With 62 national parks and thousands of miles of hiking trails, your options are endless for exploring the American national parks. We narrowed down the list for you to 20 of the best day hikes in the national parks, 20 amazing ways to explore this beautiful country.
Hike to the tallest peaks, through massive canyons, and to gorgeous alpine lakes. Some are short, some are long, and all of them are amazing. And all of these hikes just take a single day of your time.
Which ones do you want to do?
Best Day Hikes in the National Parks
1. Skyline Trail – Mt. Rainier National Park
Distance: 6.2 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 3 to 5 hours
For spectacular views of Mt. Rainier National Park, put the Skyline Trail Loop on your bucket list.
Starting in Paradise, hike past lovely Myrtle Falls, through forests of evergreens, and then ascend the slopes of Mt. Rainier. From Panorama Point, you get jaw-dropping views of the park and on a clear day you can see as far as Mt. Hood in Oregon.
This is an essential hike in Mt. Rainier National Park. With ever-changing views and a chance to get up close to Mt. Rainier, this is an unforgettable experience.
Learn More: Skyline Trail Loop & Panorama Point
2. Angels Landing – Zion National Park
Distance: 5.4 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 3 to 5 hours
View from Angels Landing
Angels Landing is not only one of the most popular hikes in Zion, it is also one of the most popular hikes in the United States.
Why is Angels Landing so popular? This is a hike where it is more about the journey than the destination. Yes, the view from the top of Angels Landing is incredible, but it is the final climb along the narrow ridge that draws so many people here. With vertigo-inducing heights, stunning views, and chain-assisted rock scrambling sections, this is one of the best hikes in the national parks.
3. Grinnell Glacier – Glacier National Park
Distance: 10.6 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 5 to 7 hours
The hike to Grinnell Glacier is one of Glacier National Park’s most beautiful hikes. This hike has it all…stunning alpine scenery, waterfalls, emerald green lakes, wildflowers, the chance to see wildlife, and of course, a glacier.
On this hike, we spotted moose, mountain goats, and bear. The wildlife sightings and the gorgeous scenery made this was one of our favorite experiences in Glacier National Park.
You can shorten this hike by taking the boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Taking the boat shaves off 3.4 miles, for a grand total of 7.2 miles of hiking. This is a great option if you are traveling with kids, want to add a scenic boat ride to the hike, or just don’t like the idea of hiking over 10 miles.
Learn More: How to Hike to Grinnell Glacier
4. Devils Garden Trail – Arches National Park
Distance: 7.2 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 3 to 4 hours
The Devils Garden Trail has all of the ingredients for a perfect hike in Arches National Park. If you hike the entire 7.2-mile loop, you get to see eight arches! Along the way, go rock scrambling, hike along fins of sandstone rock, and enjoy some of the best views of the park.
What makes the Devils Garden Trail so great is that you can pick and choose what you want to do. You can simply hike round trip to Landscape Arch (it’s only 1.6 miles round trip). From the main trail there are two spur trails that detour to more arches. Once you get to the end of the main trail, you can hike back the way you came or try out your route finding skills on the Primitive Trail.
If you are visiting Arches as a family or in a group, some people may choose to explore the easier trails at the front of the hike. Those feeling more adventurous can keep going. As you approach Double O Arch, the trail gets more difficult (and more fun) now that you have short sections of rock scrambling. The views from the sandstone fins are unbeatable. And hiking back on the Primitive Trail is a great way to add a little adventure to your day.
Learn More: How to Hike the Devils Garden Trail
5. Half Dome – Yosemite National Park
Distance: 17 miles | Difficulty: Extremely strenuous | Time: 10 to 14 hours
View from Half Dome
The hike to Half Dome is one of Yosemite’s most challenging and most memorable hikes. It’s also one of the most epic day hikes in the national parks.
On this hike you get to walk on some of Yosemite’s most popular hiking trails, view the Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, and walk through shady forests of Sequoia trees.
But the best part of the trail is the final climb on the Half Dome cables and your reward from the top, one of the best views of all of Yosemite.
In order to do this hike, you must have a permit, and you will need a little bit of luck, since this is an extremely popular hike. Permits are awarded in a preseason lottery for the summer hiking season.
Learn More: How to Hike Half Dome: A Step-By-Step Guide
6. Sky Pond – Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance: 9.5 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 4 to 6 hours
Sky Pond is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for good reason. This hike has a little bit of everything…waterfalls, alpine lakes, high mountain views, and fun river and stream crossings. To get to Sky Pond, you will rock scramble up a waterfall, which can be refreshing when the weather is warm and downright cold in chilly conditions. But the whole reason to do this hike is for the view of Sky Pond, one of the most spectacular lakes in the park.
There is never a boring moment on this trail. The ever-changing views and trail conditions really keep this hike interesting. Yes, it is on the long side and it can be challenging, but you get a great pay-off at the end, with the view of Sky Pond.
