The 12 Hikes You Must Do This Year in the US
As COVID and the vaccine swirl in our communities, we’re all itching to move after a year of not moving. With international travel still just on the horizon, this is the year to take advantage of the glorious hikes we have available to us in the continental US. And with road tripping being the thing we’re all excited to do this year, seeing the US from our windshields, what better way to enrich our road trips than by organizing them around accessible, off-the-beaten-path hikes that most anyone will enjoy.
Sound too good to be true?
Here are twelve, moderate hikes of 3-5 miles you must do this year in the US. Turn your GPS on and get moving! As a special note, please be sure you aware of the local travel and access restrictions in each state, wear your mask, and be socially distant. Let’s stay healthy and well.
Where to Hike in New England
You can knock out many hikes in New England without having to drive great distances because the states are small and the area is compact. The best time to hike in New England is the Fall. You’ll catch the leaf popping views, and snow may not have put ice on the trails yet. Our two favorite New England hikes can be done in one trip.
Hike 1: New Hampshire’s Red Hill Fire Tower Loop Hike
The first hike to do, especially on a clear day when you can see for miles, is this New Hampshire hike. You’ll climb to the top of a Fire Tower, and you’ll be able to see Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, at least. The hike can be strenuous. If you have poles, you might want to bring them. You’ll climb up a rocky trail through the hard woods and past historic cabins, reach the Fire Tower, take in the views, then climb back down past additional historical markers.
Distance: 4 miles
When to do it: Early fall
For more details about where to eat, stay, and trailhead info, see this New Hampshire post.
Hike 2: Maine’s Timber Point Trail
The second New England hike we recommend is off the beaten path, stuck in a local neighborhood that folks overlook. Even my sister, who had lived just five miles from the trailhead for over 30 years, didn’t even know about it. The best time to do this hike is the last day of summer. You need to time the hike for low tide because you’ll hike out a rock bridge to an island where you can find old lobster traps, an historic seaport home, and great views of the coastline. Watch out for poison oak, and keep your eyes open for sea life paying visits.
Distance: 3 miles
When to do it: Last day of summer
For more details about where to eat, stay, and trailhead info, see this Maine post.
Where to Hike in the Mid-Atlantic States
From DC to Florida, a wanderer could find great trails. The Appalachian Trail snakes across the highs and lows of these states, touching the Great Smokies, the Appalachians, and Shenandoah. Hiking the AT is a thrill, but not a hike we’re going to recommend here. Instead, we’re sending you to Delaware to enjoy a meander in the shadow of DC and where the Bidens hail from.
Hike 3: Delaware’s Gordon Pond Loop
Head to the coast of Delaware and hike the loop that goes around an estuary and on the shores of the Atlantic in Cape Henlopen State Park. This is a great summertime hike along a gravel path and then looping onto the beach. You’ll get all hot and sweaty from the humidity and heat, then you can jump into the ocean and cool off. When you’re finished, you have to grab some blue crab burgers.
Distance: 3-4 miles
When to do it: Late Spring to Mid-Fall
Where to hike, where to eat, and where to find the trailhead in Delaware.
Where to Hike in the South
Some people put Florida in “the south.” Others will argue fervently to exclude it. In this case, it doesn’t matter. We’re not recommending a particular hike in Florida, although there are several wonderful places to hike (See Florida.) None the less, there are two hikes in the deep south we recommend.
Hike Four: Arkansas’ Hot Springs Mountain Trial
The first recommendation is in Arkansas at the Hot Springs National Park. We recommend this hike for many reasons; first, it’s free, even though it’s in a National Park. Hot Springs National Park, and second, it was actually designed around the concepts of health and wellness. “Hiking” was historically prescribed as part of a wellness plan for those travelers seeking therapeutic remedies. We love that doctors prescribed the great outdoors for healthy outcomes. Therefore, we can’t resist recommending this hike in the park.
You’ll promenade along the promenade, making your way up to the top of the mountain to the tower on its top. Whether you go up the tower or not (there’s a charge), you will get fantastic views down into Little Rock. The hike is a steady incline, and if you’re lucky in the spring or early summer, you’ll catch the rhododendron and mountain laurel starting to bloom. It’s fun to think of ladies and gentlemen hiking through these hills in their Victorian get-ups while retying your hiking boot laces on this 3-4 mile hike.
