My Favorite National Park Hikes

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I like to think I’ve done my fair share of National Park exploring over the last year.  Some parks I did hiking, others I just had time to drive through.  Today, though, I’m sharing my favorite hikes in National Parks around the US.  

I would just like to add this is only parks I’ve personally been to.  I haven’t been to Glacier, or Yosemite, or tons of other parks.  This is just from my personal experience.

National Park Goodies

Delicate Arch (Arches)

This is usually the highlight of Arches National Park.  I knew it was the one thing I had to do there.  And I’m glad I did.  It was a lot more difficult than I anticipated, but I wouldn’t say I’m in super great shape either.  I would definitely recommend it, unless the elevation is bothering you, then skip it.

Helpful things:

  • The hike is three miles round trip.
  • It takes about 2.5 hours, give a little extra time if you want to linger in the area.
  • Brings lots of water, especially in the summer, it gets hot.  It is the desert.  This water bottle will keep your water ice cold for hours. (I LOVE this water bottle)
  • Go early or in the evening for sunset if you want ideal weather, especially sunset for good lighting.

Hickman Bridge (Capitol Reef)

I love Capitol Reef.  I think it’s pretty underrated. A lot of people skip over it, myself included until I lived by it, and hit the other four in Utah.  It has so much to offer and it’s great for anyone to visit.  There’s something for everyone.  Hickman Bridge is a cool natural bridge with a great view over the park.

Helpful things:

  • The hike is just under two miles, roundtrip.
  • Bring water, especially in summer, it’s hot, it’s desert, it’s awesome.
  • It’s a moderate hike, not too difficult, but not flat either.
  • This trail is on the eastern side of the park, on the main highway that goes through it, not the scenic drive.

Wildcat Canyon (Zion)

While we didn’t hike the whole trail, the part we did hike was awesome.  Since this isn’t part of the main Zion Canyon, there’s like, a thousand fewer people.  This part isn’t very busy, which I think makes it even better.  Don’t get me wrong, though, the main area is still 100% worth visiting.

Helpful things:

  • The whole trail is 5.8 miles from Wildcat Canyon trailhead to West Rim trailhead.
  • This is on Kolob Terrace road, not the main road in Zion Canyon.
  • It’s perfect for all kinds of scenery: canyon, meadows, and forest.

Jenny Lake (Grand Teton)

This was our first hike in the Tetons, and we weren’t totally sure where we were going.  It ended up being hidden falls, but I preferred the rest of the trail much more.  There are a few ways to hike around parts of the lake, but we started by String Lake making our way over to the falls.

Helpful things:

  • The hike from String Lake to Hidden Falls, along Jenny Lake, is between three and five miles, roundtrip, depending on where you start.
  • There are bears, we didn’t see any, but they are in the park, so be aware of that.  Bring bear spray.
  • Bring lots of water, it’s hot and the elevation is higher.  If the elevation is bothering you, don’t push yourself.
  • If you’re hiking alone, let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to be back.  If something goes wrong, which it can, at least someone can let search and rescue know.  A great read on this is the Germans of Death Valley, totally worth it.  This is a great read on the topic, too, the Panama hikers.

Upper Geyser Basin (Yellowstone)

Ahh, Yellowstone.  The must-see National Park.  Well, I finally saw, and it’s definitely awesome.  It was so different from anywhere else I had been, it has so much to offer.  

Tons of thermal features, endless wildlife (which I never really saw, just bison), and tons of different landscapes.  The Upper Geyser Basin is also home of Old Faithful but has tons of other geysers and hot springs along a boardwalk.

Helpful things:

  • The boardwalk trail is off to the left of Old Faithful if you’re facing it.  Facing the Old Faithful in, it would be to the right.
  • Give yourself a couple hours to walk the whole thing.  There’s a lot to see and you may want to hang around some of the geysers if they’re erupting.
  • There are bears here, too.  It’s not very likely to see them here but bring bear spray anyways.  If you hike in other parts of the park, it could be more useful.

Goat Rock Trail (Hot Springs)

Hot Springs is definitely one of the more underrated national parks.  It’s a combination of history and nature, which is pretty cool.  All the parks have history, but this one has the bathhouses and the town at the base of the mountains with the hiking trails.  Goat Rock Trail is one of the more popular hikes in the park and is perfect to do in an afternoon.

Helpful things:

  • The trail is just over a mile long.
  • An hour should be enough time for the Goat Rock Trail.  Give yourself a little more time if you veer off onto another trail or keep going on Gulpha Gorge.
  • Bring water, it’s surprisingly hot, even in November.  I had no idea what Arkansas weather was like.
  • The trailhead is a little hard to find.  It’s by the overlook at North Mountain.  We accidentally started at the end, doing it backward.
  • Bring a trail map, the trails can be a little confusing.  They are all marked and have signs, but the signs don’t really say which trail is which, they’re just at trail intersections.  It could be easy, maybe I just didn’t get it.  Who knows.

Canyon Overlook (Canyonlands, The Needles)

I finally did a hike in Canyonlands and it was in the lesser visited Needles section.  It was really cool because instead of looking out over the canyons we were actually hiking in them, unlike the name suggests, at least for so long.  

