Hike these 11 trails at some point in your life. You’ll be happy you did.
There are thousands of miles of amazing trail in the United States, and “best” is a pretty subjective term — so we’re not using it.
From rolling mountains in the Southeast, to the jagged peaks of the West, to the canyons, waterfalls, and old-growth forests of the Pacific Coast, these trails vetted by the experts at RootsRated.com are hikes for any outdoorsperson’s bucket list. Happy hiking!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2014; here we update it for 2017.
1. Indian Peaks Wilderness Area | Boulder, CO
With over 75,000 acres of wilderness, plenty of towering peaks, and 133 miles of trails, visiting the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado is an adventure that every hiking enthusiast should have. The Mitchell Lake Trail is one particular route that features high altitudes, breathtaking views, and a pristine alpine lake.
2. Roan Mountain Highlands | Asheville, NC
Criss-crossing the Tennessee-North Carolina border for 14 miles, this section of the Appalachian Trail is easily one of the most beautiful stretches along the entire route. The views from these ethereal highlands are stunning and constant, and they bring to mind visions of Scotland and Wales.
3. Baxter Creek Trail | Knoxville, TN
In truth, almost every trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park is eligible for your hiking bucket list, but one particular route that highlights the very best of this park is the Baxter Creek Trail, a 12-mile roundtrip with 4,000 feet of climbing, sweetly smelling spruce trees, and a lush rainforest understory.
4. Enchanted Rock | Austin, TX
Enchanted Rock is a 425-foot pink granite dome that shoots up from the flat Texan landscape and offers hikers an amazing place to explore. With its Native American folklore, fascinating geological formations, and sweeping views, this place is truly enchanted.
5. Superior Hiking Trail | Duluth, MN
Tracing the North Shore in northern Minnesota, this 296-mile route affords an epic adventure on the banks and hills above Lake Superior. Whether thru-hiking or day-hiking, this trail, with its dense forests, deep gorges, and fast-flowing rivers (not to mention lovely views of the largest Great Lake) is an absolute must-experience.
6. Paint Mines | Colorado Springs, CO
In the prairies of Colorado, the Paint Mines are a geological and archaeological wonder to behold. Sculpted over millions of years, these gulches now form a clay and sandstone labyrinth of butterscotch yellows, burnt oranges, and ruby reds, reminiscent of South Dakota’s legendary Badlands.
7. Sleeping Indian | Jackson Hole, WY
The 12-mile roundtrip up Sleeping Indian is quite possibly the best hike in all of Jackson Hole, which is saying something. What makes it so great? Well, aside from the pristine pine forests and wildflower meadows, Sleeping Indian has the best views of the Tetons that you can find anywhere in the area, and it’s not even in the Tetons.
8. Oneonta Gorge | Portland, OR
Though not much of a hike, and more like a .6-mile scramble over slippery and wobbly logs, Oneonta makes the list because it is truly one of the most stunning gorges in the country. Carved into a little cranny of the Columbia River Gorge, the canyon has lush green mossy walls, a wonderful swimming hole, and a waterfall at the end of the tunnel.
9. High Rock Lookout | Seattle, WA
The vantage from this old fire tower yields some of the most unbeatable views of Mt. Rainier that you can find anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. While it’s only a 3-mile roundtrip, this hike is not for the faint of heart, as it features quite a bit of elevation gain as well as dizzying, vertigo-inducing heights. But the views… wow.
10. Big Basin Redwoods State Park | San Francisco, CA
In California’s oldest state park, this is a thigh-burning journey that leads hikers through a forest of pines, ancient oaks, and towering redwoods until they reach the spectacular viewpoint known as ‘Buzzards Roost.’
11. Tequepis Trail | Santa Barbara, CA
The best part about the Tequepis Trail isn’t the smooth single track, or the 3,000 feet of elevation gain over 9 miles, or even the gorgeous views of Cachuma Lake. The best part is that it’s the closest trail to the Cold Spring Tavern, a rustic restaurant hidden in a sycamore forest offering blues music, craft brews, and delicious Tri-Tip sandwiches.