If you’ve got time after hiking, make sure to stop in the Central High School Historic Site to re-experience the stories of the Little Rock Nine.
Distance: 3-4 miles
When to do this hike: Winter to early Summer
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Arkansas.
Hike 5: Louisiana’s Barataria Preserve Trail
The second hike in the Deep South we recommend is south of New Orleans. Yup, south. Down below the Big Easy, you’ll find another National Park we can’t resist, Barataria Preserve in the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park. Not only will walking through a swamp, seeing alligators and dodging raccoons keep your senses about you, you’ll also learn about the tragic and untold stories of pirating, profiteering, and slavery-trade tirading. The natural wonders will fascinate you while the cultural disasters will incite you. It’s a 3-mile hike on elevated boardwalk you won’t want to miss.
Distance: 3 miles
When to do this hike: Late Fall to Early Spring
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Louisiana.
Where to Hike in the Central Midwest
The center of the country has a bad reputation for hiking. People say it’s too flat and too full of corn. They’re dead wrong. It may be flat compared to the Rockies, the Appalachians, or the Cascades, but there’s some good rolling hills in the Flint Hills of Kansas that give good cadence to a good hike (see our Kansas recommendation.) The hike we recommend, though, is in the southwest corner of Iowa.
Hike Six: Iowa’s Sunset Ridge Trail
The Waubonsie State Park, where Lewis and Clark looked west to map their route through the plains, offers up a ridge view of the flatlands. This hike will surprise you with its variety, its ups and downs, and its views. The hardwoods provide wonderful fall color or fantastic shade in the summer. Catch this 3-mile hike in the fall at sunset or in the summer at sunrise. The sky’s colors will capture your heart, offering explanation for why people who live here love it here.
Distance: 3-4 miles
When to do this hike: Summer to Fall
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Iowa.
Where to Hike in the Upper Midwest
Separating out the upper midwest from the central midwest allows for us to offer up some of our favorite hikes in the country. We recommend two phenomenal hikes that folks often overlook when they grab “best of guides” for hikes in the upper midwest.
Hike Seven: Indiana’s Trails 8, 9, and 10
Our first recommendation is in Indiana at Indiana Sand Dunes. Originally a State Park, it now combines with a National Park. Most folks escape to these abutted parks to hit the beach in the summer time. You’ll find Chicagoans disappearing here for the weekend.
But don’t get sucked into the beach crowd. Instead, take a hike through the sand dunes. These aren’t the sand dunes we think of from the movies. They’re tall, loaded with hard woods and small ponds. You’d never know you’re on hard pack sand unless you had a shovel and did some digging. While hiking through the dunes, you’ll make it to Lake Michigan’s shoreline. There, you’ll see sand and have to hike through some of it. But it’s worth it. This 5-mile hike tops the best of Indiana’s state dunes.
Distance: 5 miles
When to do this hike: Late Spring to Early Fall
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Indiana.
Hike 8: Minnesota’s Superior Lake Trail at Duluth
Our second Upper Midwest hike has to be Minnesota’s Superior Lake Trail. The trail itself traverses for a couple of hundred miles. We recommend the section right outside of Duluth. This summertime hike starts right off the edge of a major road and quickly disappears behind the back yards of locals into and through county parks. You’ll end at a Japanese Tea Garden, and you’ll climb an historic tower that views Duluth. About 4 miles in length, you can extend this hike by continuing along the SLT. Wildflowers abound on this hike; if you’re a floral photographer, plan extra time. See if you can catch the Japanese peace bell and sunset by lining up the bell’s clapper with the setting sun.
Distance: 4+ miles
When to do this hike: Summer
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Minnesota.
Where to Hike in the Mountain West
It’s no surprise that you could find over 100 great hikes in the mountain west without even trying. With the Rocky Mountains, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and New Mexico crowning out the high points of the US and Colorado standing pinnacle to the US’s best hiking, picking one trail in the mountain west might be a crazy person’s goal. Guide books fill with fantastic hikes; the problem is that many of those recommendations are in the crowded Rocky Mountain National Park (for good reason!) and/or these hikes are at very high altitudes.
