One of the oldest forms of transportation, walking, is still one the best for seeing some of the world’s greatest wonders. From expansive views to dramatic geological scapes, the astounding features of some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the U.S. demand that you bring a camera. While there will never be an agreement on trails ones deserve a top spot, the following make for great vacation primers and conversation starters. Fuel up your private jet and break in your hiking shoes for an adventure that you won’t soon forget.
Harding Icefield Trail | Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
A strenuous 8-mile roundtrip, the Harding Icefield Trail near Seward teases you with scenic vistas of Resurrection River and Exit Glacier as you make your way up the steep, 4-mile climb from the valley floor. After wandering through meadows and forest, you’ll rise above the tree line to a jaw-dropping lookout. That’s Harding Icefield. The sheet of ice and snow stretches over 300 square miles and 40 glaciers.
Before you go, be sure you have a good understanding of bear safety. Hikers spot black bears near the trail every day.
Angel’s Landing | Zion National Park, Utah
Don’t let the sound of 4.8-mile roundtrip hike fool you. It can be a beast if you’re not used to exerting yourself at high elevations. The hike in Zion National Park’s canyon ends at Angel’s Landing, a rock formation 1,488 feet in the air at an elevation of about 6,000 feet, with one of the best panoramic views of the American West (which are best seen in pictures if you’re afraid of heights). The Angel’s Landing trail follows the Virgin River before gradually climbing to Walter’s Wiggle, 21 steep switchbacks (a spectacular sight from the air). The trail narrows in the final half-mile stretch, making you thankful for the chains that the park added for safety.
Mooney Falls | Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
As daring as it is gorgeous, the three-mile hike to Mooney Falls begins in the Supai village in the Hualapai Indian Reservation. After descending down ladders and through travertine tunnels, you’ll hold onto chains anchored into the rock face as you see hints of the 200-foot waterfall. When you arrive to Mooney Falls, reward yourself with a dip in the aquamarine plunge pool or creek, which wild grapevines adorn.
Spend several days in one of the guest lodges in Supai or glamp in one of the nearby campgrounds and explore the various waterfalls in Hualapai Canyon, such as Navajo Falls, Beaver Falls and Havasu Falls.
Kalalau Trail | Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii
Eleven miles point-to-point, 22 miles roundtrip, the Kalalau Trail is on every advanced backpacker’s bucket list. Hugging Kauai’s jagged Nā Pali coast, the allure of the challenging hike is the secret Kalalau Beach. The trail, mind-blowing on its own, crosses five lush valleys and brings you along towering fluted cliffs, or pali. Be sure to take breaks at the secluded beach. As you make your way back from the beach, follow the dirt path inland, along old agricultural terraces. Snack on the fruit that you find on the mango, guava and java plum trees.
The Kalalau Trail is a long hike that requires an overnight camping permit and an early start. For a shorter day trip, hike the first two miles of the trail, from Ha’ena State Park to Hanakapi’ai Beach.