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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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?