One of the best ways to experience the national parks is from a hiking trail. Hike to amazing viewpoints, deep into the forests, through scenic canyons, and to hidden lakes and waterfalls. Along the way, you have a better chance of spotting wildlife and potentially leaving the crowds behind. Here are 20 fun, short hikes in the national parks.
Every hike on this list is less than 5 miles, and many are much shorter. Most of them are easy, so they are appropriate for almost all ages and ability levels, making them great options for families. There are a few hikes that are on the strenuous side, since you will either hike up a steep hill or use ladders or chains to get up and over obstacles.
Note: All hiking distances are round trip.
Table of Contents
Best Short Hikes in the National Parks
1. Queen’s Garden Navajo Loop Trail
LOCATION: 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.
The trail descends down to the Queen’s Garden and along the way you will get up close to the hoodoos and hike through a few, small archways carved out from the rocks. To get back up to the rim, hike through Wall Street, the only slot canyon in Bryce Canyon.
LEARN MORE: Queen’s Garden & Navajo Loop Trail
2. Inspiration Point
LOCATION: Grand Teton National Park
Distance: 2 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 1 to 2 hours
The view from Inspiration Point
This is an essential hike for first-timers to Grand Teton National Park. Ride the Jenny Lake boat shuttle across Jenny Lake and then hike up to one of the most famous viewpoints in the park, Inspiration Point. On the way, make the quick detour to Hidden Falls.
Shuttles across Jenny Lake run every 10 to 15 minutes. Once on the west shore of Jenny Lake, it is a 0.5-mile uphill walk to Hidden Falls. To continue to Inspiration Point, it is another 0.5-mile hike, only this time the trail is steeper and more difficult.
If you don’t mind a longer hike, continue on the trail into Cascade Canyon, where the views are magnificent and you have a good chance of spotting moose and bear.
LEARN MORE: 15 Great Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
3. Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge
LOCATION: Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance: 4 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 2 to 3 hours
If you are looking for a short, easy hike with spectacular views of Rocky Mountain National Park, put this hike at the top of your list. This is our favorite short, easy hike in the park. For very little effort, the views you get are unbelievable.
For the entire hike, you are walking along the alpine tundra, with unobstructed views of Longs Peak, Forest Canyon, and the Continental Divide.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike the Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge
4. Blue Forest Trail
LOCATION: Petrified Forest National Park
Distance: 3 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 1 to 2 hours
The Blue Forest Trail is one of several off-the-beaten-path hikes in Petrified Forest National Park. It is 3 miles round trip and takes you through the Blue Mesa area of the park.
The Blue Forest Trail is a relatively easy hike. However, route-finding skills are necessary since the trail is not well-marked.
This is a beautiful section of Petrified Forest National Park. In this small section of badlands, the hills are striped with blues, pinks, grays, and purple colors. The trail climbs and dips through these hills and the views constantly change. Along the way, you can see quite a bit of petrified wood scattered over the hills.
5. Hidden Lake Overlook
LOCATION: Glacier National Park
Distance: 2.8 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 to 2 hours
This is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park. Starting at Logan Pass, you will walk a combination of boardwalk and gravel trails to get to the overlook of Hidden Lake. Along the way, keep a lookout for mountain goats. This is one of the easiest places to see them in Glacier National Park.
From the overlook, enjoy the view. You have the option to continue on the trail for another 1.2 miles to Hidden Lake.
LEARN MORE: 10 Great Hikes in Glacier National Park
6. Ooh Aah Point
LOCATION: Grand Canyon National Park
Distance: 1.8 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 1 to 2 hours
South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point
If you have the energy to walk a little farther past Ooh Aah Point, this is the view.
Ooh Aah Point is one of our favorite viewpoints on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and the only way to get here is on your own two feet. It’s a steep hike down to Ooh Aah Point but the view is breathtaking. This makes a fantastic spot to watch sunrise and sunset.
To get back up to the rim, it’s a hefty climb, making this one of the more difficult hikes in this list. But if you want to go below the rim of the Grand Canyon, this short hike is a great way to do it.
We like the South Kaibab Trail more than the more famous, and more crowded, Bright Angel Trail. From the South Kaibab Trail, the views are better and you’ll share the trail with less people.
