Best National Parks For Hiking Each Region of the USA

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Article Categories: Travel

The United States National Park Service maintains sixty-three national parks across thirty states and two US territories. Each park is representative of the area’s natural biodiversity and beauty, and no matter where you visit, you’re sure to find trails and backcountry for hiking.

Here, we’ve collected the best national parks for hiking and sorted them by region. No matter where in the United States you’d like to travel, there’s a national park calling your name.

 

How To Choose A National Park For Hiking

While day hiking is always an option at every national park, the parks we’ve chosen are notable for their trails, their natural beauty, and the opportunities to move through unique landscapes that provide amazing rewards at all levels of expertise and experience.

We’ve also noted down if dogs are allowed, and what the best season and peak season are. The peak season is when the NPS says the park is most crowded, so if you like solitude and quiet on your hikes, this is the season to avoid.

 

How To Find Your Next National Park For HIking

You need to consider:

 

Types Of Terrain

Do you want alpine lakes? Waterfalls? Deserts? High mountain peaks? Ocean?

 

Difficulty Of Hikes

Do you want easy stuff? Intermediate? Extremely hard? A mixture? Climbing?

 

Pet Accessibility

Do you want your dog to join?

 

Family Friendliness

Will your family be joining you? If so, you likely want easier terrain, and accomodations.

 

Climate & Weather

Do you love the snow? Hate it? Want rain and lightning? Know the type of climate and temperatures you want to experience.

 

Best National Parks For Hiking In The Rocky Mountains Region

The highest peaks in the continental US can be found in the Rocky Mountains. This region is known for its alpine forests, great skiing, desert landscapes, incredible geology, and beautiful high-altitude national parks.

States include:

  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park's Odessa Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park’s Odessa Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses a range of mountain ecosystems, including vast wildflower meadows, pristine lakes, and towering peaks. Read our complete guide to the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Types of Hikes: 355 miles of waterfall trails, lake trails, forest trails, and summit trails
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, Expert
  • Popular Trails: Dream Lake (Easy), Loch Vale (Intermediate), Longs Peak (Expert)
  • Are dogs allowed? Only in picnic areas and on paved roads (no trails)
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Early Spring, late Fall
  • Peak Season: May-October

 

Grand Teton National Park

Teton Crest Trail in Teton National Park

Teton Crest Trail in Teton National Park

Grand Teton is rich with extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes, and alpine terrain, and the best place to see it is from a hiking trail. Note that this park’s trails are high altitude, so even relatively easy terrain is more difficult than you might expect.

 

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Wandering bison alongside a road just outside Yellowstone.

The granddaddy of all national parks, America’s oldest park is one of its most beloved. There is something for every hiker, from family trails to highly technical backwoods wilderness hiking.

  • Types of Hikes: More than 900 miles of trail through the most spectacular and diverse terrain imaginable
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, Expert
  • Popular Trails: Grebe Lake Trail (Intermediate), Mammoth Hot Springs Trail (Easy), Seven Mile Hole Trail (Expert)
  • Are dogs allowed? Only in picnic areas and on paved roads (no trails)
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Early Fall
  • Peak Season: Late Spring to early Summer

 

Zion National Park

The Narrows in Zion National Park

The Narrows in Zion National Park

Zion’s red rock formations and canyons form a breathtaking panorama that will delight the eye of any hiker. There are easy trails to extremely difficult trails, and trails that have some seriously large drop offs. Read our guide to the best hikes in Zion National Park.

  • Types of Hikes: Wilderness trails, some very long, through sandstone canyons
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, Expert
  • Popular Trails: Angel’s Landing (Expert), Emerald Pools Trail (Easy), The Narrows (Intermediate)\
  • Are dogs allowed? Only in picnic areas and on paved roads (no trails) – but you really shouldn’t bring your dog, since they’ll have to stay in the car and it gets lethally hot extremely quickly in the parking lots
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Fall
  • Peak Season: Zion doesn’t have a peak season but it’s most dangerous in summer and winter

 

Other Utah National Parks

Utah has 5 national parks, and each of them have incredible hiking. We happened to list our favorite, Zion, but the others certainly deserve notable mentions. Between, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Zion, these parks have some of the best and coolest hiking trails in the world. So you can’t go wrong with any of them, and you should check them all out. Particularly Bryce, Arches, and Canyonlands for the best hiking.

