb, but once you reach the top it's smooth sailing, with spectacular views of the surrounding landscape — and climbers making their way up and down towering Smith Rock.
2. John Dellenback Dune Trail
A hike through these massive coastal dunes, located on U.S. 101 between Reedsport and Coos Bay, provides quite a contrast to Misery Ridge Trail. The route starts out through a lush, green conifer forest. The sand comes into view as you reach a ridgeline, from which you can see the 2.7-mile path out to the beach.
If there has been a recent rain (and there often has) you're in luck because the sand is packed down hard enough to make for easy walking. Soft sand, on the other hand, will make for a tougher slog. Either way, the hike is worth it for the mind-boggling view of a vast sea of wind-carved sand dunes.
3. Golden Gate Park Trail
San Francisco, California
San Francisco's Golden Gate Park — formed out of an expanse of sand dunes to the west of the city in the 19th century — stands today as one of the largest and finest public parks in the nation. Spread out over more than 1,000 acres, this array of gardens, lakes, trails, museums and monuments provides urban-bound residents and visitors with an ideal place to stretch their legs.
Golden Gate Park Trail, a 6.1-mile loop trail, offers not only a good workout but also a chance to view some of the park's leading attractions. Top sites include the deYoung Art Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers and the Botanical Garden — where you might want to pause for a moment just to smell the roses.
4. Upper Falls Trail
Yosemite National Park, California
The Upper Falls Trail makes for a great day hike, especially during spring and early summer when the falls are roaring. Round-trip distance from the Lower Yosemite Trailhead is 7.6 miles with an elevation gain of 2,600 feet — or 9.4 miles and another 3,000 feet in elevation if you continue on to Yosemite Point.
As these elevation gains suggest, this is the mother of all StairMaster workouts — but with some payoffs you’ll never get at the gym, including the thrill of walking through the spray from the upper falls and a panoramic view of Half Dome. Figure on a minimum of six hours for this hike and eight or more hours if you include the climb to Yosemite Point.
5. Mooney Falls Trail
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Starting from the village of Supai in the Hualapai Indian Reservation, hidden away in a remote corner of the Grand Canyon, the 3-mile trail to idyllic Mooney Falls is as exciting as it is beautiful. The trail descends from the village past Havasupai Campground and continues through a tunnel, along a narrow travertine passageway cut from the side of the canyon, down iron ladders, and along chains anchored into the rock wall.
Views of the 200-foot falls are breathtaking, and the ultimate reward comes with a refreshing dip in the shimmering aquamarine pool at the bottom. Do not attempt this hike if you have a fear of heights or falling — and best go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.
6. Narrows Trail
Zion National Park, Utah
The Narrows is the most popular hike in Zion, and it's universally cited as one of the world's best slot canyon hikes. The trail here is basically the Virgin River — the flow from which carved out the narrow, multi-colored sandstone canyon over the centuries.
You'll need to ride the National Park shuttle into the canyon to reach the Temple of Sinawava, starting point for a bottom-up hike. A hike up the Narrows can range from a few miles up to 16 miles. You can hike in as far as you'd like, but the most popular option is a 2-3-hour slog to a section known as Wall Street.
Water levels vary by season, highest in spring and early summer and lowest in late fall. Best time for a hike is mid-summer to early fall — but regardless you'll be wading in water anywhere from ankle to waist deep. Waterproof shoes/boots and a walking stick will come in handy.
7. Fish Creek Falls Trail
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Located five miles east of Steamboat Springs, dramatic 283-foot-tall Fish Creek Falls is an easy hike for the entire family. It's just a quarter-mile down a sloping trail along the creek to a bridge with a great view of the falls.
For the more adventurous, a moderately difficult 2.5-mile trail leads on to Upper Fish Creek Falls and continues another demanding four miles to Long Lake, deep in Routt National Forest. The parking lot at the base fills up early during summer and fall, so get there by 9 a.m. to be sure of a spot.
8. Precipice Trail
Acadia National Park, Maine
This 1.6-mile trail is the most challenging and well-known hiking trail in Acadia National Park — where the mountains meet the sea in a most dramatic way. Featuring an exposed and almost vertical 1,000-foot-climb up the east face of Champlain Mountain, Precipice Trail should only be undertaken by experienced, physically fit hikers who have no fear of heights.
This is an ingenious route that heads up steep cliffs, navigating various fault lines and shelves. Numerous iron rungs, ladders, handrails and wooden bridges help hikers at the most difficult and exposed sections. Unfortunately, the trail is usually closed during the spring and peak summer season — from March 15 to August 15 — to protect endangered peregrine falcons that nest on the cliffs.
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