While in the national parks, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
7. Balanced Rock
LOCATION: Big Bend National Park
Distance: 2.2 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 to 2 hours
The Balanced Rock hike is one of our favorites in Big Bend National Park. It’s short, it’s relatively easy, and there is a brief section of rock scrambling that is fun for kids and adults. But the real reason for doing this hike is to see Balanced Rock, one of the most unique rock formations in the park.
Most of the trail goes through a wide, sandy wash so the majority of the hike is flat and fast.
The final quarter mile of trail is the most challenging and the most fun. The trail steeply climbs up some rocky cliffs. It is at this point that you might even have to do a little bit of rock scrambling to get up and over the large boulders on the trail.
The trail ends at Balanced Rock. There are several good photo spots here. You can stand right in front of it to take a photo, or walk underneath of it and look out over the desert.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike to Balanced Rock
Looking for more great hikes to do in the national parks? Read our article 20 Epic Day Hikes in the National Parks for more suggestions. Many, but not all of these hikes are longer and more strenuous, but they have a big reward along the way.
8. Bearfence Mountain
LOCATION: Shenandoah National Park
Distance: 1.1 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 1 hour
This is the most thrilling hike in Shenandoah National Park. It’s short, it’s sweet, and with a little bit of rock scrambling, it’s tons of fun for older kids and adults.
To get to the top of Bearfence Mountain, you will scramble up a short, sheer rock wall and a series of enormous, jagged boulders. Once on top of Bearfence, the views are spectacular. This is one of the few spots in the park where you get 360° views.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to do in Shenandoah National Park
9. Delicate Arch
LOCATION: Arches National Park
Distance: 3 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 2 to 3 hours
Delicate Arch is one of the most famous geologic structures in the world. The only way to get up close to it is by hiking.
To get to the arch, you will hike on a gravel path, followed by a short, strenuous climb up slickrock. Past this point, the hike gets to be more fun. Now you are hiking among giant domes of sandstone rock.
The last section of trail is along a ledge that hugs a rock wall. There is a drop-off here on one side so be careful.
Once you round the final turn, you get your first up-close view of Delicate Arch.
The best time to visit Delicate Arch is at sunset, when the setting sun casts the arch in a warm glow.
LEARN MORE: 6 Tips for Visiting Delicate Arch
10. Natural Entrance
LOCATION: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Distance: 1.2 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 hour or less
Entering Carlsbad Caverns through the Natural Entrance is one of the best experiences in the park.
A well-maintained asphalt trail winds its way down into the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns. Gradually, your eyes will adjust to dim lighting, as you travel farther into the cavern. The cavern gradually reveals itself and its collection of unique rocky formations and dripstones.
You can hike this trail in either direction, but the best way to do it is to start at the Natural Entrance and walk down into the caverns. It’s an easy, downhill walk all of the way to the Big Room.
Once in the Big Room, you can walk another 1.25 miles through the largest cave chamber in the United States. To get back up to the above ground world, simply hop on the elevator.
11. Canyon Overlook Trail
LOCATION: Zion National Park
Distance: 1 mile | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 hour
The Canyon Overlook Trail is a gem of a hike in Zion National Park. It’s short, it’s fun, and it takes you to an awesome viewpoint overlooking Zion Canyon. This is a hike that is perfect for all ages and ability levels.
On this trail, you will hike along cliffs, through a cave, and over rocks and giant tree roots. It will keep kids entertained the entire distance, but the best part is the amazing view over Zion National Park.
12. Skyline Trail to Panoramic Point
LOCATION: Mount Rainier National Park
Distance: 4 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 2 to 3 hours
Snow on the trail in July
View from Panoramic Point
The Skyline Trail is one of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park. It’s typically done as a loop, a strenuous hike that is over 6 miles long. However, if you only hike to Panoramic Point, you still get the jaw-dropping views without doing a long, challenging day hike.
Starting at the Paradise Visitor Center, it’s a tough, uphill hike to Panoramic Point. The entire way, Mount Rainier will be smack in front of you.
Even in the summer, the trail can be covered with snow. You will slip and slide in a few places. Hiking shoes are highly recommended and hiking poles will help you keep your balance. If you are hiking this trail with kids, the snowy sections will most likely be their favorite part of the hike.
Once at Panoramic Point, you get a spectacular view over Paradise. On a clear day, you can see Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens and maybe even Mount Hood in Oregon.
To get back to the Visitor Center, it is a downhill walk.