 

Best National Parks For Hiking In The Pacific Region

The Pacific region is home to some of the most dramatic scenery– and dramatic temperatures– in the United States. You can find Death Valley, the hottest place on Earth here; you can also find some of the coldest climes in the far-flung Alaskan wilderness. Expect to see incredible trees almost anywhere you go in this region.

States Include:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Oregon
  • Washington

 

Denali National Park

Denali as seen from Reflection Pond in Denali National Park, Alaska.

Denali as seen from Reflection Pond in Denali National Park, Alaska.

Denali National Park is six million acres of wilderness bisected by one road. Hiking here will let you experience the majesty and grandeur of wild Alaskan nature.

  • Types of Hikes: Very limited marked trails through low-elevation taiga forests that give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Expert
  • Popular Trails: One of the reasons Denali exists is to provide people with a place to explore a trail-less wilderness, and a result of this is a limited trail network. There are a few easy trails near the front of the park, like the Savage River Loop.
  • Are dogs allowed? Only on the Roadside Trail and the Bike Path.
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Denali is spectacular year-round
  • Peak Season: Denali is rarely crowded

 

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National ParkThe massive Yosemite Valley is surrounded by majestic forests and untamed wilderness. Yosemite has giant waterfalls, giant cliffs, beautiful rivers, and is a backpacker and day hiker’s paradise.

  • Types of Hikes: 750 miles of trail and backcountry in diverse terrain
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, Expert
  • Popular Trails: Cook’s Meadow Loop (Easy), Sentinel Dome and Taft Point (Intermediate), Half Dome (Expert)
  • Are dogs allowed? Not on most of the trails
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Fall is best for hiking
  • Peak Season: Yosemite always draws crowds, but summer weekends are often the most crowded

 

Best National Parks For Hiking In The Northeast

The Northeast region of the US is known for its temperate climate, beautiful fall foliage, and beautiful coastal and mountainous landscapes. There is a ton of beautiful hiking in the northeast, particularly in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Adirondacks of New York, Vermont, Maine, and other stunning areas. There is only 1 national park however, and that’s Acadia.

States Included:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Vermont

 

Acadia National Park

An autumn view from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

An autumn view from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

There’s only one national park in the northeast region of the United States: Acadia, up in Maine. Acadia features twenty-six mountains and incredible fall foliage. In addition to great hikes with views of the oceans, visitors often go climbing, and explore the stunningly beautiful shorelines with mini hikes off of the road.

 

Best National Parks For Hiking In The Southeast

The Southeast region of the US is associated with hot summers, temperate winters in the southern half of the region, gentle mountains, and biodiversity.

States Included:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

 

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park Cypress Forest

Congaree National Park Cypress Forest

One of America’s hidden gems, Congaree National Park lets you explore the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States.

  • Types of Hikes: Relatively flat trails through old-growth forests, cypress sloughs, and river bottoms with lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, and Expert
  • Popular Trails: Firefly Trail (Easy), Weston Lake Trail (Intermediate), Oakridge Trail (Expert)
  • Are dogs allowed? Yes, on all trails
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Spring, Fall, and late Summer, when the fireflies are out
  • Peak Season: Congaree does not have a noticeable peak season

 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunset On The Blue Ridge Parkway

Sunset On The Blue Ridge Parkway

The hazy blue Smoky Mountains are home to some of the best hiking trails in the United States, including a long section of the Appalachian Trail. There is certainly no shortage of incredibly hiking in this park.

  • Types of Hikes: 850 miles of mountain and forest trails and unpaved roads, lots of summit hikes
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, and Expert
  • Popular Trails: Charlies Bunion (Intermediate), Chimney Tops (Expert), Kephart Prong Trail (Easy)
  • Are dogs allowed? Only on two short walking paths (no major trails)
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Late fall for foliage; late spring and early summer for hiking and camping
  • Peak Season: July-August; October for the foliage

 

New River Gorge National Park

Setting sun behind the girders of the high arched New River Gorge bridge in West Virginia

Setting sun behind the girders of the high arched New River Gorge bridge in West Virginia

Our newest national park, the New River Gorge is home to some of the country’s best whitewater rafting around the lower gorge area near the New River Gorge Bridge, as well as some of the best hiking in the Southeast region.