If you are looking for a spectacular day hike in the national parks, Sky Pond should go at or near the top of your list.
Learn More: How to Hike to Sky Pond
Many of the hikes on this list are very long and/or very strenuous. For a list of short, fun hiking trails in the national parks, read our article 20 Short, Fun National Park Hikes. These are perfect for new hikers, for families, and for those looking for a quick, fun hike to do.
7. Queen’s Garden & Navajo Loop Trail – Bryce Canyon National Park
Distance: 2.75 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 2 to 3 hours
This short but sweet hike is one of the best ways to experience Bryce Canyon. By combining two hiking trails into one loop, the Queen’s Garden Trail and the Navajo Trail, you get up close to the hoodoos, see Thor’s Hammer, and walk through canyons, arches, and forests of pine trees.
Kids will love this hike, so if you are looking for a great national park to visit as a family, put Bryce Canyon on your national parks wish list.
8. Emory Peak – Big Bend National Park
Distance: 10.4 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 5 to 7 hours
Emory Peak is the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains and Big Bend National Park. It’s a tough hike to get here but the view over the park is unbeatable.
There are two different ways to do this hike. The quickest and most direct way is to hike out-and-back to Emory Peak from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. Option #2, a full day adventure, is to hike the South Rim Trail and add on the detour to Emory Peak.
Learn More: How to Hike Emory Peak
9. Notch Trail – Badlands National Park
Distance: 1.5 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Length of Time: 1 hour
The Notch Trail is pure fun. This hike is great for adventurous kids and adults.
It’s just 1.5 miles round trip and features a walk through a scenic canyon, a climb up a wooden ladder, a brief walk along a cliff trail, and ends with a view of the amazing scenery of the Badlands.
Learn More: How to Hike the Notch Trail
10. Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim – Grand Canyon National Park
Distance: 23.5 miles | Difficulty: Extremely Strenuous | Time: 10 to 14 hours as a day hike
North Kaibab Trail
Bright Angel Trail
Hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim is a bucket list adventure. Over the course of nearly 24 miles, hikers descend below the level of the rim, cross the mighty Colorado River, and climb back up the other side. It’s challenging, it’s exhilarating, and it is truly an unforgettable experience.
If you really want to experience the beauty and the majesty of the Grand Canyon, crossing it by foot is an epic experience.
Most people hike rim-to-rim on a two or three day backpacking trip. If you are extremely fit and fast, it is possible to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in one day.
We hiked rim-to-rim as a day hike and it remains one of our favorite travel moments of all time. However, it is not a decision to be made lightly. If this sounds like something you would like to do, we have a lot of information to share with you.
11. High Dune – Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Distance: 4 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 2 to 3 hours
Great Sand Dunes National Park contains the highest sand dunes in North America. Star Dune is the tallest dune (750 feet) followed by High Dune (699 feet). From the main parking lot, it is roughly a 4-mile round-trip hike to High Dune. For those that want to go farther, you can continue on to Star Dune, for a total of 8 miles.
There are no marked trails in the dunes. You simply spot the dune and work your way up and over the smaller dunes to get there.
Walking through the sand and climbing up the dunes is tough work. This is a hike you definitely want to do first thing in the morning, since sand temperatures can skyrocket to 150°F midday during the summer months.
12. Old Rag – Shenandoah National Park
Distance: 9.4 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 5 to 7 hours
Old Rag is the toughest but the most rewarding hike in Shenandoah National Park. Some people say it’s the best hike in the mid-Atlantic region.
This trail is filled with switchbacks and sections of rock scrambling. The reward from the top of Old Rag is a 360° view of the Shenandoah Mountains.
It is a fun hike that is perfect for adults and adventurous kids.
Learn More: How to Hike Old Rag
13. Paintbrush Canyon – Cascade Canyon Loop – Grand Teton National Park
Distance: 20 miles | Difficulty: Very strenuous | Time: 8 to 12 hours
Overlooking Lake Solitude
The Paintbrush Canyon – Cascade Canyon Loop is one of the best hikes to do in the national parks.
In just one hike, you can visit a handful of Grand Teton National Park’s top spots: Jenny Lake, Inspiration Point, Lake Solitude, Cascade Canyon, and Paintbrush Canyon. Throw in panoramic views across the Teton mountain range and a few moose, and you have an unforgettable hike.
This hike is a big undertaking. At 20 miles, with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, it’s a massive day hike. Many people do this as a 2 or 3-day backpacking trip, but if you are fit and fast, the Paintbrush Canyon – Cascade Canyon Loop can be done as a day hike.
We LOVED this hike. Sure, it’s a big day, but this trail is gorgeous every step of the way. Since it is a loop, you never repeat any part of the trail twice. Every few miles the terrain and the views change, so there is never a boring moment on this trail.
If you can handle a hard, long hike, this is one of the best ways to spend a day in Grand Teton National Park.