LEARN MORE: Skyline Trail Loop & Panorama Point
13. Rialto Beach to Hole in the Wall
LOCATION: Olympic National Park
Distance: 4 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 2 hours
This hike is simply an easy stroll along the beach.
Starting at the Rialto Beach parking lot, it’s an easy 2 mile walk north on the beach until you get to the giant sea stacks.
Along the way, you’ll pass huge piles of driftwood and past small tidepools. Sometimes, sea lions, whales, and otters can be spotted in the ocean.
Once at Hole in the Wall, you can explore the coastline.
When we did this, on an early morning in July, the beach was totally fog covered, which can be typical during the summer months.
Our photo from our visit in the summer.
Rialto Beach on a clear day at sunset. Credit: Sean Pavone/shutterstock.com
LEARN MORE: 17 Great Hikes in Olympic National Park
14. Beehive Trail
LOCATION: Acadia National Park
Distance: 1.4 miles | Difficulty: Strenuous | Time: 1 to 3 hours
The Beehive Trail is one of the most thrilling hikes in Acadia National Park. This hike features sections of cliff walks and metal rungs. It’s an exhilarating climb to the summit of the Beehive.
Not only is this hike tons of fun but the views from the summit are incredible. From here, you have panoramic views over the east side of Mt. Desert Island.
There is a lot of exposure on this hike, and with narrow cliff trails and ladder climbs, if you have a fear of heights, you should skip this hike. This hike also is not appropriate for young children.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike the Beehive Trail
15. White Rim Overlook
LOCATION: Canyonlands National Park
Distance: 1.8 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 hour
This is our favorite short hike in Canyonlands National Park. Why? It’s quick, it’s easy, and you get one of the best views in the park.
The views from Grand View Point and Buck Canyon Overlook are amazing. White Rim Overlook takes these two views and combines them into one jaw-dropping viewpoint. From the tip of the mesa, you get panoramic views of the canyons carved out by the Colorado River.
And since you have to hike to get here, there are a lot fewer people than at Grand View Point and Buck Canyon Overlook. Worth it? Absolutely!
16. Dream & Emerald Lakes
LOCATION: Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance: 3.6 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 2 to 3 hours
The hike to Dream and Emerald Lakes is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. On this hike, you get to see three very pretty alpine lakes (Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake).
This is a great hike for almost all ages and ability levels. This is a family friendly hike and it also makes a great intro to hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.
You also have the option to add on two more lakes: Bear Lake and Lake Haiyaha.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike to Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes
17. Moro Rock
LOCATION: Sequoia National Park
Distance: 0.6 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 30 minutes
This is the shortest hike on this list, but its stair climb increases the difficulty factor.
To get to the top of Moro Rock, you will climb 400 steps to the summit of a granite dome. This is a fabulous view where you can look out over Sequoia National Park and nearby Kings Canyon National Park.
LEARN MORE: One Day in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
18. The Notch Trail
LOCATION: Badlands National Park
Distance: 1.5 miles | Difficulty: Easy | 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
19. Cassidy Arch
LOCATION: Capitol Reef National Park
Distance: 3.4 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 2 to 3 hours
The hike to Cassidy Arch is one of the most thrilling trails in Capitol Reef National Park.
Easily accessible from Scenic Drive, this short hike features stunning scenery, views over the Grand Wash, and the chance to stand on Cassidy Arch. On this hike, you can view the arch from afar or walk across it for one of the most unique photo ops in Capitol Reef National Park.
20. Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop
LOCATION: Death Valley National Park
Distance: 4.4 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 2 to 3 hours
This is our favorite short hike in Death Valley National Park. You will walk through canyons and up to viewpoints with spectacular views of the badlands. This part of Death Valley was used in the filming of Star Wars, so it looks like you are walking through Tatooine.
This loop starts with a 1 mile hike through Golden Canyon. From there, you’ll climb up to Manly Beacon, the golden monolith that dominates the area. The views from Manly Beacon are the best of the hike.
From Manly Beacon, descend down into the mudhills, through Gower Gulch, and back to your car, completing the loop.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike the Golden Canyon – Gower Gulch Loop
Do you have a favorite fun, short hike in the national parks that you did not see on this list? Let us know in the comment section below.
Planning a visit to the US national parks? Visit our Guide to the National Parks to learn more about the parks, with important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
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