Hike Eight: Colorado’s South Valley Trail
Denver sits at 5280 feet, and it’s the low point of great Colorado hiking. Sending sea level folks to 10000 feet to hike is simply cruel; fitness has nothing to do with altitude acclimation. So we recommend a hike that’s a bit more gentle but has all the best of Colorado. Red rocks, pines, Aspens, views, prairies, and reasonable climbs. It’s a county park, but don’t let its “rank” keep you from enjoying this 3-mile hike which you can extend.
Distance: 3+ miles
When to do this hike: Anytime (in winter/spring, bring spikes)
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Colorado.
Hike 9: Wyoming’s Flood & Hindle Trail
The second hike we recommend in the Mountain West adds history to a fantastic landscape of sweeping views. You’ll find yourself in Wyoming; you’ll stumble upon the place women got the right to vote first in the US, experience a real western town, and enjoy scrub, creeks, mines, and views. This 5-mile loop, although at a higher altitude, is gentle and pleasant. You’ll even cross mines, old mining gear, and water sluices.
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Wyoming.
Hike Ten: Utah’s Fisher Towers Trail
The third hike we recommend in the Mountain West has to be in Moab. This red rock desert of mudders, trekkers, and adventurers sports hoodoos, shark fins, and table tops. What? There’s nothing like hiking in Moab, gateway to several national parks.
Once again, we’re going to send you away from the most-trodden spots and to a hike that’s just as spectacular as those in the big parks but not nearly as crowded. You’ll hike along ridges, down into canyons, up a ladder, and in between towers to a view that will knock your socks off. Do this hike at any time; avoid the summer if you can; and try to catch it at sunset. In the winter, you might need spikes (Read my review about Korkers.)
Distance: 5 miles
When to do this hike: Anytime (in the winter/spring, bring spikes.)
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Utah.
Where to Hike in the West
Competing with the Mountain West for some of country’s best hiking. you can’t beat the variety of flora and fauna of the West. Whether you want desert, ocean, or mountains, you can find it up and down the west coast. We’ve got two must-do hikes that not only are off the beaten path, but might be at least as enjoyable as some of the biggies in Yosemite, Joshua, or Death Valley.
Hike Eleven: Washington’s World’s Largest Spruce Trail
In Washington, everyone will tell you to do the HoH Rain Forest hike in the Olympia National Park. Although that’s a fine hike, it’s super crowded and can be very dry or very wet depending on when you arrive. Instead, we picked a hike that features champion trees, isn’t crowded, and you can extend the 3-mile hike further if you want. Afterward, be sure to grab lunch at an historic inn overlooking a crystal blue lake, Lake Quinault Lodge. Sound better?
Distance: 3+ miles
When to do the hike: Anytime
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in Washington.
Hike Twelve: California’s Damnation Creek Trail
The final recommendation for the twelve hikes you must do this year in the US might be our most favorite hike in the US. It’s a toss up for sure–kind of like picking your favorite child–but we stumbled upon this hike and have loved it for years. You’ll not only start in the canopy of the tallest trees in the world, but you’ll hike down through their layers, across a tsunami evacuation zone, and onto a beach where you can go tide pooling. You’ll have the beach to yourself, and you can even build a shelter out of driftwood if you get stuck for some reason. This 3.5-mile hike, our most difficult recommendation, is good in any season, just make sure you’ve got proper outerwear for rain or mist.
Distance: 3.5 miles
When to do this hike: Anytime
Read about where to eat, where to stay, and where to find the trailhead in California.
50 Hikes 50 States
If these hikes don’t suit you or you want more, we’ve visited every state and picked out hikes that made logistical sense based on flying into nearby airports. Read about our 50 Hikes 50 States Project, and if you have questions about how we managed the logistics of visiting all 50 states in 2 years via flights, we’d love to have a chat. You can also follow the hashtag #50hikes50states on social everywhere, but particularly on Instagram.