I didn’t hike the whole thing, but I can imagine it really only gets better if you go to the end where you probably can overlook the canyons.  It’s a really awesome hike if you’re in the Needles, plus, there are petroglyphs on the drive there!

Helpful things:

  • You do not need a permit for this hike, but most others in the Needles you do.
  • Bring lots of water as always.  It’s the desert, it gets hot.
  • It’s not super tough, but it is a lot of up and down in the canyon.
  • The trail is at the end of the road, literally the end, and is marked really well with cairns.

The Saddle (Badlands)

I love the Badlands and went back twice this year actually, on the drive to and from Wisconsin back out west.  This time I finally got to do a hike and I thought my lungs were going to burn right out of my chest.  SPOLIER ALERT: they didn’t.  The Saddle is a tough, but short hike that rewards you with wonderful views overlooking the Badlands.

Helpful things:

  • Definitely bring water.  It get’s hot here, but this one is tough.
  • I’m not in super great shape, and maybe it would have helped if I went a little slower, but I had a hard time with this one.  It was totally worth it though.
  • It takes you into the Badlands, like, up a formation sort of thing, then connects with The Castle trail and a couple of other ones.
  • I think the whole trail is a couple miles, but just up to where all the trails meet is much shorter.
  • It’s easier going down than up.

Honorary State Park Mention:  Petroglyph Canyon (Valley of Fire)

Bonus state park hike!  I really enjoyed the Petroglyph Canyon hike in Valley of Fire State Park just outside of Las Vegas.  This makes the perfect day trip from Vegas or the perfect stop on your way in or out of the city.  

It can be combined with a trip to Lake Mead, too.  If you want to see petroglyphs, this is the perfect place, because there are TONS of them.  I really enjoyed this hike, even in the heat.

Helpful things:

  • Bring LOTS of water, especially if you visit in the summer.  Temperatures easily top 100 degrees.  It’s important to stay hydrated, especially here.  A Hydroflask water bottle will be a lifesaver here (or anywhere).  It will keep your water ice cold for hours, even overnight with ice in it.  I have one of these and LOVE it.  I bring it everywhere with me.
  • The trail is mostly sand and it gets extremely hot.  Wear tennis shoes.  I had sandals on and definitely regretted it sooner than later.
  • Climb around a little bit, especially towards the end.  There’s some cool stuff on the trail, or slightly off the trail, I guess.
  • You probably don’t need much more than an hour for the hike unless you linger and climb around a lot.

Have you done any of these hikes?  Which ones?  What did you think of them?  Do you want to do any of them?  What is your favorite hike?

34 thoughts on “My Favorite National Park Hikes

  1. You have some great pictures of your adventures here, I love it! As you said, Yosemite should definitely be a ‘one-day I’ll do it’ kind of adventure, I have been several times for running and cycling and can’t get enough! Great recommendations.

  2. You have been to so many hikes in the parks and so many parks! I do feel like I have been to a few, yet I have not covered any of them (just have been generally to Zion, but not hiking). I would really like to explore more parks in Utah, from the pictures I have seen, it is most different from where I am from, so should be the most impressive. Your post confirms that!

    1. Yes! I went to Utah for a trip a couple years ago and spent last summer working there and am back this summer! i love it out here. My goal for the next couple years is to see a lot more of the parks and the US in general.

    1. Thank you! It’s crazy how busy it was there last week, and it was a Wednesday! There’s so much to do, I’ve been four times and still haven’t done a lot of stuff there!

  3. We are literally trying to decide as we speak where to drive our RV across the US. This post has helped up make the decision we are going to Yellowstone :-)! Thank you!

  4. I love all the Southwest travel you’ve done, Megan! I’m headed out to Utah in May for an adventure photography weekend (it’s free if you want to come!) and cannot wait to see those glorious red rock formations in Zion.

  5. Wow all those hikes look amazing. As a city girl, I need to take more advantage of all this beautiful country has to offer!

  6. These all look seriously incredible! I haven’t travelled to the US nearly as much as I should. I haven’t been to any of these on the list, but Yellowstone would probably be first on my list. It’s so cool how diverse the US is in terms of landscapes. Beautiful post 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’ve spent the last year or so exploring the US and working out west so I’ve gotten to see quite a bit, but I just keep finding more and more I want to see! That’s my goal for the next couple years, to see a lot more of the US and it’s parks.

  7. I’m about to do the Larapinta trail in Australia – in the desert. i’m so excited now. I can’t wait to do my first multi-day hike without a guide 🙂 🙂

  8. What an awesome list. I’ll be adding many of these to my list. I’m also from Wisconsin, though not originally. I live in La Crosse and grew up on the Canadian border in Northwest Minnesota. Arches and Canyon Lands National Park are two of my favorite parks. I can’t wait to get back out to Moab. I’ll be doing a week long trip around the White Rim next year.

    1. Thank you! 😀 I love the Moab area, there’s so much to do there! White Rim sounds like an awesome trip! And super exciting you’re from Wisconsin!

  9. Some of those petroglyphs are meant to tell stories of aliens coming to visit the people who lived there many thousands of years ago. Everyone must know that by now though… You should mind how you go around there, you wouldn’t want to find yourself waking up surrounded by little green men prodding you with their technology, in a space craft…. Lol…. Just saying…

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