Over the last few years, birding has become more and more popular as a pastime. It’s a hobby that easily combines with other outdoor activities like hiking and fishing.
Taking note of the potential bird sightings before embarking on a hike gives you reason to pause and truly take in your surroundings. Sometimes, us hikers, are too eager to reach the top. Bird watching is a reminder to also enjoy the uphill climb itself.
We have picked out some of the best bird watching hikes in states all across the US. Remember to pack your birding binoculars and set out on a hike with added purpose. You may also enjoy reading our article on the best hiking binoculars on the market.
Shenandoah National Park: Dark Hollow Falls via Appalachian Trail
There are endless trails in Shenandoah National Park, all of varying levels of difficulty. For birding in Shenandoah National Park, the Dark Hollow trail that passes along the Appalachian trail and Story of the Forest trail is one of the best.
The hike starts gentle as it descends to the Dark Hollow Falls. This is also the section of the hike that sees the most foot traffic. Many families are seen here on the weekend which gives you an indication of how easy it is.
However, if you continue on along the Rose River, the crowds begin to thin out. From here, you will start to notice the elevation gain but it does not become too strenuous (as long as you are fit).
- Eastern Towhee
- Dark-Eyed Junco
- Gray Catbird
- Scarlet Tanager
- Red-Eyed Vireo
- Red-Tailed Hawk
Height: 3,429 feet
Distance: 6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,480 feet
Duration: 6 hours (dependent on hiker’s ability)
Black Mesa State Park: Summit Trail and Bird Heaven Trail
Black Mesa State Park is such a birding hotspot that an entire trail is named for the activity. Bird Heaven trail, which is closer to the information center, is one of the easiest hikes you can do in this park. 1 hour is enough to complete it.
For more of a challenge, take the Black Mesa Summit trail. This takes you to the park’s highest point with views over Colorado and New Mexico.
During this tri-state hike you have the chance to spot a high variety of bird species. From raptors to songbirds, the volcanic ground is a significant wildlife reserve.
- Scaled Quail
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Golden Eagle
- Canyon Wren
- Greater Roadrunner
- Prairie Falcon
- Pinyon Jays
Height: 4,973 feet
Distance: 8,5 Miles
Elevation Gain: 734 feet
Duration: 3-6 hours (dependent on hiker’s ability)
Metzger Marsh: Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Partnership Trail
Birdwatching in marshland is a great if you are not up for a difficult hike. Waterbirds and shorebirds love marshland habitat – you will often spot large populations within a small area.
Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area in Ohio spans over 558 acres with over 10 miles of trails. If you are up for it, you could do all trails in one day.
For a quick but satisfying walk we recommend the Partnership Trail between Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. The dike bridging these neighboring parks was closed off before but now visitors are allowed to make the 2-mile hike.
- Great Blue Heron
- American Bald Eagle
- Yellow-Headed Blackbird
- Overhead Gull
- Greater Yellowleg
- Spotted Sandpiper
Distance: 2-10 Miles
Elevation Gain: Very little
Duration: 30 min – 5 hours (dependent on chosen loop)
Indian Peaks Wilderness: Devil’s Thumb Pass
Devil’s Thumb Pass is an elevation hike that passes several other lakes including Jasper Lake and Glacier Lake in Colorado. Imagine a picture perfect alpine mountain and that is what you can expect on this trail.
There are several steep climbs but the views are worth it. Go in the spring and you will be rewarded with fields of wildflowers and migrating birds overhead.
The hike starts at Hessie Trailhead which is approximately a 45-minute drive from Boulder, Colorado. If you want to make it a multi-day trip you can set up camp at Jasper Lake.
- Bald Eagle
- Gray Jay
- Broad-Tailed Hummingbird
- Hammond’s Flycatcher
- Mountain Chickadee
- Pine Grosbeak
- White-Tailed Ptarmigan
- Brown-Capped Rosy-Finch
Height: 11,154 Feet
Distance: 10.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2,345 Feet
Duration: 8 hours (dependent on hiker’s ability)
Adirondacks: Jackrabbit Trail
The Jackrabbit Trail is mainly known as a cross-country skiing destination but birders can have some fun, too. During the spring and summer months the 25-mile ski trail transforms into a mountain biking and birding trail.
Most choose to start at Lake Placid where the first wading birds and waterbirds can be spotted. The trail also passes Mckenzie Pond.
Since the trail passes through different kinds of habitat there is a large variety of bird species. One of the main attractions of the Jackrabbit Trail is its many species of warblers.
- Black-Crowned Night Herons
- American Bitterns
- Chestnut-Sided Warbler
- Yellow-Rumped Warbler
- Cape May Warbler
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Savannah Sparrow
- Hooded Merganser
Distance: 4 – 25 Miles
Elevation Gain: Dependant on hike
Duration: (dependent on chosen loop)
Mount Timpanogos Wilderness: Aspen Grove Trail to Timpanogos Summit
The Aspen Grove Trail is the shorter but steeper climb to the Timpanogos peak in Utah. You need to camp overnight and prepare yourself for a strenuous hike.
You will hike through forests and alpine zones so bring the appropriate outdoor gear. Campers are recommended to spend the night at Emerald Lake since there are few water sources on the trail.
July and August are peak wildflower season but spring is a better time for birding. Parts of the trail are accessible year-round so there is no real wrong time to go. Bird watchers do not have to go to the summit to get an incredible experience.
- Northern Pygmy Owl
- Bald Eagle
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Northern Goshawk
- Mountain Bluebird
- Red-Breasted Sapsucker
Height: 11,752 Feet
Distance: 15.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 5,384 Feet
Duration: 10 Hours
Which birding hikes have you got planned for 2021?
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about