14. Cascade Pass to Sahale Glacier Camp – North Cascades National Park
Distance: 12 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 5 to 8 hours
Often labeled as the best day hike in North Cascades National Park, the Sahale Arm hike is gorgeous every step of the way.
You’ll hike through evergreen forests, through fields of heather and wildflowers, past marmots, mountain goats, and maybe even bear. Once at the Sahale Glacier Camp, you get to enjoy spectacular views over Doubtful Lake and layers of jagged, snow-capped peaks.
Learn More: Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Hike
15. Syncline Loop – Canyonlands National Park
Distance: 8.4 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 4 to 6 hours
This hike is often described as the best day hike in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.
With uneven terrain, numerous switchbacks, obstacles to scramble around, and some route finding, this trail is only recommended for experienced hikers.
This hike is still on our bucket list, but you’ll see us here in November 2020. 😊
16. Precipice Trail – Acadia National Park
Distance: 2.5 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 1.5 to 3 hours
The Precipice Trail is Acadia National Park’s most thrilling hike. This short, tough hike features a steep climb, numerous climbs up metal rungs and ladders, and short walks along narrow ledges. To do this hike, you need a good head for heights, since there is a lot of exposure on this trail.
As you dangle from the cliffs, you are rewarded with some of the best views in Acadia National Park.
Learn More: How to Hike the Precipice Trail
17. Upper Yosemite Falls – Yosemite National Park
Distance: 10 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 6 to 8 hours
There are a lot of great reasons to hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls.
From the trail, the views of Yosemite Falls are magnificent. For part of the hike, you are close enough to feel the spray and hear the waterfall thundering down the mountain. Halfway up the climb you get an amazing view of Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the distance.
Once at the top, watch as the falls plummet down the side of the mountain and get a greater sense of just how far you hiked. And if you have the energy to continue onto Yosemite Point, your reward is one of the best views of Half Dome in all of Yosemite Park.
18. Hurricane Ridge to Mount Angeles – Olympic National Park
Distance: 6.5 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 4 to 6 hours
The hike from Hurricane Ridge to Mount Angeles is a spectacular day hike in Olympic National Park.
Along the Klahhane Ridge Trail you have panoramic views over this side of Olympic National Park. To get up onto Mount Angeles, it’s a tough hike that ends with some tricky rock scrambling, but you are rewarded for your efforts. On a clear day, you get 360° views from the peak of Mount Angeles (the highest peak in the Hurricane Ridge area) so getting here is well worth the effort.
If you are looking for something shorter or less challenging, you only need to hike a portion of this trail to still get some truly amazing views of Olympic National Park. Get the full details on our post about this hike.
Learn More: Hiking the Klahhane Ridge Trail to Mount Angeles
19. Highline Trail – Glacier National Park
Distance: 11.6 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 5 to 7 hours
The Highline Trail is one of Glacier National Park’s best day hikes. For almost 12 miles, this trail takes hikers high above Going-to-the-Sun Road, with stunning views of the park and a chance to see glaciers, alpine wildflowers, and wildlife.
Twelve miles may sound like a long way to hike, but these miles tick by fast. With only 800 feet of elevation gain over 12 miles, this hike is relatively flat and fast.
If you want to hike a trail with unbeatable alpine views without having to hike up a massive mountain, you won’t find a better hike than the Highline Trail.
Learn More: Highline Trail: Logan Pass to the Loop
20. The Narrows – Zion National Park
Distance: Up to 16 miles | Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous | Time: 10 to 13 hours for the top-down hike
The Narrows is not only one of the most popular hikes in Zion but it is also one of the best day hikes in the national parks.
This is the quintessential slot canyon hike. For miles, you hike in the North Fork of the Virgin River, surrounded by sheer rock walls and amazing beauty. It’s challenging, it’s unique, and it makes for a very memorable experience.
There are several different ways you can hike the Zion Narrows. You can hike it as a quick day hike from the bottom-up or you can hike the entire length of the Narrows from the top-down (for a total of 16 miles point-to-point). From the top-down, it can be done as a two day backpacking trip or as a very long and challenging one-day hike.
If you are looking for a hike that will astound you, test your limits, and give you a greater appreciation for the beauty of the American Southwest, the Zion Narrows is perfect for you.
Learn More: The Complete Guide to Hiking the Narrows
Do you have a favorite day hike in the national parks that you did not see on this list? Leave a comment below and let us know about it.
You Might Also Like:
- Hiking: 20 Best Day Hikes in the World
- National Parks: 20 Short, Fun National Park Hikes
- Switzerland: 15 Best Hikes in the Bernese Oberland
- USA: Grand Canyon Road Trip: 5 Itineraries from Las Vegas
- Iceland: 10 Best Day Hikes in Iceland
- Norway: Trolltunga: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go
- New Zealand: Tongariro Alpine Crossing: New Zealand’s Best Day Hike
All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.