  • Types of Hikes: Several relatively short trails (the longest is 7 miles) that can be connected for longer excursions through forests and cliffs, with beautiful views of gorges and waterfalls
  • Difficulty Range: Easy and Intermediate- there are a few strenuous trails but they are short and not too technical for intermediate hikers
  • Popular Trails: Big Buck Trail (Easy), Castle Rock Trail (Intermediate), Polls Plateau Trail (Intermediate)
  • Are dogs allowed? Yes, on all trails
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: The mild climate makes this a four-season park
  • Peak Season: There is no established peak season for New River Gorge National Park

 

Shenandoah National Park

Rocky path in Shenandoah National Park in autumn

Rocky path in Shenandoah National Park in autumn

This long, narrow park nestles between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River. It is home to dozens of waterfalls and some amazing trout fishing.

  • Types of Hikes: 500+ miles of trails passing scenic overlooks, cataracts, and gorges of the Shenandoah River
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, and Expert
  • Popular Trails: The Appalachian Trail and Skyline Drive run through the park; there are also lots of nice day hikes that the park recommends
  • Are dogs allowed? Yes, with some restrictions
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Fall and Spring
  • Peak Season: April-May and September

 

Best National Parks For Hiking In The Midwest

The Midwest, America’s heartland, is known for its prairies and forests. Summers here are hot, and all of these states typically get snow in the winter.

States Included:

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • South Dakota
  • Wisconsin

 

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Sunburst Over Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Sunburst Over Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a unique park that encompasses small communities within the park’s boundaries. Its bedrock outcrops create interesting and varied terrain.

  • Types of Hikes: 125 miles of wooded trails through the forest, wetland, and old fields
  • Difficulty Range: Easy to Intermediate
  • Popular Trails: Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail (Easy), Brandywine Gorge Loop (Intermediate)
  • Are dogs allowed? Yes, with restrictions.
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Summer and Fall
  • Peak Season: No established peak season, but certain areas are more crowded than others at most times during the year

 

Voyageurs National Park

The sunset along the waters of Voyageurs National Park as seen from the Ash Visitor Center.

The sunset along the waters of Voyageurs National Park as seen from the Ash Visitor Center.

Voyageurs National Park is best known for its water resources, but this northerly park has amazing hiking trails, too!

  • Types of Hikes: 50+ miles of mostly long backcountry trails on the park’s interior peninsula
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, Expert
  • Popular Trails: Cruiser Lake Trail (Advanced Intermediate-Expert), Kabetogama Lake Overlook Trail (Easy, wheelchair accessible), Locator Lake Trail (Expert)
  • Are dogs allowed? Only on one trail
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Summer
  • Peak Season: No established peak season

 

Best National Parks For Hiking In The Southwest

The rugged beauty and dramatic desert scenery are often the first thoughts people have of the American Southwest. You’ll hike under turquoise skies and past dramatic vistas when you hike in one of the national parks in this region.

States Included:

  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas

 

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend's Iconic Mule Ears mountain formation at sunsetA hiker’s paradise! You need to carefully manage your temperature limits in Big Bend, but this gorgeous desert park is absolutely worth it.

  • Types of Hikes: 150+ miles of desert and mountain trails
  • Difficulty Range: Easy, Intermediate, Expert
  • Popular Trails: Dog Canyon (Intermediate), Emory Peak (Expert), Hot Springs Historic Trail (Easy)
  • Are dogs allowed? No– dogs can only go where your car goes, and dogs cannot be left in cars
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Spring, Fall, and Winter
  • Peak Season: Big Bend’s trails are never super busy, but summer weather conditions are often dangerous

 

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon landscape at dusk viewed from desert

The Grand Canyon is one of the greatest natural wonders in North America and its challenging trails provide glimpses of waterfalls and sandstone formations that capture the mind.

  • Types of Hikes: Steep canyon descents to challenging canyon trails
  • Difficulty Range: Expert (some rim trails are easier, but all trails into and out of the canyon are extremely challenging)
  • Popular Trails: Royal Arch Loop (Expert)
  • Are dogs allowed? No dogs in the canyon
  • Best Season(s) to Visit: Spring and fall
  • Peak Season: Summer- lots of tourists at the rim and dangerous weather for hiking

We hope that you’ve been inspired by our list of best national parks for hiking to get out there and hike a park near you, or maybe even plan your next big trip! With more than 21,000 combined miles of trails, there’s bound to be a park just right for you.

Max DesMarais
Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor 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. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about