The US is home to some of the world’s oldest, biggest and best national parks. And the best way to explore them is on foot. With great variety, ample pristine wilderness and stunning scenery, it’s easy to see why USA trekking holidays are renowned as some of the world’s greatest.
As 2016 sees the US National Parks movement celebrate its centenary year, we’ve compiled this list of the 10 US National Park hiking trails not to miss. From globally recognised names to lesser-known gems, these preserved treasures offer the opportunity for unforgettable trekking holidays.
And to celebrate it’s centenary year, they’re offering free entrance to US National Parks at certain times through the year. So there has never been a better time to plan USA trekking holidays.
Please remember this is the author’s top 10, we are sure there are some great parks and trails that have not been included. If you have a favourite please let us know in the comments at the end of the article.
One of the best-known national parks in the world, Yellowstone is one of three in the vast Rocky Mountain range. From colourful meadows teeming with wildflowers, to mighty canyons and geothermal pools, Yellowstone is home to a huge variety of ever-changing landscapes.
The Mt Washburn hike in the park combines the best scenery, wildlife and enjoyment giving you a glimpse of the finest Yellowstone has to offer.
Along your hike, you’ll pass glaciated rocky spires and towering sentinel peaks, azure lakes and even spot some of the legendary bison that graze here. Also watch out for bears, wolves, coyotes and eagles on one of the US’s most incredible wildlife walks.
Owing to the rugged landscapes, hiking in Grand Teton is some of the most challenging of any of the US national parks. Expect high elevations, steep trails and sudden weather changes – but that’s all part of the fun.
Hike around the majestic lakes of Phelps, Jenny, Leigh and Taggart but make sure you ask a ranger about trail conditions before setting off. The sixteen-mile Marion Lake Loop around Teton Village is a particularly tough, but a rewarding trek with some big elevation gains and stunning views.
There are a number of top hikes to choose from in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Hallett Peak is the perfect place to satisfy your craving for big summits. Reaching a height of over 12,700 feet, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the range. Bear Lake, Chasm Lake and Emerald Lake are two other top treks.
However, without doubt the best walk in the park is Mt Ida. The views from the summit are indescribably beautiful. The terrain does get fairly rugged towards the top and you’ll be exposed to some sheer drop offs. But there are slightly easier versions stopping at lower peaks too.
Another of the USA’s iconic national parks, Yosemite doesn’t disappoint. The Half Dome hike is particularly memorable. You’ll climb nearly 5,000 feet out of the Yosemite Valley, with the last thousand being a tough trek up the granite face of the Half Dome.
There are some handy steel cables along the way to help, but it still gets the nerves jangling. The release of tension at the summit is only overshadowed by the simply sensational views over the park, including the Vernal and Nevada Falls.
As the name implies, Big Bend proves that size does matter. Enjoy hundred mile views that sweep out across the hills towards the plateaus of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are barely any signs of civilisation in between.
This national park is truly colossal, and perfect for two and three day hikes traversing the southern rim of the range on the Outer Mountain Loop trail. Along the way you’ll pass huge maples and oaks, and pass through lush pine forests. It makes a stark contrast from the barren desert in the distance.
Formed over millions of years by the rampaging Colorado River, the scale of the Grand Canyon is hard to take in. There are a number of rim-to-river trekking routes but the Nankoweap is probably the most rewarding.
It’s a 15-mile walk during which you’ll plummet around 6,000 feet from the North Rim. Of course, you’ll be able to drink in the incredible views of the canyon complete with vast sandstone cliffs, but it’s not until you reach the bottom and camp by the riverside that you fully appreciate the sheer size of this incredible place.
This Tennessee national park is home to a series of the east’s highest mountains, known as ‘sixers’, as they are all over 6,000 feet. These peaks are home to rapidly changing landscapes and habitats, plus some of the eastern USA’s best views.
One of the top hikes is Mount LeConte, standing at over 6,500 feet. It passes through hardwood forests and exposed cliffs where you’ll need the steel-cable assistance that’s provided. An easy inclusion into any list of 10 US National Park hiking trails not to miss.
Famed as being the tallest trees in the world, it’s not until you get up close and personal that you appreciate their immense size. Follow the Redwood Creek trail through the forests of ferns, crossing the bridge into the Tall Trees Grove, and you’ll be standing amongst some of nature’s truest giants.
As old as they are tall, it feels like you’re in another world. The tallest, known as Hyperion, is a neck-pain-inducing 379 feet tall. But from your vantage point it’s hard to distinguish which are bigger than others.
This is one of the more moderate walks on the USA trekking holidays list, but is still very much one of the top 10 US National Park hiking trails not to miss.
This frozen landscape has remained virtually unchanged since the Pleistocene epoch. Make your way along the Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield trail and you’ll be truly rewarded for your hard work.
It covers more than 700 square miles of the Kenai Fjords park and contains ice that has been here for more than 23,000 years. A challenging day’s hike of around eight miles, it will take your breath away in more ways than one.
Ok, so this might not be the original Mount Olympus but it’s an ample substitute. The Mt Olympic trail goes from stunning coastline through the Hoh rain forest to an alpine landscape. It features some gentle hiking, before tackling the more challenging part of the trek up the Blue Glacier.
You’ll ascend more than 3,500 feet, using ropes and crampons where required, to reach the summit at nearly 8,000 feet. From here you can see all the way to Vancouver Island. Making it one of the great USA trekking holidays.
If these 10 US National Park hiking trails not to miss have you wanting to hit the trail, then check out our trekking holiday discounts.